Last fall, we began a series of interviews highlighting the RTS Orlando faculty, their paths to ministry, and their professional projects. (For the series introduction, see here.)
We are happy to release the final installments of this series over the next few weeks, beginning with Professor of Church History, John Muether.
Prof. Muether has served RTS in various roles for over thirty years, and is the longest-tenured faculty member of RTS Orlando. In addition to his teaching duties, he serves the broader RTS institution as the Dean of Libraries and as Assistant Director of the Doctor of Ministry program.
The faculty is what makes RTS Orlando the community of learning that it is, a place where persons shape persons in the knowledge, character, and skill required for what Martin Bucer calls “the true care of souls” and what Gregory the Great calls “the art of arts.”
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised on Long Island, NY. My father was a university professor, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and a long-time ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In my youth I was catechized on the Shorter Catechism and the N.Y. Mets. I attended Gordon College in Massachusetts where I met my wife, and earned masters degrees in theology (Westminster Seminary) and library science (Simmons Graduate School). Before coming to RTS in 1989 where we have raised four children, I served at the libraries of Harvard Divinity School, Western Seminary (Holland, MI), and Westminster in Philadelphia. As odd as it seems to have settled in the state of Florida, 31 years later here we still are, now blessed with six grandchildren. Because two of them live in Maine, we make frequent sojourns “Down East.”
2. Much of your scholarly work is dedicated to the history of American Presbyterianism. What led you to this topic?
There is some overlap between the work of librarians and historians, and much of my formal training and church life oriented me to history in general and American Presbyterianism in particular. Growing up in the OPC prompted a fascination with the intersection of a confessional institution and the broader evangelical world. Serving as a ruling elder in the OPC for 30 years has furthered my interest in the connection between history and the theological identity of a community of faith.
3. How has your work as a historian influenced your Christian life?
Studying the past has the liberating effect of challenging the blind spots of any age (what C. S. Lewis famously called “chronological snobbery”). I think that a proper use of history prompts a humility in the Christian life. In describing the struggles of the church militant through the ages, church history reminds us of the pilgrim character of the Christian life. This world is not our home: Christians are marching to Zion, seeking a better country, their heavenly home.
4. How has your writing and research influenced your teaching, both inside and outside the classroom?
History can be abused, and much denominational history and congregational stories are exercises in nostalgia. I have emphasized to students the importance of an honest reckoning with the past, which distinguishes memory from nostalgia, thus encouraging faithfulness in the present.
5. What projects are you currently working on?
Alas, increasing administrative duties over the past decade at RTS have curtailed some publishing ambitions. I still tinker with a very brief and long-overdue biography of B. B. Warfield. I am enjoying the opportunity to edit the RTS online faculty journal, Reformed Faith & Practice, now in its fifth year of publication. And I am looking forward to an editorial role in a large RTS collaborative project on the Westminster Confession of Faith.