The Men Who Trained Me (2)

Part 1

In the previous post I concentrated on men in England who helped me learn about the Bible and Theology.  Quite unexpectedly, in God’s providence I came to the States in 1996 to work at a Baptist Church in Fairfield, California.  That only lasted a year but I made some good friends.  I also met the future Mrs H. there!

Anyway, after leaving the church in Fairfield I started a church plant in Napa, which I pastored for over five years until the Lord made it clear that I was to go back to seminary.  After much debate, prayer and several conversations I decided to attend Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  I won’t here go into my reasons for not going to DTS or SWBTS, although I will say that I always try to live by conscience, and I have seen far too many people’s consciences seared by putting career prospects before truth.  I don’t think it is ungodly to attend either of these institutions.  Just that it would have been wrong for me. I did get a Biblical Counseling diploma from SWBTS under John Babler.

The Founder and President of Tyndale was Mal Couch.  He was a stickler for biblical languages and and a clear and persistent voice for the importance of Israel in God’s plan.  Although his health was not good at the time I was there, Couch taught through the four volumes (actually seven) of Chafer’s Systematic Theology as well as Biblical Greek.  Personally he could be kind and generous, as he was to me (although he had a ruthless streak in him).  I think he was one of the most gifted men I have ever met.  That he established Tyndale to preserve “old Dallas” shows something of his heart and dynamism.  Quite early on he noticed that I was a devotee of Cornelius Van Til’s writings, and he asked me to conduct an intensive seminar on Presuppositional Apologetics for Tyndale.  I used Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis as my main text.  The success of that venture would lead to me teaching Presuppositionalism at Tyndale (previously they had hovered between classical and cumulative approaches), and to my eventually being hired as Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics there, although I also taught Church History, Romans, Philippians and Colossians and a few other courses.  Dr Couch also appointed me his assistant Pastor at Tyndale Bible Church.  I would teach the first hour and he would take the second.  Towards the end of his time at Tyndale I found myself on the opposite side of some of Dr Couch’s decisions.  Our unfortunate disagreement caused fallout that has made me persona non grata to some (although they have never asked for my side of the story).  Dr Couch has now passed to his reward, but I will always respect him as an educator.

John Cook was the Registrar at Tyndale for most of the time I was there, both as student as a member of the staff.  A former bull rider and oil worker, an enduring memory of Dr Cook was his realism.  His frankness and thoughtfulness in dealing with students made a real impression on me.  He always had their best interests in mind.  I took Greek (more Greek!) from him and found him concerned with the utility of the language, not so much on its rigid rules.  I found this refreshing and helpful.  After I had left Tyndale John contacted me to talk over some things he had heard I had said about him.  After some context and clarification (and rebuttal) I asked his forgiveness for anything I had said that had caused him distress and we drew closer as a result.  He would occasionally email me to ask me for book recommendations or opinions of what he was reading.  He felt that the strict Dispensationalist diet he had been taught was a bit restrictive and wanted to inquire about things dispensationalists don’t usually write about.  I was only too glad to help.  One day John called me and told me he had been diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer.  Sadly, due to circumstances, the next time I saw him was at his funeral.  The cancer had done its work on him, but the Lord had renewed his soul and will one day give him a resurrected body.  I will always be grateful to God that I could attend John’s funeral just before we left Texas for California.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum came and taught a couple of intensives while I was at Tyndale.  One was a course of Systematic Theology.  I had read and been impressed by his Israelology some years previously.  Although laborious reading, it makes an important contribution to Dispensational theology and is one of the few academic works of theology that dispensationalists have put out in the last 30 years.  While I simply cannot agree with Dr Fruchtenbaum’s “Pemberisms” (crystalline earth, gap theory, etc), I enjoyed listening to him and took note of his thoughtful way of dealing with students questions.

I had several classes or conversations with Robert Lightner from which I benefited.  Lightner was an exegetical theologian, but cared deeply about the local church.  Dr Lightner was concerned for simplicity and clarity, and he helped me see that to be obtuse is not the same as being profound.  He did not come across as a theological heavyweight.  for example, when back in ’07  I tried to engage him about the “New Perspective on Paul” he said he hadn’t heard or read much on it.  That he was erudite was clear enough, but I guess he was more interested in maintaining the line between traditional Dispensationalism and the progressive brand.  He once said that he had seen a marked change in his students at DTS.  Whereas in the 1970 and 80’s graduate students already knew what they believed about eschatology, now they were all over the map.  It didn’t help matters when, upon leaving his lectures, students would then hear that view contradicted by a young professor.

For a while my family attended Victory Street Chapel in a very unfashionable part of Dallas.  There I met Zane Hodges and Robert Wilken.  Although I did not share their enthusiasm for Free Grace theology, I was impressed by Wilken’s sincerity and openness, and by Hodges’ constant emphasis on personal holiness.  For those ‘Lordship’ proponents who believe these men were antinomian, I can testify that such was not the case in their own lives.  I remember Zane Hodges telling me once that DTS started to go awry once they introduced accreditation.  In its heyday Richard Quebedeaux in The Young Evangelicals had referred to DTS as “the Harvard of Evangelicalism.”  That was before they sought accreditation!

I took an informative course on “The History of Prophecy” from Thomas Ice.  I believe I had took something else with him, but memory fails me.  I do recall him going off on bird walks occasionally. They were usually entertaining even if sometimes off subject.  Ice relied on powerpoint a lot, which sometimes slowed him down quite a lot.  But he knew his stuff and I learned a lot from him.  Inadvertently he helped me focus on the biblical covenants more than the dispensations, as I began to see more the rather loosey-goosey way that the ‘seven dispensations’ were classified and named.  I also began to see more how constricted Dispensationalism had become by concentrating almost solely on eschatology.

There have been others who have taught me (or tried to teach me): Kenneth Kitchen, J. Randall Price, Tom McCall, David Olander, etc, but I think these are the main ones.  Perhaps I will write some posts about books and authors from whom I have learned a lot?  We’ll see.


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