For Carlos Acosta, MDiv ’22, new ways of looking at the Bible have proved life-changing.
Acosta grew up in a gang-affiliated family in urban Los Angeles. “I saw a lot,” he says — including a possible future for himself in that same world. But that changed when his family began attending a Pentecostal church while he was in middle school. Acosta became increasingly involved in ministry programs throughout high school, and he went to college at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical school in Azusa, California.
While at Azusa Pacific, Acosta took a class on Exodus and Deuteronomy with professor and Princeton Theological Seminary alumnus Miguel Arciniega, MDiv ’98. The class introduced Acosta to seeing the Bible as a collection of different voices rather than a single inerrant text. “It put me in a little bit of a faith crisis at first,” Acosta says, “but it was good for me.”
By then, Acosta knew he was called to ministry, and he enrolled at Princeton Seminary after looking for “an environment that was very ecumenical, where I could be stretched and grow.” At the Seminary, too, Acosta has found an approach to the Bible that pays attention to the text’s various voices rather than looking for straightforward solutions to theological problems. “I love that there are no definitive answers,” Acosta says.
In Acosta’s experience, a narrow view of the Bible “can be easily weaponized.” But seeing the Bible instead as a record of “people trying to engage with the divine” has “done wonders” for Acosta’s own faith as well as his hopes for ministry.
“As shown by the biblical authors, we don’t have just one collective experience of God, we have a plurality,” he says. “And if it’s true that we’re all broken mirrors trying to reflect the same image, we’re not going to do it perfectly. But we can at least try. And by depending more on each other, we can put together an image that more faithfully includes and accounts for our wealth of experiences."
Acosta now hopes to teach in a classroom setting, and he sees teaching as a way to welcome others into this vision of Scripture — especially those who have historically been marginalized within the theological academy.
“We don’t often see Black and brown faces in high places,” he says. “Folks from underrepresented communities, therefore, tend to feel like they can’t pursue what they actually want to pursue.” In teaching, Acosta hopes to give young people of color both the permission and the power to pursue what they’re excited about.
Acosta had a model for this kind of leadership in his youth pastor and spiritual mentor, Kevin Nickerson. Nickerson is the chaplain for the LA Rams, and he’s also the founder of a ministry for young men of color called GameBreakers Academy. For Acosta, Nickerson is proof that “good leadership is good facilitatorship.”
“I love a leader who has a vision and is passionate about that vision … but [also] allows room for creativity,” he says. “I’ve never seen a leader more successfully carry out their vision the way [Nickerson] does, and it is because he’s a great facilitator.”
This model of leadership has been inspiring to Acosta in his own work at Princeton Seminary, where he will continue his studies this fall as a ThM student. He served on a student-led antiracism grassroots team that met during the summer of 2020 to urge the Seminary to include antiracism training in its curriculum. Once the Seminary established an official Antiracism Task Force, Acosta served on the Alumni and Communications Platform team.
Acosta was also a founding member of En Conjunto, an affinity group for Latinx students and allies, and he served as En Conjunto’s chaplain during the 2021-2022 academic year.
There’s an echo between the view of the Bible that opened Acosta’s mind and his vision of the church at its best: both are about hearing different voices without trying to resolve them into a single answer.
“That’s what seminary is to me,” Acosta says. “It’s us coming from different faith traditions, different backgrounds, different beliefs, and having dialogue and trying to put things together.”