Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, May 23, 2019


I finished Bill’s book today…fifty-one years from when I started it.

I’ve taken a long time over several books, but surely this is a reading longevity record for me. Of course, first laying it aside for forty-seven years and then reading only a paragraph a day over the last four years extended the reading time a little longer than strictly necessary.

The book is The Image of Man in C.S. Lewis, and was published by Abingdon in 1968, but William Luther White had been working on it, as his PhD dissertation at Northwestern University, when I was a B.D. student [1] at Garrett Theological Seminary. [2] We ate brown bag lunches together each day, along with Tom Treadway, who became president of Augustana College, and Ron Goetz and Paul Blankenship, who became religion professors, and James Cone, who became the famous theologian of black power.

Bill died four years ago, and I did the eulogy at his funeral. [3] While he was alive, I never felt like I needed to finish reading his book, because we talked so much through the years that I was always current on his thinking. I learned so much from him that way. But with his voice gone, I needed that daily dose of Bill. I think I have made the transition. I think I can let him go now. Not from joyful memory, but from the need to keep renewing him through the pages of that book.

Bill was a few years older than I, but we knew of each other in our teens, since we both started out in the old Indiana Conference of The Methodist Church, and later my Aunt Helen, my father’s only sister, was the superintendent of the pre-school Sunday School at Methodist Temple in Evansville when he was on their staff in charge of Christian education.

Then we were at Garrett/Northwestern together, while I was working on my professional degree and he was working on his PhD. He became chaplain and religion professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, a position he held until retirement, and when the campus ministry position at Illinois State came open, a few years after he went to IWU, Bill and Jameson Jones, who was sort of the unofficial “bishop” of campus ministry, and father of current bishop Scott Jones, both recommended me for it. So we got to be campus ministry colleagues, our universities just a mile apart, until I went off to work on a PhD myself. But we stayed in touch all the later years, visiting in person as often as we could.

I recommend the book as a good intro both to Bill and to C.S. Lewis. I’m sure Bill would use “Humanity” instead of “Man” in the title now, but it would not be necessary. He was the quintessential inclusive Christian citizen of the world. I’m glad I miss him, for I would not do so had I not known him.

That’s the way with friends in old age. We part days, but not ways.

John Robert McFarland

[1] The B.D., or Bachelor of Divinity, was never really a bachelor’s degree, and never should have been called that. It was a three year graduate degree on top of a four year baccalaureate degree. Any other profession, such as medicine or dentistry, granted a doctorate after those seven years, although law was still giving a bachelor’s, LLB, similar to the B.D. in the 1960s. Law went to the doctoral JD in the 1970s, while theology, in its vast humility, moved only to a master’s degree, MDiv, to replace the B.D. Also it allowed theology schools to require another year of study and tuition from students to become a doctor, the DMin-Doctor of Ministry. In the least-well paid profession, clergy, you have to go to school longer to become a “doctor” than in any of the better-paid professions.

2] Garrett-Evangelical since the 1974 merger with the Naperville based Evangelical Theological Seminary.

3] Fellow former campus ministry colleague Howard Daughenbaugh spoke after I did and said, “Folks, you have just heard eulogy as art.” People have said nice things about my preaching from time to time through the years, but I think I appreciated that more than anything else, because I wanted so much to do a good job of keeping Bill alive in our minds and hearts.

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