This is a continuation of my previous blog of December 31, 2009, in which I wrote of six persons whom God has used significantly in shaping my character and mind. Here are six others to complete the list. The twelve are in a roughly chronological order. May God be eternally praised for bringing these individuals into my life.
7. Bernard Engevik. My father-in-law. Weather-beaten farmer from northern Minnesota. Lived in the house where he was born until age 50, when he and his wife, Blanche, answered God’s call to move to the mountains of southern California. Bernard served as an unpaid maintenance worker and counselor at a rustic Lutheran youth retreat, and as a volunteer caretaker at a nearby county park, which provided housing for the family. By faith he left the cattle and the land he loved so much, after auctioning off his equipment and saying goodbye to his lifetime friends and neighbors. Bernard and Blanche were the parents of 11 children (three in heaven) and three foster children. I knew Bernard for forty years, and learned from him—by observation—how to live joyfully, consistently, kindly (always helping others unselfishly), uncomplainingly, and with an unflappable trust in God to provide all his needs and those of his family. It is this last quality that has influenced me most. While he worked diligently at various jobs to support the family, he earned very little. Yet he simply did not worry. He lived a life of daily Bible study, daily prayer, cheerful service wherever he saw a need, and faithfulness to his Lord, his wife, his children, and all who knew him and loved him. Possessing little, he possessed all things.
8. Carl Hoch (pronounced Hoke). One of the New Testament professors in my Master of Arts program in Biblical Literature. His main contribution to my life has been his exacting, enthusiastic, contagious exegetical skill in the languages and literature of the Bible, especially the New Testament. Dr. Hoch was a master of the Greek language, and was very skillful in the Hebrew as well, yet he treated us graduate students with kindness and respect for our limited abilities with the biblical text. Carl Hoch sought the truth above all else and he was not afraid to point out erroneous ideas or conclusions from any mishandling of the scriptures. As he frowned, sniffed and pushed his glasses up on his nose with his finger, we his students knew he was thinking through a deep point. And we loved him for it.
9. Clark Pinnock. Theologian. Seminary Professor. Mentor. Friend. From 1970 to 1980 I was not in school. I finished my M.A. in 1970 and did not start my Ph.D. studies until 1980. But, while serving God as a college professor and a pastor during those years, I learned much. I devoured literature (books, magazines, journals) on biblical studies, theology, ethics and related topics. My most important mentor during this decade of independent learning was Clark Pinnock, a tall, red-headed Canadian with a keen intellect and a passion for showing the relevance of high-quality Christian scholarship (and thus the gospel) for today’s society. I rarely saw Clark during these years (I saw him considerably more after 1980), but he was highly influential in my life, especially in two areas. First was his leadership and involvement in the Theological Students Fellowship, especially through conferences and writings (articles, book reviews, informative and encouraging notes) in TSF Bulletin or its predecessor, TSF News and Reviews. In these years my eyes and mind were opened very wide to many rich and varied areas of advanced evangelical scholarship. I thirsted for the excitement of careful, dynamic thinking packaged for the education of younger-generation scholars like me. Second was Clark’s personal testimony and writings of his well thought-out move from a Calvinistic doctrine of salvation (with its views of a limited atonement and unconditional selection of everyone to either heaven or hell, before birth apart from anything foreseen). His 1975 edited book, Grace Unlimited, blew the door wide open for me to breathe the fresh, invigorating air of a robust, biblical, gracious, non-arbitrary view of God’s way of redemption. (I have, however, many dear Calvinistic friends; I greatly respect them and their passion for God’s truth.) Since 1980, Pinnock’s views have changed considerably, especially in his understanding of scriptural accuracy and the “openness” of God. While I do not follow Clark in these and some other approaches to theology, I will always regard him as a powerful influence in my life as a scholar, mentor and friend. Thanks, Clark.
10. Norman Geisler. Apologist. Seminary Professor. Voluminous writer. Major influence in my intellectual development during my decade of independent learning (1970-1980) referred to above. Geisler wrote significant, scholarly, readable works (some that I used as textbooks for my students) in biblical studies, ethics, philosophy of religion, and apologetics. Each of his books tackles highly relevant material and is well organized, carefully argued and clearly written. His Ethics: Alternatives and Issues appeared in 1971, and I devoured it. I was not teaching ethics at the time, and never had taken a substantial course in ethics, but I knew this was an area I needed to learn. I have always appreciated authors who are able to introduce a topic with a helpful typology and methodology, and present fairly the arguments for and against each position. Geisler offers these qualities in his books, and I have learned most from his overall pattern of reasoning and writing rather than from his specific points. In fact, I never have embraced his approach to seemingly conflicting moral absolutes (I hold, contrary to Geisler, that God’s moral absolutes never truly conflict, although they certainly appear to at times). So, while I disagree with Geisler in a number of areas in theology and ethics, I respect him highly and am thankful for his major influence upon me and upon many thousands of students and laypersons in their quests for truth grounded in the Word of God. I also am grateful to Norm for his spending time with me years ago in Dallas, as we sat at the counter of a local eating spot, sharing delicious Vietnamese spring rolls (he paid). Thank you, Norm.
11. Bruce Petersen. Pastor. Teacher. Vietnam Vet. Carpenter. Servant. Friend. Bruce has been my senior pastor since 1988, at Bethany Baptist Church of Roseville, Minnesota. He started in this position in 1981, and will reach the 30-year mark next year. Before that he was an English teacher and a youth pastor, and had built his own house. There are many qualities about Bruce that, together, have worked for good in our church and in my life. He is a very thoughtful and devout preacher, teacher and counselor, and is always biblically grounded in what he says. He is a careful, open-minded (in the best sense of the word) scholar, who seeks the mind of God on whatever topic or text he is studying. (Scholarship and spirituality are unfortunately, often separated, in contrast to Bruce’s wholistic Christianity.) His faithfulness to God and his consistency in the task of shepherding the flock of God, even through some very difficult times in the life of the church, have impressed me greatly. I believe that many (perhaps most) pastors would have resigned under similar circumstances. Most of all it has been Bruce’s giving spirit and servant heart, combined with a lack of pomposity, that have influenced me. He serves wherever he sees a need, whether laying carpet in a poor parishioner’s home, cleaning someone’s basement, cooking for church gatherings, or (along with his devoted wife, Julie) offering hospitality to many. Thank you, Bruce, for your personal integrity and faithful ministry. I am a much better man because of you.
12. Jerry Osbron. Missionary. Pastor. Teacher. Friend. Jerry and his recently deceased wife, Barb, served for nearly 40 years as missionaries in the Philippines. They had a very significant ministry of pastoring, teaching and discipling the people under their care. Their works and words live on among the thriving local churches they helped plant and nurture. I came to know Jerry especially after he retired from foreign mission service and began serving at Bethany Baptist as our associate pastor. I have always been grateful for Jerry’s steady, consistent, faithful way of life and ministry. He commits himself to our church family and always “shows up,” whether the group or meeting attracts only a few or a large number. He serves unselfishly and joyfully. Jerry has a nice balance of “wit and wisdom.” His wit comes out now and then with a quip or joke that lightens the atmosphere. His wisdom is evident especially in church meetings—small or large. He never injects his thoughts unnecessarily, but speaks as the need arises, always with mature words based upon scripture and a lifetime of experience. He is a well-organized teacher and preacher, and always presents God’s truth with conviction. The area in which Jerry has most influenced me is in his endurance. Without evident irritability, he lives and serves patiently and positively. His trust is in God, not in himself or in luck. Over the years I have witnessed Jerry endure some very difficult experiences. Barb’s health trials, his own medical issues (blindness or near blindness in these later years), serious difficulties facing his children and their families—in all of these hard circumstances, Jerry has been a strong example for me to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Many thanks, Jerry!