The Testimony and Witness of Gordon D. Fee

Yesterday, John Byron announced on Facebook that a book he is editing with Joel N. Lohr, titled I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship, is due for release next August (my birth-month, so I know what I want already). Several of the scholars featured are people whose stories I can't wait to read, especially James D.G. Dunn's, but there is no other person featured whose story I want to read more than Gordon D. Fee's. I can't remember when I first read Fee, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was his 2003 book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, co-written with Douglas Stuart, that made it into my hands before the others because of its relevance and wide-reception. Somewhere along the line between the final days of my undergraduate studies (at a college ran by a Pentecostal Church) and my earliest days of graduate school (Western Seminary) I began to read more of Fee. Fee's small book Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God and then his larger God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul shaped me in three ways.

(1) While I don't consider myself classically Pentecostal, I will never escape Pentecostalism's impact on my thinking, whether it be where I agree with the movement's theology over against other traditions, or where I disagree directly with Pentecostalism, Pentecostalism remains an ever present dialogue partner. When I encountered Fee I was in the process of recognizing that I wasn't classically Pentecostals (the first problem for me was the doctrine of "initial evidence," reportedly challenged by Fee himself causing him some problems with the Assemblies of God) but I was unsure of whether or not I fit into the newish Evangelical world I was encountering. This place in-between an old home and an unknown destination led me to find in Fee a guide. He was Pentecostal, and like me he had been raised Pentecostal, yet somehow he found his way into academia and succeeded. The Pentecostalism from which I was departing was anti-intellectual as any group you can imagine, so for me to see that one could have been raised Pentecostal yet still engage in the life of the mind was exhilarating. I didn't feel like I was venturing into undiscovered territory. Someone had gone before me. While it is yet to be seen whether I can succeed in academia (these are difficult times for such goals) I have gone from someone who almost failed high school, to someone who graduated from a college within a mostly anti-intellectual tradition, to now working on my Ph.D. To have made it this far is in part due to Fee's example.

(2) These days I am a member of the United Methodist Church (UMC). The UMC is quite diverse. There are some within our ranks that are hyper-modernist, denying much of the worldview found in the Bible, especially the miraculous. Then there are those like Aldersgate Renewal Ministries that are charismatic, Pentecostal in many ways. While there are days when I think like the former, most of the time I am closer to the latter, moving back and forth between having a critically thinking brain, but having had experiences that are distinctly charismatic and for me, undeniable. To survive as a Christian in this day and age has demanded a robust pneumatology. I am not saying I have arrived at one, but I work toward it, asking what it means for the Church to have been guided by the Spirit of God, whether this relate to the inspiration and formation of the canon, the shaping of the creeds, the ebb and flow of the history of the Church, or modern mission in the world, pneumatology is often my starting point. I'm not the type of theological thinker who can begin with Barth, or Bonhoffer, or most of these geniuses, but I can wrestle with different categories of systematic thought through the lens of pneumatology, which may be why I am Wesleyan. These many years moving from one Church to another, one denomination (or, non-denominational Church) to another, seeking to understand the Church and God's work in the world, Fee's influence as a pneumatologist remains with me. I am not unabashedly Pentecostal like Fee, but if more Pentecostals were like Fee I might have been!

(3) Finally, academically, ancient pneumatology has become my central focus. These days the writings of James D.G. Dunn, John R. Levison, and (theologically) Amos Yong are more central to my work and thought than Fee's, but it was Fee's work that got me started, specifically his two books on Pauline pneumatology. I won't pretend to be passively objective in my research. I think I'm honest. I think I try to suspend judgment and let the data speak for itself. But my reason for researching ancient pneumatology has everything to do with my own upbringing and trying to answer the questions raised by my days as a young man in a Pentecostal Church. I imagine the same is true of Fee considering his scholarly trajectory.

Gordon D. Fee (Source: Amazon.com)

Gordon D. Fee (Source: Amazon.com)

Sadly, I never met Dr. Fee in person. I know he has Alzheimer's now, so I doubt I will ever meet him, but in some sense he's been present for about a decade now. Fee's example as a believing scholar is one I'd hope to emulate if I were ever to get paid to teach for a living. If not, if I work in a parish, or a printing house, or whatever, I know Fee's writings got me started down the road to answering some important questions I needed to answer. For me, this is his testimony and witness. I hear from others that knew him that in person he was even more wonderful. May God bless Dr. Fee for all he's done for those of us who don't want to live in a world where the Holy Spirit and the life of the mind are dichotomized. I can't wait to read his story in Byron's and Lohr's volume next summer.