Theology in 3D

An Unconventional Tribute

Ken Casillas | November 20, 2017
Old Testament, Theology

About twenty-five years ago a young college student was preparing for the ministry and discovering the thrill of biblical exegesis and doctrine. He was earnestly striving to apply what he was learning and to interpret Scripture accurately. He was also coming to expect that others follow a consistent grammatical-historical approach to interpretation. Sometimes he struggled to receive the ministry of preachers and even professors who did not, in his estimation, meet that standard. Actually, without entirely realizing it he was experiencing something of a hermeneutical “cage stage” that commonly afflicts theological neophytes.

Toward the end of his college career this young man enrolled in a course that emphasized the privilege of the preaching ministry. The teacher was a seasoned pastor now serving as executive vice president of the university. He had a deep love for the Old Testament as well as an interest in typology. In fact, one of the class assignments was a study of the life of Joseph with the goal of identifying typological correspondences between Joseph and Christ.

The student was unconvinced and even felt a bit indignant about it. He turned in the assignment, but it took the form of an essay fervently arguing that Joseph was not a type of Christ. Before long the young man found himself in an uncomfortable meeting in the intimidating executive wing of the administration building. Surprisingly, however—due to the long-suffering of the superior—the two parted on friendly terms, and the student even ended the semester with a decent grade. Beyond that, the teacher kindly offered himself to help the student in any way possible.

Help he did, the following school year. By this time the young man had gotten engaged and was serving as a graduate assistant in order to pay his way through seminary. His fiancée was employed on the university staff. The two were as broke as they were in love, as they struggled to gather enough funds to get married the following summer while also dealing with college debt. Neither of them owned a vehicle. A car seemed necessary, but a car payment seemed a stretch.

The teacher/vice president was a skilled businessman, and his specialties included buying and selling cars (not to mention airplanes). So the former student stuck his neck out and asked for some assistance. Within a week or two his fiancée was driving an affordable and respectable Olds 98 at a manageable payment—all arranged by the previously rebuffed professor.

I was that young student, and the teacher was Dr. Bob Wood. I attended his funeral this afternoon. To quote the Joseph story, “I remember my offenses today” (Gen. 41:9).

What to make of Joseph specifically? Interestingly, a few years ago Dr. James Hamilton, a respected evangelical scholar, presented a sophisticated argument for interpreting Joseph as a type of Christ. It relies significantly on comparisons between Joseph and Dr. Wood’s favorite Old Testament character—David.

Whatever the case, today I have a much greater appreciation for literary and canonical interpretation than I once did. Within the context of Genesis, Joseph’s saving of his world from famine represents the climactic fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a means of divine blessing for all the families of the earth (12:3). As such, he was an amazing token of the ultimate blessing that God had in store for the nations: redemption from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, the Messiah would not come as a descendant of Joseph but of Judah—in fulfillment of Genesis 49:10, another stunning development. Yet Joseph remains a major player whose work anticipates the ministry of the Messiah. Whether we call him a technical type or not, he kept alive the hope that God could and would do everything he promised!

But my point here isn’t to analyze Joseph. Instead I want to share a few reflections that come to mind as I remember Dr. Wood.

A LEGACY OF FAITHFULNESS

The older I get, the more I appreciate the vital role of faithfulness. As I recall, Dr. Wood’s theological education was mostly informal. Yet to the best of his ability he promoted sequential expository preaching in a day when that approach was not especially in vogue. Individual interpretations aside, Dr. Wood worked hard to derive the theme and outline of his sermons from the text itself. He wouldn’t claim to be perfect, but he did view preaching as an awe-inspiring privilege, and he faithfully endeavored to proclaim God’s Word. I want my life to be devoted to the same cause.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

Two or three decades help one better discern what is primary and what is secondary. From today’s vantage point I’m amused by how worked up I was about whether or not Joseph was a type of Christ. It makes me wonder what interpretations or issues I may be blowing out of proportion today.

DEALING WITH DISAGREEMENTS

Romans 14 acknowledges that on this earth God’s people will always disagree about some matters. It also instructs us about how to deal with our differences. I’ve been teaching for about fifteen years now, and I’ve never gotten a project like the one I submitted to Dr. Wood. I’m sure there would have been a humbler and wiser way to handle my disagreement!

THE INFLUENCE OF MENTORING

What I’m not sure of is whether I would have been as gracious as Dr. Wood was with me. Looking back, I’m struck by his willingness to endure with a student who was a little too big for his theological britches. That he later helped with the car situation is truly humbling. He represents many more whose public and personal ministry God used to mature and shape me. I now have the opportunity to mentor young people in the same way, and Dr. Wood’s ministry challenges me to reach out to them with compassion as well as instruction. I have been given a stewardship of people as well as of God’s truth. I long to hear the Lord say that I have been faithful with both.

Photo credit: Bob Jones University


3 responses to “An Unconventional Tribute”

  1. Mark Ward says:

    Loved this. I went through that cage stage, too. It was a few other people in the admin building who helped me through: Bruce McAllister and Jim Berg. They gave me some targeted counsel that helped immensely. I’m still all for sound interpretation, but as Bryan Smith once reminded me, I need to be willing to be measured with the measure with which I measure others.

  2. Josh Jensen says:

    More than once my missionary colleagues and I have commented that as we’ve gotten older, we’ve become more like Dr. Wood in his approach to Scripture.
    Moving beyond theology proper, I remember as a student listening in chapel to Dr. Wood lament the felling of the old trees around Barge. At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. Dr. Wood was our Tolkien, loving the old and natural and beautiful.

  3. […] to Greg’s recent post on Joseph as a type of Christ. I touched on this topic in a 2017 article. Now I have the opportunity to expand on my […]

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