Dr. Jason Varner is a professor in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry. Dr. Varner spent his undergraduate years at AU and has served as an admissions counselor and RD of Dunn Hall on campus. He recently received his PhD from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Q: What were some of your most memorable experiences at AU as an undergrad?
A: I love student activities here. I love residence life; I was an RA for two years. I was a history major to begin with. I really enjoyed classes with Dr. Murphy and Dr. Dirck, and I know a lot of students still do, which is really cool. That department really formed me, and so did Bible and Religion. A lot of those folks have retired and moved on, but to be taking the place of some of them—or at least one of them—is really cool. I just loved the fact that an AU education was always more than just an academic pursuit.
Q: What led you back to AU to teach?
A: I got my Master’s degree at AU right after my undergrad, so I was here for six years of school in a row. So, during my time at the School of Theology, I developed a passion for academics and I always thought it would be great to go on to get my doctorate. I just didn’t know how that would look or how it would happen. But I felt God calling me to ministry with university-level students and then, as I was praying through my options, I decided the area I wanted to focus on was history. I like history so much as opposed to theology and philosophy because with history, you can start with an event that happens in the causal nexus—in a place and a time, where something either happened or it didn’t. And then we can argue over the interpretations or what that means for the present, or what that meant at the time. With theology and philosophy, you have to start at a point where you have to come to some agreement about what may or may not have happened, or about events that are abstract—things that aren’t events, actually, which are abstract ideas. So the ability for common ground, to me, was appealing. There’s some fixed thing with history that you don’t get with theology and philosophy, and that just suits my personality more. I love the historical process, and I decided to go to St. Andrews in Scotland to pursue further education beyond my Master’s.
Q: What inspired you to pursue your PhD at St. Andrews in Scotland?
A: My favorite professor in seminary, Dr. Tim Gwyer, had received his degree in the New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland and talked about it a lot. From what I understood from him and other people, the style of education there was a little bit more inductive and a little less prescriptive—it was more built around the student and the student’s motivation. I just felt like it would fit me better. A friend of mine had gone to St. Andrews, and he was teaching here at the time at the Falls School of Business and he really recommended it. I looked into it and they had some programs in history that looked really interesting to me. Early Modern History is what really jumped out. I was really interested in intellectual history, like the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the way that ideas kind of shaped people’s lives. St. Andrews just seemed like the place. I prayed about it, and that is where I felt the peace. It’s the only place I applied to for grad school. I did a Master’s there in Early Modern History and a PhD in Modern History.
Q: What was the most memorable thing about living in Scotland?
A: The best thing about Scotland is the outdoors. Almost any day of the year, as long as you bring your raincoat, you’re allowed to go and walk the countryside and there’s no limit to walking on people’s property as long as you leave it as you find it. The moment that really hit me was when I was on a run and I was getting away from my books for the afternoon. I was on a jog and I hopped a stone fence. I was running along it when I realized I wasn’t alone; there were about 50 sheep running along beside me. They had come over the hill and were curious about me and I was curious about them. We just kept running for maybe 50 or 100 feet, and I thought, this is the coolest thing ever. The sun was setting and these sheep were running beside me on this beautiful green hilltop and I thought, man, I’m a lucky, lucky guy.
Q: Do you have any plans to return to Scotland?
A: Definitely. It’s a second home to me now. I really grew in my relationship with the Lord there and found a church that really pushed and stretched me. Some of my dearest friends are over there, so this summer I’m going to go back for a month. Over Christmas break I did, and I plan most years on spending at least a few weeks in the summer in Scotland doing hiking-related things, and just reading and just connecting with friends.
Q: What’s your favorite class or topic to teach here at AU?
A: I think my favorite class would be Church History. Dr. Strege taught here for over thirty years, and he was my Church History professor. He helped kind of make it come alive for me. It is my focus within Modern History, and I focused on Puritans and Native Americans. I love how the church has just evolved and changed and shifted. I love talking to students about it. I don’t think it’s dry; I think it has actual application for our lives. It’s still relevant. There’s still a church today, just like there was at the very beginning and I get excited about that.