How Does a Biblical Scholar Prepare to Die? (Timothy R. Raymond)
Imagine you’re a middle-aged, accomplished biblical scholar who has authored a few highly recommended technical books on New Testament studies. Imagine you’re regularly invited to speak to theological gatherings, institutions of higher learning, and local churches. Imagine your articles have been published in such distinguished journals as Themelios and Bibliotheca Sacra. And imagine you support your family by teaching at a seminary training pastors and missionaries, a job you thoroughly enjoy.
From a human perspective, you’re in the prime of your career and anticipate perhaps a couple more decades of fruitful labor and studies. But then imagine your doctor tells you that you’ve got aggressive, stage-4 incurable cancer and that if a last-resort series of treatments doesn’t work, you should have six months to live. Such is the case with Dr. Rod Decker, Professor of Greek and New Testament at the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Decker is my former professor and present friend, and I consider him a beloved mentor. He is one of a handful of people who have had a profound influence on the trajectory of my life. Though he told me once that I could call him “Rod,” I could never bring myself to do that. It sort of felt like calling your parents by their first names!
It was in Dr. Decker’s Greek Reading class during my first year of seminary that I finally understood how to prepare expositional sermons (I remember the particular class vividly), though I wound up receiving a “D” from him that semester. Dr. Decker introduced me, and a whole host of present pastors and missionaries, to the world of real evangelical scholarship, directing us to guys like D.A. Carson, Tom Schreiner, Moisés Silva, and Doug Moo. He encouraged me to take his Textual Criticism class, and then his one on the Septuagint, and thankfully, I ended up learning Greek modestly well. He may not realize this, but it was his personal counsel at a theology night hosted at his home which moved me to take the plunge and try being a senior pastor straight out of seminary (I’m so glad I did). I doubt I’d be blogging today had it not been for his encouragement to do so. And for the last decade I’ve steadily bugged him with theological and ministry-related emails, probably two or three times a month, and he’s faithfully answered every one.
Recently Dr. Decker shared an essay in chapel to the students at Baptist Bible Seminary entitled “I’m Not Afraid to Die.” You can read it, along with the thoughts of another professor at the same institution who lives with chronic physical suffering, here. But better yet, I’d encourage you to actually listen to the audio of the chapel message itself (here: scroll to Nov 15 Seminary Chapel). In all honesty, it was probably the most moving thing I’ve heard in the last five years.
I share this post with you for a couple reasons. First, I’d invite you to pray with me for Dr. Decker. I pray almost daily for his physical healing and that he and his wife would have strong faith in the Lord and his gospel, no matter what the future holds. Second, it’s especially helpful for biblical scholars to hear another biblical scholar’s perspective on matters of life and death. Sometimes those of us who love technical scholarship can become so enamored by verb tenses and logical syllogisms that we forget that life is but a vapor. And yet, die we all must. I believe Dr. Decker’s thoughts will be food for your soul in this regard.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.