Williams is keeping it real in the classroom

Dr Joshua Williams classroom

Joshua Williams wants his teaching to be real.

“Something that’s significant, that’s going to change the way people either read their Bible, approach Christian ministry, look at the world, right? That’s what I’m going for,” said Williams, associate professor of Old Testament and director of Research Doctoral Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

His students say he has succeeded.

Moses Dominic said Williams’s Old Testament class provided a foundation for learning the message of the Old Testament and “helped me recognize it’s more valid right now, even in today’s context.” He added that the class “really helped me … to develop in my devotion and walk with God.”

Dominic, who is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree in biblical counseling in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries, said one of the reasons he chose Southwestern was “its academic quality, and with Dr. Williams, he’s a scholar in Old Testament and I’m really thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to study under him.”

He said Williams is interested in learning about the different cultures of his students.

“He tried my Indian food,” said Dominic, a native of Tamil Nadu, India. “I cooked spicy also. He tried spicy.”

Mary Taylor, who is pursuing a Master of Divinity in the School of Theology, said Williams “has been my favorite professor.” She’s taken five classes with Williams and said, “I just really learned and grew a lot, so I took every class with him that I could.”

Taylor, a Fort Worth native who currently lives in Denton, described Williams’s teaching style as “engaging.”

“Most of the classes I had with him were three hours long, but he could manage to make three hours of Hebrew really fun,” she said with a laugh.

Catherine Chan, Williams’s teaching assistant, said, “I feel exhilarated to work with him. I think he is one of the best professors on campus. He is a brilliant teacher and kind person.”

Chan, a native of Malaysia, graduated this spring with a Master of Divinity in the School of Theology and will begin pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Old Testament this fall. She took Williams’s exegesis on the Book of Chronicles last fall.

“I admire his prayers in class. They are poignant,” she said. “His prayers really portray who he is as a servant of Christ. Also, his lessons are practical and applicable. That means, even though we are learning about grammar and syntax and textual criticism, which can be very dry, he makes it interesting and brings out the theological significance of the passage, which is helpful for our day-to-day walk as a Christian.”

Joshua Williams, associate professor of Old Testament and director of Research Doctoral Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has taught at the Fort Worth institution since 2006. Students note that Williams’s teaching in the classroom has not only helped them learn the Old Testament and Hebrew, but has also helped them in their walk with the Lord.

Williams describes his teaching style a bit differently.

“What I like to be is a little on the … goofy side,” he explained. “I try not to be pretentious at all.”

This especially applies to his Hebrew classes, he said, because students come in “pretty wound up at the beginning of the semester … . They’re really nervous about how the whole thing is gonna go. And so, yeah, I come in from the very first class just actually citing Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew and just getting them to come along with me.”

Williams said it took him a while to understand Christianity. He grew up in Arkansas in a family that was “nominally Christian; there was nothing uniquely Christian about my family environment until I was 12 years old.”

His family attended church a few times when he was four or five years old, he said, “and then, when I was 12, there’s a lot of transition.”

His father had taken a new job and was away from the family. “And then apparently, during that time, he had started a relationship with another woman. And I think in light of that, … God kind of used it to prompt my heart to ask questions about big things of life, you know, ‘Who is God?’ ‘Is there a God?’ And eventually, also, I think, got my mom’s attention. So we started attending Concord Baptist Church in Van Buren, Arkansas, which is a little Baptist church.”

“I heard the Gospel. It took a few times for me to really get it,” he said with a laugh.

One Sunday night after church, Williams asked his mother how to be saved and go to heaven. She handed him a tract printed with the “steps to having peace with God,” he said, adding he read it and prayed the prayer.

“And I remember the next morning I got up and said, ‘Mom, I prayed the prayer! I’m going to heaven,” he said with a laugh. “And again, it took a little while, but I got baptized in that little Baptist church.”

There weren’t a lot of opportunities in their little town, so his mother moved Williams and his brother to Rogers, Arkansas, to be closer to her family. He started attending Immanuel Baptist Church “and really started listening to the Word, I got involved in the ministry there with a great youth pastor, and that’s really where I started to grow. … I felt God calling me to something, you know, vocational ministry, whatever that is,” he quipped.

Williams said his parents eventually divorced and his mother remarried during his sophomore year of high school.

“But as far as childhood goes, … every picture I have as a kid is me smiling. So I was very blessed,” he said.

Williams attended Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and earned a Christian ministries degree.

“I was preparing myself,” he said. “I figured I’d be a pastor or missionary.”

He met his wife, Johnita, in a freshman speech communication class at the university. The couple married one week after he graduated, and one month later, moved to North Carolina where he attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned both his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. at Southeastern, then began teaching Latin at North Raleigh Christian Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina. He taught there a couple of years before coming to Southwestern Seminary in 2006.

“I am grateful to be here,” he said. “And it has been a tremendous joy to watch what God has done in the lives of students over the years.”

Joshua Williams received the David S. and Lanese Dockery Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence during May 3 commencement exercises at Southwestern Seminary. Williams, who is associate professor of Old Testament and director of Southwestern’s Research Doctoral Studies Programs, was nominated for the award by his faculty colleagues.

Williams said he tries to make himself available to students both in and out of the classroom.

“Chapel is really important, so I always go to chapel, try to see students, talk to people before, after, along the way. … just try to nurture those relationships,” he said.

He also has led a Faculty Mentorship Group and participated in Student Life events, including the annual Student vs. Faculty Softball Game, “where we semi-redeemed ourselves as the faculty [in the 2023 game] – we at least tied,” he said with a laugh.

Williams serves as director of the seminary’s Research Doctoral Studies program and said his goal is to “make things simple and flexible … so that the faculty can follow through on their vision for what the Ph.D. should accomplish, and then ensuring that students … let the real expertise, the mastery of their field, in their research, be the place where they’re spending most of their real work.”

In his spare time, Williams enjoys spending time with his family. He is a member of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth where he teaches a “missional community,” or small group. He and his wife also have led Financial Peace University sessions – a Dave Ramsey course aimed at helping people take control of their finances – at the church.

Williams also has contributed essays and articles to numerous publications and has published journal articles in the Southeastern Theological Review and the Southwestern Journal of Theology. Williams has co-authored a new book, 1-2 Chronicles, forthcoming from Kregel Publishing.

Reflecting on his years at Southwestern, Williams said he has always felt that within the faculty “there’s been a real respect, regardless of where you kind of stand within the different fields; that we have respect for one another and what we do, and that’s really valuable.” While individuals have different personalities, he added, everyone works together to promote healthy churches, “which is, I think, to a large degree, what we’re here to do” as the seminary trains “men and women for Christian ministry in promoting healthy churches, really, across the world, across the globe.”