An ordained Church of God minister, the Reverend Dr. Todd Faulkner has been serving at AU since 2008 when he started as the campus pastor. In 2009, he earned his doctorate in ministry from AU’s School of Theology where he currently serves as an assistant professor of youth and Christian ministries. He also received his master’s in divinity from AU in 2004. Faulkner is married to his wife of 23 years, Cindy, with whom he has three children.
What led you to become a professor of Christian ministry and why do you do it?
Being a professor of Christian ministry allows me to work with students who see what they do as service to God and others. To me, that’s ministry. Not all ministry is preaching and pastoring, but all ministry is service, whether it’s service in the church, in the Marketplace or wherever God calls. My classes focus on the big picture of what God is doing in the world and how each of us fit into this compelling picture and incredible work in our own unique ways.
What are your views on faith in the context of popular culture?
I imagine there will always be both barriers and bridges between Christianity and pop culture. In the first century, John wrote to the church to be in the world but not of it. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that they are the light of the world. How do we do that with integrity?
First of all, we have to be careful not to assume that all pop culture is bad or destructive. Just because something is popular does not necessarily mean it’s empty. Culture gathers up hopes and dreams as well as brokenness and pain. It deals with the shallow as well as the profound. Pop culture reflects the stories of humanity at its best and worst. Authors write about these stories, musicians weave them into song and filmmakers bring them to light in dark theaters. Is it any wonder, then, that while reading, listening and watching we sometimes recognize our own story being told? Humanity shapes the stories of culture and in turn these stories shape humanity.
Secondly, we have to remember that we are part of God’s larger work in the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. This is the Jesus we follow into the world. God loves and Jesus came to redeem. Our practice as Christ-followers who are engaged with this world, for the sake of the world, must be thoughtful and daring.
Consider the story Luke tells about the apostle Paul sharing the message of Jesus with the people gathered at the Areopagus in Athens. In the middle of his Old-Testament-soaked theological presentation, Paul begins to quote pagan authors—not to bash them, but to build on them. At least in the two pop culture writings he quotes in that speech, Paul sees truth worth highlighting and a bridge worth building between the truth they already know and the truth that God has revealed in and through Jesus. “As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:28-29).
When I invite students to travel with me to Hogwarts or Gotham, to Narnia or Mordor, we follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. Paul seriously considered some of the pop culture of his day—and as a result, found God at work there. My classes offer an opportunity for us to do the same.
Why are you interested in Harry Potter, and how does it pertain to how you find, express or profess your faith?
I’m a fan of great stories. Whether they’re found in books or songs or shows or movies, great stories inspire us and motivate us. They allow us to discover more about ourselves and our own stories. Books like those in the Harry Potter series and movies like Infinity War and Endgame create space for us to encounter incredibly important issues: forgiveness and redemption, hope and friendship, faith and sacrifice, life and love, death and new life.
I offer religion and ministry classes that converse with stories from Harry Potter, the Marvel universe, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and “The Lord of the Rings” because these contemporary stories bring us face-to-face with timeless issues. This spring I’m planning to offer an old class with a new twist. “CMIN 3260: Leading, Teaching, and Discipling Youth: the DC edition” will explore issues of youth ministry and service—issues like truth, justice and the use of power—through the lens of DC comics. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman will get a chance to converse with scripture, with developing practices of youth ministry, and with us. Places like Gotham and Metropolis will be considered alongside places like Anderson.
What does AU mean to you?
AU is where my wife finished her undergraduate degree and I completed my graduate and doctoral work. I have pastored and taught at AU for the last 11 years. It’s where our oldest son is planning to attend in the Fall of 2020. We’ve called AU home for the majority of the past 20 years and it continues to be a place of significant educational opportunity and spiritual growth for us.
Has your faith grown since you transitioned from campus pastor to instructing in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry? How so?
I think every major transition in life stretches our faith. Change and movement usher in new seasons and bring us to new landscapes. Each semester and every class offers fresh opportunities for students and professors alike to grow—not only in knowledge and skills, but also in faith. They teach us a little more, and sometimes a lot more, about how to lean into God and lean on one another through all that life brings.
How do you value your students and those at AU in general?
I love to teach classes that allow me to work with students from all across the university. I try to create environments in my classrooms that allow for creativity and diversity, for collaboration and wonder. I love teaching because I love working with students. I strive to be like teachers throughout my life who have inspired learning in me. They never told me I had to learn; they invited me and inspired me to learn.
What would you have AU students leave this school remembering for the rest of their lives?
It’s my hope that students graduate from AU with a heightened awareness of God’s life-giving work in their lives and in this world and a growing responsiveness to this work with all their passion, talent and creativity.