During the early- to mid-1990s I was busy with doctoral work while planting and pastoring a church in a small town outside of Dallas. One of my best friends from seminary pastored a Regular Baptist congregation in Leavenworth, Kansas. During our conversations he began to talk about meeting a brilliant young professor from Calvary Bible College. He invited this professor to teach in his church on more than one occasion. He would sometimes send me samples of notes from these lessons. They were good work.
In January of 1998 I left Dallas for ministry at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. To my surprise, I discovered that the same bright, young professor was just completing his doctoral work in Minneapolis. He was a New Testament scholar, and during the intervening years he had moved from Kansas City to Baptist Bible Seminary of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. His name was Rod Decker.
Rod was a graduate of both the college and seminary in Clarks Summit. He went on to complete a Th.M. degree at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary before commencing his Th.D. program at Central Seminary. Somehow he also found time to spend more than a decade in pastoral ministry.
As a scholar, Rod was essentially a grammarian. The publication that made his reputation was a volume on Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb (Peter Lang, 2001). He later produced a Koine Greek reader and a basic Greek instructional volume. His articles appeared in such publications as Trinity Journal, the Grace Theological Journal, Bibliotheca Sacra, and Themelios. He was especially noted for siding with Stan Porter in the controversy over verbal aspect and Aktionsart.
Many people will not understand what all that means. What they should know, however, is that Rod Decker was one of the very few fundamentalists to achieve recognition within the broader world of scholarship. He worked hard and he worked well, and the academy recognized his contributions to his discipline—without his ever surrendering an ounce of his convictions.
In fact, Rod frequently spoke and wrote outside of his academic specialization, sometimes defending viewpoints that are less than popular, even within the evangelical world. He wrote in defense of traditional dispensationalism. He wrote against postmodernism. He defended fundamentalism and biblical separatism. Against some fundamentalists, he also defended the New International Version of the Bible. He almost always presented something at the Bible Faculty Leadership Summit, and what he presented was almost never within his discipline. What he had to say, however, was invariably useful.
As Rod’s influence increased, he found ways to stay humble. I once stated publicly in his hearing that he was one of the most responsible and recognizable scholars within fundamentalism. He replied that he did not consider himself to be a scholar at all. He wasn’t joking—he always thought of himself as just an ordinary person to whom God had granted the extraordinary privilege of a specialized academic ministry.
Several years ago we learned that Rod had been diagnosed with cancer. He kept us informed as he fought the disease, seizing every advantage that medical science could offer. The treatments seemed to keep the cancer at bay for a long time: at any rate, Rod remained very active in teaching and writing. When the medicine stopped working, however, Rod declined quickly. Then, this past Sunday morning, his body fell asleep in Jesus as Rod entered the presence of the Lord whom he had served.
It was only then that I noticed how little I knew of Rod. We met each other regularly within the academy. We conversed and challenged one another. At one point I even tried to get him to come teach New Testament at Central Seminary. He told me that he thought it was more important to stay where he could minister to his aging parents. But I know little of his family life, his recreational pursuits, or a host of other areas that made him the man that he was.
Still, I claim Rod as a friend. In fact, he performed one of the most valuable services that a friend can perform. Without ever losing either his sense of humor or his sense of balance, Rod ministered to me by letting me know when I had made mistakes. He did not laugh at me, but he made me laugh at myself. He ministered correction, and he did it in ways that let me know that he was on my side and that he wanted me to succeed. Few people are gifted with the ability to perform this ministry effectively, and I have been grateful that Rod was one whom God put in my life.
Now the world is poorer. With Rod’s passing we have lost a colleague and friend, a scholar, a churchman, and a man of God. I find myself looking around, wondering whom God might be preparing to step into his place.
This is a moment when I am profoundly grateful that the gospel includes the resurrection. I do not have to tell Rod goodbye forever. I can look forward to our reunion when the day dawns and the morning star arises in our hearts. Doubtless we will still laugh at the mistakes I have made. More importantly, our minds and hearts finally made clear, we will worship our Savior together at His feet.
Rod was a grammarian, so he would understand: from now on, I am thinking of him in the future tense.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder (Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary). Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Stoop Down, My Thoughts
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Stoop down, my thoughts, that use to rise,
Converse awhile with death;
Think how a gasping mortal lies,
And pants away his breath.
His quiv’ring lip hangs feebly down,
His pulses faint and few;
Then, speechless, with a doleful groan
He bids the world adieu.
But O! the soul that never dies!
At once it leaves the clay!
Ye thoughts, pursue it where it flies,
And track its wondrous way.
Up to the courts where angels dwell,
It mounts triumphant there;
Or devils plunge it down to hell,
In infinite despair.
And must my body faint and die?
And must this soul remove?
O for some guardian angel nigh,
To bear it safe above!
Jesus, to thy dear faithful hand
My naked soul I trust,
And my flesh waits for thy command
To drop into my dust.