A great saint with a great mind and a great heart has just passed:
I was not going to pen a piece on this great man’s passing, since a number of good pieces are already appearing on him and his ministry. The New Testament scholar just passed away at age 88. Because I have 17 of his important books, I feel I know a bit about him.
I did attend a seminary he was at: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. I am not sure why, but I do not seem to have taken any classes with him while I was there. One good friend of mine who I met there, Rikki Watts, who graduated at the same time as I did, certainly did take many of his classes, and was greatly impacted by him, as were so many others. The two of them ended up teaching together at Regent College in Vancouver for some years.
As I say, while not at first seeking to pen a piece on this, a few things have spurred me on. One was a comment by a social media friend after I posted about his passing: “He seemed to be a mixed bag if wiki is correct.” I did not reply, but I thought to myself, ‘If he needs to go to Wiki, he evidently does not know much about this world-renowned NT scholar’. And yes, there were some areas that not all Christians would have agreed with him on.
He was AOG through and through. Thus his views on the spiritual gifts, on the ordination of women, and other controversial matters were not something all Christians could accept. And I too had some differences. For example, scholars tend to be quite divided on how we are to understand the ‘conflicted man’ of Romans 7, and verses like 7:15: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Fee and others understood this to be Paul speaking autobiographically of his pre-Christian state, while others – including myself and most in the Reformed camp – take it to mean Paul describing the normal state of affairs for all believers. Other options exist, such as this being a description of carnal or backslidden believers. I discuss this a bit further here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/14/carnal-christians/
So he was a Pentecostal, and like his protege Watts – if I can put it that way – he was a rare kettle of fish. Two utterly excellent and top-notch NT scholars who are also men full of the Spirit of God. A rare combination indeed, but one that I certainly look up to.
As to his careful and superb New Testament exegesis and commentary skills, he has few superiors. His NICNT commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Philippians for example will be the go-to commentaries for many, many decades to come.
His 1994 work on the Holy Spirit in the Pauline Epistles, God’s Empowering Presence, is a classic on the subject. Nearly 1000 pages long, it is now the standard work on the topic. A shorter version of that work appeared in 1996 as Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.
And of course some of his most memorable works, such as How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, co-authored with Douglas Stuart, have gone through numerous editions and this one has sold over a million copies since it first appeared in 1990.
As I say, he had a mind of steel (razor sharp) but a heart of gold. He was a scholar’s scholar, but he was deeply in love with Jesus Christ. I met my wife to be at Youth With a Mission in Holland in 1979. She stayed on there and attended a Summer Bible School while I briefly returned home in 1980.
Fee was one of the speakers there, and my wife just reminded me again today that he was the best speaker at the school, and there was barely a day go by when he did not break into tears as he was discussing his beloved Lord and the beloved Scriptures.
Here was a first rate mind who also had a very soft heart for God. The charismatic world certainly needed a man like this. As one social media commentator just said (I forget who it was), Gordon Fee taught Pentecostals how to think and how to take the Bible seriously, and to pursue scholarship and academic excellence. All believers need to learn these things of course.
But as I said, some great articles have already appeared about his passing. A Christianity Today piece said in part:
Gordon Fee once told his students on the first day of a New Testament class at Wheaton College that they would—someday—come across a headline saying “Gordon Fee Is Dead.” “Do not believe it!” he said, standing atop a desk. “He is singing with his Lord and his king.” Then, instead of handing out the syllabus like a normal professor, he led the class in Charles Wesley’s hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
Fee, a widely influential New Testament teacher who believed that reading the Bible, teaching the Bible, and interpreting the Bible should bring people into an encounter with a living God, described himself as a “scholar on fire.” He died on Tuesday at the age of 88—although, as those who encountered him in the classroom or in his many books know, that’s not how he would have described it.
Fee co-wrote How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth with Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary colleague Douglas Stuart in the early 1980s. The book is now in its fourth edition and has sold around 1 million copies, becoming for many the standard text on the best way to approach Scripture. Fee also wrote a widely used handbook on biblical interpretation, several well-regarded commentaries on New Testament epistles, and groundbreaking academic research on the place of the Holy Spirit in the life and work of the Apostle Paul….
Fee mostly tried to avoid controversies, though, focusing on his classes and teaching people to read the Bible so it changed them. “Gordon’s rigorous classes were even more singularly known for their encounters with his Lord,” said Regent New Testament professor Rikk Watts. “He taught thousands of students around the world that one could be a ‘scholar on fire.’” https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/october/gordon-fee-obit-bible-reading-worth-fire-pentecostal.html
And this short note by Robert A. J. Gagnon on the social media is worth sharing as well:
There are only a few New Testament scholars who inspired me all the way back to my days as a college and masters student, before I entered the Ph.D. program, to combine academic rigor with a strong proclamation of the lordship of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Gordon Fee was one of them: an outstanding scholar and dynamic believer. (Of course, my deficiencies are not the fault of Gordon Fee.)
He never really knew me, but I admired him. A year before leaving for Harvard Divinity School I listened to tapes of his course on 1 Corinthians. Powerful stuff providing motivation for a would-be scholar. When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School 40 years ago I invited him to speak on 1 Corinthians for the Divinity Student Fellowship group that I formed. He graciously came down to Cambridge from South Hamilton, despite the fact that we could offer him no remuneration, helping a small band of Evangelicals in a sometimes hostile environment. He spoke along with George MacRae of Harvard Divinity School, and Richard Horsley of UMass. It was a packed-house event.
And a 16-minute appreciation of Fee by Watts is found in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaeLNFVu5yc
For further reading
I have just about all of Fee’s books. I mentioned that I have 17, and here they are:
The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel
First and Second Timothy, Titus (NIBC)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (NICNT)
The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT)
God’s Empowering Presence
Gospel and Spirit
Jesus the Lord According to Paul the Apostle
Listening to the Spirit of the Text
New Testament Exegesis
Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NICNT)
To What End Exegesis?
How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth (with Mark Strauss)
How to Read the Bible Book by Book (with Douglas Stuart)
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (with Douglas Stuart)
Mention can also be made of Romans and the People of God: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Fee on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday (edited by Sven K. Soderlund and N. T. Wright)
Fee was a gifted scholar and intellect who was fully on fire for the Lord. That tends to be a rare species, but Fee was both to the max. Well done Gordon Fee. Enjoy your well-earned eternal rest.