Dale Stoffer graduated from Ashland Theological Seminary’s Master of Divinity program in 1975. But his ATS story doesn’t end there. Dr. Stoffer served as Professor of Historical Theology from 1992-2017 and Academic Dean from 2001-2012, the rich community of ATS shaping his life with decades of “head and heart” in action.
“...It was always about head and heart - living the truth out in our lives.”
As a student, Stoffer became immediately aware of the strong emphasis on community, from a student-faculty retreat (complete with an M.Div football game), to meaningful chapel services that set the spiritual tone for the campus, to small class sizes allowing for fellowship, inquiry, and living life together. “We really did have meaningful opportunities for worship as a community,” says Stoffer. “The Bible training was excellent, maintaining a commitment to making sure students were instructed in scripture and had the opportunity for the devotional side of our studies as well as the academic side. It was always about head and heart–living the truth out in our lives.”
After graduation, Stoffer attended Fuller Seminary to earn a PhD in historical theology. Two ATS professors, Owen Alderfer and Jerry Flora, were instrumental in influencing his interest in those areas, and because of Ashland’s strong reputation for preparing pastors, Stoffer had already received the training he needed to follow his “dual calling” of both teaching and pastoring.
After receiving his PhD, Stoffer worked with planting churches, another high ministry value of ATS. In 1984, he returned to ATS as an adjunct, becoming a full-time professor in 1992 once his congregation at that time was well established.
As a professor, Stoffer wanted to continue those qualities and commitments he experienced as a student–keeping the head and heart together. He brought those values into the classroom, “trying to be sensitive to the students and providing them with pastoral teaching as well as academic.” During his time as Academic Dean, he worked hard to reinforce ATS’s core values of Spiritual Formation, Academic Excellence, Community, and Scripture. “Those pretty well define who we have been and will continue to be.”
Stoffer says there’s a tongue-in-cheek saying among the ATS community: “We’re one of the best-kept secrets in theological education.” He credits the dual commitment to academic excellence and spiritual formation, along with a “both/and” approach to thinking: “I would hope people sense that quality of us being a warm, receptive, respectful community of learners. We don’t tell our students what to believe, but we want to make sure they have the tools to think critically so they don’t have to rely on others telling them what to think. We want students to have a well-thought-out and reasoned faith.”
This value is what makes ATS stand out among other seminaries. Even though the school is affiliated with the Brethren Church, students and faculty come from a diverse range of denominations. “We are both ecumenical and evangelical,” explains Stoffer. “What holds us together is our common commitment to Jesus, Scripture, and the Spirit’s work within us. We can live with those fuzzy edges. We don’t feel threatened by gray areas, as long as you keep your focus on the center.”
Ashland Theological Seminary integrates theological education with Christ-centered transformation as it equips men and women for ministry in the church and the world. ATS offers certificate, master’s and doctoral level programs in Ashland, Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit. Learn more at seminary.ashland.edu.