Questions of transcendental reality are inescapable. What we believe about ultimate things determines what we believe about every little thing. If, for example, there is no God, then the universe is mostly “outer space,” with accidental galaxies and stars and planets speckled here and there, history is simply the documentation of one random event followed by another, etc.
If, however, the Trinity lives, then the universe is better understood as the cosmos and “outer space” is actually “the heavens;” everything relates to everything else like an elaborate tapestry, held together by the eternal Spirit in the ultimate integration point of the Word of the Father — one world without end, amen. If the Triune God lives, in other words, everything relates to everything else. This is why, in this interview between Credo Editor, Samuel Parkison, and Credo Fellow, Megan DeVore, they don’t stick to one topic. It is fair game for us to discuss church history, philosophy, art, education, the local church, the past, the present, and the future.
DeVore is Associate Professor of Church History and Early Christian Studies at Colorado Christian University. With training in Patristic to Medieval Historical Theology and Church History, as well as in art history, philosophy, and Classics, Dr. DeVore teaches a variety of courses in the Department of Theology, such as the History of Christianity, Historical Theology I, Canon Formation, Introduction to Philosophy, and Latin, as well as an occasional course for the department of Humanities, such as Roman Empire to Early Medieval World. In this interview, she helps Credo readers to see that starting anywhere will always rightly lead us back to doxological appreciation for Christ, in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17).
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into academia?
I’ve been particularly fascinated by history, literature, and languages for as long as I can remember. A love for learning combined with a passion for sharing, which compelled me toward teaching, researching, and writing. In my first year of college, I charted a path be a high school humanities teacher. While my journey didn’t remain there, I’ve always been grateful for the courses I took in education and instruction. My academic venture deepened and continued (and continued, across programs as well as continents!) from there. Academia isn’t easy – it’s both profoundly good and deeply taxing, like most worthwhile things. Yet I have to admit that it seems there is something deep in my bones that simply was and is drawn to this venture, in each of life’s seasons, joys, and challenges.
Of all the periods of church history to settle on, why did you land in the early centuries with the patristics?
It was an unfolding process. Some undergrad experience at Oxford included tutorials in Medieval history as well as lectures from prominent Eastern Orthodox theologians. Those were my first exposures to the richness of early Trinitarian reflection, as well as to historic Christian art and architecture as an expression of theological belief and practices. I was irrevocably enthralled – not merely by fields of study, but by the Christian faith that was more deeply rooted and compellingly multifaceted than I had ever realized. I wanted to specialize immediately and exclusively in theology, but then a professor back in Colorado introduced to me to Eusebius and suggested I begin the journey into theology with MA work in Classics. He told me I would never regret depth in the historical, cultural, linguistic, material, and literary contexts of Christianity. He advised me that the academic journey was long, and my path could move in any number of directions from such a solid foundation. He was right. Classics gave both rich preparation for and work in the Early Christian centuries; it also expanded my teaching portfolio. I’m immensely grateful for the various courses and phenomenal professors who gave me opportunity to delve deeply not only into the culture of the Greco-Roman world and Late Antiquity, but specifically also into the early Christian eras and authors. A class in hagiography, then another in early Christian material culture, finalized it for me: ever since, the Patristic era has held my primary passion. This was the impetus for my next step into a theology PhD, focusing on this period.
Academically, the majority of my current projects focus on the venues that early Christian leaders used for the affirmation and communication of orthodoxy in the second through fourth centuries. Personally, I continue to find Patristic era both grounding and dazzling. Personally, I continue to find Patristic era both grounding and dazzling. Click To Tweet It displays a profound commitment to and rich reading of the Scriptures, a multifaceted creativity and deep humility, a sustained articulation of anchored belief in various genres and venues (from hymns and sermons to polemical tomes, from visual art to poetry and creative fiction), myriad examples of theologically-oriented practices in the contexts of communities spread far and wide, and an unremitting awareness of the implications of the nature of the Triune God and of the incarnation… to name just a few captivating aspects! I should add that none of this “ends” with the unfolding of the Medieval era. Far from it. The Patristic era forges tools useful for and engaged (to various extents, and then often also recovered!) by every generation since, whether or not we are aware of it. I do think we are becoming ever more attentive to that reality.
Many people tend to think about history in an isolated and disconnected fashion, as if history is a compilation of one random event after another. This can often lead to an ambivalence toward the subject, wherein people treat the stories of history as interesting anecdotes about irrelevant figures who are so distant and detached they might as well be fictional. You, however, seem to depict history differently. As a Christian educator, for example, you have been known to call Church History our “family history.” Why is this distinction so important?
You’re right: in general, there is an amnesia manifest in our culture today. Christians haven’t been immune to it. I don’t think it’s willful, but it certainly is myopic and debilitating. The remedy to our loss of history isn’t just to relay more content, however. We have to cast an informed and formational vision of wonder and connection – the ‘why’ of history. With the ‘why’ must come a very intentional ‘how’, because doing history with irresponsible gusto isn’t helpful, either! When we engage our past in a way that doesn’t merely glance at isolated scenarios, nor misguidedly create idealized ‘lone ranger’ heroes and institutional villains, we can became aware of a few things. First, we can view with empathy both the brokenness and the beauty in the history of the Church. Then, we can began to see our own story as grafted into the Church’s story – our ancestry, as it were, as complicatedly messy, heartbreaking, and full of redemption as our own stories. We see the many connections, the many prayers, and the many toils of those who have come before us, as we see that changes in the story actually take a great amount of time and preparation to unfold. This gives us the patience and the hope to wholeheartedly confess with Paul that Christ “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). All things means all things, including the broken and beautiful story of the Church. The past reminds us that hope for the church is not lost to the present chaos, that the activity of our Triune God is transpiring always, unto this very day, and that we can walk forward equipped, companioned, and convicted. The past reminds us that hope for the church is not lost to the present chaos, that the activity of our Triune God is transpiring always, unto this very day, and that we can walk forward equipped, companioned, and convicted. Click To Tweet
Judging from the variety of classes you teach and subjects you’re interested in, it seems like you’ve had the opportunity to contemplate how various disciplines interrelate. For example, how do you think one’s philosophy impacts one’s view of history, and vice versa?
It is as though everything is a tapestry, with ‘organic’ threads of interdisciplinary connection and, ultimately, implications for action. When I commit myself to the authority of the Triune God, who reveals Himself and His covenantal work in the Scripture and whose redemptive action or ‘economy’ (as Irenaeus would say) continues to be evident in the world He created, and to the Great Commands and Commission to which God’s followers are directed and equipped, that is going to wholly affect how I view and undertake my field of discipline as well as my vocation. The classes I teach could seem varied at first glance – from History of Christianity survey courses to Patristic Theology seminars, to Canon Formation, Latin, History of the Roman Empire, Deuterocanonical Literature, and an introduction to the history of philosophical thought, for example – but they are interconnected in ways like content or method, and they always involve both informational and formational aspects. Actually, I wish I was more interdisciplinary: I’d love to understand more about the stars as well as physics, or to assist my grade-school children with their math, or to troubleshoot my laptop when it malfunctions… but alas.
On this note, what advice would you give to aspiring scholars who struggle with settling on an emphasis to research (i.e., students who are interested in everything)?
Firstly, don’t be afraid to carefully and persistently seek out connections. Even if an interdisciplinary question doesn’t seem to have been pursued in your educational background, there are likely others in the past and present who have undertaken a related pursuit and can serve as resources and companions. Secondly, partake in a well-rounded education (i.e., one that values the liberal arts and interdisciplinary approaches, as well as intellectual fidelity and expertise) while remaining committed to patience and full presence. In a world that champions velocity, immediate intricate specialization, and a thorough pragmatism in which every step is merely a “means” to ever-unfolding material “ends” (complete the class, so that you can get a degree, so that you can get a job, so that you can… and so on – a viciously hopeless chimera of false ‘fulfillment’ and ‘achievement’ that has led to so much devastation today), you will find that you will need to push against such ‘norms’. Be fully engaged, give yourself time and mental space to think deeply and converse well with others, and find experienced mentors who can listen fully, pray with you, and provide honest insights on what paths could be useful to pursue, and what might be tangled webs or dead-ends.
You’ve spent some time reflecting on Christianity and the arts. Why is it worthwhile for the scholar to pursue an interest in the arts, even if that’s not his or her area of research?
I have, and I continue to do so. I’m convinced that Christian art and architecture – for example, paintings in the catacombs, or the many developments in baptisteries – can help us see the informed dynamism of historic fidelity in practice. But why should you, reading Credo amidst today’s pressing concerns, care about this, or about the creative arts in general? Since the Modern era, theology has often been presented as merely an intellectual activity communicated via the printed word. As a result, theological realities can be viewed as mental abstractions at which we nod, and perhaps briefly verbally invoke, but are little else. This is a quite limited, rather Cartesian view of both the human and theology. In contrast, historic Christianity displays a robust engagement with all of the senses as a significant component of its engagement with the mind and heart, within its corporate worship. Faithful theology has been communicated visually, orally, liturgically, verbally, textually, poetically, and so on, for centuries. Creativity has never been a substitute or preparation for intellectual engagement; it is part of intellectual depth and compelling communication that reaches the whole person. Creativity has never been a substitute or preparation for intellectual engagement; it is part of intellectual depth and compelling communication that reaches the whole person. Click To Tweet For academics, especially those in the theological disciplines, it may be worth asking how various historic dogmas also have been handed down in non-textual forms, or how theology and aesthetics are far more intermingled than is often discussed. More broadly, for all evangelicals, it is worth considering what is communicated, implicitly and explicitly, about the arts in our lives and in our local churches, and whether this is consistent with what we proclaim about the nature and work of God.
You are currently teaching at your alma mater, what has that experience been like?
Every day, I have the honor to participate in the formational work of a community that was so crucial in my own formative years. Amidst the many joys, there have, of course, also been challenges. One that comes to mind is that my transition from ‘student’ or ‘TA’ to ‘colleague’, with only a few years between, was difficult to navigate for awhile. That early season instilled a posture of humility, which is more fruitful than defensiveness or prideful display, and allowed me to rather quickly see both the deeply good and profoundly difficult facets of academic life. As the years have passed, much has changed on the landscape of my alma mater. Yet when those moments come that I walk on the same footpath or under the same trees that I did over two decades ago, and in the many years of life since, I am filled with awe and gratitude for God’s continued work and for the many men and women on this campus who have been so impactful.
Every public commentator seems to have a strong opinion on the upcoming generation of college students, but so few of them speak from experience with them. You, however, get to interact with them up close. What are some things you are encouraged by in students these days?
It has been a delight to teach in the undergraduate classroom for more than fifteen years. I’ve seen several shifts in generational tendencies, not merely between my earliest millennials and present (so-called) ‘Z’ students. Each year of students seems distinct, not merely in generational tendencies and outlooks, but also in the nuance of their concerns, passions, commitments, questions, and specific dangers (such as cynicism, or overwhelmed over-commitment, for example) that seem particularly present in their lives. Over the past two years, I’ve been particularly encouraged by my students’ grit, ability for self-awareness, desire to press into the spiritual disciplines, and yearning to learn and apply their learning in service to the local church. I could speak at length to this question, sharing the ways this generation of college students are delightful, engaged, and have the initiative to be involved in discipleship and faithful community. This means we must give them opportunities to be discipled well as well as spaces to safely serve, make mistakes, and grow…but you can see that I’m terribly biased on their behalf. I continue to pray fervently for wisdom in working with them.
How do you see the world of education changing, and what would you like to see more of?
There are joys and concerns. I’m troubled by a widespread cultural devaluing of the liberal arts, particularly the humanities. I’m also concerned that a great majority of my students who have grown up ‘in the church’ have little to no knowledge of the church’s history or historical standards of orthodoxy. I’m grateful to be part of a Christian institution of higher education pressing against both concerns, working not merely for ‘preservation’ but endeavoring to faithfully inspire, inform, and practice. This is hopeful to me, which leads me to the second part of your question. I desire to continue to see Christian educational institutions that faithfully and actively inform, inspire, and engage ‘head, heart, habits, and habitus’ (habitus is a Latin term that implies the social world around us) in service to society and the church. This is both robustly intellectual and concretely practical, and it is an interdisciplinary venture ultimately anchored in the truth and grace of the Triune God.
You’ve recently joined the Credo Magazine team as a Credo Fellow. Care to share with our readers why you’ve come on board and what you’re excited about as a fellow?
Theological confession is of utmost significance for Christian life and worship, individually and corporately. The stunning question of Christ, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15), invokes a foundation and framework long established and still handed down (1 Cor. 15). This isn’t a frivolous mental abstraction; it is a way of life. A line from a lecture many years ago by Kallistos Ware has long reverberated to me: “The Creed is not yours unless you live it.” Indeed: we must live it, proclaiming it with every facet of our labors, lives, and worship. The Church Fathers and Mothers display this, and I’m delighted that the present work of Credo carries on this conviction. Credo’s work in communicating robust, historic Christian belief in a relevant, compelling way for today’s Christians matters. The classical theological tradition we have inherited is living, valuable, and nourishing in our own concerns and contexts. We walk forward with rooted conviction and wonder-oriented worship of our Triune God. I see these things in Credo’s mission. Count me in.