Alumni Feature: Jonathan Clark (PPE ’12)

Drawing from his own experiences trying to grasp the love of God amidst his own fear and sin, Jonathan Clark (PPE ’12) now seeks to make the message of the gospel accessible to college students.

Jonathan Clark
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Jonathan Clark (PPE ’12) grew up in a happy family in Colorado Springs, but from an early age, he carried a fear that he wouldn’t amount to anything. “I remember working on a math problem and hearing a voice in my head saying, Jonathan, you’re no good at math. You’ll never be good. So I set out to prove that voice wrong.” He threw his whole self into his studies, becoming particularly adept at chemistry and piano, disciplines that taught him how to approach a task and work hard until he had mastered it. “Once I came to King’s and had to read a big chunk of Plato and Augustine, I thought, Well, I’ve never done this before, but here I go.” He delved into his studies and became active in student politics, including serving as director of student organizations and chamberlain for the House of Ronald Reagan. His favorite classes were Enlightenment and Liberal Democracy with Dr. David Tubbs and Introduction to Politics with Dr. David Innes, and he became Dr. Innes’s teacher’s assistant. Academically, he was shining.

But spiritually and mentally, he was flailing. The fear that he wouldn’t amount to anything hung like an albatross around his neck, and he was troubled by suicidal thoughts. But he also was being shepherded by mentors like Dr. Innes, his pastor, and Redeemer Presbyterian Lincoln Square pastor Michael Keller. “I had to confront that fear, and my pride, and to really grasp what Christ did for me,” he says.

Now he works with students who are right where he once was: trying to grasp the love of God in their particular situation, amidst their own fear and sin. Enthralled by the world of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at King’s, at first he saw himself becoming an academic after college, writing treatises on Kant (his senior thesis was “a linguistic and incarnational critique of Kantian/post-Kantian epistemology”) and continuing to experience the thrill of intellectual development and discovery. It was a conversation with Redeemer Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller that opened up the possibility of the pastorate for him: “He gave me a picture of an hourglass, with the academics and philosophers and theologians at the top, writing treatises only very few people read, and the everyday people who don’t have the time to read all that stuffat the bottom, and in the bottleneck are the pastors, who think at the top and live at the bottom. That really captured my imagination.” After graduating King’s, Jonathan worked with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF); any day could find him ministering to and wrestling through difficultissues with a range of students, from a King’s freshman, to an inner-city student from the Bronx,to a gay student at New York University. It was hard, emotionally draining work, but he says, “We’re called to live the difficult life.” After two years with RUF, he knew that this work, presenting and making accessible the message of the gospel, was his calling.

After his conversation with Timothy Keller and his work with RUF in New York, he redirected his path from the ivory tower to the seminary classroom. He met his wife, Caroline, at seminary in St. Louis, where they both earned a Master of Divinity. He says he asked her three times to go out, and she turned him down all three times. “Then I gave up,” he laughs. A year later she asked him out, and they married in May 2017. He says their strengths really complement each other. “I tend to be moody and brooding, and she’s extroverted and outgoing. She really keeps me going.” He glows when he speaks about her. “She really is my biggest fan,” he says. “I get discouraged very easily,” and Caroline is a constant source of encouragement.

After they both graduated seminary, the Clarks moved to Las Cruces to serve as campus ministers with RUF at New Mexico State University. Jonathan spends his days investing in the lives of students: preaching every week; gathering with students for everything from crisis counseling and rock climbing to evangelism, apologetics, and discipleship; leading three to four Bible studies and mentoring students one on one; planning conferences and guiding the student leadership team; and hosting students in their home two to three times a month. “You never know what a student will bring to a conversation,” Jonathan says. “Sometimes it will be, Why do you believe in predestination? and other times it will be, I want to kill myself.” A key part of his vocation is carrying the burdens of others, and he often ends his day emotionally drained. “Sometimes all I can do is pray.”

With their shared seminary background, Caroline and Jonathan work as a team serving the students around them. To build each other up, they enjoy watching and discussing movies, and exercising together—Jonathan says running is one of the best ways he can process challenges and pray—and now, spending time with their daughter, born in February 2019.

One of the biggest challenges of his work is coming to the point in a relationship with a student where personal sin needs be confronted. What you need to do, he says, is to be willing to have the first awkward conversation, and then to have a second conversation, and to keep talking. His advice to current students? “Being faithful is more important than being great; being mediocre and known by others is greater than success and isolation.”

Jonathan still loves Kant, and he often turns to the writings of Jonathan Edwards. 2 Corinthians 4 is his favorite biblical passage, especially verse 8, which he calls “perhaps the most existential verse in the Bible”: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (ESV). “The Christian is allowed to be confused, discouraged, even depressed,”

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