Saturday, August 21, 2010

You look silly when you cry in class...

My sons will laugh at me, but I had to fight back tears in class the other day - and no, not tears of boredom or tears because there is no coffee to be found anywhere on Covenant's campus (though I had an awful headache much of the week). We were discussing the theologian Adolf Schlatter. It was the first time I had ever heard of him (at least that I can remember). What I learned, however, compelled me to order a biography of Schlatter, Adolf Schlatter: A Biography of Germany's Premier Biblical Theologian and a daily devotional by him, Do We Know Jesus?: Daily Insights for the Mind and Soul, and listened to a lecture given by Robert Yarbrough on his life (there are more that I look forward to listening to soon). It was also enough to make me cry. Why?

First, his courage. He was a conservative Christian scholar at a time and in a place when it was very difficult to be a conservative. As a professor in Berlin, he was the antithesis to the liberal Harnock. But for years, he had to endure scorn of colleagues and students alike. If I'm remembering right, his comprehensive exams consisted of eight written exams and five oral exams for his PhD - an unheard of amount of testing (the written exams were given over the course of three days). In addition, he wrote against the National Socialist Party (and had several of his books banned by the SS. Unfortunately, there seems to be a good bit of debate about some antisemitic things he wrote. I haven't had the time to chase that down yet and Yarbrough doesn't address it. He doesn't appear to have been one of the signer of the Barmen Declaration - but I can forgive him that - he was 82 and mostly home bound at the time).

Second, he was brilliant in a way that I'll never be because 1) I'm not that smart, 2) I'm lazy compared to him. He was competent in philosophy, and Biblical Theology, a good exegete, and a popular author. In fact, his brilliance won friends out of enemies. Harnock, the arch liberal of the time, was impressed by him and considered him a friend. Students who once mocked him flocked to his classes after his reputation for scholarship and joy were established. (His classes were often over 125 students). He wrote a ton as well - some very technical stuff, but also popular devotionals. Hearing about a man that was nearly omnicompetent is really humbling when I consider myself barely competent in a few fields, and incompetent in so many.

His life backed up his warm theology. Towards the end of his life, after his wife died, it was said you could still hear him singing hymns to himself every morning. He was a steady rock. He taught for 100 semesters continuously without a sabbatical before he retired. Even after forced retirement at 70, he taught as an emeritus professor. He set aside an hour a day to meet with students one on one - unheard of in the German university system. He had open meetings once a week (with cigars) where students from different fields could come and talk about the Bible, or what it mean to be a Christian doctor, etc.

His seriousness. In the last years of his life he read and reread all his books, repenting of mistakes, wondering what he would have to give an account of before the judgment seat.

Tragedy. He lost his son in WW1. Many of his students died in that war, and many more in WW2. The loss of his son (and wife) sent him into depression and his writing nearly ceased for several years.

I'm looking forward to reading and writing more on him. I do recommend the audio by Yarbrough. I'll post later some more on my week, which was great and exhausting.

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