Faculty Friday: Joseph Bentz Inspires Students Through Stories

by Saundri Luippold

The influence Professor Joseph Bentz, PhD, has had on Azusa Pacific University students over the past three decades has been built on relationships–in the classroom, in the office of the student newspaper he once advised, at conferences he has taken them to, and in his own home. Some of those students have walked in Bentz’s footsteps, publishing books of their own and pursuing academia. Others have stepped in different directions, nonetheless learning from Bentz’s diligence in the field of literature as inspiration to fearlessly pave their path in the world. The impact Bentz has had on students at APU has proved that one person’s story can help guide the stories of others.

Bentz was born in Noblesville, Ind. and grew up in Indianapolis where he started studying journalism at Vincennes University. He had been a part of his high school journalism program, and his teacher became an inspiring mentor, encouraging him to pursue writing. In college however, Bentz realized that journalism was not the kind of writing he wanted to pursue; he instead carried a profound love for fiction and literature.

After transferring to Olivet Nazarene University to study English, Bentz planned on becoming a high school English teacher. Instead, he accepted a teaching assistantship position during his graduate studies at Purdue University before returning to Olivet to teach for five years while finishing his PhD. As a first generation college student, it did not occur to him that he could become a professor someday, but the encouragement and influence from his mentors led him to chase his goals.

“With each step I took, I wasn’t sure about the next step,” he said. “I just kept moving forward.”

In 1991, Bentz moved to Southern California and began teaching journalism and English at APU and has been here ever since. He was the faculty advisor for the university’s newspaper, then known as The Clause, where he enjoyed watching students flourish in their writing. “There’s nothing more thrilling than coming up to students who don't see the potential in themselves and telling them that we see it,” he said. “Some of my students ended up going into journalism as a career after that.” Bentz was also the founding advisor of The West Wind, APU’s literary journal, which the English department continues to publish every academic year.

Bentz currently teaches English and honors humanities courses full time.“I love the students,” he said.

“There’s something really energizing about being able to go into class and share the things I love with them, especially when I get to introduce students to a writer they might not have heard of before, or when I witness a writing breakthrough.”

While students of his have entered many different fields, such as law, academia, and education, the skills they learned offer them perspective to view their careers from a different lens, one that appreciates the story we all have to tell. Watching students thrive over the years has been a rewarding journey for Bentz, as he often sees himself in students who wonder if there is a place in the world for them to serve and make a difference. One of those students is fellow English professor, Michael Dean Clark, ‘97, who was on The Clause staff in the 90s. “It’s been a joy to see him grow in various careers and make his way back here,” Bentz said.

When he’s not delivering lectures and engaging in rich conversations with students, Bentz is most likely working on his next writing project. Writing is Bentz’s favorite thing to do. “I’m always writing something, and I usually have more than one project at a time,” he said. Bentz began working on his first novel, Song of Fire, in college, writing and revising it during gaps in his busy work and school schedule, before eventually publishing it in 1995. He has published 11 more books since then, many related to Christian issues, exploring spiritual questions and ideas. A significant portion of his scholarly research is focused on acclaimed American novelist Thomas Wolfe. Bentz wrote his dissertation on the author and frequently speaks at conferences about Wolfe’s work. American literature is Bentz's specialty, especially that of the 20th century.

When asked what advice he would offer his college self, Bentz said, “Try things even if you’re not sure how it’s going to work out. Be bold.” By taking one step after another, trusting God’s plan for each stage in his life, Bentz teaches students beyond the stories that have made their mark in literature. His own life story is one that offers everyone who meets him a glimpse of what it means to faithfully pursue what you love, and to love others through one’s passion.

Saundri Luippold '25 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement. Saundri is double majoring in Honors Humanities and English with a minor in Spanish. She serves as head copy editor of APU's literary journal The West Wind and writes on her personal blog, New Romanticism (https://saundriluippold.wixsite.com/newromanticism).