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The Word became flesh


Yesterday, I enjoyed a holy day with a holy man.

I met Robert Shurden in 1979. I was a sophomore at Carson-Newman. Dr. Shurden was a professor in the Religion Department. He taught Greek and other New Testament classes.

I took several of the classes he taught, but Greek class had the most lasting effect on me. Koine Greek is a tedious language, but Shurden made it accessible to many of us young theologues. 

Dr. Shurden was a stickler for details with Greek. A misplaced or absent accent mark often cost me a lower grade, simply because I was sloppy with the details the language required. Once on a vocabulary test,  Shurden wrote the names of ten random letters of the Greek alphabet, and we were required to write the letter which corresponded with its name. After finishing the quiz, I was confident that I had made a perfect "10" on the quiz. When it was graded, I made a 9 - I missed Theta. Theta looks like a Q with the line coming halfway down the center and to the right. I had written it with the line coming down the center through the bottom, not through the right, and he marked it wrong. I pled my case to him, but he insisted there was only one way to write the letter Theta. That was 40 years ago.

After getting to know Robert, I became acquainted with his brother Walter. Walter was the Dean of Theology at Southern for some of my seminary days. Walter made his mark in Baptist life at Mercer University, while Bob made his mark at Carson-Newman University. Edna Shurden Langley was a school teacher in Birmingham until her retirement. She and her Husband, George, moved close to Bob and Irene in Jefferson City about 13 years ago.

When I think of holy people, I think of this Shurden trio and their spouses and children. In Greek, there are two words for other. One means another of the same kind, while the second word is another of a different kind. The Shurdens: Robert, Walter, and Edna incarnate both nuances. They are exactly the same and entirely different! Each is each other. For me, that is the essence of holiness or otherness.

Yesterday, Shurden and I had a lively conversation about the Greek preposition en. En can be translated with, in, on, or among. For instance, in Matthew, God "with" us can just as correctly be translated God "in" us. While that is a small detail in the Greek, it is a profound difference in theology. While I enjoy my wife being "with"me, I have a deep sense of her being "in" me even if she is physically absent. In the same way, I experience God "with" me, and I also experience God "in" me.

Robert Shurden (and his siblings) is one of a kind. No doubt, God is with him, and most assuredly, God is in him. He is a holy man - not because Bob asserts that about himself, but that God asserts that about him!

I was not one of Shurden's best students. However, there is no other of his students who loves him more than I do. I want to be like Jesus, but if being like Shurden is what I'm like when I grow up, I will be as close to being like Jesus as anyone can get. The word became flesh and dwelt "in" him.

For that, I give thanks!




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