Monday, May 10, 2010

In light of blogs and counter-blogs, a non-random memory of the late William Lane

I went to that little school by the canal, as some people have called it. I also had the plasure of meeting Wlliam Lane, whose commentary on Hebrews I am very belatedly reading since Bill went to be with the Lord more than a decade ago now, if memory serves.

It is a pleasure to read a book written by someone you had an opportunity to meet. I pick another strikingly non-random example, N. T. Wright, who I had the pleasure of meeting at that little school by the canal. I went to that school with the impression that they were namby pamby about anything doctrinal and that I would not necessarily see things the way the religion professors saw things. That was often true.

I had heard, however, about a fellow named Dr. Lane. The first time I enquired as to who this Dr. Lane was when I heard about his reputation at the campus a fellow said without the slightest hesitation, "He's a man of God." I chuckled and asked, "That's great and the first thing I wanted to know ... but how is he as a scholar." "Oh," the guy said with a semi-sheepish smile, "he's a very good scholar, too." I took no small encouragement learning that students who studied with him or knew of him identified him first by the vibrancy of his faith and THEN identified him as a scholar.

When I got to know Bill he explained, in his own low-key way, why this sort of thing can be important. I once asked Dr. Lane's advice on going to seminary and one of the things he warned me about is that seminarians tend to have a mentality that since they study the scriptures day in and day out that they, naturally being immersed in the Bible, have no worries about continued church participation, church attendence, prayer, intercession, public worship or those other things that help define Christian fellowship. In addition to these various omissions he warned that I steer clear of the Ivy League on general principle since they have lost many positive points due to developing what he used to call the "guild mentality".

There were scholars that he said I should keep on eye. Since he knew I had a Pentecostal background he said Gordon Fee would be good to study. He also advised me to read a younger scholar, someone I had never heard of before, N. T. Wright. He said that Wright was doing a lot of work to emphasize the Jewish background of New Testament literature, that this was a welcome change from the assumptions of the previous few generations of scholars that assumed an essentially Hellenistic view of NT literature, and that I should keep my eye on Wright. Wright, so Bill told me, was going to become VERY important in New Testament studies.

I suppose if Bill were with us today he would be happy to report that his prediction seems to have turned out to have at least SOME accuracy to it. More than ten years before theo-bloggers were theo-blogging about whether Wright was a menace to sound doctrine I was advised to keep an eye on his work. I have Dr. Lane's presence in my life to thank for providentially steering me toward Wright's work.

Lane was a surprisingly unassuming and friendly fellow. He was one of those sorts of people who does not necessarily wear his or her vast reservoirs of knowledge on his or her sleeve. He never said of himself what some of his students told me about him, that he had forgotten more about biblical literature than the better-than-average biblical literature student was ever going to know. One of his students said that the time you would begin to learn Lane was twenty times smarter than you was if you or someone else asked a dumbass or rhetorical question to try to prove a point. One fellow tried doing this by arguing that Paul's thought was not REALLY particularly Jewish. What ensued, I was told, was a very warm and friendly juggernaut of scholarly overview replete with Greek variants of Pauline texts written from memory on the chalkboard.

I was also told that Lane's advice to me that if I wanted to learn French then just a summer with parallel renderings of Good News for Modern Man would probably be all I would need to do to get a decent mastery of reading French. He said that German, an inflected language, would require actual formal study but since I had some Spanish under my belt I wouldn't need to insist on formal study of the Romance languages. When I told a student of Lane's this was his advice the fellow's reply was, "Well, that man is a genius. OF COURSE he can imagine that that would be easy to do in a summer." Since I do not consider myself to be a genius, certainly not a genius at languages, I never worked up the nerve to try Bill's suggestion. I do, however, now wish I had put all my foreign language study into German or Russian instead of Spanish.

But I truly ramble here. Reading Lane's first volume is a bit trippy and very much nostalgic for me. Having known Bill for at least a little while I can't read his books without hearing his voice in my head. It has become that way with Tom Wright's books. It has become that way with Joan Didion, though in Didion's case we never had conversations the way I was able to have conversations with Bill, or with Tom Wright (he strongly urged me to pick up a book by Richard Bauckham on the reliability of the gospels. I've got it but must confess I have not read very many theology books since getting laid off from my job).

But I ramble. I suppose in many ways I have always been old at heart even when I was very young. I often found it easier to hang out with older people and Bill was one of those older people I would hang out with when I had the opportunity to do so. He is one of a few people I can look back on as helpful spiritual mentors in my life. As I followed Wright's work I began to realize that what Wright was doing was already accomplishing what I had hoped I would have an opportunity to do. Seeing that Wright was doing so much of what I had hoped to do I realized that what I had to offer was redundant.

I also nearly immediately realized that I am not in any way "called" to any kind of formal ministry and have never had the funds to go to seminary and have largely declined to have any formal denominational affiliation. Or at least I have avoided it for years. My stint at Mars Hill I could look back on as a sort of closeted stint as a Reformed Baptist. Mars Hill is basically Reformed Baptist and has been for as long as Driscoll has been a Calvinist who thinks Calvin was wrong about paedobaptism. Ironically as Lane was once a Calvinist and became Wesleyan I started off Pentecostal (i.e. Wesleyan) and became a Calvinist. I would have to say I have always been a bad sort of Calvinist who has no enthusiasm for claiming that Arminians are heretics or fatally compromise the message of Christ. I suppose my strength and flaw has been that I have been eager and convinced as a moderate. I suppose, in some small way, Bill may have had something to do about that.

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