University’s New Dean of College of Theology Brings a Heart for Art
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
There can’t be too many theologians who started out as artists, but Grand Canyon University has one in its midst.
He’s Dr. Jason Hiles, the University’s new dean of the College of Theology, and he says the gap between sculpture and Scripture isn’t as wide as you might think.
“I’m fascinated by how the church engages the culture,” Hiles says, “and the arts are an area where ideas are exchanged constantly. A lot of communication in the culture is visual, a series of images.
“Some Christians look down on images as a portal to sin, but that’s not what the Bible teaches.”
Hiles arrived on campus this week to begin his new position after serving as associate dean of the Caskey School of Divinity at Louisiana College in Pineville, La. He says that if the disciples had had cameras or smartphones available, we’d have an abundance of photos of Jesus.
In fact, he says, images are central to an understanding of the Bible.
“We’re created in the image of God,” Hiles says. “We reflect something of His glory. The Bible talks about who He is, and it’s woven into who we are.”
Hiles, 38, grew up in small-town Missouri, working at the lumber yard his father managed and playing sports. At an early age, he took an interest in art that was nurtured by his teachers in school.
While earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, specializing in sculpture, from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, he felt that he was being called into ministry. He has a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
His doctoral dissertation focused on the use of visual images in the church.
“A conservative Christian might think of images as out of bounds,” Hiles says. “But God is saying to make images. We’re just not to bow down to them.”
Bart Walker, senior pastor of Kingsville Baptist Church in Ball, La., has known Hiles for more than four years and describes him as “a premium find” for GCU.
“His balance of theology, administrative ability and the ability to teach is unmatched,” says Walker, who has teamed up with Hiles on mission trips to Ecuador. “Few have all three of those things.
“He can think on his feet. And what he understands and has read, he can call it up and communicate it even to a 4-year-old so that they will understand it…. Students were nuts about him at Louisiana College.”
Hiles and his wife, Jennifer, have three children, and the oldest two have been pestering their father to teach them to draw. His creative side comes out in various forms around their home.
“Most of the decorations in our home are things I’ve made,” Hiles says. “I do elaborate birthday cakes. That’s my outlet.”
He’s already working on a design for the College of Theology that he says will reach out in a big way to local churches.
“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Grand Canyon,” he says. “There’s so much energy here. My heart is to serve the church. The Gospel is such a fundamental part of Christianity. We’ve got to get that right and be on message in order to inject health into local churches.”
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.