Professor of religion Chad Pierce, former minister and marine, came away from studying in Israel with a new appreciation for the Bible and its teachings. And every day he sets out to challenge his students to explore the Christian religion–sometimes it’s shocking, but they come away with a new appreciation and understanding of the Christian Tradition.
After spending eight years in the Marine Corps, marrying his high school sweetheart and majoring in psychology as an undergraduate, professor of religion Chad Pierce came to a realization while on a trip to Israel—he loved reading the Bible in its context.
A Holland, Mich. native, Pierce was raised in a Christian home and attended a Christian school, but it wasn’t until earning a psychology degree from Calvin College in Michigan and choosing to travel to Jerusalem University College for a master’s degree that he knew religion would play such a large role in his life.
“I like to learn with my feet,” Pierce says. “So going to Jerusalem really helped me learn—a lot of our class was field trips. It just dawned on me that when we would go to these historical sites and study history and religion, we are studying real people. When we are hiking up mountains in Jerusalem and learning about the Bible, you learn a lot about people.”
Jerusalem wasn’t the only place he studied—after receiving a Master of Arts in historical backgrounds of the New Testament, Pierce also got a Master of Divinity at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich. and a doctorate in early Judaism at Durham University in England.
By the time he was finished with school, he felt he had found his career path. “I wanted to be a minister,” he says. “I originally thought about joining the Marine Corps after I went to a Marine Corps Officers Candidate School and I was kind of set on being a career marine, but I switched to being a pastor. I knew I wanted to be in a service type of profession.”
Pierce served as a minister in the Reformed Church of America for five years before pursuing a career in education—and it all began with a few acquaintances. “I happened to go to a conference, only to see all of my friends who had become professors in Israel,” he explains. “I was waiting by the elevator and one of my friends introduced me to a professor who studied the same academic area as me. He sparked my interest in teaching and that’s what began the journey.”
For five years, Pierce taught at Calvin College—he started at Central in 2008 and built a life in Pella with his wife, Jodi, and their three children, Jenna, 12, Michael, 9, and David, 5. He and his wife are also in the process of adopting a daughter from Haiti. Although he has been teaching for many years, he is still active in the church. Pierce is the president of the Central Iowa Class is for RCA churches in Des Moines and Pella— and you might find him speaking in a few services on occasion. And every year he takes students to Israel—Central students are among the numbers that go, but he partners with Pella Christian High School to help younger students delve into their faith.
“The trips have been primarily faith- driven trips,” he says. “We go and study the material as historically as we can, but I really want the students to connect with and explore their faith in a new way.” In his Central classes, Pierce wants to challenge his students, and not just academically.
“I try and introduce students to the academic study of religion, but at the same time showing them how this can help deepen their faith even though it’s challenging their faith—it’s a real shock for Christians when I start to talk about who wrote what, who copied what from whom and students can be uncomfortable with the ideas. For students of different faiths or no faiths, I like to introduce them to an informed understanding of the Christian tradition.”
Whether it’s in the classroom, from the pulpit or on a mountaintop, Pierce is finding ways to learn from others, study the Bible and connect with his faith all the while teaching and fostering Central students’ curiosity. Pierce is drawn to Central, not only because he has the freedom to teach religion at Central, but because of its commitment to diversity and multiculturalism.
“I’ve had many amazing opportunities since arriving at Central,” he says. “I have taught in Merida, Mexico, worked with fantastic faculty and students and led Christian ministry emphasis which allows students to explore seminary.There are so many ways to help students as well as engage the community. Teaching is a challenging, yet rewarding, experience.”