Earlier last week a teacher and friend of mine, Dr. Gene Carpenter, passed away while fishing in Michigan. Upon hearing the news, many of my friends and colleagues who also sat under his teaching have expressed a sense of feeling “lost” without him. As one friend put it, “I have no idea who I’ll now go to as a resource.” It feels selfish in a way, to speak of my loss in the weeks following his death, but what else can I say…I feel lost knowing that I can’t swing by his office after reading something new in my OT or biblical theology studies. On numerous occasions over the last six years I’ve walked up to his office with a burning question, or in need of a study resource suggestion. As I knocked on his door I could see him hunched over multiple books laid out across his desk and in that moment I would feel guilty for interrupting his studies, but I was always welcomed with a warm smile and an invitation to sit and talk. It was in those sacred moments of conversation with Gene that I learned not only about biblical studies, but about being a servant to the flock that God has entrusted to many of us in our different contexts. He was always concerned with how scholarship influenced the local church. In a way, I think he pastored me as a bible student, encouraging me when I needed reassurance and graciously getting on my case when he knew I could do better. Gene taught me that my scholarship is a necessary part of my discipleship, and that I better not even think about getting up in front of people to teach them the Bible if I hadn’t actually read the text myself. He urged so many of us to read the text thoughtfully, and when I say “read”, I mean READ!
His contribution to the local church can’t be measured because it’s so hard to keep track of all the pastors and bible teachers Gene influenced. For me personally, my own teaching and preaching have been dramatically shaped by his insistence that biblical theology must be at the heart of Christian ministry. Throughout my undergrad and graduate studies he would routinely point out that the whole narrative of scripture must be consulted to form a coherent Christian worldview, and that systems and programs in the church are often the result of, “people imposing themselves on the text.” I have taken that teaching to heart in the midst of a Christian culture that demands everything have a system in order to be worth anything. By God’s grace, Gene stirred my heart toward a deeper appreciation of the transformational power of the raw Word of God.
I am earnestly praying for Bethel College and the many others who will continue to feel the loss of this great teacher and fellow journeying brother. My heart is sad now, but also rejoices knowing that Gene is with his Father, face to face in a way even more glorious than that of the Old Testament figures he so diligently studied. Gene is now in the presence of a glory that doesn’t simply pass by on a mountain top, but rather continually abides with him for ever. Thanks be to God for giving us Gene, what a gift and privilege it has been to know him.