A member of Stanford University’s 1995 NCAA national championship gymnastics team, Timothy Dalrymple (M.Div., 2002) was on his way to the 1996 Olympic trials when tragedy struck. Warming up on the high bars before a meet, Tim fell and broke his neck. Unaware of the severity of the injury until several days later when he finally visited the hospital, Tim was astounded by the news—he had been remarkably spared from quadriplegia but his shot at the Olympics, indeed his career as a gymnast, was likely over.
Wracked by chronic pain and suffering from a kind of identity crisis in the wake of the accident, Tim wrestled with difficult questions—questions that paved the way for his future academic career. “It became clear to me that I wanted to pursue the question of suffering, both philosophically and theologically,” said Tim. And pursue this question he did, graduating from Stanford University in 1998 with degrees in both philosophy and religious studies.
Tim entered Princeton Theological Seminary mid-way through the 1998/1999 academic year with a clear sense of call. “It was my intention to become a professor and to be a winsome Christian voice in a secular university,” he said. Tim found his studies and interactions at PTS to be excellent training for an academic career. Just as the faculty provided him a “model of faithful scholarship” so too did the breadth of the M.Div. program provide him with a strong foundation upon which to build his future studies. “My advisors at Stanford were concerned to see too many Ph.D.s coming out of theology programs who knew a great deal about liberation theology or whatever their area of specialty was but were not broadly informed about the height and breadth and depth of Christian theological reflection. I certainly found the M.Div. at Princeton Seminary to be very valuable in that sense. It filled the gaps,” said Tim.
Following his graduation from PTS in 2002, Tim entered a Ph.D. program in religion at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, focusing on modern western religious thought and writing his dissertation on Kierkegaard’s theology of suffering. Toward the end of his doctoral program, however, Tim became increasingly disenchanted with life in the ivory tower, discouraged by the extent to which the classical academic ideals of the disinterested pursuit of truth and the charitable consideration of other viewpoints were so rarely practiced. Tim’s frustration was not limited to the academy, however. He was also frustrated with evangelical participation and representation in the public square and felt strongly that evangelicals should be modeling a better kind of conversation on the public issues of the day.
These thoughts and feelings found an outlet in 2009 when Tim applied and was hired to help launch Patheos.com. The web site sought to provide an online library of information on more than one hundred different religious traditions and sects and a forum for informed dialogue on religion and spirituality for and by members of particular religious communities. Its goal was to “reproduce online the religious marketplace of ideas,” providing informed reflection on everything from critical issues spanning across religious traditions to current events to books. “It seemed to me that a much more free and robust conversation about religion was taking place on the Internet than in the academic setting. I hoped I could model a better conversation on matters of ultimate concern,” he said.
Today, approximately four years after coming to Patheos, Tim has seen the web site grow and develop and his own role morph in the process. Beginning with only 20,000 page views a month, Patheos now has over 10 million such views and is growing, positioning it to overtake such web sites as Beliefnet.com and Christianpost.com as the largest religion media site. Patheos has not only grown in numbers but also in scope and influence. “Earlier this week, one of my colleagues was on the Ganges river telling monks about Patheos; another was addressing a U.N. convention on the rights of women; and others of us were meeting with representatives of some of the finest brands of Christian media to talk about partnerships. It’s a wild and wooly endeavor but an exhilarating one and one that I hope serves a purpose,” said Tim.
Working remotely in Atlanta (Patheos’ headquarters are in Denver), Tim now serves as both the vice president of business development, shaping the overall content strategy of the site and creating revenue streams and strategic partnerships, as well as the managing editor of the evangelical channel. Far from the career in academia he originally envisioned for himself, Tim is nevertheless thankful for his position with the web site. “Patheos gave me another way of using my academic training—a way I couldn’t have imagined at the outset but a beautiful way. It allowed me to get out of the ivory tower and into the trenches of everyday social discussion,” he explained. Tim considers his role at Patheos a ministry. “I think it’s important for the kingdom to have a better conversation, a more elevated and charitable and informed conversation about the most important questions in life. Sometimes my role is to advocate for a Christian understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Sometimes my role is to simply host the conversation and make it the best conversation possible. I think both are critical,” he said.
Tim’s advice for seminarians preparing to enter full-time ministry is to be adventurous. “Think creatively about how you can pursue your calling in a rapidly changing society and economy. Technology is opening the doors to all kinds of innovative ways of engaging the world with the truth of Jesus Christ.” Patheos.com is simply one such way.