Saturday, April 26, 2014

Remembering Glen Stassen

Early this morning, I got a message from one of the professors I work with at Fuller, informing me that Dr. Glen Stassen had passed away a few hours previously. It wasn't unexpected news. Dr. Stassen had been fighting cancer for much of the previous year, and his health had taken such a turn in recent months that a planned retirement event honoring Dr. Stassen was moved ahead to this past month to make sure that he would still be around to enjoy it. Although this naturally made for some quick scrambling for my colleagues and myself in Fuller's School of Theology Dean's Office, I can safely speak for all of us in saying that we were happy to do so.

I first got to know Dr. Stassen as a student in Christian Ethics during the early part of 1998, part of my first academic year at Fuller. We had a minor connection through Dr. Stassen's previous tenure as a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, but although I had grown up in Louisville, we had never crossed paths before I came to Fuller. It's safe to say that Dr. Stassen challenged several of my preconceptions about Christian Ethics. It's not just that he held positions that differed from my own of the time. Other professors had done that previously, but I was often able to explain such differences (no doubt arrogantly) as a failure to take some portion of the Bible as seriously as I felt they should. Stassen's lectures provided no such out. Everything he taught was buttressed by Scripture. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was especially central to Stassen's way of understanding Ethics. As a recent collection of essays in Dr. Stassen's honor (called a "festschrift" is academic circles) puts it, Stassen taught his students to look at Ethics as if Jesus Mattered.

I did not know it at the time, but Glen Stassen was the son of Harold Stassen, known to a previous generation as a one-time Governor of Minnesota and a several-time Republican candidate for President of the United States. Although Glen's own politics were by no means limited to stereotypical Republican lines, they were informed not only by his deep Christian conviction, but out of the experience of growing up in a political family, having actively seen how governance is done, and how one can work toward positive change in the world we find ourselves in. Among Glen's important contributions to ethical dialogue is what he called "Just Peacemaking Theory." The idea is that both "pacifism" and "just war theory" can only be meaningful in the context of how to respond to whether or not war is permissible or necessary. If one is only asking the question of war at that point, it is already too late. "Just Peacemaking Theory" attempts to demonstrate how positive action may be taken to make war less likely in the first place. To make peace more viable.

Dr. Stassen's activism was demonstrated in many other ways, as well. He biked to work all the time in order to conserve on gas. He refused to use plastic bags, preferring to use reusable ones. He advocated for what he often called a "consistent pro-life ethic," opposing both abortion and the death penalty. I could go on. The point is that Dr. Stassen took the idea of following Jesus very seriously. Following Jesus doesn't mean merely that one receives life after death, but it also has implications for all areas of this life, as well. While Glen Stassen has now received his heavenly reward, it is my prayer that his work in Christian Ethics continues to influence lives to make this world a better place, as well.

UPDATE: April 28, 2014 - I have been informed that, in lieu of flowers, gifts may be given to either Fuller's Just Peacemaking Initiative or to the "Special Needs Trust for David Stassen" at 2030 Casa Grande Street, Pasadena, CA 91104.

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