Pastor, Teacher, Scholar

May 03, 2015

Dr. Paul Jeon (MDiv ’05)

With a BA from Brown University, an MDiv from Westminster, a PhD from Catholic University, and an MBA from George Washington University, Rev. Dr. Paul Jeon has a broad range of experience and talent. We recently spoke with Dr. Jeon to learn more about how his experience has helped him in his current role as pastor, seminary professor, and author.

While studying at Brown, Dr. Jeon began to consider seminaries for theological study. He had several friends who studied at seminary, and they talked with Paul about their education. “They were getting what you might consider a broad view. You were given the choices A, B, C, or D, but you weren’t really told why this one might be right or wrong. In the end, they had to do a lot of figuring out on their own, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps too [soon] for this early stage of theological education. In retrospect many of them said they would have preferred to have gone to a place that taught one tradition well in order to develop a measure, of sorts, for assessing other traditions.” With that advice in mind, Paul decided to attend Westminster.

Dr. Jeon enjoyed his time at Westminster immensely, especially the teaching of people like Drs. Gaffin, Trueman, and Tipton. However, it was a class on soteriology taught by Dr. Tipton that transformed the way he viewed the Gospel of Christ, particularly with his emphasis on union with Christ. “I don’t want to say that up to that point I had never heard a presentation of the Gospel, but for some reason, it crystallized at that moment. I really began to see for the first time why the Gospel is so unique. It really did revolutionize the way I think about what ministry is in terms of proclamation and what you emphasize in terms of presentation. Tipton in particular demonstrated a unique blend of exegesis, systematics, and biblical-theological analysis”

After graduating from Westminster, Paul took the advice of a few of his professors and began a PhD program in New Testament at Catholic University. While he was studying at Catholic, he was asked to teach New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Washington, D.C. Dr. Jeon has taught most of the New Testament courses and comments on how his training at Westminster helped his PhD studies and teaching: “In an unexpected way, my training in systematics, apologetics, and church history informed the way I approach my New Testament studies. The whole idea that you can do exegesis in an objective way really doesn’t work, so learning how to be aware of my presuppositions as I do exegesis and as I approach the text has been helpful. [Westminster] gave me a good backbone, so when I was doing my PhD I was able to engage the material in a thoughtful way.” Dr. Jeon is currently writing a series of commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles as a part of his work in New Testament. His commentary on Titus, To Exhort and Reprove, is now available. .

Immediately after he graduated from Catholic University, Dr. Jeon began an MBA at George Washington University, graduating in 2011. In 2012, he planted NewCity Church in Falls Church, VA. His pastoral role is his primary role, but his studies and teaching at RTS have helped inform his pastorate. “I find that teaching at seminary keeps me sharp in one particular way, and then being a pastor keeps me sharp in another way.”

The fact that Paul has three post-gradaute degrees has helped him in his particular pastoral context. “Many in my church have a graduate degree. The people are truly educated, and the reality is that the first few minutes when people are listening to you, they’re not even paying attention to what you’re saying; they want to know if you have credibility. While it’s true that in a smaller church they want to see if you’re going to love them and be a man of integrity, the reality is that they’re not interested in sentimentality and Christian clichés. They have thoughtful questions and even more thoughtful doubts, and they want to hear not only a warm but also an intellectually thoughtful presentation of the faith. I’ve found that my broad education exposed me to the frameworks, questions, and background stories to the questions I’ve encountered in the context of ministry.

“I also think doing an MBA was helpful because when I read the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, I understand a lot of the data that I wouldn’t have without a MBA In general, when I preach and teach, I try to use language that [my congregants] interact with on a regular basis and that would be readily accessible to non-Christians.”

In Dr. Jeon’s church, a few unique challenges have cropped up since he started. The first has to do with culture: “When you’re a minority, it’s not easy to attract non-minorities, because they’re not accustomed to having a minority as a senior pastor. Also, the way my church has tried to do ministry is pretty distinct from Asian-American churches. We’re very confessional and very liturgical, and that’s foreign to Asian-American churches. So we ended up developing this unique identity where we would not attract Asians, but then we wouldn’t attract non-Asians either.”

A second challenge has been confronting members who don’t show signs of the Gospel in their lives. “Many of our members had gone to church for many years, and they count themselves as believers. That touches on an important topic: how do you suggest to professing Christians that they might not be Christians, in a winsome way, but in a necessary way? As we see unbelievers become Christians, they’re confounded by those who have been confessing Christians for so many years, yet they don’t look and feel like what the Bible says Christians should look and feel like. Learning how to confront people in a winsome way has been very difficult.”

Finally, Paul has faced the challenge of hesitation from his members of taking official leadership roles. “I came from a context where everyone wanted to be a deacon and elder because that was the thing to do. At my church now, because the men treat the calling of deacon and elder so highly, no one wants to do it. We have the opposite problem where people treat it so seriously that they know that if they become a deacon or an elder that they have to give an account before God. We’re not particularized yet, and we can’t be until we have elders.”

With all the experience he has in teaching and ministry, Paul has plenty of advice for current students in seminary. First, he would advise them to take seriously the advice of faculty. “I think that if my mentors, like Lane Tipton, Carl Trueman, had said to me ‘We’ve seen your work, but we don’t think a PhD is a good route for you,’ I would have taken that very seriously. You need to dialogue with people who have been there and done that and take seriously the fact that God calls us into community as we discern our respective callings.” He would also advise that students focus on developing godly character in addition to their theological learning. “The more you do ministry, the more you realize that so much of it is a function of your character instead of your ability. I don’t mean to create a wedge between the two, but a lot of the problems that people have when it comes to doing ministry stems from impatience or having grandiose views of what ministry is. Everyone wants to be Keller or Piper, but people are afraid to have what Michael Horton calls an ‘ordinary ministry.’”

In the midst of the work that Dr. Jeon is doing, his primary prayer is that he would first be a faithful husband and father. Would you offer a prayer for him in his ministry role and family life?