Some may suspect that Ryan Stokes, assistant professor of Old Testament, has never heard the sage advice, “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” since he studied a devilish subject while earning his doctoral degree.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Western Kentucky University, two master’s degrees at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and two master’s degrees at Yale University, Stokes went on to earn his Ph.D. at Yale, writing his dissertation on what early Jewish literature and the Hebrew Bible teach about Satan. He looked beyond many modern depictions of the devil—whether Milton’s epic Satan or the caricature of a red devil carrying a pitchfork—to learn what Scripture truly says about this evil one, this “roaring lion,” man’s adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).
In addition, Stokes’ education challenged him to search for the foundations of his Baptist heritage in Scripture.
“When I was in college, I was exposed to different kinds of Christianity and different beliefs for the first time,” Stokes says. “Although I was raised Southern Baptist, I began to question if I was really Baptist.
“At seminary I was able to interact with people from different Protestant traditions, … the gamut of evangelical Christianity. And in that context—in dialogue with those students and as I read the Bible—I figured out that I was Baptist.”
Upon entering Yale University, Stokes found himself immersed in a liberal and “highly critical academic setting.”
“That is where I figured out I am a conservative Christian,” Stokes says. Having established a firm, biblical foundation for both his conservative and Baptist convictions, Stokes knew that Southwestern Seminary was the perfect environment for him to fulfill his calling to teach the Bible. In Jan. 2011, Stokes began teaching at Southwestern, moving to Fort Worth with his wife, Robyn, and his two boys, Seth and Samuel.
“I have enjoyed my time here immensely,” Stokes says. “My colleagues are wonderful. The students are bright and are either already ministering in incredible ways or are bound for incredible ministries.”
At Southwestern, Stokes sees himself as not merely a conveyor of information.
“I think of it as my job to help students to learn how to read the Bible and how to use it in their ministries,” Stokes says. “It is not just to give them a set of facts, but to help them to be active in thinking about the text of the Scriptures as they read it for themselves, interpreting it and applying it for themselves or their congregations.”
Stokes also loves joining students, staff and other faculty members as they take the Gospel to households within a one-mile radius of the seminary campus. He enjoys hearing students share their testimonies and seeing “how God has gifted them differently to share the Gospel in different ways.”
“I’ve been very blessed by having the opportunity to take part in the evangelism here,” he says. “I’ve seen some people come to Christ, and it is a real blessing that God wants to spread His Good News through us.”
Additionally, Stokes has accepted an important research project at Southwestern Seminary. With a team of other Southwestern scholars, he is researching the seminary’s nine Dead Sea Scroll fragments. The results of this research will be featured at the 2011 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in San Francisco, Nov. 19-22.
Stokes familiarized himself with the Dead Sea Scrolls while studying the literature of Second Temple Judaism for his Ph.D. dissertation. So, as it turns out, the devilish research he did at Yale University prepared him to play an important role in Southwestern’s Dead Sea Scroll project.