The tiniest of memories: David Scholer (1938-2008)

Relishing the influence of the tiniest of memories

In memoriam: David M. Scholer (1938-2008)

By Allan Roy Andrews

As I write, a funeral has taken place in Pasadena, California, for David M. Scholer, a New Testament scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary who died on August 22 after a six-year battle with colorectal cancer. Scholer was 70 years old.

In the Los Angeles Times obituary for Scholer, he is cited as singling out the “dividends,” if that word is appropriate, of his fight with the debilitating disease:

He discovered the importance of memory, reveling every day in recollections of the people he met and loved, the places around the world he visited. “The joys and the achievements of the past don’t mean I live in the past,” he said, “but I do celebrate with gratitude what has been.”

I celebrate with gratitude my memory of Scholer; he was my tutor and guide in New Testament Greek during my seminary studies at Gordon Divinity School in Massachusetts in the mid-1960s. I write of the tiniest of memories; what is here is more about me than about Scholer, though his cited words tell me he would understand and appreciate my memory.

With no intention of entering the ministry, I enrolled at seminary to expand my understanding of theology, but my advisor insisted I had to study biblical languages and put me in an independent-study course with Scholer as my tutor.

He was a third-year student at the seminary and worked as a teaching assistant to faculty in the New Testament department (three men who eventually produced an outstanding college-level introduction entitled, The New Testament Speaks [1969]).

This meant that several days each week I met with Scholer and his best friend at the seminary, Ken Swetland (now a senior professor of ministry at Gordon-Conwell), while they ate their brown-bag lunches in a classroom. As they chatted and poured drinks from Thermos bottles, Scholer casually and quickly reviewed my lessons from Machen’s introductory greek textbook.

I was a bipolar (in the statistical sense) student of Greek. The work I did for Scholer was either feast or famine, and on those days when it was apparent I’d neglected my lessons and homework he would dismiss me courteously but quickly with encouragement to try again and matter-of-factly resumed his conversation. Swetland sat silently as I was tutored, waiting patiently to pick up the conversations he and Scholer enjoyed each day.

My memory of those minor, forgettable lunchtime sessions is anything but forgettable in my brain. Unwittingly, these two friends and future scholars and seminary professors were indoctrinating me in an unseen part of the scholarly culture—friendly but focused conversation. I picked up tidbits of New Testament study (as well as faculty scuttlebutt) during those casual lunches that students never get from classroom study; I was bathed daily with unassuming anecdotes and attitudes of frustration and love that I absorbed in the depth of my consciousness.

I squeaked by in Greek, but unlike Augustine, who was alienated from the language by his initial tutoring, I became an enamored spectator to it, largely because I saw how easily and comfortably Scholer handled it. I still covet his grace and ease with the ancient language.

Neither Scholer nor Swetland at the time, I think, knew that I was their age (give or take several months). I’d finished college late and spent a year in graduate school before I entered seminary. These friends, a Minnesotan and an Oklahoman, alumni of the same college, were in their last year of seminary and were unwittingly demonstrating academic maturity to a beleaguered Brooklyn student.

I went on to become a journalist, and in the pedestrian way that journalists have for tucking away information, I took note of Scholer’s career:

• his years at Gordon as a Greek and New Testament professor during which he labored—as did his mentors before him—almost two decades to earn a Th.D. from Harvard;
• his years at North Park and Northern Baptist, where he was as much administrator as teacher, but where he forged his quiet, ground-breaking work in support of women as leaders in the church; and
• his years at Fuller, where his quiet, creative and ever-challenging mind seemed to have found a theological home where “perfect love casts out fear.”

Those conversations over lunch and Greek in the 1960s constitute the only time I ever spoke with Scholer. However, his work as a bibliographer, as a faithful and tedious scholar of the New Testament in its original language, and as a quiet champion for the full discipleship of marginalized Christians planted seeds I didn’t know were growing in my own life.

As a layman in my own Episcopal church I labor to encourage more Bible study, to foster deeper appreciation and encouragement of the ordination of female disciples, and to prevent the abandonment and marginalization of those living disparate lifestyles within the body of Christ. I thank God for the unassuming and unwitting influence of David M. Scholer in shaping my thinking.

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Links:

Scholer, who since 1994 taught at Fuller Theological Seminary, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2002. On September 18, 2005, he preached in Pasadena, Calif., a sermon called, “Living with Cancer.”

Listen to this sermon at: http://www.archive.org/details/sermons_fbcp

That same sermon–slightly edited–is reprinted at: http://www.rca.org/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?pid=3051&srcid=3512

The tract to which Scholer refers in his sermon–well worth reading–is available at: http://www.harvestnet.org/teachings/suffer.html

A summary of Scholer’s thought on “headship,” which illustrates his high view of women in the Church of Jesus Christ, can be read at:
http://www.godswordtowomen.org/scholer.htm

One of his students has posted a tribute on a blog that includes several other links: http://patmccullough.com/2008/08/26/prof-david-m-scholer-1938-2008/

Fuller Theological Seminary, where David spent the last 14 years of his distinguished academic career, has posted a tribute to his legacy at:
http://www.fuller.edu/news-and-events/news/scholer-legacy.aspx

Obituary, Los Angeles Times:
http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-scholer28-2008aug28,0,4627887.story

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