All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. . . ( 2 Timothy 3:16 NIV)
I never had the privilege of studying under Dr Gordon D. Fee. When he joined the Regent faculty I had just finished my studies and had returned to Malaysia. But I am indebted to his life and scholarship in at least three ways. First, was a personal chat I had with him. I did my ThM thesis in the Pastoral epistles and I knew he had written a commentary on the three books. My thesis supervisor the late Dr Ward Gasque arranged for me to have some personal time with Dr Fee. I remember a warm and very knowledgeable scholar who gave me key insights to the Pastorals. I asked him why he was moving from Gordon-Conwell to Regent College. One of the reasons he gave was so that he could be closer to family, and that was a key lesson right there.
I have also been blessed by his many commentaries. His commentary on 1 Corinthians continues to be my default go to when I do any study on that book. It is a commentary which is technically sharp yet full of spiritual passion. It is so hard to find both of those elements in a commentary.
But the third way I am indebted to Dr Fee was for the lunch-time lecture he gave just before he joined the faculty. Those were the days when we had lunch-time lectures and all who were interested would bring their bag lunches and go to the main lecture hall to consume our lunches, while listening to a whole array of speakers. I listened to Dr Fee and I was blown away when he said that in his study of the New Testament, he could find no law of tongues. In other words, he could find no biblical support for a position where everyone should speak in tongues and that that was the sign that one had received a special anointing of the Spirit’s power.
I was blown away when I heard him say that because I knew he was a card-carrying Assemblies of God member. (I was to discover later that he was also an Assembly of God minister.) A key tenet of Pentecostalism is that believers should expect and ask for a second work of the Spirit subsequent to salvation to empower you for service, a phenomenon called the baptism of the Spirit, and that you knew that you had been baptised by the Spirit when you were able to speak in tongues.
I am not here to enter into the debate about the Pentecostal position on the baptism of the Spirit and/or the place of tongues in that experience. What I want to point out is the Regent culture of fidelity and loyalty to one’s denominational traditions but the conviction that if ever a study of Scripture convinces you that a denominational tradition was wrong, your first loyalty is to Scripture not to your tradition.
I saw this principle articulated in different ways by different Regent profs. Dr Bruce Waltke said he didn’t like the statement that one stood on the Word. It was to him a static defensive picture that implied you already knew all there was to know in the Word and that there was no longer any possibility of movement even if the Word were to reveal something new about your convictions. He preferred the statement that one stood under the Word. This respected the place of the Word over you — it was above you, yet it allowed you to grow and change if the Word were to show you new things about your convictions and beliefs.
And Dr J. I. Packer who fought so hard in the battle for the Bible, would remind us that the Word was truly inerrant but that any constructs based on the Word are not. All our traditions need to be tested by the Word itself. He said that one doesn’t wake up each morning examining every tradition from scratch. We live with what has been handed down to us but we never forget that ultimately it is the Word that has final authority and all church traditions must continually be tested by the Word itself.
This was a position that made sense. After all, it is the Word that is inerrant not our denominational traditions. But if you held to this position you ended up a misfit to some degree in your denominational community. When I returned to my Baptist community in Malaysia I realised that not all ecclesiastical leaders were comfortable with me. I hadn’t gone to the denominational school in Malaysia nor to one of the Southern Baptist schools in the US. And I often asked about the biblical basis of some of the things we were doing. I often felt lonely.
But I had deliberately chosen not to go to a Baptist school. I felt that if I was to be any use to the church in Malaysia, I should learn theology from first principles and not through any denominational filter. Besides, at that time, Regent had a formal relationship with Carey Hall, a Baptist school, and I kept in touch with my Baptist roots through the courses I did there. But the Regent ethos was Word above tradition.
Now, when I counsel friends about to embark on their studies at Regent, I warn them that they may end up as misfits in their denominations. Most are not daunted because they believed they were already misfits. And I guess you have to be misfits to some degree to provoke the discussions necessary for growth.
When Dr Carl Armerding introduced Dr Fee for that lunch-time talk, he mentioned that Dr Fee was a top-notch expert in textual criticism but that Dr Fee was such a powerful speaker that if he were to give an altar call after a lecture on textual criticism, half the room would come forward. Ah, Pentecostalism at its best.