Dr. Curt Wanner – Faculty Spotlight
If you have spent any time in the Communication Department, Dr. Curt Wanner is a person with whom you are very familiar. A TFC figure since 2006, Dr. Wanner most recently served as Chair of the Communication Department and now serves as Chair of the Humanities Department. He is an Associate Professor of Communication and teaches virtually everything related to the subject from Introduction to Communication, to Theology and Popular Culture.
An accomplished professor, Dr. Wanner has been the recipient of the 2010 Wade Distinguished Scholar of the Year Award, the 2014 (SGA) Faculty of Impact Award, and the 2014 Vulcan Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award. I recently sat down with Dr. Wanner to learn more about him and his interests.
Like most young people, Dr. Wanner wasn’t particularly fond of school in his early years. His earliest professional aspirations were to become a lawyer. However, he entered Wheaton College (IL) as a history major on the pre-med track. At Wheaton, he began to consider teaching for the first time. After graduating from Wheaton, he attended Regent University where he studied Film Studies and was first introduced to Communication as a discipline. He received his MA in Communication and after leaving Regent had his first fore into teaching at Phoenix Christian High School where he taught history, social science, and Bible. Although this time was extremely rewarding for Wanner, he did not enjoy every aspect of secondary education. “When I considered the discipline aspect required of high school teaching it became very clear, very quickly that teaching high school was not for me.”
Coming from a strong Christian background and having taught senior level Bible classes, Wanner soon realized he had a desire to “teach” within the church. He entered Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, where he earned his Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) and later his Masters of Theology (Th.M.). After graduation, he continued to work in the Distance Education program at Gordon-Conwell and began to pastor a church north of Boston.
While at Gordon-Conwell, providence came into play and a series of events suddenly granted him an opportunity to teach at Gordon College, something he had never considered. He took the position and taught part-time two years before being hired full-time. During this time, he was still pastoring a church full-time. Wanner states, “there was no point where I was setting out to be a college professor. I was a pastor, and I felt as though that’s what I would do for the rest of my career.”
When asked about the similarities and differences between being a pastor and a college professor, he stated, “It’s similar in that as a pastor I understand myself as a teacher. But the responsibilities are very different. The responsibility of “care” is present in both, but we articulate the care differently. There is a more immediate requirement of care in the pastoral context. When you get the calls at 11:30 at night, you have to go. You get the difficult calls that you don’t want to get, but you get them, that someone has passed away, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes expectedly where you have to go and sit with the family, and you pray with them. Those types of very profound, immediate requirements, you don’t have that at a significant level with teaching. The care you provide and the ministry you provide is a different form, and it’s more consistent in teaching.”
After teaching at Gordon College for five years, Wanner decided to leave the pastorate. He interviewed at both Nyack and Toccoa Falls College. The TFC position and location both won out as, “I’d been living in New England for a decade, and my wife had been there 15 years, and we were ready to move south. The winters of Massachusetts had gotten to us.” So in 2006, Wanner and his wife traveled to Georgia and made TFC their home.
When asked which of his publications and works were his most enjoyable, Wanner answered, “There’s a fairly consistent theme in my research, and it’s looking at the cultural and theological questions that arise in media, media production, and media consumption. My dissertation argued how religious broadcasting had a significant impact on evangelical identity. There are symbols that religious broadcasters use that have profoundly affected how evangelicals understand themselves and the community. I think the work I enjoy the most is biblically informed, culturally relevant work that we can read today and can have some impact, that will raise questions about who we are, particularly the church, and what we’re trying to do. I have a sense that we often lose our Biblical moorings, in terms of what it is we’re really trying to do. We rely on socially and culturally constructed strategies. So the idea of saying, what is the scriptural model of culture, what is the scriptural model of communication and how would we apply that to media in the contemporary context? That’s what I enjoy working on.”
I went on to ask Dr. Wanner, what inspires him. “Integrity inspires me. Truth inspires me. Commitment inspires me. Ultimately I see that all in the work of Christ. So, ultimately the person of Christ is what inspires me. Our goal is ultimately Christ alone. So, the man Jesus Christ. To seek to be like Him, that one day I might be near Him and with Him. And the image of being with Christ is inspiring. That culmination of the gospel in a new Heaven and a new Earth, that fully realized communion with Christ, that inspires me.”
When I asked Dr. Wanner what was the best piece of advice anyone has ever given him, he relayed a story of when he was in grad school, and he called his dad to ask for advice. His father asked him, “Do you feel like you did what was right?” Wanner replied, “Yes,” and his father said, “Well, don’t worry about it.” Wanner stated, “Effectively he was saying if you did what you know to be right, then don’t worry about the consequences. That had a profound impact on me, even though the situation wasn’t profound. I think it is central to the gospel, central to our commitment to recognize we are not in control of what happens. We seek to know what is right, we commit to doing what is right, and then we don’t worry about it. It’s remarkably liberating. The freedom of Christ is something we talk about, but I think we don’t really get.”
Believe it or not, Dr. Wanner does have a life outside of the classroom. He’s married with four children, ages 14, 13, 11, and 7. He enjoys both water and snow skiing and also loves to golf although he doesn’t get many opportunities to do play. You could call Dr. Wanner a “jack of all trades” as he’s in the last stages of completely renovating his entire home! From drywall to ceilings, electrical to flooring, he’s done it all in this massive project, and he hopes to be finished soon.
Some interesting things to know about Dr. Wanner include he is an Army military brat, and he attended 12 different schools by the end of high school. He attended high school in Hawaii, elementary school in Panama, has looked down the crater of a volcano and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane that was flying well over a mile above the earth.
For someone who didn’t enjoy learning as a youngster, Dr. Wanner has certainly spent his lifetime learning and sharing that knowledge with others.