Not a statistic to me: V. Beecher Wallace, Jr. in Memoriam (1928–2020)

A Statistic

The month of March 2020 has been etched in my frontal lobe forever. The following dates give the bare facts and little else. But I offer this narrative because it may be helpful to healthcare workers who are battling COVID–19 in a fight to the death. Literally.

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Beecher and Nayda Wallace on their anniversary, March 29 (year unknown)

On March 3, my 91-year-old father, Vard Beecher Wallace, Jr. (“Beecher”), was in good health with a strong heart. He was still driving and lived alone. He was frail, but his doctor had recently told him that he had nothing that was life-threatening. (He’s had frequent accidents in the last few years, always by falling. He even broke his neck three years ago and had to wear a neck-brace at my mother’s funeral in 2017.) The next day, Dad was taken to Evergreen Medical Center in Kirkland, WA, for severe back pain. On March 9, he was moved to a nursing home for rehabilitation, until he could care for himself. The coronavirus was spreading rather quickly in Washington; family members were not even allowed to see him at the nursing home. On March 14, the home determined that two of its patients had caught the virus. This alarmed his family; the next day my sister Keri took Dad to his house and quarantined herself with him. He had to be brought out to her since she was not allowed in the nursing home. Three days later he developed a low-grade fever, but over the next 48 hours it didn’t get over 100 degrees, and it often returned to a normal 98.6. On March 18, he fell, hit his head, and his crown was bleeding. Keri called a local clinic, but they refused to see him because he had a low-grade fever. So, back to Evergreen. They stitched up the wound. Then, they tested him for the coronavirus. All of his children waited by their phones to hear the news, the minutes crawling by at a gruelingly slow pace.

Then the news arrived: Dad tested positive for the coronavirus. His condition continued to deteriorate over several days. He was dying by inches. I had the opportunity to talk with him a few times, but I could not visit (both because I was quarantined due to a recent flight to Greece and because the hospital was pretty much in lock-down).

Beecher was miserable, constantly taking off the oxygen mask, not eating, and in pain. He said the food tasted terrible. Dad had lost his sense of smell years ago, so although that is sometimes a symptom of the virus it was a precondition for him. He also had diabetes and had self-injected insulin daily for the last few years.

His breathing was becoming increasingly labored. He could only utter one word at a time and was very hard to understand. At one point his temperature spiked to 103, but for the most part it was normal or close to it. He was getting very confused, too. Beecher had been moved to three different rooms in Evergreen, but he thought it was three different hospitals. Then he asked if he was in California. He still recognized his children’s voices though. On the evening of March 27, the decision was made to let him decide whether to wear the mask; an IV of morphine was hooked up. He died at 5 o’clock the next morning, March 28. Beecher Wallace became a statistic, number 174 or 189 or somewhere in between, in the state of Washington.

My Father

But he is not a statistic to me. He passed into the presence of the Lord at 5 AM Saturday morning. He could see the love of his life again—Nayda Baird Wallace, my mother. Sunday, March 29, would have been their 73rd wedding anniversary. So, he made it just in time to celebrate with Mom! And he saw his Savior, face to face, for the first time. What a thrill that will be for all of us!

I was able to have two heart-to-heart conversations with Dad in the last few days of his life. Here’s the gist:

I asked him how his faith was.

Beecher: “Oh, it’s strong! If it weren’t, I’d have nothing to live for. Don’t you worry about me.”

Dan: “I wanted to tell you that hundreds of people are praying for you.” I wanted him to know that he’s not facing this alone. He was very appreciative. “Dad, you’ve been a wonderful father. You have taught me more about integrity, responsibility, and humility—all in the Lord—than anyone else ever has.” He appreciated that very much and talked about how incredible his kids are. (I have an older brother, Wally, and a younger sister, Keri.)

Beecher: “I just hope that I’m not around to see the sun come up tomorrow.”

Dan: “I know. Dad, I suspect I’ll never see you again in this life.” Then I lost control and started to cry.

He was stronger than me; he ministered to me on what we thought might be his last day in this life. He asked, “How’s Pati doing?” Then he told me how much he loved me and my family. And he added, “I’ll see you again in heaven.”

I’m so grateful to be Beecher Wallace’s son. And I look forward to seeing my earthly father once again.

Beecher is survived by two sons and their spouses (Vard Beecher Wallace III or “Wally” Wallace and his wife Carol, and Dan Wallace and his wife Pati), one daughter (Keri Marquand) and her ex-husband (Michael), eight grandchildren: Noah (and his wife Jean), Dustin (and his wife Erin), Benjamin, Jamie (and her husband David Condon), Michael Marquand Jr., Julia Marquand (and her husband Rolando Avila), Andrew (and his wife Danielle), and Zachary (and his wife Samantha); and seven great-grandchildren (Clariana, MacKenzie, Mara Jade, Sadie, Livya, Adlai, and Diego).

A virtual memorial service will be held on May 9. The video will be posted shortly thereafter.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we still need to save Scripture

 

This coming Saturday, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) had scheduled to have its annual Dallas Fundraising Banquet. Some weeks ago we pulled the plug on that. The coronavirus has spread exponentially since then.

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The world is facing a pandemic right now, and we are all sheltering at home. People are losing jobs, facing personal isolation, depression, and genuine crises. Many are dying, communities are dissolving, and a new normal may be emerging. We are praying that this is not the new normal for very long though!

In the midst of this global scenario, there are some things I am sure of. The sun will come up tomorrow, people need to eat, and our time on this planet is limited. CSNTM was founded 18 years ago because of another thing I am sure of: ancient, handwritten copies of the Bible are deteriorating. They are all written on organic material (papyrus, parchment, or paper), and because of this they are not permanent. Our initial task is to save Scripture. Each manuscript is unique. Every one has a story to tell. These are not books rolling off a printing press; they are individual works of love, gifts to future generations of people, written by men and women whose only thanks is from their Lord. The task of saving Scripture remains, and its necessity is underscored in light of the fragility of life that the whole world is now coming face to face with. Life has always been fragile, but sometimes it takes a crisis to bring this out of the shadows and put it front and center.

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Our mission is still the same. And our need is still the same. When this pathogen runs its course, CSNTM will be back at our preservation work throughout the world. There are more than 250 locales where these manuscripts are housed; our mission is to make sure they are digitally preserved, cover to cover and everything in between, with state-of-the-art equipment, allowing us to post the images on line and make them accessible to all. These images have always been free for all, and free for all time. We are ready to traverse the globe to save these Scriptures; we will pack up our equipment and fly out as soon as we are allowed.

This week, instead of a physical banquet, CSNTM is having its first-ever (and hopefully, only) VIRTUAL banquet! Please follow along this week, enjoy the testimonies, and watch the short videos, on the significant and exciting work that CSNTM is doing. Every day you will see new videos. In the least, you can watch these shorts and learn something about the Bible, its heritage, and the faithful, mostly anonymous scribes who labored in abysmal conditions to bring the Scriptures to generations of people they would never know.

Sometimes scribes penned a personal note at the end of a manuscript they were copying. One of them, Andrew, wrote this note to conclude the copy of the New Testament he had worked on for many months: “The hand that wrote this is rotting in the grave, but what is written will last until the fulness of times.” Andrew penned this note in AD 1079. The manuscript is not in great shape, but CSNTM was able to photograph it and preserve it digitally. Like Andrew, some day all of us will be rotting in the grave. Wouldn’t it be an incredible gift to  our descendants a thousand years from now to be able to read these manuscripts with the same clarity we have today?

Please join us for this virtual banquet. And please partner with us in a mission that is bigger than any of us; it’s an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.

 

Ed Komoszewski: A Man of God, a Man in Need

I announced on Facebook at the beginning of December a new GoFundMe campaign for Ed Komoszewski. Many generous folks responded–it was, in fact, overwhelming! For all of you, a big THANK YOU! The gifts rolled in even into the new year. We are over half way there! Let’s see this to the end. Below is what I wrote in December:

Dear friends, I resurrected a GoFundMe campaign for Ed Komoszewski at the beginning of December. The first five weeks were, frankly, incredible. The body of Christ has come through in a huge way. But we still have some distance to go. Below is what I wrote then. Please consider how you can help.

My very good friend, Ed Komoszewski, is a man who constantly thanks God—and this in the midst of his own body fighting against itself, tearing him apart.

At this time of year, I am hoping to resurrect the donations to Ed’s health account. The GoFundMe campaign launched two years ago came up short. Ed’s medically-related debt has increased far beyond the original goal which we failed to meet. So many of you contributed generously to Ed’s account. He would be in incalculably worse shape without your help. But now he’s in a new season of his life, and with it comes more debt.

Ed has been deemed disabled by his doctors and the federal government; he’s been unable to earn a regular income since 2015. He has been hospitalized for extensive stays four times in the past three or so years. Debt has accelerated; bills are piling up. Some have gone unpaid and have been turned over to collection agencies. The need is urgent.

I have personally witnessed his humble lifestyle. Your gifts help pay the bills. Some friends help out with specific needs, allowing him to attend a crucial academic conference each year. But he lives a ridiculously frugal life. Not only does he need funds for the medical bills, but the family car limps along, the AC unit (NOT a luxury in Texas) has problems working, and his oldest daughter is heading to college in the fall.

Because Ed is a “medical mystery” (as his doctors at Mayo said of him for the past two decades), he has exhausted many traditional therapies for his various conditions. This means he must experiment with non-traditional treatments often recommended by his doctors but not covered by insurance.

Even though Ed cannot earn a sufficient salary, he continues to work on researching and writing as God gives him strength. Long-term projects with distant deadlines are necessary because of his health. This means income is sporadic and small; authors and editors know that academic writing projects pay meagerly. The revenues are not an adequate reflection of the impact.

 Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History is a book co-edited by Ed, with several notable authors defending historicity in the Gospels. It was just released a few weeks ago. Ed conceived of the project and worked with Darrell Bock in editing it. A three-hour session was dedicated to discussing it at the recent Evangelical Theological Society meeting—it’s that important.

Ed is working now with Rob Bowman on a second edition of Putting Jesus in His Place. This book has already had a huge influence. It was endorsed by a veritable Who’s Who of biblical scholars and theologians. The acronym used in the book to show that the New Testament affirms Christ’s deity has been widely used by theologians, preachers, and apologists. The publisher gets a steady flow of requests by such folks to use the HANDS acronym in their own publications. What does “HANDS” stand for? You’ll just have to get the book to find out!

It is likely that Ed and I will be revising Reinventing Jesus, too. He is trying to remain as productive as possible, as long as he draws breath, in spite of his limitations.

Besides the influence of his writings, Ed has a massive ministry behind the scenes. I have seen him share the gospel with strangers, pray with people he’s just met, counsel friends and friends of friends. God has given him wisdom borne of suffering and it draws people to Ed like a magnet.

Please consider giving as well as sharing this campaign with your circle of friends. Facebook algorithms in particular limit exposure, so sharing multiple times and asking friends to do the same is the best way to get the word out.

For his current expenses and for the near future, Ed needs $40,000. Yes, that’s a lot of money—and it shows how desperate the situation is. Let’s get Ed to “ground zero” for the first time in many years.

 

One-of-a-kind trip to Greece

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts is offering a one-of-a-kind trip to Greece next spring. We’re calling it the “Insider’s Expedition.” The trip will take place on March 7–16, 2020. It will feature sites in Athens—including an insider’s look at the National Library of Greece, the other-worldly monasteries of Meteora, select islands, and ancient Corinth.

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We can only take twenty couples for this unique adventure. Thanks to Rob Marcello for working hard the last several months to make this expedition come to fruition! Details are on CSNTM’s website. Tickets are going fast!

Online Divinity Degrees: Two-Dimensional Preparation for a Three-Dimensional World

Online education has become a booming business. And online theological education is no exception. In August 2017, “The Complete List of Online Master of Divinity Degrees,” an article written by Ryan Nelson, was posted at Gradlime: https://gradlime.com/online-masters-divinity/. The author noted that there are “more than 270 graduate schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools,” but at the time most offered only ‘slim pickings’ in online education. He also noted that there are 55 schools that offer a large number of online MDiv classes, with nearly forty of them doling out the complete degree online. (It should be noted that not all the 270+ theology schools offer an MDiv, so the ratio of schools with online courses to on-campus-only degrees is significantly higher than twenty percent.) In the last year and a half, the ratios have only gotten closer. One Christian university has nearly 100,000 onlinestudents. Another ratio—the cost to the school for each full-time online student vs. the cost for each full-time on-campus student—reveals just how much online education is good for the school’s finances. It is a fraction of the cost of on-campus education (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/magazine/how-liberty-university-built-a-billion-dollar-empire-online.html). Online education is a money-maker for schools.

Many administrators have justified such distance learning, touting it as something that is every bit as good as in-class instruction. But is it really? For those who will be ministering to real people in the most personal way, how is it possible for the virtual classroom, taught by a virtual teacher to virtual students, to be as good as flesh-and-blood instruction? One measure may be to compare it to how Jesus taught.

Jesus the Master Teacher
As yet another Christmas draws near, we are reminded of the life-changing truth mentioned in John’s Prologue: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14). The Incarnation is one of the great mysteries of the universe. We can describe it in halting terms and even partially explain it, but our finite minds cannot fully grasp it. Ever. Among other things, when the Second Person of the Trinity cloaked his glory in human form he took on the suffering of finitude, of living in a dirty world, of feeling hunger and pain, of rejection, of death. He chose a dozen men to train deeply and personally. They were his acolytes, his companions, his friends. And they were collectively an unsavory lot. Yet Jesus selected them—men who would otherwise never have found a common bond. “The Word… dwelt among us.” The Master Teacher taught the crowds, healed the sick, fed the multitudes, and exorcised hordes from the underworld who had taken up residence in many a human. They had their turn. Now it was God’s. And he lived with a dozen students for three years.

There are untold numbers of lessons we can learn from the Incarnation. One of those in the pedagogical category is this: the most impactful ministry is intensely personal, messy, intentional as well as serendipitous, sacrificial, and communal. Let’s examine each of these briefly.

  1. The most impactful ministry is intensely personal.

Jesus selected seventy disciples to spend time with. Out of that seventy he chose twelve to live with. Of those twelve he concentrated especially on three of them. For the intimate group, it was no holds barred. The instruction was in your face. Jesus ate with the apostles, walked with the apostles, prayed with the apostles, gave private instruction to the apostles, permitted the apostles to learn from each other and minister with each other. It was 24/7 ministry. Life lessons were learned, not just the content of a course.

  1. The most impactful ministry is messy.

Jesus did not teach his disciples in a sterile environment. The apostles were sinners. They wanted to call down God’s wrath and destroy a whole village for rejecting their Master. They got angry with each other. They were jealous, petty, cowardly, and disbelieving. They feared for their lives on more than one occasion. They pushed away children, the blind, old women, and Gentiles. But Jesus taught them, and he changed them. They witnessed miracles and object lessons. They saw their Master tangle with the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. They learned compassion, grace, truth, love, and courage. Their lives were radically changed by the Rabbi in their midst.

  1. The most impactful ministry is intentional.

The Lord made lesson plans for his instruction. He taught with intentionality. His instruction was thought out. He timed what he taught so that it would have the greatest impact. Much of his instruction to the apostles was before or after he spoke to the crowds. And some of it was for their ears only. The apostles were privileged to learn “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13.11), to wrestle with how to feed the multitudes, to learn the limitations of their exorcistic powers sans prayer. Above all, they learned to trust—and to put their faith in God Incarnate.

  1. The most impactful ministry is serendipitous.

Not all that Jesus taught his closest followers was thought out ahead of time, but came about because an opportunity presented itself. Religious leaders confronted Jesus about his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath, about their not doing the ritual hand-washing before a meal, about paying taxes, about who their neighbor was, about the nature of resurrection life. The marginalized in society came to Jesus, were rebuffed by his disciples, and ministered to by the Lord. Jesus used every opportunity to mentor these men, to mold their character, to show them what God was really like. And he did it along the way, largely by spending time with them.

  1. The most impactful ministry is sacrificial.

Of course, this goes without saying for the Lord. But his closest followers also made massive sacrifices to learn from the Master. Jesus scolded those who would not make the sacrifice to follow him. His demands were radical. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26–27). Those closest to him understood this—at least to some degree. Peter spoke for the rest: “We have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10.28). Disappointment and fear reigned during the interlude between the crucifixion and resurrection. The disciples indeed had given up everything to follow Jesus, only to see the Messiah nailed to a cross. But the empty tomb showed them that their commitment was not in vain. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Spirit changed everything. These cowardly men were transformed on the Day of Pentecost. And they would eventually make the ultimate sacrifice—for Jesus.

  1. The most impactful ministry is communal.

Jesus built a new community, the Church, starting with a dozen individuals. He was not the Lone Ranger with just one sidekick. He modeled living out a life for God. He modeled loving the Lord with heart, soul, and mind. And this was acted out by loving his disciples. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end” (John 13.1 NET). Jesus constantly reminded his followers of the importance of community. We are not to forgive our brothers and sisters just seven times, “but seventy-seven times!” (Matt 18.22). “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13.34).

Remarkably, although Jesus was the first to put Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 together, and as the hinges on which the whole Law hung no less (Matt 22.40), it is the second command that is repeated as a summary of both in the NT (Rom 13.9; Gal 5.14; Jas 2.8). Thrice it is mentioned in the epistles, and thrice it is claimed to sum up the Law. John tells us why: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4.20 NET).

The most impactful ministry in Jesus’ day is still the most impactful today. How do the traditional brick-and-mortar seminary education and online theological education measure up?

The Pros and Cons of Online Theological Education
Obviously, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ cannot be duplicated. Instead, he must be revered and worshiped. He alone is the theanthropic person. The sacrifices made today by seminary students will not be the same as what the apostles went through, and their teachers can’t hold a candle to the sun of Christ. Nevertheless, there are principles that we can extract from the Gospels—principles that were played out in the book of Acts and the epistles, especially with Paul and his associates.

  1. intensely personal

There can be no comparison between online education and face-to-face education. Unless, of course, the professor considers out-of-classroom time with students to be optional. The better teachers see individual time, and corporate time, outside of the classroom as a must. Even FaceTime or Skype cannot accomplish the same things as 3D communication.

  1. messy

Ditto for ‘messy.’ Although online teaching can, with some effort, involve faculty in the lives of students, it simply is not the same as logging hours with them—both in the classroom and out.

  1. intentional

Here is where online education shines. A course can be packaged in such a way that the material is covered in full. Already-created video instruction can cut out superfluous material and achieve high levels of content efficiently. In-class instruction or live video feeds often detour because of Q&A or because of the professor following rabbit trails. But ‘dead’ video instruction can become quickly dated, lack vitality, and require less-than-riveted attention that a live, small classroom can inculcate. Thus, the very type of online course that shines the most in intentionality is also the one with the most serious negatives attached to it.

  1. serendipitous

As strong as intentionality is for online education, it is equally weak in serendipitous education. What happens along the way, how faculty and students respond to current events, to personal crises in students’ lives, to teaching opportunities—all these are the domain of 3D education. That is, as long as the teacher is willing to get outside the four walls and get involved in students’ lives.

  1. sacrificial

Making a sacrifice to uproot and move across the country (or across the globe) for the sake of the best education is the stumbling block to more and more would-be students today. Many are already well established in their careers, have children, own a home, or have other entanglements that would seem to prevent them from making such a commitment. Understandably, some students simply cannot do it. They may live under despotic rule, be too poor to move, have health issues, or be under various obligations that would keep them from taking up residence elsewhere. They are making the sacrifice that they can.

On the other hand, some students are simply lazy. Online classes are, frankly, more convenient. Numerous pupils in theological institutes live on or close to campus but take courses online. Why? Sometimes it is because their schedule will not allow them to do otherwise. But often it is because they want the sheepskin with as little effort as possible. Countless numbers could make the sacrifice but view the degree as more important than the education. They intentionally settle for second best.

Further, sometimes those who teach online courses make as little sacrifice as possible. I do not want to paint with a broad brush here; a good number of excellent teachers work very hard in providing two-dimensional instruction. Yet they often are swimming upstream: in-the-flesh instruction would be more meaningful and more effective than live video feeds, and far more than ‘dead’ video instruction.

  1. communal

Community is a high priority for millennials, the group that comprises almost the entire student body of undergrad and grad schools today. But most millennials have almost no clue how to integrate community into their lives. Many feel terribly lonely, too busy, too disconnected. (For just one example of reports on millennials and community, see this article in the New York Post: https://nypost.com/2018/07/10/millennials-are-horrible-neighbors/.) The comically tragic scene of a group of teens sitting together and each texting someone else outside the group has become commonplace across the country and across the globe. They live virtual lives in a virtual world. But human beings are not virtual. Although it may be uncomfortable, awkward, and presumably artificial at first, achieving real community on a seminary campus with today’s millennial students is deeply satisfying for those on both sides of the podium.

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Public domain picture from Wikipedia

  1. support network

A seventh element can be added to the brick-and-mortar approach to education: the on-campus student has access to a world of knowledge, along with those who know how to access it. Nowadays, online education is exploding with internet-accessible information. But all this is equally available to on-campus students. Further, the full library services, tutors, study groups, mentor-students (those further along in the program), and the school’s other faculty as well as staff are matter-of-course for flesh-and-blood education and difficult, if not impossible, to come by for online education.

It seems that three-dimensional education, when both teacher and student are fully committed to the process, is hands-down superior to two-dimensional education. But we must not think that the latter has no value. Quite the contrary: it is the second best approach. As I mentioned earlier, for some students this is the only way they can get a theological education of any sort. For those who are not enrolled in a program of study, numerous online courses are available from excellent teachers. Once again, however, it must be underscored that whatever an online student can get an on-campus student can get.

In many respects, online education is like a letter from an apostle. John told the ‘elect lady’ in one letter and Gaius in another, “Though I have many other things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink, but I hope to come visit you and speak face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12; see also 3 John 13–14). Paul wrote to the Romans that he longed to visit them (Rom 1.10–11); meanwhile, his letter would have to do. Distance education—whether an epistle or a video course—is not to be cast off as so much refuse, but neither is it ideal.

I would like to close this blog-turned-dissertation with a few random notes, anecdotal and otherwise.

  1. Dallas Seminary started an internship program in the early 90s, in which a handful of Master of Theology students would be mentored by a faculty member over the course of a school year. The students were required to put in hundreds of hours of work for the professor. Ideally, the internship would help the teacher with his or her projects, and help the student to learn the ropes of an academic ministry. I have had well over a hundred interns during these years. In my three and a half decades of teaching in graduate school, I can say that absolutely nothing has been so rewarding as spending time with these select students. This kind of close, personal attention would simply not be possible with distance learning. Many of my interns have become professors and scholars, distinguishing themselves as gifted, personable, and approachable teachers. Others have become pastors, missionaries, and translators. They have learned what I attempted to model—and often, far better than my meager attempts at mentoring would suggest.
  2. Every year, I ask all my students to fill out what I call the SSRS—“Succinct Self-Revelatory Statement.” I am very nosey in the SSRS, asking the student about marital status, number and ages of children, weekly work hours, number of courses they are taking, etc. I want to assess the likelihood of their success in my class. Increasingly, students want to have it all: work 40 hours a week, take a full load at school, and raise two preschoolers with their spouse who is also working full-time. It’s a recipe for disaster and I let them know it. I want them to succeed—both in the course and in life. Learning to settle for limited objectives and delayed gratification is key to that success.

In the real-life setting of a living, breathing environment, students often learn of others’ needs and they pray as a family. This past semester, when one student learned of another’s car troubles during our opening prayer time, he gave him a car! Yes, he had another. But he could have sold the second car and paid some bills. Yet the need so impressed him that he donated his car to this student. That’s community at work. Could this happen in an online course? Yes, of course. But the likelihood is greater the more the students know about each other.

I also ask them how much Greek they have had previously and whether any courses they took were online. I can say that, more often than not, the students who are less prepared than others are those whose previous education in the language has been online. To be sure, some students are so highly motivated that they will learn well via any method, even being self-taught. They are the exception that proves the rule.

  1. Last month I spoke with professors (and even one president) at several theological schools, while attending the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. I asked their opinion about online education. I was surprised to learn how strongly negative their attitude was toward such an instructional model. Some departments, and even an entire faculty, refused to offer any online classes. They recognized that their stance was old school, and that the institute’s finances were perhaps hurting because of it. But their concern was to make sure that their students were well prepared for a real world—messy, sinful, dirty, ugly and beautiful, unpredictable, filled with heartache and joy. Real ministry involves all these things. They agreed with me that some students simply cannot get theological education any other way than through distance learning. But that’s second best.
  2. What about those professors who spend no time outside of class with their students? Or those who go through the motions, simply transferring their notes to the students’ notebooks, never passing through the crucible of life? Yes, there are those kinds of teachers. Is it legitimate, however, to compare the worst of 3D teachers with the best of 2D teachers? Minimalist teachers in the classroom are not the way it’s supposed to be. When I was in the master’s program, I sought out the very best professors teaching their best courses. If a particular course was a little outside my orbit of interest, it would still be preferred over one that was inside but taught by a prof with delusions of adequacy. I wanted to learn not only the content of a course, but how to love God with my mind.
  3. Finally, the bottom-line question that the prospective student needs to ask is not, “What’s the easiest route to take to earn that degree?” but, “What is the best preparation I can get for a lifetime of ministry?”