Timing is everything, we often hear. So although I’m unable to join family and friends of Dr. John W. Eddins Jr. at Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh this afternoon, I have a strong and satisfying sense of good timing.
I was among those blessed to pass through the Southeastern Seminary of old before theological strip mining came to lovely Wake Forest, N.C. And I was privileged to sit under the tutelage of this bright and gracious theologian who died on Saturday.
Dr. Eddins was underrated in Baptist life because he did not hit the speaker’s circuit or publish great works. But he was a darn good theologian who faithfully taught generations of seminarians how to better think about God, God’s written word and God’s world.
He lectures were fresh from his nightly preparations of a textbook manuscript of systematic theology that never came to light — likely another casualty of the seismic Baptist shift. So his class notes have been retained for three decades for occasional revisits.
Dr. Eddins earned an engineering degree from Auburn before sensing a call in a very different direction. Perhaps that background helps explain how his lectures on complex theological concepts were orderly and succinct enough that the notes still make sense.
Like the nine ungrateful lepers healed by Jesus, I was negligent for many years in expressing my appreciation to Dr. Eddins — although classmates and I often spoke of his enduring influence.
Thanks to friends like Colin Harris and Toni Clevenger, there were points of reconnection. And I hold in my hand this morning the little book Dr. Eddins did publish in retirement titled, A Guidebook for Reading and Studying the Bible.
The content is classic Eddins — a theology built on his strong affirmation that God is most clearly revealed in the love exhibited by Jesus Christ. It was more than a doctrinal position for him, but the way to live.
In fact, he closed the personal inscription to me in the front of the book with the words: “Always love, John.”
While many who claim to believe the Bible are judgmental and unloving, Dr. Eddins insisted that the truth of scripture cannot be found apart from the incredible love of God shown in Jesus.
“Little wonder that the study of the Bible is sometimes frustrating, fragmented and without a center…,” Dr. Eddins wrote. “My critical principle for interpreting the Bible, the Christian faith and all reality is ‘the God who is love revealed in Jesus Christ’ as described in the New Testament and interpreted in the context of the Old Testament.”
From that well-centered perspective, Dr. Eddins could delve into the wonderful, endless world of theological debate and discussion with insight and passion. Such times were always to the benefit of students blessed to be there.
While a serious theologian, Dr. Eddins did have a sense of humor — for which I am grateful. On one exam he asked us to define several terms including “apostolic succession,” the Roman Catholic doctrine of continuous papal authority.
But I wrote the explanation in this way: “Peter progressively passed the papal promise of power to the prominent Polish pope.”
Graciously, Dr. Eddins accepted my answer as both correct and humorous. I really was counting on both.
God rest his soul.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.