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Life in the Spirit

Will Robinson ’96 talks about ministry, community action, and shares tips for students
News Image Will Robinson

Since graduating from Princeton Seminary you have been busy. Besides publishing your latest book, what have you been up to recently?
In February, I began my ninth year as pastor and head of staff at Salem Presbyterian Church (SPC) in Salem, Virginia. We are in the midst of implementing our strategic plan to deepen our discipleship and community engagement.

Before the call to SPC, I completed a PhD in biblical studies at Union Presbyterian Seminary. The call to PhD studies came to me while teaching in the church, when I realized I wanted know and understand the Bible better. Since 2006, I’ve taught in academic settings and aim to do more of that. I also hope to publish additional articles in service to the church this year.


“In my own teaching, I try to help students see the significance of practicing at the intersection of faith and understanding so they’ll hopefully value it themselves.”

Tell us about your new book, Metaphor, Morality, and the Spirit in Romans 8:1–17.
A revision of my PhD dissertation, the book addresses what I argue are three essential aspects of Paul’s thought in Romans 8:1–17: metaphor, morality, and the Spirit. It started with questions I had about the role the Spirit plays in Christian conduct, and I chose the passage in Romans partly because it’s considered the pinnacle of Paul’s thought on the work of the Spirit.

Cognitive approaches to understanding metaphor constitute the primary lens I use to examine the Spirit’s role in Christian behavior. That lens enabled me to see that Paul portrays the Spirit as the protagonist in our ethical lives and also helped me delineate the crucial role that Christians play in their own moral formation.

How might Christian leaders find your book useful in ministry or in the academic work?

I’m currently teaching a confirmation class, and this year—as in previous years—the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Trinity. Even many adults have a hard time grasping the Spirit’s role! Since our understanding is usually based on the Spirit’s work at Pentecost and in the sacraments, we often ignore or neglect the Spirit’s ethical work.

I wrote my book to help Christian leaders in the church and the academy gain a better understanding and appreciation of the Spirit’s moral role by identifying and explaining the cognitive metaphors Paul uses in Romans 8:1–17. The book has certainly altered how I talk about the Spirit in my worship, sermons, and teaching, and I hope it will do so for others as well.


“I’ve enjoyed serving as a spiritual director to clients at the Roanoke Rescue Mission, the largest homeless shelter in the state.”

In addition to being a pastor, author, and teacher you also work with several ministries in the surrounding Salem, Virginia, communities. Tell us about your ministry there.
The church abuts Roanoke College in downtown Salem, and some faculty, staff, and students are parishioners at SPC. Last year we partnered with the college to provide a tutoring ministry at SPC for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Students at Roanoke College serve as primary tutors and are mentored by some of our members. I have also taught and mentored students at the college, and we welcome use of the church by the college community.

A few years ago, the local affiliate of Family Promise, a national homeless organization, began using a house we own as its day center. I serve on the affiliate’s board—working primarily to increase participation in its programs by other churches and community groups. Recently, we partnered with the city to use church-owned land for Salem’s first community garden, which provides fresh produce to the local food pantry. Additionally, since August, I’ve enjoyed serving as a spiritual director to clients at the Roanoke Rescue Mission, the largest homeless shelter in the state.

How were you inspired to think about the intersection of faith and learning during your time at Princeton Seminary?
I entered Seminary with a number of faith-related questions, and PTS provided me with a unique opportunity to explore and address them with students and professors who practiced St. Anselm’s motto, “faith seeking understanding.”

Dr. McCormack, for instance, exemplified this practice in his use of ancient hymns as opening prayers before his lectures. Dr. van Huyssteen’s course on theology and cosmology and Dr. Miller’s courses in biblical studies were also extremely formational for me. 

In my own teaching, I try to help students see the significance of practicing at the intersection of faith and understanding so they’ll hopefully value it themselves.


“Don’t forget why you are in Seminary—to deepen your faith as you prepare to answer God’s call.”

What advice can you give students as they discern God's call in their lives and prepare for ministry?
Regardless of where God calls you, use your time at the Seminary to explore and address your questions by taking courses with professors that allow you to do just that. Take courses with professors who will challenge you—perhaps because you think they are too liberal or conservative or difficult.

Don’t forget why you are in Seminary—to deepen your faith as you prepare to answer God’s call. So, don’t neglect your spiritual life. It may be nurtured in your coursework, as mine was; however, it’s still crucial to feed your spirit through opportunities like worshipping at a local church, attending chapel, singing in choir, or joining a Bible study group.


Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Associate Rector at Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey

Nancy Hagner, Class of 2013

“Preaching is one of the most important things we do as pastors. You get to challenge people’s minds and hearts, as the gospel challenges all of us. ”