March 2023 News Perspective Online

Preaching and …

The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence, in collaboration with Westminster John Knox Press, has launched a preaching series entitled the “Preaching and . . .” series. An expert in preaching and a scholar from a nonreligious field combine forces to explore the implications of their combined fields for preachers.

The first volume in the series was authored by Dr. O. Wesley Allen, Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics at Perkins and Dr. Carrie La Ferle, the Marriott Endowed Professor of Ethics and Culture, the Temerlin Advertising Institute, SMU. It was entitled Preaching and the Thirty Second Commercial: Lessons from Advertising for the Pulpit in 2021.

Another book in the series, Humor Us! Preaching and the Power of the Comic Spirit, was co-authored by Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, Director of The Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at Perkins and Dr. Owen Lynch, Associate Professor of Corporate Communication, Meadows School of the Arts, humor scholar, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, Senior Research Fellow at the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity, Lyle School of Engineering, SMU. The book will be published in March 2023.

Shauna Hannan

The third volume in the series is Preaching and Film Making, a collaboration between preaching professor Shauna Hannon and screen writer Gael Chandler. This book will be published in the fall of 2023.

Hannon and Chandler will present their insights in an event on Monday, April 17, entitled What Preachers Can Learn from Filmmaking: Story, Collaboration and Impact. The program runs 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Prothro Great Hall.

Gael Chandler

Movies impact filmgoers’ thoughts, emotions, and actions in powerful ways; the workshop will examine how preachers might harness some of that potential in their weekly sermons. This workshop will identify strategies filmmakers use that can enliven the preached word and enhance its impact on hearers and the world. Speakers will connect filmmaking and preaching by examining film genres and formats, analyzing film scenes, and engaging in some creative, collaborative writing exercises. Organizers promise  a playful, creative day of “blue skying” in the homiletical “writer’s room.”

Workshop co-presenter Hannan is Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Core Doctoral Faculty in Religion & Practice at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and author of The Peoples’ Sermon: Preaching as a Ministry of the Whole Congregation. Chandler is a former film editor in Hollywood and author of four books on film editing: Editing for Directors (2021) Cut by Cut: Editing your Film or Video (2004 & 2012) and Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Should Know (2009) published by Michael Wiese Productions.

Registration for the event is $50. Perkins students receive a 50% discount. A continental breakfast and lunch are included. Register here: For questions, email


March 2023 News Perspective Online

Summer Immersion

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March 2023 News Perspective Online

Student Spotlight: Randy Deese

Randal Deese will never forget the date: December 22, 1974.

That’s when his life took a significant turn, a turn that ultimately led him to Perkins School of Theology, by way of many twists and turns.

Deese grew up in a dysfunctional family. He attended a Lutheran church, but only because his mother insisted. He began taking drugs at age 12: marijuana, meth, and LSD. He lied about his age and education and enlisted in the Coast Guard at age 15. While serving aboard a ship, he was rarely sober.

“I was a messed up young fellow,” he said.

One night, after a long night of partying, he started to think about how miserable his out-of-control life was making him. With no one else to talk to, he turned to a shipmate.

“He never preached at me or anything, but everybody on the ship called him the Jesus Freak,” he recalled. “I just poured out my whole life to him. The drugs, my lying to the military, everything. He looked at me and he said, ‘I can’t do anything for you. But I know somebody that can do something for you. Can we pray?'”

The conversation didn’t do much for Deese, but when the man woke him up and invited him to church a few hours later, Deese felt obligated and went along. At the church, which was packed, he found a warm welcome. The preacher concluded his sermon with an altar call, saying, “If you want to know God personally, all you need to come do is come up here and meet him.”

Deese said he heard two voices in his mind. One said, “Don’t go up there. You’re going to look like a fool.” The other said calmly, “Randy, if you go up to the front of this altar, you will never regret it.”

Deese walked up the aisle.

“I felt literally like tons of weight (due to guilt and shame) was falling off of me,” he said. The preacher cited 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanses from all unrighteousness.” The words were seared into Deese’s heart, and his life changed at that moment.

“One day I was on drugs,” he said. “The next day I couldn’t put my Bible down.”

With only an eighth-grade education, Deese earned a GED, then acquired a Bachelor of Arts in pre-theological studies through cumulative studies at a local community college, a Pentecostal Bible college and a Lutheran seminary. Afterward, he received an M.Div. at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Tacoma, Washington (now Faith International University.) He served as senior pastor in a nondenominational church for many years, then spent six years as a police chaplain. He served a total of 15 years in the military, including three years as a military chaplain, part of that time in Iraq.

“I was in a multi-functional medical battalion in Iraq,” he said. “Primarily, we were the psychiatric unit for the whole area of operations in Iraq. We ran the counseling clinics at different posts all across Iraq. I flew everywhere throughout Iraq to make sure everybody was spiritually okay, to encourage and strengthen and let people know that somebody’s thinking about them, even though they might be in a remote little place somewhere in Iraq.”

There were harrowing moments during his time in Iraq. Shortly after arriving at Joint Base Balad, he was instructed to run to the nearest bunkers immediately after hearing the sirens.

“The first night, the alarm went off, and mortars were coming in,” Deese said, “I realized I’d never make it to the bunkers.” They were landing before I could open the door to my room. “From then on, every time I heard the alarm, I’d say, ‘Lord, if it’s my time, it’s my time. I’m rolling over, I’m going to sleep.’ And that’s what I did the rest of the time I was in Iraq.” He refused to get stressed out about something he had no control over.

After leaving the chaplaincy in 2010, Deese was not planning on returning to ministry. Instead, he spent a decade working as a truck driver. Going back to school, he jokes, is his way of “rebooting” himself to return to ministry.

So how did Deese — an evangelical educated at a Pentecostal Bible college and a Lutheran seminary – end up at Perkins?

First, he felt that Perkins offered the most potential for personal growth among his choices in the North Texas area. Secondly, he hopes his academic work might promote Bible literacy and education among pastors who don’t have the benefit of a seminary education.

“I have a desire to reach out to the non-trained clergy within the charismatic Pentecostal and Evangelical streams,” he said. “Some of them don’t even have a high school education. I’d love to figure out a Bible college program of some kind that would reach into their churches. I haven’t formulated exactly how it would work, but basically, I’d like to help lift the standard up in the theological training area for many clergy. Some of these pastors might take a small correspondence course, depending on their affiliation, but other than that, there lots of untrained clergy out there.”

Returning to school at this stage in his life has been challenging. “I forgot how to write a paper,” he said. “How do you make citations now? How do you make a bibliography? Now we have computers, we have websites. There’s a lot to consider that I never had to consider back in 1986, the last time I was in school.”

Still, Deese finds his studies rewarding. He’s particularly interested in pneumatology, specifically, the study of baptism with the Holy Spirit. He hopes to pursue a doctorate ultimately.

When he’s not busy studying, Deese enjoys oil painting – landscapes are his favorite – and spending time with his family: his wife, three sons, two stepsons, a stepdaughter, 12 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Prayer has been of primary importance throughout his journey, with its many unexpected turns. One Bible verse has helped him keep perspective for many years: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NRSVUE).

March 2023 News Perspective Online

Faculty News: March 2023

Hunt and Dickens Co-Author Op-Ed

Robert Hunt and doctoral student Drew Dickens were co-authors of a Feb. 5 op-ed column in The Dallas Morning News, “ChatGPT isn’t going to make us slaves; uninspired education might.” With the arrival of the new open artificial intelligence chatbot called ChatGPT, many schools are already banning it from classrooms while adjusting assignments and exams to prevent its use. “Though ChatGPT is a master of established, objective facts, it won’t ever be visionary,” they wrote. “It’s clunky when it comes to subjective observations and nuances and will never engage in crucial classroom debates. The great risk is that students too reliant on AI tools may themselves become robotic and be less the spontaneous, spirited humans we wish them to be.” Hunt is director of Global Theological Education at Perkins; Dickens is a doctoral candidate at SMU focusing on the “Effects of Sacred Texts on Generative AI Language Models.” Dallas Morning News subscribers may read the op-ed here.

When the Church Woke

A new book written by the Rev. Dr. William Lawrence, former Perkins Dean, was recently featured in a UM News article entitled “Methodism overdue for becoming ‘woke,’ author says.”  Lawrence, a church historian, wrote about racism with Methodism, past and present, in his new book, When the Church Woke (Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2023.)  Read UMNews’ Q&A with Lawrence about the book here.

March 2023 News Perspective Online

Student News: March 2023

Two papers by Perkins student ThM student Jae Jun “Daniel” Cho have been accepted by the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) for its 2023 virtual and international gatherings. “All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God: God’s Comprehensive Salvation for All People” has been accepted for Individual presentation at the 2023 SBL Global Virtual Meeting, March 27-31. “Church and State: A Re-reading of Romans 13:1-7 in the Context of Modern South Korea” was accepted for the program unit on Paul and Pauline Literature at the 2023 SBL International Meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, July 3-7.

March 2023 News Perspective Online

Alumni Updates: March 2023

New Book by Kevin Brown

Dr. Kevin A. Brown (M.Div. ’15, D.Min. ‘21) recently lectured in Theodore Walker’s class with material from his new book, AND THE BEAT GOES ON: Towards A Sustainable Beloved Community (New Purpose, 2023.) According to its description, the book “is a way forward that builds on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a prescription for where we go from here. Pushing for a public policy that urges America to do what is moral and right for the common good of all people, to building communities with a liberative praxis that ensures sustainability, Kevin Brown sounds the clarion call for a constitutional amendment that guarantees an end to poverty. This book is for leaders at every level who are ready to work collectively so that all people thrive and flourish.” Brown is also the founder and co-executive director of New Purpose ( which is a 501(c) 3 committed to executing the work outlined in this book.

After Lung Transplant, Still Serving

Every weekend, the Rev. W. Gerald “Jerry” Neff (M.Th. ‘83; D.Min. ‘93) and his wife drive three hours from their home in Galveston, Texas, to Jasper, Texas, where he leads worship for the new United Methodist Church of the Pines. He is the volunteer pastor for a congregation of 60 members who decided to stay United Methodist and form their own worship community after their local churches disaffiliated. Neff is officially retired and had a double lung transplant less than a year ago but feels called to serve the new church. Read the Feb. 6 UM News story, “With new lungs, he leads a new church,” here.

Obituary: The Rev. Maynard Rolly Walker

The Rev. Maynard Rolly Walker (M.Th. ’79) died on February 19 at age 84. A Celebration of Life service was held February 24. He was ordained in the United Methodist Church as a Deacon and an Elder. Before he was called to the ministry, he taught high school algebra and geometry and coached football, basketball and track. He served a number of churches, including the Boyce charge in Alexandria, La.; Lakewood Drive UMC in Dallas; Waples Memorial UMC in Denison, Texas; and Trinity UMC in Ruston, La. After “retiring,” he would serve Alabama Presbyterian Church in Sibley, and Douglas UMC in Douglas. He received the J. Henry Bowden Preaching Award in 1999 in recognition of Outstanding Preaching on Moral Issues by the Louisiana Moral & Civic Foundation. Read his obit here.

Obituary: The Rev. Victor “Vic” Nixon

The Rev. Victor “Vic” Harmon Nixon (M.Th. ‘67) of Little Rock, Arkansas, died on February 21 following an extended illness. While attending Perkins, he served as a student pastor at Eustace, Payne Springs and Pickens Spur United Methodist Churches in the Texas Conference. After graduation, he served the United Methodist Church for over 40 years in congregations in Arkansas, with his final appointment as Senior Pastor of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church (PHUMC) in Little Rock. He was also Associate Director of the North Arkansas Conference Council on Ministries and Director of Arkansas Cooperative Parish Ministries. He was a loyal member of the Hendrix College Board of Trustees and an active community volunteer. A public celebration of his life will be held on June 26 at 11 a.m. at PHUMC. Memorials may be made to the PHUMC Foundation Victor H. Nixon & Frances O. Nixon Endowment Fund or the Harmon and Louise Rankin Nixon Memorial Scholarship Fund at Hendrix College. Read his obit here and the story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette here.

Obituary: The Rev. Sharon Kay Harrigill Strain

The Rev. Sharon Kay Harrigill Strain, (M.Div. ‘85) of Pflugerville, Texas, passed away on February 3 at age 77. Ordained as a United Methodist minister in 1985, she was a trailblazer: one the earliest female United Methodist ministers and the first female preacher to serve in most of her churches. She and her husband Bill Strain spent more than 25 years in churches in Texas, including Bristow, Staples, Kingsbury, Austin, Johnson City and Kerrville. “She will undoubtedly be remembered for her larger-than-life personality, her thick Southern accent, but most of all, her deep love and kindness,” according to the obituary. A celebration of life will take place at a future date. The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the animal rescue organization of one’s choice or to Heifer International. Read the obituary here.