category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Kent Blevins

Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies

Dr. Kent Blevins

By the time Kent Blevins graduated from high school, he had lived in four states: South Carolina (where he was born), Nebraska, Oregon, and New Jersey. Although his father’s job led the family to move every few years, Blevins always felt an attachment to North Carolina. Both parents were from North Carolina (father from Ashe County, mother from Johnston County) and the family would try to visit family in North Carolina when the traveling distance wasn’t too great.

When selecting a college, Blevins chose Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., located near his Aunt Mary and Uncle Ivan Blevins. Parts of many weekends were spent at their house, where he enjoyed Mary’s home-cooked meals.

His initial studies at Wake Forest focused on pre-med courses, since he was proficient in math and science and motivated by a desire to help people. Passion for the subject matter was lacking, however. Then one class, taken as an option among the required general education courses, changed the direction of his life. “I took a religion course—an ethics course taught by Dr. McLeod Bryan—and I loved it,” he asserted.

He started taking more religion courses and changed his major to Religion. “Watching my professors and the way they interacted with students, I thought it looked like a great way to make a living,” he related. “I went to the Chair of the Religion Department at Wake Forest—interestingly enough his name was Dr. Bill Angell. I said, ‘Dr. Angell, if I wanted to do what you are doing, teach at a college, what would I need to do?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Well young man, you’d need to go to seminary.’ I said, ‘Okay. What’s a seminary?’”

Blevins chose to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He received his Master of Divinity in 1978 and his Ph.D. in Christian Ethics in 1982. His dissertation was “An Analysis of the Hunger Debate from a Christian Perspective.” In 1979, he completed additional graduate study in moral theology at The Catholic University of America.

He was ordained to Christian ministry in 1982. Nearing the end of graduate school, a friend told him about serving as a teacher with the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention. He applied and was hired by the FMB to teach at the Portuguese Baptist Theological Seminary, located in a suburb of Lisbon. He lived in Portugal from 1983-1991, and while teaching at the seminary also pastored, at different times, two Portuguese Baptist churches.

In 1991, Blevins accepted an invitation to teach practical theology at the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) in Rüschlikon, Switzerland. When a major source of funding for the seminary shifted from the Southern Baptist Convention to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in 1992, Blevins and his wife left the FMB to join the fledgling CBF missionary organization. IBTS moved to Prague, Czech Republic, in 1995.

At IBTS, Blevins taught courses in ethics and practical theology and served as Academic Coordinator (dean) and eventually as Co-President. In early fall, 1997, the IBTS Board of Trustees and the European Baptist Federation (which owned IBTS) decided to restructure the academic programs of the seminary. The new plan resulted in the termination of the existing academic programs of the seminary effective with the end of the 1997-98 academic year. Blevins, along with almost the entire faculty, declined an offer to remain at IBTS following the transition to the new arrangement. He knew that within a few months he would be without a job and had no idea what would come beyond that point.

“Out of the blue, I got a call in January or February of 1998 from Alice Cullinan, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Gardner-Webb,” Blevins said. “Someone had submitted my name to them for a teaching position, and I didn’t discover who it was until years later. I went through the process and was offered the position. We packed up and moved to Boiling Springs in the summer of 1998.”

Blevins is pretty sure the person who recommended him was Earl Martin, who knew GWU Professor of Religious Studies Jack Partain. “Earl had taught at the seminary in Switzerland. He was a good friend,” Blevins stated. “That was an example to me of how community works. He knew me and he just threw my name into the hat, unbeknownst to me. I didn’t know anything about the position being available. He took the initiative to do that, and his act of kindness changed the direction of my life. It is one of those things that people do just because they are great people.”

After years of moving around, Blevins arrived at Gardner-Webb and has not left. He taught for 24 years and after retiring in 2022, still lives in the community. Hired as an associate professor of religion, he was promoted to professor in 2004, served as faculty chair from 2005-2007 and department chair from 2008 to 2012.

He has valued the spirit of connectedness on the Gardner-Webb campus. “I’ve been very lucky. In Portugal, Switzerland, Prague and here, I’ve always had great faculty colleagues,” Blevins commented. “You go to academic conferences, and you learn very quickly that’s a rare thing.” Blevins is especially grateful for the collegiality, mutual support, and care for one another that has characterized the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy.

During his years at GWU, Blevins taught introductory level courses in Old and New Testament along with a variety of other courses including Christian Ethics, Christian Beliefs, and World Religions. Through the years, he enjoyed teaming up with professors from other academic departments to teach combination classes in the Honors Program. They offered such topics as Science and Religion, Human Rights, and Church and State. He also led seminar courses on Developing a Christian Perspective Toward Power, Inequality as a Biblical Concern, and Contemporary Theology. An avid racquetball player, Blevins often taught the PHED course on racquetball for the physical education/wellness department.

He relates teaching to the parable of the sower and the seeds that fall on fertile ground. “You hope that some of it makes a difference to somebody,” Blevins observed. “I have no illusions, especially in those gen-ed classes. You know that most students who take Old Testament or New Testament are in there because they are required classes.” His own experience, however, illustrates the difference a required gen-ed class can make in the trajectory of one’s life.

In those gen-ed classes, instead of focusing on dates and facts, he challenged his students to ask good questions. “That’s what I love about religion; I don’t care what your specific answers are or what you come up with at a particular moment in time because that’s likely to change over your lifetime anyway,” Blevins remarked. “I want you to have a curious mind. I want you to keep pushing yourself, to challenge yourself, and to learn new things and not get caught up in the trivia of life. Lift up your eyes and look at the horizon and think about where you are going and what it means. That’s what drove me when I was a college student and it’s what I tried to instill in students.”

Blevins served as faculty advisor for the Ethics Bowl team, which competes annually against other North Carolina colleges and universities. He was coordinator for the Life of the Scholar (LOTS) Program. The LOTS committee sponsors and encourages academic activities outside of the classroom, including organizing an annual multidisciplinary conference where students present their scholarly work, inviting interesting academic speakers to campus, and encouraging student writing and publication.

He served as president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (NABPR) in 2014 and has served on the editorial board of NABPR’s “Perspectives in Religious Studies” since 2018. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and served on the North Carolina AAUP Executive Committee (representing private institutions) from 2006-2007. Blevins is the author of “How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind: A Truth-Seeker’s Guide to Making Sense of Scripture,” published by Wipf & Stock in 2014.

Kent Blevins, left, and a couple of GWU professors along with Ezra Edgerton, right, (on the fiddle) started open mic night at the Boiling Springs Coffee Shop on Main Street.

Outside of campus, a favorite activity was open mic night at the Boiling Springs coffee shop on Main Street. He and a couple of professors, along with local chiropractor and musician Ezra Edgerton, started the event that was held every Wednesday night for about 15 years. It provided a way for students, faculty and staff to connect with the community. Even as the shop changed owners several times over the years, Blevins and his friends were still invited to host open mic night. Performers could do anything—except karaoke. “You could read poetry. You could sing,” Blevins described. “We had jugglers. We had instrumentalists of all sorts. Mostly it was singing and it was great. We had a regular crowd of students who would come.”

Blevins often played on open mic night with Edgerton and Don Olive (who taught in the Department of Natural Sciences), joined in later years by Kevin Bridges, who works in the GWU library. Edgerton and Blevins, sometimes accompanied by others, also performed at other places around the county. “When Ezra died (in 2020) it hit me hard,” Blevins shared. “He was one of my best friends in the world. We had a connection that was very deep. I didn’t pick up my guitar for over a year.”

In retirement, Blevins is working on playing his guitar again and continuing to pursue studies in the Italian language. He has plans to continue a book series he began in 2014 with the publication of “How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind.” The second will focus on theology and is tentatively titled, “How to Think about God Without Losing your Mind,” and the third title will be related to ethics.

He and his wife, Gail Peace, plan to travel nationally and internationally. She is retired from teaching in elementary school and from working in the Office of International Programs at Gardner-Webb. They took several study-abroad trips together with students over the years.

Kent and Gail are also enjoying time in retirement with their family.  

Blevins noted that retirement is about looking forward with anticipation of what is to come, while also reflecting with gratitude for his time at GWU shared with a vibrant learning community of colleagues and students who together helped create a nurturing and caring environment where opportunities, possibilities, and dreams could flourish and find embodiment. “Institutions change,” he reflected. “People come and go. But those relationships with colleagues and students endure.”

Source: Personal Interview by Jackie Bridges (2022)

Published: February 2023

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