before i forget

As an oversized person crammed into an undersized window seat, it wasn't one of the better flights. I didn't choose to be tall and I certainly didn't choose a window seat. But what a memorable flight it proved to be - from Dubai to Bishkek. With one eye tracking the Silk Road territory far below me and the other eye drawn into Murray Harris' autobiography, Before I Forget. Being barely 100 pages, it was started and finished on the flight...

While I'm not sure that I've had more than a handful of hours in Murray's presence, he has had a way of popping up in my life, again and again.

At about 20 years of age, buoyed by my sister Diane's love of his classes, I wandered into Murray's office at the Bible College of New Zealand (BCNZ) to seek advice on an application to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in the USA. At about 25 years of age, as a student of Greek at TEDS, I discovered his Appendix on Prepositions at the back of this three-volume resource and it galvanised my desire to read the Bible with an attention to detail. At about 30 years of age, I wrote a series of columns for a NZ Christian newspaper in which I developed an image-based apologetic for theological training. I can't remember whether it came to me in written, or spoken, form - but Murray's response was "You should publish them". Wow? Really?! At about 40 years of age, I was getting ready for another opportunity for my first-love in ministry at the time: a church-based preaching seminar - in Wanaka in a remote part of NZ. In walked Murray to join about a dozen others. Yikes. I took a deep breath and at one point I noted, even in his company, the striking diversity in the vocabulary of preaching in the Book of Acts. During the next week I received a hand-written letter from Murray in which he affirmed the point I was making and suggested that I use Acts 17.2-4 as an example in the future. That is exactly what I have done, ever so many times. [NB: I wish I could include the letter here, but it is in Bangalore and I am in Bishkek]. At about 50 years of age, I, together with Barby, had the joy of knowing that Murray and Jennifer were standing with us in our new venture with Langham. At about 55 years of age, we popped into visit them in Cambridge (the NZ version!) and Murray gifted me with a signed copy of his hot-off-the-press commentary on the Greek text of Second Corinthians. "There are only two copies in the country. I have one and now you have the other." At about 60 years of age, I received Before I Forget in the mail.

It is pretty special, don't you think?! A whole lot of little things adding up to a whole lot of influence in my life. If God grants me the years so to do, in my 60s and 70s I desperately want to be encouraging the next generation like Murray has done for me. There is more than a whiff of the scholar-saint about him, as many who know him far better than I do will testify. Then, of course, living in the background of Murray's story - but in the foreground of his life - is his care for Jennifer who has been battling MS for almost three decades.

Note: I am sorry, but this is going to continue to be a more personal ramble. I am having too much fun to stop now!

Murray's story resonates so much with events and people in my life. He attended Auckland Grammar School and the University of Auckland (as did I, but with a far less distinguished presence) and he had two seasons on the TEDS faculty, where I was an MDiv student. Sadly, my time as a student (1981-1984) fell exactly - almost symmetrical in its exactitude - between his seasons at Trinity (1971-1978; 1986-1997). But how can I be too sad? The person brought on to replace Murray on the TEDS faculty was 'the whirlwind from Canada' (72), one DA Carson, with whom I had six classes. Even as Murray (almost) delights in the punishment inflicted on students in 'Suicide Greek' (27) - learning New Testament Greek over 6 days a week for 6 weeks - the memories of doing this myself with Don Carson in 1981 came back to me. In reality, those memories are never too far from me as a certain Tony Plews, himself something of a 'whirlwind' as well, was Don's Teaching Assistant at the time. This is the setting in which I met Tony & Judy and they have been our close friends ever since, as well as colleagues both at BCNZ and in Langham.

Murray singles out three 'special friends' (4-7). The resonances continue. A few months before I popped into Murray's office in Auckland, I was visiting Barby in the USA. It was a Sunday afternoon. We were in the apartment of our friends from India days, Ralph and Nellann Seefeldt, in Carol Stream, a suburb of Chicago. The conversation developed and they asked me about my plans for the future. I spoke vaguely about coming to the USA for seminary. "Really? There is a man living upstairs that you should meet." ... "Are you sure? It is Sunday afternoon. Does he want to meet anyone right now?" ... "No, No - he won't mind. Let me call him and see if they are home at the moment." ... "Well, OK, I guess". They were home and off I went, up to the apartment of Kenneth & Ruth Kantzer, the architect of TEDS's vision and growing influence as its Dean - and one of Murray's 'special friends'. Barely 20 years of age, I had no idea what was going on. I suspect it was Dr Kantzer who encouraged me to speak to Murray on my return home to NZ. Subsequently, the Kantzers became our 'faculty advisors' throughout our time at TEDS.

Another of Murray's 'special friends' is David Burt, associated for many years with Ngaire Avenue Bible Chapel in Auckland. Again, not someone I know well (as is the case with the Kantzers), but still someone with significance in my story. When we finished our time in Baptist pastoral ministry in Invercargill, I was not in a great space personally. I found myself in an administrative role at BCNZ, while I also pursued further study part-time. So no pastoral ministry and no preaching either. I am not sure how or why, but two Brethren churches reached out to me - Eden Chapel, through Rob McArthur and Ngaire Ave, through David Burt. Every year, for some years, I would go and do a preaching series for them. As George Whitefield used to say, preaching is a 'strange restorative' and it was for me, especially in the company of the warmth and the responsiveness of these communities. So much so that I remember reflecting on how I didn't need an introduction with them because they were attentive even before I opened my mouth.

There is even some resonance in the humour in Murray's story. I am not sure which of our nursing stories is better. You can be the judge. In the USA, 'to nurse' means to breastfeed a baby, whereas in NZ it means simply 'to hold' something. On welcoming a new student family into their home, Murray could see a young mother juggling multiple responsibilities and so he offered to nurse the child for her. Oops. My story is back in Carol Stream, but now a few years later in the week leading into our wedding. Lots of stress. Lots of errands. Lots of July heat. The woman who was to become my mother-in-law in a few days was in the passenger seat. I was returning to the car with a huge watermelon which I asked her to nurse for me while I drove. Ahh, that look on her face...

In just 100 pages, it is surprising how many things I gleaned from Murray's story. The gratitude he feels in doing all his own study in a University context as this freed him from the 'branding' which accompanies seminary education (18). His efforts to commence each class with a careful, but spontaneous, prayer and a Bible-reading (58) left me chided. I need to do better. The strategy to write, as a scholar, into 'gaps' (65) in order to meet particular needs in the church. The lessons he learned as an apologist for the gospel (68-69) and his reflections on God and his guidance (95-98) are both sections to which I will return. His experiences within the NIV translation committee on the necessity of committee work, and yet the regret that individual flair tends to be 'extinguished' (76) in such committees. The generosity in gifting his entire library of 7000 volumes to the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology. The sadness expressed in just nine lines as he expresses one of his disappointments in life to be 'the inability to establish a regular holiday venue near home' (93-94). And so much more...

I have often said that proof of life comes not through producing one's birth certificate                    from the attic but through showing the vital signs of appetite in the kitchen                                            - desire for God and his Word and his people (3).

nice chatting


PS. Murray opens a chapter with this sentence: 'For the task of writing as well as speaking it is imperative to have a sophisticated filing system' (64). I started one, but did not continue with it once I left a regular preaching ministry. However, it has been interesting for me to watch how this blog, as the years (15) go by and the number of posts (640) mount up, has become a filing system for me - with its efficient 'search' facility. Maybe that is an option for others. Plus, there is that motivation to make it available to others as a way of serving those who wish to pass by. These are the two reasons why I keep going: (a) to retain for myself what I do not want to lose - and that is why posts are often longer than they should be; and (b) to resource others with what I think they should know.

PPS. I did take perverse pleasure in finding an error in the text. It may not be the fault of this meticulous scholar, but carnal pleasure there was, nevertheless. I cannot suppress it. On p23, a 'felt' should be a 'fell'. 


Andrew Lim said…
Thank you, Paul, for sharing your experiences with Dr. Murray Harris. Wow! all those amazing encounters. And you have an incredible memory to be able to recall them all.

He is such a humble man isn’t he, for all that he has accomplished. He taught me First Peters at BCNZ and then I bumped into him again at TEDS. What struck me then was that at TEDS he could remember an insignificant student from NZ. He said something like "we are “like ships passing in the night”, never really catching up!

I have always thought that perhaps the one single grievous season in his life was when he was unkindly maligned for his position on “the nature of the body of the resurrected Jesus”.

Thank you Paul for alerting us to his autobiography. Remembering Jennifer.

Andrew Lim

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