In 1946 David Parsley and I were baptized by Lloyd Robbins at the First Christian Church in Hugoton, Kansas. We were 12 years old at the time. Lloyd gave us our baptismal certificates and copies of the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament. At the time the translators of the RSV had completed only the New Testament. It was later when the Old Testament translation was completed that the controversy over the RSV became so intense. Some will remember “The Battle of the Versions,” as the controversy was described by one well-known author among us.
The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament was, for me, the first readable Bible, not that I had made much of an effort to read the small-print King James Version we had at home. It was not until I was working on a master’s degree in English literature that I came to appreciate the significance of this seminal translation as a gift to the English language as well as to the church. And to this day when I quote a passage like Psalm 23 at the bedside of an elderly person, I quote it from the King James Version, even though many years ago I started using the New International Version for both my preaching and devotional reading. But I am always mindful of what Professor Ruben Ratzlaff would tell his students: “Every translation is a commentary on the meaning of Scripture.” And I would add, every translation tells us something about the translators.
There is so much we can celebrate in Scripture. But most importantly, it is the Bible that gives us our knowledge of Jesus the Christ. He is the pearl of great price in this treasure house of God’s truth. Although it is conceivable that an oral tradition of the gospel story might have come down to us over 2,000 years, it is the written record, the Bible, that has preserved for us the knowledge of who Jesus is and what this means to humankind.
The centrality of the Christ in Scripture is not only a theological reality, it was, for me, faith-saving at a time when my Christian faith seemed to hang on a thread dangled over the fires of liberal biblical criticism and family tragedy. It was Sam Hamilton who said, “Hold on to the person of Christ.” It was good advice. And holding on to the person of Christ had many dimensions: service to others in the name of Christ, devotional readings and prayer, and fellowship in the body of Christ at the Lord’s table. But central to all of this was the regular return to the Gospels as an occasion of reflection on the person and mission of the Christ.
Of this treasure house of God’s wisdom, the letter to the Philippians is my favorite. It is here that Paul affirms a high Christology, unequivocally describing Christ Jesus as “being in the very nature God.” This is said in the context of showing the servanthood of the Christ who is willing to take on a human nature for our salvation. It is this example of Jesus that sets the standard for how we, as members of his body, the church, should be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2). And, at age 76, I still find myself returning to Philippians 3:10, 11 as an expression of desire and as an ominous challenge, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Upon retiring from the presidency of Emmanuel School of Religion in 2009, I was invited to teach a couple of humanities sections at Milligan College. It was at Milligan that I had begun my teaching ministry in 1961 and continued there until 1980. And it was at Milligan that we created the humanities program in the late 1960s.
On one hand, this program was a challenge for all of us because we could no longer stay in the comfort zone of our own academic disciplines. We were now called upon to learn from our colleagues in other academic disciplines, and then somehow convey a holistic Christian worldview in an understanding of Western culture. I was barely comfortable in my own discipline of philosophy, let alone trying to sound reasonably intelligent to my students when discussing material introduced by my colleagues.
I taught in the Milligan humanities for 10 years and then introduced a version of it in our curriculum at Springdale College in England, hence spending another 11 years continuing my effort to learn enough about history, literature, and the fine arts, as well as philosophy, to be a better teacher for my students. And now, once again, returning to the humanities, I am fully aware of how much more there is to learn. But then, learning is an enjoyment for me . . . and obviously there is no end to that enjoyment, at least in this life.
My experience with teaching humanities is only a shadow of what I have yet to learn and experience in my knowledge of Christ. I thank God for those who brought me to Christ and for the rich life in Christ that I have known. But I can hardly imagine what it will be like in the resurrection, mindful that “now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The Bible has given me a good ride, and thankfully we can trust its direction when other would-be GPS units fail.
C. Robert Wetzel serves as chancellor at Emmanuel Christian Seminary in Johnson City, Tennessee.