Yesterday I posted my reactions to hearing that Gene Carpenter, a colleague and mentor, had passed away. I remember the first time I met Gene, it was on my first day to interview for an open faculty position at Bethel College. As a longtime youth worker, I was terrified of the jump into college teaching and felt overmatched intellectually (I still do). When I met Gene the first time, he spoke to me in Hebrew (one of 7 languages he knew and one of 4 that he could type in with ease). That didn’t help matters much. I was terrified.
I had known of Gene from a distance, this world-renowned Bible prof who Chaired the Department of Religion and Philosophy. I was interviewing with him at Bethel College for the new director position for their new youth ministry degree program. The jump from the practical ministry world to academics is a big one, and the gap is wider than many pastors who want to be profs think it is. It’s even more intimidating to move into a department that held biblical languages to such a high value when I hadn’t taken any in my schooling.
Nothing ‘happened’ after that greeting that made me feel out of place, and Gene was very encouraging to me and excited for my candidacy. At the next interview, still intimidated and ready for the ‘killer’ questions about my lack of biblical languages and general ignorance, I found Gene and one of the college’s VP’s watching Rodeo Bloopers 10 Year Anniversary Collector’s Edition Video (2 tape set) on a TV in a break room. I thought to myself, “Ah, I can work here with real people like this!” This revelation was confirmed at lunch when Gene took me to Steak and Shake (he even asked for a Green River soda not on the menu) and we listened to Johnny Cash (check out David Urbanski’s book) on the way while talking about Elvis impersonators.
And this is the way it was: We young profs learned by watching Gene crank out first-class scholarship while living life well (and with laughter) with those around him. He loved lifting weights, fishing, movies, eating out, and Tennessee. And he loved his wife, Joyce. In fact, at his funeral, it was his love for Joyce that told the story of the greatness of the man more than the countless books, papers, commentaries and Bible translations (like the NLT) that he produced. And we on the floor experienced Gene’s affection through encouragement. In fact, I can’t remember a single corrective moment from him, but rather a constant push toward the ideal and better way (and he knew we’d figure out what not to do).
Most of us in the department aren’t excited to see that empty office this year. In fact, I mentioned yesterday that it currently looks like he was just there working on a book or commentary. I hope we can leave it like that for a while. It can serve as a visual encouragement to keep at my work, giving it my fullest, and to live life with the same care and fervor.
When I think of II Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth“, I think of Gene Carpenter’s life and commitment to Scripture.