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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo
Dr. Parker (horizontal).jpg

Elizabeth Parker: the theology of story

Professor’s journey to TU

Whether marveling in the poet Keats’ house in Rome or delighting in Dante’s Divine Comedy in the basement of Metcalf, Elizabeth Parker inhabits the junction of faith and literature.

Being the co-director of the Honors program at Taylor University and teaching in the English department simply fits. One could even say her job is Taylor-made, just for her.

Parker married her husband Seth in January 2018. A year later, they had their first daughter, Penny. On Sundays, one can find them in fellowship with the congregation at Church of the Ascension in Marion.

Before coming to Taylor, Parker was on a tenure track at Regent University in Virginia and involved in the Honors College there. However, the family found the situation difficult for several reasons, and in January 2023, Parker saw a posting for a full-time position at Taylor in the English department.

In no time, she found herself with her eyes on Upland.

“I knew almost immediately after the first interview with Dr. King and Dr. Housholder that I knew that I wanted to be offered the job,” Parker said.

However, halfway through the hiring process, Taylor faculty realized that two needs could be met. Given Parker’s involvement in the Honors College at Regent, they suggested splitting her job at Taylor half and half between Honors and the English department.

“That sounds brilliant,” Parker said. “Tell me more.”

Thus, after a semester of teaching college composition, world literature, and an Honors colloquium at Taylor, she found herself amidst the hustle and history of Rome. 

As part of her position in the Honors program leadership, Parker helped lead the J-term trip to Italy. It was a grounding experience for her sense of belonging on the job. 

“The J-term trip was a great way to feel settled as the assistant director of Honors,” Parker said.

She found it encouraging to have completed both one full semester and the J-term trip, seeing what worked and didn’t, moving forward into this semester.

Simultaneously, it was a wonderful way to build relationships with the students in a way that can’t be done in the classroom context. She appreciated the opportunity to get to know the students in a way that can only happen when traveling with them.

All things considered, Parker’s involvement with the program and love for learning is no surprise. 

She grew up in a Christian home, where her father was one of her college professors. She earned her BA in English at Mississippi College in 2002, when the way she saw Christianity totally changed.

It was a class on the works of C.S. Lewis that opened the possibility in her mind that being a thoughtful, loving and nuanced Christian could be possible. 

“How is faith compatible with your academics —or in my case, how is my Christianity compatible with my love for literature?” Parker said. “Christianity makes the intellectual life richer.” 

She has found this richness through stories. 

Parker expressed how no one had ever articulated to her that it was possible to love things not written by Christians but not necessarily about God. Neither had anyone before mentioned that these things were still worth reading — that they had truth and were good and beautiful.

Because God is the author of all truth, all stories with truth are still connected to God. She came to know this in a new way in college.

This discovery set the tone for her life and echoes strongly and clearly in her life, her words and her teaching.

“To really love a book, I want it to transform the way I see something,” she said.

One of the books which she loves is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. This story explores the downward spiral of its main character who started in an amazing state but didn’t stay there. 

Tears welled up in Parker’s eyes as she reflected upon the book’s profound exploration of grace and sin, discovered in a most unlikely place.

These profound truths, for her, point right back to God.

“Telling a story opens up theology,” Parker said. “So, it’s not just, how do I feel about God, and it’s not just, on the other hand, what do I think about God…the feeling and the thought come together through stories. Teaching literature is the best.”