Early last week, theologian Bruce Fields lost a 21-month battle with brain cancer. I met him in the fall of 1990, near the beginning of my time as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. With the exception of Doug Moo, he was the tallest faculty member, a basketball player who knew how to play the big man’s game. I remember learning that one of his coaches had been Chuck Daly (who went on to coach NBA championship teams with the Detroit Pistons) and asking him about his experience. He did not enjoy Daly’s approach of playing mind games and other forms of manipulation. I was hoping for some anecdotes about glory days under a future celebrity coach; Bruce revealed the more complicated and unsettling truth. I discovered that Bruce would tell you the truth as it was and did not seek easy or palatable answers to questions, whether about basketball, theological questions, or the world of evangelicalism.
When I arrived at Trinity, I was stepping into a world of theological education at an institution that placed a premium on academic excellence and publication. Before long, I found myself in those conversations with other students where you admire the achievements of certain faculty members. As I recall, not many brought Bruce into this conversation. While there are reasons these conversations emphasized some professors with more publications or prominence in the evangelical debates of the day, I know now that I missed the opportunity to learn how Bruce was walking through a unique experience: that of an African-American theology professor in an evangelical institution.
The faculty of evangelical institutions of higher education in the early 1990s included few nonwhite faculty in general ...1
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