We begin our series, “Getting to know the RTS Orlando Faculty,” with an interview with Dr. Michael Allen, John Dyer Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at RTS Orlando.
(For an introduction to the series as a whole, see here.)
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a pastor’s home, first in the deep South and then in south Florida. I’m grateful to never remember a day when I didn’t know the goodness of basketball or the saving love of Jesus Christ. Eventually I went to study history at Wheaton College and there felt called to ministry, which led to switching to study classics and languages and then to graduate school. I met my wife there, received my Ph.D., and began teaching there. We’ve since moved a couple times, had a couple children, and I’ve now been teaching theology at RTS for five happy years. And both God’s grace and the joy of basketball continue to be sweet.
You’ve written three books over the past few years related to different aspects of the doctrine of salvation. What led you to these topics?
The topic of justification played a big role in my own education, in college and then graduate school, as I journeyed through various sides of what were pretty significant trends and controversies. I wrote Justification and the Gospel to try to fill a gap where there hadn’t really been a systematic account of the subject in some time. Then I saw debates arising regarding sanctification, perhaps especially in Reformed and evangelical churches, and so I worked on a larger volume that is creatively titled Sanctification. In doing that research, I was also led to classical Christian writing on asceticism and eschatology that was really integrally tied to their vision of holiness. I wound up writing a related but distinct book, Grounded in Heaven, to describe the living hope that Christians have in Christ and how it transforms our lives here and now. In one sense, each one seemed a logical next step, and at the same time each was a response to what I perceived was a gap or a problem in the recent literature.
How has writing these books influenced your Christian life?
Well, each project is a journey. It always involves getting a sense of the scale and difficulty involved in listening well, thinking well, and speaking well about some mystery of the gospel. The latest one, Grounded in Heaven, has been especially sweet, as that research overlapped with a really difficult season in my life (a truly bad year in terms of medical struggles) and provided a real salve amidst pain and suffering. I hope whatever results its publication may have leads to similar comfort and encouragement for others in the fray.
How has writing these books influenced your teaching, both inside and outside the classroom? Well, each book tries to engage widely but patiently with a range of significant texts. I hope that doing so helps equip me to train my students to listen and argue with all sorts of classic and contemporary writings that are serious and worthy of deep engagement. I think my research helps equip me to guide discussions on folks like Gregory Nyssa or Augustine, Peter Lombard or Bernard of Clairvaux, John Calvin or John Owen.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m beginning to write the first of a four-volume systematic theology, this initial one being titled The Living and True God. I’m also wrapping up edits on a couple manuscripts: Ephesians for the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series and editing the Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology.