Interview with Daniel Eng for the Goodwin Prize

Daniel K. Eng | University of Cambridge, PhD candidate

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?  

I am pursuing a PhD in theological studies for three reasons. First, as a pastor I’ve witnessed the need for quality theological teaching in connection with the church, which I am preparing to help meet. My aim is to join a growing group of pastors and scholars who promote biblical literacy in both the church and the academy.

Second, I have an intense desire to discover more about the biblical text. It was my parents who instilled in me a love for the Bible and for the church. Their loving guidance over the years has enabled me to pursue theological education. I am now appreciating this season of dedicated time to research and write as I investigate the texts that bring meaning and hope to so many people.  

Third, I am motivated to communicate these truths and concepts from the Bible to others. The PhD process and degree offer opportunities for me to communicate in various settings. I’m grateful for the mentoring I received in different places in my life, from Talbot School of Theology to Evergreen Baptist Church SGV. The sum of these experiences has given me the tools and motivation teach the biblical text clearly.

I chose to come to Cambridge because of the world-class faculty and resources to which I have access. I am especially grateful for the library and conversations at Tyndale House Cambridge, an outstanding biblical research community, where many of the concepts for this paper were shaped.

What do you hope to do with your degree? 

I am hoping to equip others through teaching biblical studies at a seminary or Bible college. I am grateful for fantastic experiences teaching in different capacities at Talbot School of Theology, Cru’s Institute of Biblical Studies, Tyndale House Cambridge, and Training for East Anglia Ministry. I especially hope to guide those who engage in church ministry, as I impact the church at large through teaching and mentoring. In addition, I plan to continue to preach and minister at a local church in some capacity.

The invigoration I experience through every teaching opportunity has driven my desire to fulfill this purpose in my life. I particularly appreciate the times when I facilitate foundational material to others, on which they can build and use to understand the biblical text well.

Where do you see connections between your personal faith, your intellectual work and the other aspects of your life? 

One of my professors at Talbot School of Theology, the late Dr. Robert Saucy, once shared with me that he kept a sticky note at the place where he spent every morning reading the Bible and praying. The note read “Trust Me.” He placed it there as a reminder that his faith in God would always drive his daily activity.

As I follow Dr. Saucy’s example, my relationship with God motivates my intellectual work. The apostle Paul preached to a crowd in Athens that in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 18:28). This statement deeply resonates with me, as I find my purpose as part of God’s unfolding redemption of creation.

The good news of the cross and the empty tomb provide motivation for me to investigate the biblical text. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope and meaning in all I do, and I endeavor to bring him glory in my intellectual work. I cannot think of any higher pursuit for myself than studying the character and message of God and communicating it to others. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to engage in this as a vocation.

Upon moving to Cambridge, my family has found supportive community at both Tyndale House and Christ Church Cambridge. Both groups of believers have sustained us with encouragement and have given us opportunities to use our abilities to impact others. My wife Sanjung and I are committed to modeling faith in Jesus Christ to our three daughters: Joanna, Josie, and Jessica.

How would you summarize your paper for someone without a theological background? 

In teaching about the kingdom of God, Jesus told many parables: short stories that illustrate profound truths. This paper explores one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables, the Prodigal Son. I examine the dynamics of honor and shame in this parable, offering a fresh reading of the story through this lens. In a culture that valued the collective over the individual, Jesus taught to his first hearers that the movement he was creating would be characterized by a widening of the community’s circle.

The message of Jesus is then applied to the modern American church in the context of care for immigrants and refugees. While steering clear of a commentary about public policy, this paper calls the church to embody the message of the Jesus movement by expressing inclusivity and love towards those who are displaced and marginalized among us.

How might this award make a difference in your life? 

I’m honored and grateful that my essay has been chosen for this award. My hope is that it will spark more conversations about how the church can embody Jesus’ message of a widening circle. I’m looking forward to seeing how these concepts can make an impact.

On a practical level, I am grateful that the privilege of receiving the Goodwin Prize communicates the quality of my research to potential employers. Some of the prize money will be used for something special for my wife Sanjung, who has been very supportive during my PhD journey.

Above all, this award has been an encouragement for me to press on through the demands of the PhD journey. As my morale can often ebb and flow, moments of affirmation like this inspire me to persevere.

How do you spend your time when you are not studying? 

When I am not studying, I enjoy spending quality time with my family. I build deeper connections with my wife Sanjung and find opportunities to guide my children as they mature. We enjoy exploring Cambridge and the occasional trip elsewhere to build memories.

I keep a frequent preaching schedule, as I consider it a privilege to communicate the life-giving message of the Bible from the pulpit. Sanjung and I are actively involved at Christ Church Cambridge, volunteering with and participating in various ministries.

We also enjoy connecting with people through strategy board games. Our recent favorites are Kingdomino and 7 Wonders.

Any other comments? 

I am very grateful to the Board of Directors at Theological Horizons for choosing my essay for this award, and to the donors for their generosity in encouraging theological writing.

I would also like to thank two of my mentors, Dr. Benjamin Shin of Talbot School of Theology, and Rev. Cory Ishida of Evergreen Baptist Church SGV, for encouraging me to pursue this PhD. These two men have spent countless hours investing in me, and their influence in my life has shaped some of the concepts of this essay.