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Mutual edification goal of seminary professor’s classroom

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–One of Jeff Bingham’s earliest memories is of his parents reading to each other and to him. He loved to study then and — even as a professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas — is no less of a student now than in those early years. He enjoys the interaction of the classroom.

“As members of the body of Christ but gifted by the Spirit for the body of Christ, they [the students] are able to contribute to my edification and to my growth in Christ,” Bingham said. “And by God’s grace through the gifts that are provided in me by the Spirit, I am able to contribute to theirs.”

In short, Bingham believes he and his students “exist to edify each other.”

Bingham assumed his duties at Southwestern in July. In addition to his work as a professor, he serves as assistant dean for the theological studies division in which he oversees the administration of the systematic theology and church history departments.

“I’m Southern Baptist, and as a Southern Baptist I have always wanted to have more of a formal role in the education of Southern Baptist ministers,” Bingham said. “When [Southwestern] offered me the opportunity to join the faculty, it was a pleasure and privilege to say ‘yes.'”

The most important part of his role at Southwestern is to teach students “in conformity with the seminary’s proud tradition and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” Bingham said, “and to assist the administration and faculty in fulfilling the role of the theological studies division.”

The opportunity to teach students at Southwestern was not the only reason Bingham accepted the call to Southwestern. He also came because of the world-class faculty, he said.

“I am looking forward to working in unity and in collegiality with a host of brothers and sisters in Christ whom the Lord has gifted in ways in which he has not gifted me, and from whom I can be enriched and from whom I can be edified,” Bingham said. “I am looking forward to serving them and to assisting them in what they do.”

Bingham brings a wealth of experience to the seminary. He served as a pastor for three years in Kermit, Texas, and has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary, Criswell College and LeTourneau University.

He is the author of several books, including “Irenaeus’ Use of Matthew’s Gospel in Adversus Haereses (Against the Heresies)” and “Pocket History of the Church.” He has also written numerous articles and essays and is the editor of a series involving leaders of the early Christian church published by E.J. Brill.

“The persistent challenge for any professor is to always stay in command of his material, to stay in command of his discipline, to stay up with the current literature that is being produced, and to be able to communicate the content of his or her courses in a way which is clear and helpful,” Bingham said. “Those challenges are the same no matter where you are.”

Bingham also draws strength from life experiences. His father, Dwight, was in the oil business, and the Bingham family — in the first 17 years of Jeff’s life — lived in Venezuela, Argentina, Qatar, Nigeria, Madagascar, Thailand, Tunisia and Italy. The world was his home.

The last move for the family prior to Bingham’s college years was to New Mexico. He remained there in order to attend college and was glad to be settled. However, he regards his exposure to international settings as a privilege.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.

Sightseeing and international culture were not the only reasons living abroad appealed to him. It was in those settings that Bingham would spend time with his father and learn his father’s love of history.

“My father and I always talked about history and so I was an armchair historian from as long ago as I can remember,” he said.

He found his greatest interest in the history of theology and doctrine and in particular the first 500 years of the history of doctrine in the early church. He focuses most of his efforts on the second century.

Bingham, however, did not always intend to pursue theological studies. He received a degree in business administration with a specialty in finance and investments from New Mexico State University and intended to pursue a finance career.

With a goal of return to his church “as a layperson with a theological education,” however, he decided to attend Dallas Theological Seminary and received a Th.M. and Ph.D. At the Dallas seminary, he was “exposed to theology and some wonderful theological professors,” he said. He then knew that he “wanted to do that more than anything else.”

Bingham said that he believes doctrine plays an essential role in the ministerial task. He emphasizes as much with his students.

“I am here to emphasize the importance of doctrine in the spiritual life of every Christian, and I am here to teach the content of that doctrine to both ministers and to non-ministers alike so that my entire ministry revolves around the importance of doctrine for Christian life,” he said.

Bingham said he also emphasizes in his teaching the essential nature of community in the Christian experience. That belief, he said, comes from the fact that every Christian is a recipient of a gift or gifts through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

“I have the role of teacher, but the Spirit’s role in my life is no greater than the role of the Spirit in the students’ lives,” he said.

“What I do may be different than what they do, but the same Spirit indwells us both and has gifted us both for ministry. … I am very optimistic about the Christian who understands the essential nature of the community in Christianity,” Bingham said.

That community is something that Bingham and his wife Pamela now look forward to contributing to at Southwestern.

“I’m looking forward to the privilege of being around such a rich and well-qualified and professional faculty that we have at Southwestern Seminary,” he said.

Investing in the personal lives of students, however, will continue to be a priority for Bingham because education and formation for the Christian is not something that can be done simply in a lecture hall or classroom, he said.

“We are unable to be Christian if we are independently minded or if we are privately minded,” he said. “If we think that Christianity is only a private relationship with God to the neglect of relationships within the Christian community, our spiritual formation will be incomplete.”

Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill said Bingham is not only a world-class theologian but also a wonderful communicator and will serve the students well.

“He has been a perennial favorite among students at Dallas Theological Seminary where he has taught for six years,” Hemphill said. “I know his relational skills will enable him to connect with Southwestern students.”

Bingham served as research professor of historical theology at DTS from 1996-2002.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HISTORY-MINDED PROF.

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  • Lauri Arnold