McWilliams recounts journey from undergrad to professor

By Morgan Smith, Assistant Faith editor  (Photo by Jonathon Soder/The Bison)

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J. R. R. Tolkien

Dr. Warren McWilliams, the Auguie Henry professor of Bible, said Tolkien’s quote is one of his favorite quotes, and it’s one he hopes he has been wise enough to live by.

In the time he’s been given, McWilliams has graduated from OBU, studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, received a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and taught at Stetson University in Florida.

He returned to teach at OBU eight years after graduation, and has remained with the university for what will be 42 years this summer.

McWilliams said that, while he did not start out with the aspiration to return to OBU as a professor, he has enjoyed teaching theology as well as his interactions with the university’s students and staff.

“I don’t want to trivialize the term providence, but, for me, it was a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

Originally, McWilliams came to OBU as a ministry student and graduated with a major in psychology.

“I felt called to a ministry; I presumed, at that point in my life, I’d be pastoring. In fact, I pastored a little church part of my senior year,” he said. “I did a double minor in religion and philosophy, pretty sure I’d go in the seminary and then pastor, so I didn’t get an inclination that I was going to be a college teacher until I was in seminary, actually.”

McWilliams said the idea to get his Ph.D. was first planted by one of his professors during his senior year at OBU.

The idea began to germinate when he started working under one of his professors in seminary.

“Over time I felt more and more comfortable with the idea that I might be a college or seminary professor, but I was doing church staff work part time all through my Ph.D. work, because I still thought there might be a chance the door might open to pastoral ministry more than college teaching,” McWilliams said. “But I got a college teaching job, and that’s all I’ve really done for a long, long time.”

He said he was drawn to the study of theology through his work in philosophy.

“The philosophy minor got me kind of interested in the big questions,” McWilliams said.

“Philosophy and theology are related fields. I was drawn to certain theological issues, but I knew to teach I needed to have a general background in Biblical theology, historical theology and so on.”

McWilliams’ landed his first job out of graduate school at Stetson, which he said was “a great job.” He taught for two years before returning to OBU in 1976.

He said the campus had not changed too much in the time between his graduation and his return as a teacher, and that he recognized his former teachers amongst new faces.

“I had to get used to calling some of my former professors by their first name,” McWilliams said.

Over the last 42 years, McWilliams has taught theology courses, freshman Bible courses and ethics.

Senior Caty Bridges said she has loved his classes and that she has found McWilliams to be a very interesting professor.

“His material is easy to comprehend, but you have to study very thoroughly to do well on his tests,” she said. “He’s still an excellent professor.”

McWilliams said he’s generally found his students to be both bright and dedicated, and has made friends amongst the faculty as well.

“I’ve had some great co-workers, faculty and staff,” McWilliams said. “People in other departments, being at a small undergraduate liberal arts school, have a lot of interdisciplinary interaction.”

However, this semester will mark the end of McWilliams’ time as a full-time professor at OBU.

Although he said he does not yet have any big plans for retirement, he hopes to continue to use his time wisely, and will continue to visit campus and the friends he’s made at the university.

“There’s a chance I might get to teach a course occasionally, part time, because I’m going to stay in Shawnee,” he said.


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