HANNIBAL, Mo. (BP)–He’s the fastest thing in wingtips and a sport coat. With tie flapping in the breeze as he pounds the pavement, this professor of Old Testament and biblical languages has been a familiar sight on the Hannibal-LaGrange College campus for the past fifteen years. If you hear Bob Bergen coming, you’d better get out of the way. “Jog quickly and carry a heavy briefcase” is his motto, and he breaks stride for no one.
The jogging between classes, briefcase, coffee cup, and “hopelessly out-of-date” eye glasses are all part of a carefully-crafted image designed to inspire amazement in his students. The jogging shows his “enthusiasm for life,” while the coffee cup reflects his relational aspect. The heavy briefcase slammed on the desk as he flies into the classroom says, “It’s time to get started. We have a lot to cover.” As for his academic side, Bergen has purchased every pair of brown plastic, aviator-style glass frames west of the Mississippi to guarantee his scholarly look for the next twenty years.
Even without the glasses, one thing is certain: Bob Bergen is a world-class scholar. To start with, he has an amazing ability with languages. During his fifteen years at Hannibal-LaGrange he has taught Hebrew, German, French, and the computer language Pascal. While at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, he tutored people in seven languages — Greek, Hebrew, French, German, Old Babylonian, Aramaic, and even Swedish. In the mid-1980s, while finishing his doctorate at Southwestern Seminary, he pioneered a method of analyzing Biblical Hebrew text called “discourse criticism.” Bergen wrote a computer program which examines the structure of written text to show what the author intended to emphasize. According to Bergen, changes in verb tense, sentence length, word order, and primary subject are ways writers communicate what is most significant in the passage. His computer program assigns each section of text a “Bergen value” which can later be graphed to show areas of emphasis within the text.
Although his language analysis program was developed in the 1980s, the concepts are still cutting edge today. “This method of analyzing the biblical text serves as an invaluable weapon in confronting the claims of Post-Modernism [which state that the meaning of any text lies within the reader and not the composer],” said Bergen. “It demonstrates convincingly that authors put meaning into text and provided the means for readers to discover it.” Bergen’s program focuses on the Hebrew language, but the method could be adapted for any language study.
Bergen has put his linguistic expertise to work over the years, serving on teams for several Bible translations and writing numerous articles and books. He is most proud of the volume he wrote on I and II Samuel in The New American Commentary, now in its second print, and of his translation work for the New Living Translation, the New Living Translation 2.0, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The Holman Christian Standard Bible is due out in late 2002.
Bergen’s interest in incorporating computer technology with ministry led him to create the Fewell Center for the Study of Technology in Ministry at Hannibal-LaGrange College. Funded by the Fewell family from Texas, the center provides a computer lab for Christian studies students equipped with the latest in Bible study software and other aids to theological study. “Computers are wonderful contemporary tools that should be used in service to God,” Bergen said. “Through the Fewell Center, we try to make the best of the tools available to students, faculty, and campus guests.”
The classroom, though, is Bob Bergen’s real passion. “They don’t have to pay me to teach,” he laughed. “They pay me to grade papers and attend committee meetings.” The scholar becomes animated when he speaks of his students. “It rejuvenates me to be in front of a group of potential-filled college students whose lives can be changed by the ideas that I share with them,” he said. “It’s a challenge that never gets old.”
Taking a Hebrew class with Bergen has been described by a former student as a “mixture of torture and entertainment.” He has a knack for taking a difficult subject and making it almost fun. His enthusiasm is evident. “Dr. B has more energy than the Energizer Bunny,” said the student.
One thing Bergen tries to communicate to his students is a lesson he has learned: a truly successful life is a balanced life. “I hope I set an example of managing both scholarship and relationships on a foundation of absolute confidence in the reliability and authority of God.”
Bergen wants to be remembered as a “person who lived a beautifully normal Christian life.” For him, “taking care of stuff on the home front,” is more important than the theological papers he has presented or the books he has written. He cites a “healthy marriage, a close relationship with [his] son, good relationships with co-workers, Christmas cards and e-mails from former students-and a mowed lawn” as evidences of the simple things in life that are important.
In addition to the relationships he builds with students, Bergen enjoys his work environment at Hannibal-LaGrange. “A real camaraderie exists among the Christian Studies faculty,” he said. The fact that his wife’s office is right next door to his is a plus. Bergen’s wife Martha is an associate professor of Christian education at HLG. Their son Wesley attends public school in Hannibal where he is a fifth-grader.
With his credentials, Bergen has been asked to teach at seminaries and universities across the country, but has refused all offers. He said the call of God keeps him at Hannibal-LaGrange.
“We’re here because God asked us to be here,” he said.
Along with that, Bergen and his family like the “connectedness” of small town life. “Hannibal has found a home in our hearts.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BERGEN’S MOTTO, BOB BERGEN and BERGEN BOOKS.