James D Pennington
Dr. Jim Pennington received his B.S. in Chemistry (’91) and B.A. in International Studies (German) (’91) from the University of Michigan, Dearbon and his Ph.D. in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (’98) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is currently a Lecturer in organic chemistry at Texas A&M University.
In addition to official teaching responsibilities, Jim is involved on campus with the Life Science Learning Community and as a Wakonse Fellow focusing on improving education and teaching. Summer activities in the two years since he has come to A&M have included postdoctoral research and outreach to Texas science teachers at the K-12 level.
Dr. Jim Pennington received his B.S. in Chemistry (’91) and B.A. in International Studies (German) (’91) from the University of Michigan, Dearbon and his Ph.D. in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (’98) from the University of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is currently a Lecturer in organic chemistry at Texas A&M University. In addition to official teaching responsibilities, Jim is involved on campus with the Life Science Learning Community and as a Wakonse Fellow focusing on improving education and teaching. Summer activities in the two years since he has come to A&M have included postdoctoral research and outreach to Texas science teachers at the K-12 level.
I feel like my story is a fairly typical one, up to a point. I was raised in a Christian home and attended a church where I learned what the Bible teaches about life, living, death and eternity. At about the age of 12, I had a limited but sufficient understanding of sin, and God’s desire and plan for the forgiveness of sin, that I accepted Jesus as my savior.
I realized that this involved “giving my life to God,” but at 12, I didn’t realize the full implications of that. Throughout junior high and most of high school, being a Christian for me mostly meant that I believed certain things and that I stayed out of trouble.
By my senior year in high school, and increasingly in my beginning years of college, I realized that to remain a Christian I was going to have make it my faith or it would be no faith at all. Two questions began to surface in my life regarding my faith: “Is it reasonable to believe the claims of Christianity?” and “If Christianity’s claims are real, what difference should it make in my life?”Both questions drove me to look at the bible itself, and to other people who had wrestled with these questions.
Frightening but Invigorating
The first question came primarily from external forces as the result of interaction with more and more people who did not believe what I did. It was frightening but invigorating to wrestle with the intellectual soundness of Christian faith as I took classes in science and the humanities. There is not room here for all of the questions that I had, nor for all of the answers that go with them.
A good place to start, for the person that is having these types of questions, is with Josh McDowells book “More Than a Carpenter” or C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”. Also, browse the abstracts at the LeaderU web page. You are likely to find a well thought out reply to the questions you are asking. (The one question that I have found to be the hinge pin for Christian faith is “Who is Jesus, and did he really rise from the dead?”. All of Christianity stands or falls on this one point.) The short answer to my initial question was yes, I did find it reasonable to believe the claims of Christianity, but I also didn’t find all of the answers to all of the questions.
What I found was sufficient evidence that I am willing to have faith in the things that I don’t understand, or don’t understand yet. Here it is important to define what I mean by faith. I do not mean blindly accepting with no questions what has been told to you. Rightly understood, faith looks at the existing evidence, compares possible explanations, determines which explanation best fits the evidence, and takes actions based on that model in an area beyond what the evidence can conclusively prove yet.
As a scientist, I apply this principle all of the time, but it is not usually called faith. In research, one bases ones plans and ideas on all of the known information that one can obtain, but not everything is known beforehand, or it wouldn’t be called “research”. If I waited until I understood everything about chemistry before I would “believe in” it, I would never be able to be a chemist. But, the principles of chemistry, and the principles of Christianity, can be proven to be true to the extent that I am willing to believe, and continue to investigate, the things that I don’t understand.
If the claims of Christianity are real, then I am left with my second question, what difference should it make in my life. This meant more to me than what should and shouldn’t I do morally or believe intellectually, but how was I going to live out the specific life that God has given to me. In part this has meant spending time, and needing to spend more time, reading Gods word and praying so that I can know the God that I serve. I also believe that God gives each person certain skills and interests that prepare them for unique purposes.
A case in point for me was my interest in German language. The summer before graduate school was spent in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) on a Campus Crusade for Christ short-term missions trip. This gave me a chance to use the interest in German language that God had given me while learning how to present the gospel. God has also given me a love of chemistry and of teaching.
Chemistry is not a word that usually comes to mind when one thinks of “Christian work”. This leads me to ask how can these abilities and desires be used to glorify God and help others.
The exciting thing for me is that as I look at how God has answered these questions in other peoples lives, I also realize that He has a unique way to use me that doesn’t have to measure up to someone else’s expectations for me. My current question/focus is how does God intend to use me in my current context as a married /foster parent/ chemistry lecturer.
What can I do now? What is He preparing me for in the future? What can I do to be prepared for and pursue that future ministry while also carrying out ministry now? I think these are ongoing questions in the life of every Christian.