I was delighted to find out at the recent Regent 50th anniversary celebration that some alumni had put together a festschrift for Sven Soderlund. He started teaching in Regent in 1978. I started my studies there in 1981. He wasn’t one of the luminaries like J. I. Packer or Bruce Waltke. But, as many of us have discovered, it is often the lesser-known faculty who impacted you as much if not more than the more famous ones. I think I only took one class with him — Biblical Backgrounds — but he impacted me in so many crucial ways.
First, he demonstrated that it was possible to be Pentecostal and take scholarship seriously. In the early ’80s the charismatic renewal was spreading in Malaysia and Singapore and there was much suspicion between those who wanted fresh encounters with the Spirit and those who wanted careful study of the Bible. A Pentecostal scholar would be an oxymoron back where I came from. Yet here was a Pentecostal scholar. Others, like Gordon Fee, would also come to Regent. It was so freeing for me to see models of people who were serious about both the work of the Spirit and scholarship at the same time. I would take this paradigm back with me to Malaysia and Singapore and try to build bridges between my charismatic/pentecostal friends and my more traditional evangelical friends. For a time, I was viewed with some degree of suspicion by both camps, but I am glad we have left those conflicts behind us and that there are many more Pentecostal scholars today.
Next, like many of the faculty at Regent, he extended a warm personal friendship to me and many others. Regent was housed in two fraternity huts then and in that enclosed space we had face-to-face encounters with each other all the time. Every time I bumped into Sven he would stop, look at me, and ask: “And, how are you?” He would then take time to listen to my answer and leave me with a word of encouragement. I will never forget those encounters. I also try to practice this. When I have the opportunity to teach courses in seminaries, I try my best to get to know the individual students as best I can and see how what I teach intersects with their lives.
Dr Soderlund’s greatest impact on me was an article he wrote for Crux, Regent’s in-house magazine. It was a reflection on hermeneutics and Bible interpretration, based on the story of the two disciples on the Emmaus road in Luke 24. In his article, he pointed out that we need to interpret the Word with mind and heart. He pointed out that Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45). To understand the Word we need to use our minds; to interpret the Word carefully and accurately. This was one of the greatest legacies from Regent — training her students in the proper principles of Bible exegesis. But Sven also pointed out that the disciples found their hearts burning within them (Luke 24:32) as the risen Christ pointed out where the scriptures talked about Him. Therefore, we need to go beyond understanding biblical truths, though that is foundational. We need to encounter Truth Himself and let Him sear our hearts.
I have always approached the Word with heart and mind since I read that article. And when I teach different groups on Bible study, I point out the need for both careful exegesis and a personal encounter with the God who speaks through the Word. I encounter groups eager to get a personal word from God but too lazy to do proper Bible interpretation, and groups who focus on interpreting the Bible accurately, but end up just encountering facts about God but not God Himself. We need both mind and heart.
So, thank you Sven, for impacting my life and ministry in so many key ways, as I am sure you have impacted so many other lives. I pray we will be good stewards of what we have received from you. May the Lord continue to bless you as you bless others in this chapter of your life.