A little over a month ago, one of my seminary professors wrote a moving piece about the sudden passing of his Doktorvater. I reached out to this professor and expressed my condolences as it seemed he had a special friendship with this scholar.
None of my theological professors from college or seminary had passed on until this morning. I heard the news just this afternoon that my Bible & Religion professor at Erskine College, Terry Eves, passed into glory.
For a lot of us men who become Pastors or go into some form of full-time ministry, we become attached to the scholars who most influenced us in our studies. While there are usually a few influential voices which stay with us for the rest of our lives, there is always one which is exalted above the others. For me, Terry Eves is the most influential teacher of the Bible I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
I first met Terry in the summer of 2003. I was a 17 year old kid on a visit to Erskine College. I was born, baptized, and raised in the ARP church, so it was fitting that I checked out Erskine. The Admissions office knew I was interested in Bible & Religion and Philosophy as potential majors. So, the first professor I had a meeting with was Terry. As I sat in his tiny square-shaped office in Belk Hall, my eyes roamed over the thousands of books tucked into every nook and cranny of that claustrophobic space. (It has been said that geniuses are the messiest humans. If that is true, then Terry passed that test.)
A 17 year old talking to a 50 year old scholar who cut his teeth at the famous Dropsie College of Hebrew & Cognate Languages doesn’t sound like a promising conversation. But our first encounter felt like we had been friends as Teacher-Student for many years. Two hours felt like twenty minutes. At that moment, I knew I wanted to sit under this man’s teaching for four years.
Terry had to get to an appointment, so he asked if I wanted to meet Dr. Wingard, who taught Philosophy. So, Terry dropped me off at John Wingard’s office. The Admissions office couldn’t find me! They had to tell my parents, “We can’t find your son at the moment.” Good job, Terry. 🙂
My Freshman Seminar class was with Terry. It was a crash course on Christian Worldview using Al Wolters classic text Creation Regained. One student that semester asked, “Dr. Eves, what is the most important class that you teach?” Terry responded, “Actually, I think this class is the most important.”
I think that response is one reason why there are no published volumes of Terry Eves works. Some scholars love their scholarship more than their students, but Terry loved students more than his scholarship. It is why he fit so well in a small town at a small Christian liberal arts college.
I graduated from Erskine with a B.A. double majoring in Bible & Religion and Philosophy, but I basically graduated with a degree in Evesism. While I am (to quote the other influential Bible & Religion professor I had at Erskine, Bill Evans) “an unrepentant Calvinist” I am really a follower of Terry Eves. I ended up taking seven classes from him in three years. (Terry would move from the College to the Seminary before my senior year.) A degree in Evesism makes one an expert in the book of a Genesis as Terry had difficulty getting past that book in his classes. 🙂
Terry was a favorite to us Bible & Religion majors and to many other students. In the early years of Facebook (back when it was still limited to college students), we created the Facebook group “Terry Always Wins”.
In admiration of our professor, we developed our best impressions of Terry. There were many Evesisms that we loved to quote to one another. Our favorite was when Terry led prayer before a Friday class, “And Lord, we thank you that it is Friday.”
It was Terry who gave me my first exposure to biblical theology, Dutch Reformed emphases and contributions to theology, the paradigm of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration, the role of the imagination in theology and discipleship, the conditionality of the covenant, the NT use of the OT, and the art of biblical narrative. While many of my pastoral colleagues express their difficulty in teaching narrative portions of Scripture, Terry helped me to love biblical narrative and the literary artistry of the biblical text. He gave me a balanced approach to a high view of Scripture’s authority (including inerrancy) and the common grace wisdom sometimes gained from critical approaches to the text. (Though when Terry disagreed with a critical scholar he would express his desire to take them “behind the woodshed and whack them with a peach branch”.)
By the final exam of my seventh and final class with Terry, I didn’t study for it. It wasn’t that it was easy, but it was easy for me. I had become so in tune with my professor’s intuition and instincts with the Bible that I didn’t need to study. I passed that exam with flying colors. I had studied three years for that final exam.
While Terry was the best Bible teacher I’ve ever sat under, he was also a mentor and a friend. We had countless talks in his office. (Terry had an open door policy with students. I can’t remember one time where he told a student to come back later because he was too busy.) He held a Bible or book study in his home most semesters. We had many meals together. (Terry loved going to restaurants with students.) While we talked about class content, most of our conversations revolved around the Christian life and discipleship. He would listen to me as I bemoaned my girlfriend breaking up with me, struggled in another class, or had some unique difficulties which I experienced during my junior year at Erskine.
During one meal together in the cafeteria I broke down crying. I was weeping over a particular sin in my life, and Terry, in his usual calm and empathetic voice, said, “Well Daniel, we know the gospel is good news for you. Especially for you.” Terry was an important shepherd to me during my college years.
His compassion and gentleness with students was a shadow of the loyalty and love he has toward his wife, Diane. A lot of the marriages I observed of my professors with their wives inspired me. Terry’s commitment to Diane was no exception.
My congregation in Cortland, NY may not know it, but about 20-30% of the stuff I give them comes from Terry Eves. Just a couple of weeks ago I gave them Terry’s speech about how “Exodus Precedes Sinai”. I usually don’t plan to quote this or that from my former professor. Rather, Terry is organically weaved through my teaching, preaching, and shepherding.
Terry was also instrumental in Erskine College’s growth as a Christian liberal arts institution. More than any other professor on campus, Terry spoke of the importance of a Christian worldview and the school’s mission to integrate Faith and Learning. I’d like to think Erskine’s current emphasis on its mission is in part because of Terry.
For years it has been my desire for Terry’s former students to take our class notes and put together a published work to honor a scholar who probably could have been a big name theologian in our day. While I enjoy the creative musings of N.T. Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, Peter Leithart, James K.A. Smith, and others, none of them have inspired me like Terry Eves.
Now that Terry is absent from his body and present with the Lord, I hope his students will find a way to honor his legacy and see that his brilliance might be made available to future students, Pastors, and laypeople.
Farewell old friend, mentor, professor, and shepherd. I can’t wait to experience the restored new creation with you.