Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Honoring David and Jeannette Scholer

David and Jeannette ScholerYesterday we held a luncheon honoring New Testament professor Dr. David Scholer and his wife Jeannette, who serves as the Director of Academic Programs here at Fuller, as both will be retiring in the coming months. I've mentioned Dr. Scholer a couple of times before, usually in relation to some issue related to gender equality within Christianity, and especially as the person from whom I got a particularly popular Top Ten list a number of years ago (although this particular link comes from a time before I announced my identity and those of my friends and colleagues publicly on the blog).

David, whose career spans nearly five decades, has become well-known for his work in the areas of gnosticism and in demonstrating a biblical defense for the full participation of women in all forms of church ministry. In more recent years, he has received notoriety as much due to his now-over-six-year struggle with cancer as he has for his New Testament scholarship. Doctors consider this cancer "incurable," but David has not treated this diagnosis as a death-sentence. David has continued to teach throughout this period, both at Fuller and at various churches in Southern California, although he has had to do so around his medical schedule, and often while fighting increasing fatigue, a side-effect as much from the continuing medical treatments as from the cancer itself. But David has always kept fighting on, and his endurance despite his illness has been an inspiration to many. A Los Angeles Times article from last year entitled "'Rejoice Always': A Lesson in Dying," details David's life since being diagnosed with an incurable disease. It was the most-e-mailed article from the Times' web site at the time.

Jeannette is an impressive woman in her own right, and in addition to several important positions over the years before coming to Fuller (including leadership in the Chicago chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality), has shepherded the teaching of courses in Fuller's School of Theology for over a decade. When members of Fuller's faculty are on sabbatical, or if we do not have enough professors on hand to teach a certain subject, it is Jeannette's job to locate and hire adjuncts to fill the gaps. She has continued to do this work throughout some of the most difficult times of David's struggle with cancer, including an extended hospital stay almost a year ago. Knowing that her attention was being divided, and knowing that she needed to make caring for David a priority, an assistant director was hired a couple of years ago, and it is this person who will be assuming Jeannette's position upon her retirement. Not enough leaders know how to lead well enough to pass along those skills for the time after they are gone, and Jeannette's ability to do this speaks well not only of her talent, but also of her character.

Many testimonials were given during the luncheon. Although much was made of David and Jeannette's contributions to biblical scholarship and to the greater well-being of the church, one theme came out again and again: the Scholers' commitment to hospitality. As their daughter Abby said during her own testimonial, although there is a sense in which one speaks of a person as having "the gift of hospitality," hospitality is something that takes work, and it has been an active priority for David and Jeannette. The Scholers actively maintain a list of their friends (this active list itself numbers in the several hundreds) that they send Christmas letters to each year. They actively keep tabs on birthdays and anniversaries, and send out cards (often with hand-written notes, as I can personally attest) for such occasions. Former student Kirk Winslow commented on how he learned how to live the Christian life from the Scholers and their hospitality:
I think the Scholers have that extraordinary gift of osmosis. They simply... 'pass on' the great Christian virtues.... I don't remember ever having a lesson in ethics or wisdom, per se. I just had a lot of dinner.
That sense of hospitality (often around food) extends to our working environment here at Fuller, as well. The Scholers are the ones most responsible for establishing the tradition of a weekly break-time every Monday afternoon, whereby those of us who work in the School of Theology can meet for simple refreshments and fellowship.

I have been proud to consider both David and Jeannette close friends since shortly after my tenure working at Fuller began nearly eight years ago. While my wife and I were still dating, we took David's course, Women, the Bible, and the Church, together (my wife for credit, myself as an auditor, having already completed my degree). When we got married, it was David who officiated at our wedding. When I got a draft of a recent note informing me that Michelle was being approved to go further in the ordination process, Jeannette was the first person I was able to share it with. Nearly once a month, we have been invited into the Scholer's home for regular "hymn-sing" events (Jeannette was on the board for at least one major hymnal used in many churches). We have been very thankful for this friendship, and although the Scholers will be retiring (and therefore not at Fuller as much as we've been used to), we trust that it will continue.

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