“Prove to me that the resurrection is valid,” the middle-aged theologian from Barbados commanded of his worldview theology class at North Central.
The large, elongated classroom doesn’t intimidate the animated professor as he moves from one end of the white board to the other, ferociously wiping his writing away with his hand because he doesn’t want to halt his teaching for the length of time it takes to grab the eraser.
Orange Expo whiteboard marker traces the board with images of scrawled diagrams and text as the class sits with a sense of engagement.
Renea Brathwaite, director of graduate and creative education, is not afraid to ask the questions that potentially offset current belief or cause one to critically think about their personal ideology and view of every area of life. He uses this tactic to recognize culture and acknowledge the differences between groups of people.
Brathwaite has a distinct vision for North Central’s graduate program. He considers both graduate and creative education to be under the realm of adult education as a whole.
“My hope for adult education [at North Central] is for it to become a center of Christian adult education here in Minneapolis,” Brathwaite said.
He believes that a student with a graduate degree has a higher-likelihood of reaching positions of leadership more quickly than those with only undergraduate degrees. This will allow for even greater influence in the community, by providing the opportunity for adult learners to advance to positions of broader impact.
North Central’s most recent attempt at developing a graduate program was in 2013, but the program was not approved by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Brathwaite believes the problem was due to its primarily external focus, while the current graduate program has an internal focus.
Brathwaite envisions the future possibilities of adding more diverse categories of graduate education. A graduate degree in biblical and theological studies, as well as a degree in business administration are in premature stages of planning and are dreams for the future of graduate programs.
Pastors or other Christian leaders in the Twin Cities currently have to go outside of the Assemblies of God tradition in order to gain a higher level of education in theology.
There is a great benefit of learning your own tradition [as the Assemblies of God],” Brathwaite said. “It’s a chance to put your mark on the next generation of leadership.”
“NCU Pathways” is another avenue that Brathwaite is working to see come to fruition on the side of creative education. This is an initiative that helps alumni who are very close graduating but have never fully completed their degree due to full time job opportunities that pulled them away from pursuing their education, or from other life circumstances.
There are four students graduating from the current graduate program in strategic leadership spring semester 2017. This is step up in growth from the fall of 2016 with one graduate, and one graduate in the spring of 2016.
Ben Myers, a junior youth ministry major, had Brathwaite as his professor for God and the Gospel in the fall of 2016.
“He’s probably one of the smartest people that I’ve ever met,” Myers said. “He’s relatable and cares about students…he’s easy to talk to.”
Myers met with Brathwaite to discuss theology on a deeper level outside of class.
“He was able to answer theological questions—and speak into my life personally,” Myers said.
Brathwaite is not only a highly-educated theologian and professor, he is a husband and father of two adult children. Brathwaite and his wife Joy moved to Minneapolis from their home in Ohio to begin their administrative positions at North Central in June 2016.
Their son, Andrew Brathwaite, is a 19-year-old Ohio State University freshman music major that knows his way around a saxophone. Kara Brathwaite, their 20-year-old daughter attends Malone University.
Brathwaite left his previous position as dean of the Ohio School of Ministry to now serve at North Central. Before the Ohio School of Ministry, Brathwaite taught at Evangel University, Malone University, Regent University and Hosanna Bible Training Center, according to the academic affairs office news post on faculty personnel updates. His wife is overseeing an important area within the administration in her role as vice president of business and finance.
The professional and personal relationship between Brathwaite and his wife are distinct from one another and do not mix, in spite of the fact that they both work in influential areas of the same administration. He and his wife have both worked together professionally at other institutions in the past.
“We call it this great wall of separation—when we go home, were home,” Brathwaite said. “When we have to do business, its business.”
A published author, Brathwaite assembles his expertise on the Pentecostal experience in the compiled work of, “Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration” in which he and other contributors provide their unique perspectives.
“I teach my students that a grave failing in much of contemporary theologies and atheologies is to pit God’s attributes against each other and thus to produce a caricature god,” Brathwaite described in a Facebook post. “We examine such weighty matters as whether God could create rock so large that he could not lift it or if God is so good, why is there evil in the world?”
Brathwaite uses his knowledge of early North American Pentecostalism to describe the triumphs and difficulties of racial integration within the parameters of the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 and beyond. He details the tensions that mounted during the construction of what we know today as Pentecostalism.
Brathwaite was born and raised in Barbados, an island country located in the Lesser Antilles. He was the youngest of 10 children and grew up in a financially poor family environment. His father was an alcoholic, causing the family to separate themselves from him when Brathwaite was about 7-years-old. His mother died when he was 12, a tragedy that impacted him greatly.
“I didn’t grow up Christian, my mother was a Christian,” Brathwaite said. “I grew up mostly agnostic…I was very, very anti-Christian.”
Curiosity in theological proofs led him to ask questions, especially on issues such as the Trinity. Brathwaite met a man that caused him to think critically about Christianity and discover proofs that would provide answers to his theological questions. This turned around his doubt about the existence of a God and the person of Jesus.
And in order to pursue pastoral studies, Brathwaite left Barbados for Trinidad when he was 19, but he never finished due to lack of financial support from a church that pledged to support him. This move led him to meet his Joy, who Brathwaite followed in matrimony to the United States.
Brathwaite received summa cum laude honors with a Master of Arts in theological studies concentrated on biblical languages and exegesis from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in 2004. He later earned his Ph.D. in theology from Regent University in 2013. Brathwaite received both a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. even though he never achieved more than 35 credits in an undergraduate program.
“Seymour, the ‘new’ theologian: an investigation into the theology of an early Pentecostal pioneer,” Brathwaite’s dissertation, is a look inside the beliefs of William Seymour, a black theologian who played a very important role in the founding of the early American Pentecostal movement in the beginning of the twentieth century.
Brathwaite spoke in front of the North Central community in chapel for the first time as a sole speaker Feb. 21-23.
After being honorably introduced to the stage of Trask Word and Worship Center, Brathwaite walked onto the platform and turned to the audience with a sense of passion and vigor.
Brathwaite presented his sermon series, “Spirit Filled Life,” that addressed the potential shortcomings of Pentecostal leaders in passing down what it means to be a Pentecostal Christian and provided an in-depth view of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, including controversies that surround the topic. He began by describing the spirit filled journey for a Christian as being both a “state and a goal.”
His extensive research ultimately lends itself to the feeling of comprehensive credibility within whoever listens to Brathwaite speak. His words are used very carefully, clever and witty but humorous, almost to the point of causing latent reactions of laughter across the audience who is listening.
The use of his illustrations create imagery among listeners. “In order to make a pickle, the vegetable should be baptized in the vinegar solution,” Brathwaite analogized in chapel, speaking about the meaning of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
He introduces a perspective to the North Central community that allows for deeper thinking, challenging the current culture of North Central that is clearly ubiquitous to any member of the community. Brathwaite leaves comparison aside and breathes a new life on what it means think outside of culture to look at the core of Christianity.
Brathwaite highly respects President Gordon Anderson as a powerful mentor and leader. Despite Anderson’s upcoming retirement, Brathwaite looks forward to working with President-elect Scott Hagan to foster the graduate program at North Central. Since Hagan has an extensive background in leadership, Brathwaite sees the the possibility of him teaching classes within the graduate leadership program.
“It’s good for the university to have a young president, some new ideas, a different approach to things—who is already generating some great ideas for us to pursue,” Brathwaite said.