My dissertation acknowledgements

Dissertations are strange creatures: written by many, read by few, important to none but the authors. In a way, dissertations are like the angels of St. Thomas Aquinas, not species of a genus but each a genus unto itself.

And yet many years, blood, sweat, and tears go into dissertations; and so the acknowledgements at their beginning are often a moment to step back and thank those who have made finishing the (by then) cursed thing possible. So far as I can tell, there are two different types of acknowledgements: minimalist and maximalist. Either the author thanks only those who contributed materially and directly to the dissertation's production (one friend thanked, if I recall correctly, only about a dozen individuals), or she mentions more or less every single human being she has met along the way—anyone from whom she has received as much as a cup of cold water. I fall in the latter category, both by temperament (being prolix in life and in prose) and by conviction (a lot of people helped me get to the point of completing this thing!).

But because one is lucky if the readership of one's dissertation exceeds single digits, the writing of acknowledgements can seem somewhat narcissistic, or at least futile. Wherefore I have opted to share my acknowledgements here on the blog. Though I completed and submitted the manuscript last May, it wasn't approved until October and I didn't officially graduate until December. So the proverbial ink has yet to dry, and while it does so, let me share with y'all the many names and institutions and communities—each and every one—that made possible, by God's grace, my earning a PhD in theology from Yale University in the Year of Our Lord 2017.


It was Thanksgiving 2011, in a living room in Starkville, Mississippi, that the idea for this dissertation came to me. ‘Came to me’ is the right phrase: the idea was not mine, but my brother Garrett’s. He, my brother Mitch, and I were killing time in between meals, talking theology as brothers do. And Garrett said, “You know, you’ve been talking about this Webster a lot lately, and before that it was Jenson, and before that it was Yoder. Maybe you should write your dissertation on their theologies of Scripture.” Five and a half years later, here we are. So my first word of thanks goes to Garrett for giving me the idea for this project, to my sister-in-law Stacy for her relaxed toleration of our weakness for the rabies theologorum, and to Garrett and Mitch together for serving as soundboards, sparring partners, and friends throughout this process—and at all other times.

Thanks to my advisor, Kathryn Tanner, for constant encouragement, support, help (not least in saving me from featuring a fourth primary figure!), availability, theological wisdom, practical insight, and (what is not native to me) love of concision and economy of prose.

Thanks to the rest of the committee: Miroslav Volf, David Kelsey, and Steve Fowl. I could not have dreamed of a more fitting, or a more formidable, group of readers for a dissertation on this topic (they wrote the books on it, after all), and their kindness, generosity, and feedback have meant a great deal.

Thanks to the other faculty members from whom I learned or with whom I worked during my time at Yale: Christopher Beeley, John Hare, Linn Tonstad, Jennifer Herdt, Denys Turner, Dale Martin, Adam Eitel. If I have learned anything during my studies, I learned it primarily by osmosis from these brilliant, friendly scholars.

Thanks to my fellow students, in the Theology cohort and in other sub- disciplines: Awet Andemicael, Liza Anderson, Laura Carlson, Justin Crisp, Ryan Darr, TJ Dumansky, Jamie Dunn, Matt Fisher, Andrew Forsyth, Janna Gonwa, Justin Hawkins, Liv Stewart Lester, Mark Lester, Samuel Loncar, Wendy Mallette, Natalia Marandiuc, Sam Martinez, Ryan McAnnally-Linz, Ross McCullough, Luke Moorhead, Stephen Ogden, Devin Singh, Erinn Staley, John Stern, Graedon Zorzi. When I rave about the program at Yale, I am raving about these people.

Thanks to other friends, teachers, and colleagues, near and far, who were a part of my academic journey. In Abilene: Randy Harris, Tracy Shilcutt, Jeanene Reese, Wendell Willis, Glenn Pemberton, Josh Love, Reid Overall. In Atlanta: Ian McFarland, Luke Timothy Johnson, Steffen Lösel, Ellen Ott Marshall, Carol Newsom, Tim Jackson, Mark Lackowski, Leonard Wills, Don McLaughlin, Patrick and Karen Gosnell, Jimmy and Desiree McCarty, Matt and Stephanie Vyverberg, Seth and Kaci Borin, Daron and Margaret Dickens, Adam and Susan Paa. And elsewhere: Junius Johnson, Ben Langford, Andrew and Lindsey Krinks, David Fleer, Lauren Smelser White, David Mahfood, Fred Aquino, and Tyler Richards.

Thanks to the Christian Scholarship Foundation, from which I received a financial lifeline two years in a row, and to Carl Holladay and Greg Sterling, who oversee it.

Thanks to the Louisville Institute, from which I received a generous 2-year doctoral fellowship, and to the new friends and colleagues I made there: Ed Aponte, Don Richter, Terry Muck, Pam Collins, Kathleen O’Connor, Aaron Griffith, Kyle Lambelet, Amanda Pittman, Leah Payne, Derek Woodard-Lehman, Tim Snyder, Lorraine Cuddeback, Layla Kurst, Christina Bryant, Gustavo Maya, and Arlene Montevecchio.

Thanks to those I have come to know because of the issues or figures of this project: Steve Wright, Chris Green, Lee Camp, Peter Kline, Kris Norris, Kendall Soulen, Tyler Wittman, David Congdon, Myles Werntz. Thanks especially to Stanley Hauerwas, Robert Jenson, and the late John Webster, all of whom took the time to encourage this project and my work in general.

Thanks to friends in New Haven: Ross and Hayley (in more than one sense: nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur), Matt and Julia, Mark and Laura, Ryan and Katie, Andrew and Josh, Mark and Liv, Laura, Val, Kelly, Kayla Beth, Roger and Elizabeth, Stephanie and Jeremiah, Stephen and Amanda. What a joy to share life with y’all these last six years. If only it could continue.

Thanks to my zealous and cheerful proof readers: Zac Koons and Lacey Jones.

Thanks to the communities that have taught and formed me in the faith: Round Rock Church of Christ, Highland Church of Christ, North Atlanta Church of Christ, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Trinity Baptist Church.

Thanks to Star Coffee and Round Rock Public Library, where much of this work was written, along with room S217 at Yale Divinity School, now (alas) a faculty office.

Thanks to Spencer Bogle, who is the reason I am in this business in the first place.

Thanks to my parents, Ray and Georgine East, who have never flagged in support or faith in me—beginning at age 17, when I declared my desire to pursue academic theology. What sort of people affirm such a vocation? Thanks especially to my mom, who over the years has read a steady stream of theology supplied by her eldest son. Apart from her I might doubt that this dissertation will be read by someone not paid to do so.

Thanks to Toni Moman—“Miss Toni”—to whom this work is dedicated, a lifelong servant and lover of God’s children. All ministers are theologians, and only God knows how many children have had their first dose of theology from Miss Toni. They are all of them better for it, as am I. Years ago I told Miss Toni that, if and when I had the chance to write a book, I would dedicate it to her. Well: it’s finally here!

Thanks to my three children, Sam, Rowan, and Paige, all of whom were born during my studies at Yale, and who make it all worth it. Sam and Row, especially, will be delighted to hear a different answer than usual to the oft-repeated question, “Daddy, are you done with work yet?”

Thanks, lastly, and most of all, to my wife Katelin, who has been my partner, companion, and best friend for nearly 13 years. We have traveled from central to west Texas, to Atlanta, Georgia, to New Haven, Connecticut, and back again. I cannot imagine doing so without her. Under God, I owe everything to her.

Soli Deo Gloria.


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