He and his wife, Elizabeth Kao Holmlund (M.A., 2002), have four children: Zach (7), Ezra (6), Evie (3) and Ben (1).
Dave and Elizabeth Holmlund
Why did you decide to attend WSC?
Dave: To be perfectly honest, my reasons for attending WSC back in 1998 are not reasons I would encourage others to use in choosing a seminary. I was young and clueless about many aspects to finding a good seminary. However, in God's mercy, I knew just enough about Reformed theology to know that I wanted a sound Reformed theological education, and I respected the theological and academic integrity of the Westminster tradition. Thankfully God used both my limited knowledge and my immature motivations in leading me to a place which would be formative to my personal growth and ministry pilgrimage.
Elizabeth: WSC was actually not my first choice of seminaries. Because of family circumstances, I needed to be in San Diego and rather than delaying my seminary education further, I decided to take some language classes at Westminster part-time. I enjoyed the classes so much that the next semester, I enrolled as a full-time student and two semesters after that, I graduated with an M.A. in Biblical Studies. Six weeks later, Dave and I were married.
What particular truths or experiences that you gained from WSC do you find most important and valuable now?
Dave: In hindsight, I think the most valuable part of being at WSC was the luxury of time. I took a full four years to earn the M.Div., and I needed all four of those years to learn what I needed to know. There is a lot to learn about theology and ministry and the Christian life before assuming significant responsibility in the church like pastoral ministry. Acquiring books and hearing good lectures both have their place, but one needs a certain amount of time to process this knowledge and come to personal convictions which can be held in a God-honoring way among many other people who did not go to seminary with you. I really think the only way I was able to take the content of my WSC education and apply it in valuable ways in the church was through having adequate time to think through a number of issues in the classroom and then in a series of church internships outside of the classroom. In God’s providence, I was not ordained in pastoral ministry immediately after I graduated. I was given another five years of further study, internships, and personal growth before I was ordained. I now see all of these years as essential preparation for my pastoral service.
Elizabeth: The skill to which I was first introduced at Westminster that continues to impact my life most today is how to read the Bible theologically. Of course we all do this whether we realize it or not, but at WSC I learned how the biblical text and the story of redemptive history are animated and illuminated by systematic theology and vice versa. Reading the Bible theologically colors everything I do, whether I am teaching my children, speaking at a women's retreat, explaining the meaning of a chorus during Sunday School singing time, or meditating on Scripture as I drive around town.
Do you have an unforgettable memory from your time at WSC?
Dave: I have to say that the conversations at the lunch tables were utterly unique and wonderful
times of interaction with the people who have either remained my closest friends or impacted me the most in my personal growth (or both). Those friendships forged at the lunch tables also carried over into a host of experiences which are my happiest memories of seminary—getting to know my dear wife Elizabeth (a fellow WSC student), taking road trips and day trips with WSC colleagues, extended conversations over meals, etc. It’s amazing how many good things started with lunch table conversations, though.
Elizabeth: Obviously, many of my memories of WSC involve getting to know Dave and growing in our relationship towards marriage. But we like to joke that our engagement almost did not survive Senior Seminar! For us, that class brought up many issues of how practically we would live out our biblical and Reformed convictions as a couple, which was not always an easy thing for two people with strong opinions to agree upon. Ultimately, however, it served a very useful purpose in helping us to discern the major issues from the minor ones.
What were your vocational goal(s) at WSC and how did your education at WSC prepare you for your present responsibilities?
Dave: It probably took me the first whole year of my M.Div. program to discern that I was indeed headed into pastoral ministry and that my pastoral ministry would mostly likely be in a Presbyterian denomination like the OPC or PCA. Obviously, the M.Div. program was exceptionally useful for this vocational path, particularly for a guy like me who did not grow up in the Reformed tradition. Around the time of graduation, I dabbled for a while with aspirations to go in a more academic direction, but God has only confirmed my calling for local church ministry in the years since that time.
Elizabeth: I went to WSC to learn how to study the Bible and teach it. At the time, I had a number of ideas about what that might look like in the future including teaching in an overseas and/or collegiate setting. While I have had some opportunities to do both since graduating from WSC, at the present time I am thankful for teaching opportunities with my children, our congregation, and among the churches of our presbytery. And on his really busy weeks, Dave really appreciates when I write his sermons for him (just kidding).
What, in your opinion, makes WSC a unique and important institution?
Dave: First, let me say I wish WSC were not unique. Wouldn't it be great if every region of North America (and the world!) had seminary-level confessionally-Reformed theological education offered by gifted faculty with a heart to mentor young people? I'd love to see that, and my prayer is that WSC will someday become rather ordinary and unremarkable for this characteristic. In the meantime, though, Westminster is a very strong seminary option for those who know they have something to learn about Reformed theology. I especially appreciated the combination of firm convictions balanced by a healthy dose of curiosity, open-mindedness, and personal gentleness in so many of the faculty. I could tell when my professors had learned from the schools of church life, marriage, and child-rearing, in addition to the years they spent in graduate schools.
Elizabeth: What makes WSC uniquely refreshing is its refusal to buy into the artificial walls that are often erected between the fields of biblical studies, biblical theology and systematic theology. In my experience with other theological institutions both before and after WSC, it is rare to find a faculty who collaborate so unashamedly and productively with their colleagues in other disciplines on matters that are important to their teaching, scholarship and the wider church.
What advice would you give to prospective students considering seminary?
Dave: If I were to narrow it down to just one point of advice, I would challenge that prospective student regarding their motivations for seminary study. There's a temptation to see an M.Div. or even an M.A. as a meal ticket or a professional credential. Realistically, many prospective students will land stable paying jobs or at least have better resumes for having attended seminary. However, we need more of a culture among our seminary students of embracing service with or without the perks. Some need to start planning to embrace the bi-vocational situation in church service. Some should pray more fervently about going to China or the Middle East or Africa after completing seminary studies. Some should look to move to a more under-churched region of the country (such as my beloved New England) to join a church and teach Sunday School and mentor young adults long before you receive a call to ordained ministry. The growth of ministry as a "profession" probably tends to obscure the motivations students have for going to seminary, but if students keep their minds on service and stewardship of the time and talents God has given, they will save themselves and others a lot of grief while also doing a lot of good.
Elizabeth: For female students, it is important to be confident of the fact that Reformed churches need not only theologically educated men who know the biblical languages, but women, too. Sadly, in many of our confessionally Reformed churches, a woman who is a doctor or lawyer is not usually given a second thought, but a woman who has actually had seminary training in Bible and theology might be viewed warily. Instead, she should be viewed as a great resource! She is uniquely equipped to train and teach children and other women--whom together make up well over half of a congregation--in a way that a man sometimes cannot. The woman who is able to use her God-given abilities to nurture from the heart, show mercy to the afflicted, and rightly divide God's word is surely a fearsome figure to Satan and his supporters.
Finally, prospective female students should know how much we need more conservatively-minded female Bible and theology scholars in the academy. As long as there are still proportionally so few women whose scholarship is as of high a caliber as their conviction of the Bible's authority, conservative scholars can continue to be written off as bigoted and therefore, irrelevant. Unfair as this accusation might be, a woman with the gifts and discipline to engage the wider academic world is a great counterargument to this misperception.