During a visit to Hawaii, I and my boys hiked through a botanical garden in Mililani (“hiking,” as an abstract concept, is wildly exciting for boys under ten, but in reality the thrill lasts for less than 15 minutes). Along the path I noticed a old, dead stump with a fresh plant starting to grow from the top. Having recently studied Isa 11:1-9, where a shoot is said to come up from the stump of Jesse, the promise of God’s renewing grace came to mind.
Looking back over time, I have wondered what this renewal might look like in the lives of men and women living in Hawaii. The answer is a Gospel Coalition chapter championed by local pastors and a biblical training initiative called the Antioch School Hawaii. The following interview with Pastor Todd Morikawa and Dr. Chris Bruno offers an inside look at the ministry.
Todd, what is the state of the evangelical church in Hawaii?
The best way I might know how to explain this is that The Gospel Coalition is basically an unknown evangelical movement out here. Some of our most influential churches do not have any semblance of church membership and do not see repentance as a necessary fruit of conversion. Those are issues that many people are simply not willing to take a stand on.
I think one of the greatest deficiencies out here is biblical discernment. It is a very laid-back culture in which most people embrace everyone, no questions asked: I have seen conferences in which men like Voddie Baucham and Francis Chan have spoken alongside people with unorthodox views of justification and the atonement. I work at a church in which we are one of six churches right next door to each other (less than a quarter mile stretch), and at least two or three of us have other denominations that meet on our properties. And all that kind of diversity is seen as a good thing out here. But I do fear for how seriously Christians take the truth of God’s Word.
Chris, What is the state of theological education in Hawaii?
I have had the opportunity to get to know people from a couple of the theological education institutions on Oahu. The first, the Bible Institute of Hawaii, has had a great impact in the islands over the last 25 or 30 years, and I know their education program has been responsible for saving a couple of churches from losing the Gospel. However, their mission is more focused on theological education at the college or Bible institute level, and not so much on training pastors in the context of the church.
The other main institution for theological education is New Hope Christian College-Hawaii. Although they do offer several master’s degrees, their primary focus is training undergraduates. So, again, their primary focus is not church-based leadership training at the graduate level.
Not to mention that while both of these institutions are broadly evangelical, they do not have quite the same doctrinal convictions as some of the Antioch partner churches. So, the long and the short of it is that there is a strong need for graduate theological education within the growing Reformed movement in Hawaii.
Chris, what are the distinctives of the Antioch School Hawaii?
We are not re-inventing the wheel with this program. Rather, we are partnering with the Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development in Ames, Iowa. Because of this, we can offer accredited masters degrees and possibly even a D.Min. program.
But more importantly, the Antioch program is a truly church based program. That is to say, every student in the Antioch School Hawaii will orient their studies toward ministry in a partner church while being mentored by a leader in one of the churches. Also, rather than the typical lecture-driven information transfer common to most seminaries, the Antioch courses are build are the Socratic method and students are evaluated on whether they have demonstrated competency for ministry. The emphasis is on equipping our students for ministry with the head, the hands, and the heart.
Todd, what has been your experience with the Antioch School so far?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the interest of everyone we have talked to about the program, including people on Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii. Our first semester we had nine students from about five different churches; it should grow to about 12 from seven churches this fall. I have enjoyed all the studying that is involved, all of the class discussions, and all of the cross-congregational fellowship that is happening.
I am encouraged by the fact that several churches are taking it upon themselves to raise up pastors and church leaders under the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. I take joy in knowing that we are raising up leaders with the Bible, and in a biblical manner, namely, through the vehicle of the local church. And for anyone curious, I have found the curriculum to be very sufficient and engaging. I am thankful that they have done a lot of work to put this material in the hands of local churches. They do a good job of giving us accountability and freedom, as well as entrusting us to do most of the assessment of students.
Chris, what will your role be with the Antioch School Hawaii?
I will have a duel role as the academic dean of the Antioch School Hawaii and as a part of the pastoral team at Harbor Church. As the Antioch School continues to grow, it will be harder for the pastors of the partner churches to administer the program. So while I will also serve as a pastor myself, my primary responsibility is to be a servant to the pastors, taking the administrative reigns of the program and helping plan the future expansion of the program. In addition to this, I will help lead some of the courses, serve as a student mentor, and continue to be involved in theological research and writing.
Todd, is the Antioch School in competition with SBC or other seminaries?
We are not in competition with the seminaries so far as I know. It seems all the seminaries highlight the centrality of the local church. Antioch School also sees the local church as central to the Great Commission. Where we do run into competition is with anyone who sees the seminaries as the only ones capable of training pastors. We are in competition with churches who simply outsource to seminaries.
I believe at least Southern Seminary is training pastors to train pastors. I think if a pastor comes out of seminary ill-equipped to train others, he is not fully trained. So if the vision of our seminaries is to raise up leaders who can train others within their own churches, then Antioch School can only help to boost that vision. I agree with what Al Mohler has recently said, namely, that the seminaries should be seen as resources for churches to help churches raise up their own ministers, NOT as institutions who raise up ministers for the churches.
Todd, how can we pray for you?
Please pray for our humility, and for strength to speak the truth in love to all those who may disagree with what we are doing. Pray for more churches here to catch the vision to be able to support Chris Bruno and the Antioch School. And pray for us to raise up godly, qualified leaders for the Kingdom.
Chris, how can we pray for you?
Pray that I would daily cling to the Gospel and God’s promises. Pray for our family as we are raising support this fall-that my wife Katie and our 3 boys would be excited and not anxious and that God would meet every need. Pray that God would provide prayer and financial partners. Pray that our hearts would be knit to the churches in Hawaii even before we arrive and that this venture would advance the kingdom in ways we cannot even now imagine.
Todd Morikawa (M.Div., Southern Seminary) is the pastor of Kailua Baptist Church. He has one daughter, Grace, while he and his wife, Natalie, are trying to adopt from Ethiopia. Todd has lived most of his life on Oahu and the Big Island.
Chris Bruno (Ph.D., Wheaton College; M.Div., Southern Seminary) is the incoming academic dean of the Antioch School Hawaii and minister of training and discipleship at Harbor Church Hawaii. He and his wife Katie have three sons and are passionate about learning to apply the Gospel to every aspect of their lives.