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Festschrift Acceptance Speech

 

On the occasion of his Festscrift,Victor was honoured as Distinguished Fellow, with celebration writings, recognizing his outstanding contribution as “Pastor-Preacher-Scholar.”   This event took place on Saturday June 7th, at Bayview Glen Church.            

Fetschrift

     Soren Kierkegaard, a better philosopher than I, once remarked, “Life can only be understood backwards, even though it has to be lived forwards.”  Kierkegaard meant that only after episodes in our life have occurred can we understand them; but of course since we must ‘live forwards’ we can never anticipate how our lives are going to unfold.  I could never have anticipated being named Distinguished Fellow by the Centre for Mentorship and Theological Reflection, founded by my colleague, Prof. Dennis Ngien. (The event tonight, by the way coincides with the 16th anniversary of Dennis’s Centre for Mentorship and Theological Reflection.)

   I began my theology studies in 1967, and was soon ordained to the ministry of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care.  For four decades I was an everyday pastor and every-Sunday preacher, and for four decades I remained startled and moved at how people, suffering people in particular, count on their pastor to be for them an icon of Jesus Christ and his triumph.

   And then, in the midst of and overlapping with my work as pastor, I was invited to teach at Tyndale.

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    The occasion of my recognition tonight as teacher is also the occasion of gratitude to many.

   First I must mention Donald Bastian, retired bishop of the Free Methodist Church in Canada.  Over 20 years ago Bishop Bastian chaired the committee that appointed me the first occupant of Canada’s only Chair of Wesley Studies.   

   Of course I wouldn’t have been appointed anywhere had I not thrived under the doctoral supervision of Prof. David Demson, a thinker whose theological gifts in the University of Toronto were without peer.

  Ten years after my appointment to Tyndale, Prof.  David Neelands, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College, University of Toronto, appointed me to Trinity College in order to supervise doctoral students from any of the seven theological colleges on the U of T campus.  Prof. Neelands gave me a gift greater than he will ever know.

   The first two doctoral students assigned me (one each from Wycliffe and Trinity) made my task easy, thanks to their prodigious academic ability.  Both are here tonight, and both are now professors at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago: Marcus Johnson and John Clark.

   My single largest debt to any individual, however, is the debt I owe Professor Emil Fackenheim, whose grave I visited in Jerusalem in 2011.  For decades Fackenheim was the brightest star in U of T’s philosophical firmament.  In class he discussed philosophy, and nothing but philosophy. Fackenheim’s lectures acquainted us with aspects and implications of philosophy we could never have found or probed or profited from without him.  Outside class, however, Fackenheim, rabbi as well as philosopher, didn’t care to talk about philosophy.  Outside class Fackenheim wanted only to speak of GOD.  One day he commented to me, “Shepherd, modernity thinks it is solid and substantial while God is ‘iffy’, vague, ethereal, ephemeral.  Shepherd, there is nothing ‘iffy’ about God; God is concrete, weighty, opaque, dense.  Modernity has it wrong.  In light of the depredations of the 20th century (here I knew he was thinking of the Holocaust) there is a huge question mark above humankind; but above Him there is no question mark whatever.”  When Fackenheim uttered ‘God’, the entire room filled with the Shekinah, and I thought I was on Sinai with Moses or on Carmel with Elijah.  Fackenheim’s stamp is on me everywhere.

   I like to think that at my life’s end there will be two or three students who will have come to know through my witness what I came to know through Fackenheim’s: namely, what it is to be overwhelmed by and engulfed by and taken up into the immensity and density, the sheer ‘thickness’, of the One who can never be escaped and, at the last, won’t even be disputed.   

    Tyndale has been a wonderful gift to me, a gift of many facets: academic colleagues, staff members, administrators, librarians.  The single, most moving aspect of Tyndale’s gift, however, has been students.  The students have always struck me as younger venturers on the Kingdom-journey who, I trust, will profit from us who are older venturers on the same journey with them.

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   Always to be cherished are the dozens of family-members and friends here tonight who have endured my spasticities and encouraged me at all times.

   And then there’s my dear wife.  In 45 years of marriage Maureen has never, never even once, complained about the sacrifices my vocation has exacted from her.

   Above all, I am grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ.  His crucified arms embrace us now even as he points us to the Day of his glorious appearing, when faith will give way to sight, hope give way to hope’s fulfillment, and love give way to nothing – except more love, for ever and ever.