When Michael Milton left his boyhood Louisiana home to study in California, “I went out there with a guitar on my back,” he says.
Milton, 54, now chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, worked for some time as a linguist with Navy Intelligence. But on the side, he played and wrote music that had a “sort of Southern California, late ’60s-early ’70s kind of folk sound,” in the vein of Neil Young and Dan Fogelberg.
Later, he pursued a career at Dow Chemical and finished college in Kansas.
At this point, he started to keep his composing secret, like it was “something evil,” he says.
He was eventually ordained a Presbyterian minister and earned a doctorate at the University of Wales.
One day back in Kansas, where he returned to be a pastor, “someone came in and saw an old Sears and Roebuck guitar leaning against a piece of furniture and said, ‘We didn’t realize you played guitar.’ My wife quickly said, ‘Yes, he does,’ because she was encouraging me in this.”
For Christmas that year his friends surprised him with a new guitar and told him, “Now play for the glory of God.”
And he does. In October, Milton released a Christmas album, “When Heaven Came Down.” He’s released three previous albums on CD. His gentle folk- and bluegrass-tinged tracks, with piano and guitar, often include lyrics about lost, wandering people who find their way to God. He calls it “a sort of troubadour theological reflection on life that Christians can listen to, but surprisingly, a lot of people who listen to the music are people who are searching.
“I try to produce music that heals the soul.”
In 2007, Milton became president of the Charlotte campus of RTS. The evangelical Protestant seminary represents more than 60 Christian denominations and has 3,000 students on campuses in Charlotte and several other cities, including Atlanta and Washington. They also host a “virtual campus” that offers classes through the application iTunes U.
He began his chancellor duties in 2012 and lives in Charlotte with his wife, Mae, and son John Michael, 18, a freshman at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
Milton also writes a blog, produces both scholarly and popular articles, and is the author of many books; his latest, “Silent No More,” comes out this month. A news release describes the book as “a beckoning to Christians, especially pastors, to be ‘silent no more’ and speak out on contemporary issues, such as same sex marriage, sanctity of life, pacifism, defense of free speech, Islamic threats, and the stealing of childhood as those issues relate to the Church and to the world as a whole.”
Using the ‘Roman road’
He also hosts a TV show, “Faith for Living with Mike Milton,” which he records in a studio in a new building on the RTS campus off Carmel Road.
Since early 2011, it’s been broadcast on the National Religious Broadcasters’ Network (NRB), a Christian station available through DirecTV.
Says Bob Allen, director of programming for NRB: “I’ve known Mike for nearly 25 years, and he was my first big prize when I began work with the Network. He was the first one I was able to encourage to start from scratch and create a program I really wanted as part of our lineup.”
When it comes to taking advantage of modern technology, Milton says, “I see this as a central part of my ministry as the chancellor of Reformed Theological seminary, being able to preach the Gospel and to use broadcast media and all of its emerging new expressions to fulfill the Great Commission.” He’s referring to Jesus’ commission to his disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
Courses taught on RTS campuses, for example, go out to “millions of others around the world,” Milton says. “Some of those we know (live) in countries where they would be imprisoned or killed if the authorities knew they had it.”
Much Christian media, like the National Religious Broadcasting Network, got started as a way to provide alternatives to programming that Christians saw as base or immoral.
“In the early days of Christianity, Roman roads were built to carry Roman troops,” who often traversed those roads to find and kill Christians, he says.
“Those very Roman roads also became the roads over which the apostle Paul traveled, or Peter traveled. So we often refer to the Roman road as that surprising … God-ordained vehicle that (can be used) for evil that God turns for good.
“Modern broadcasting, media, writing, publishing, and social networking … are in a sense a new Roman road. It’s awe-inspiring.”