December 9, 2014

for Darrell, on retirement

Introduction of Darrell Guder
Shenango Presbytery Pastor’s Retreat – Spring 2009

Although I suspect he does not need it in this group, it is nevertheless a great honor to be able to introduce to you as our retreat leader Darrell Guder – Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology, and the Academic Dean of Princeton Seminary … the other PTS.

In terms of vocation, Darrell could be described any number of significant ways: theologian, scholar, translator, missiologist (a term, I might note, that Microsoft Word was not able to spellcheck.  It suggested instead, mycologist – one who studies fungi).  Darrell has been a prophet of a kind, a teacher, a mentor, and a pastor to many—the last of these, if not officially, certainly in function.
The author of five major works, and the translator of at least as many major publications of others, Darrell for some time now has been well-established as a leading voice in what, on his watch, has come to be called missional theology.  Indeed, he has taught us to ask, Is there another kind?  Darrell has lent scholarship, translation, and wisdom to this urgent effort of imagining the church’s vocation—not in bureaucratic or survivalist categories—but in the rich New Testament vision of God’s prior redemptive activity in the world in Jesus Christ.

In recent decades, Darrell has held teaching posts in three of our Presbyterian seminaries—Louisville, Columbia, and now Princeton.  In addition to being known among scholars as a respected colleague and an assertive voice for missional thinking, in all three institutions he has left in his wake a host of important friendships with students. It has been my privilege over the last decade to have been caught up in that generous wave.

In the fall of my middler year of seminary, I found myself in a course entitled Theological Foundations for Evangelistic Ministry.  Alas, in a mainline milieu, who knew there were any?  The nomenclature speaks volumes.  After all—at the risk of perpetuating stereotypes—systematic theologians of late have not always been known for their interest in purposeful, gospel evangelism—the telling of the good news.  For that matter, evangelists—what few we have—are not often marked for their commitment to a robust theological imagination.  But that’s Darrell – a kind of “Renaissance man” for the church … if I may baptize a term.

Darrell has taught us that sharing the faith of Jesus Christ and thinking the faith of Jesus Christ can be quite the happy bedfellows.  He has carefully warned us about our Western propensity for “reductionism” (a favorite term of his): our tendency to deflate the heights and breadth of the gospel “once and for all entrusted to the saints” to the shrill matter of, say, me going to heaven when I die.  And he has taught us that “missional theology” is not merely the thin effort to send money to Africa or your youth group to Mexico for a week, but the thick effort of teaching our congregations to imagine Jesus Christ himself in ministry on our corner of the neighborhood, in order then to teach our congregations to imagine their ministry during the other six days of the week.

In some ways, Darrell has made my life as a preacher a much harder one, even miserable at times, because after his tutelage I can no longer read or preach the New Testament merely devotionally or even scholastically.  After every passage, my Guder-shaped reflex is to ask of it: How might the Holy Spirit use this witness to call this congregation into ministry and witness this week?  How is this parable, proverb, or pericope shaping the peculiar people I serve into the priestly people of God?

It’s a lonely but life-giving vocation.

Turns out, this has been his aim all along. In 1985, in Be My Witnesses, Darrell wrote:

“In our education for ministry, we will work to overcome the false distinctions between clergy and laity.  The people of God will come to understand themselves not as consumers of religious services, but as partners in ministry, whose function and place in the work of God cannot be occupied by the clergy, and who therefore are absolutely essential where they are, carrying Christ into the world.”

Twenty plus years later, in the last gasps of the clergy-centered mainline project, that missional vision for ministry is no less urgent.

It’s an honor, therefore, to welcome back to Shenango Presbytery, my friend—our friend—Darrell Guder.