Theology, Puns, and the Love of God: A tribute to Dr. Myron Houghton.

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Dr. Bauder stared over his handle bar mustache. I knew I had said something that didn’t quite add up. His eyebrows communicated as much. Brett Williams had asked me a question, and I answered it in what I thought was a straightforward manner. But his confused look told me something was amiss. Another student asked me a question, to which I answered, again, unsatisfactorily. It became clear in the ensuing discussion that I was the the one who was confused. After some illumination from Dr. Bauder, he, staring over his handlebar mustache, made the comment, “You do realize this is just Myron’s theology, right? Didn’t you have Myron as a seminary professor at Faith?” It’s funny how some comments can have a reddening effect on the face.

When I returned to Iowa from class I quickly dug out my systematic theology notes. Sure enough, I had all 6 points of Myron’s theological method right there. How had I missed this information? I suppose it has something to do with my first semester in seminary, and a bit to do with some personal discipline. But as I read through the notes again today, I can see the scope of his influence in my own life. Some of the influence was apparent to me, but some was only visible on a second reading.

I was Dr. Myron’s student between 2005 and 2008. He was a great teacher, a sharp theologian, a witty punster, and caring believer. He met his Savior this week. Social media feeds have been filled with many testimonies of Dr. Myron’s impact on lives far and wide. Here are just a few of the ways He left an impact on my life, and my fellow student’s lives.

I learned to build theology from passages, not verses.

Dr. Myron always worked through long passages in theology class. He rarely relied on a single verse, or even a list of verses alone. While he did not prohibit topical lists or proof-texting, he strongly believed that theology should be based in larger sections of scripture. This practice had a side effect on us students. We learned that working through whole passages was a safety net to keep us from taking a verse out of context. It instilled in us a value for expositional preaching instead of topical lessons. And all this came from a Systematic theologian. Which is to say, a theologian who makes a living of ordering the Bible according to topics!

I learned to be fair to positions I did not hold.

Dr. Myron would always carefully represent an opposing system. Once in class he pointed out something correct that Karl Barth said. Not a few eyebrows raised. Anticipating our bewilderment, he explained that you must be fair to people and positions. Just as fair as you’d like to be treated if you were teaching or preaching. He then explained all the ways Karl Barth was unorthodox, just so we wouldn’t be confused. But in his era, Barth was leaps and bounds ahead of Ritschl and Harnack, Tillich and Bultmann.

No matter who he was interacting with, he was fair. He did not build straw man arguments, nor did he take cheap shots. He reminded us that just because a person says one correct thing, doesn’t mean they are always correct. Only the Scriptures are always correct! Of those theologians and positions that were only occasionally correct, he often said, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. This quote has served me well as I have had to wade through more than my share of odd theology books.

I learned that theology is a joyful occasion, not trip to the dentist office.

Dr. Myron was always one to crack a joke. When students would ask odd questions, we’d often be threatened with our kneecaps being removed in some manner. If a word could be taken two different ways, Dr. Myron would be sure to build some sort of pun. While this was fun, it also showed us something else. Dr. Myron loved theology. He wasn’t just showing up for a paycheck. He really believed that teaching God’s ministers to be careful with God’s word was not only valuable, but an enjoyable way to spend your life. Dr. Myron was not rich. Dr. Myron did not have it easy. But he loved the Lord, and he loved to serve his Lord. This was evident in the classroom.

Be honest and don’t take credit for other people’s ideas.

Dr. Myron shared regularly that you must be careful not to take credit for other people’s ideas when teaching or preaching. He once learned many years later that an idea he held, which he thought he discovered on his own, was a principle from a previous previous lecturer and he had forgotten where he learned it. He was careful to always give credit where credit was due. This is something theological writers today have had to learn, and often the hard way.

Thinking hard about the Bible is always a good thing.

Dr. Myron had a quote on his door for years. When he retired and his books were moved out of his office, someone found the quote from his door. They knew that I loved this quote, and a few days later I found it in my box at work! The quote now hangs in my bookshelf in my office, right across from my desk. It reminds me that humility is necessary when studying the Bible. Here is the quote:

A moment of thought would have shown him he was wrong.
But a moment is a long time, and a thought a difficult thing.

So many times my own errors in studying God’s word have come from a mere cursory glance at a passage.

Reading is essential in ministry.

Dr. Myron was a man of learning. He had more degrees in theology than any other professor I knew. And his home and office were filled with books! Entering his office filled one’s nostrils with that dusty delight of the way books smell when they gang up on a room. I remember a few of us students, on seeing the floor to ceiling books, asking him if he read them all. His reply was no, but he had used them all. You could not take a class with Dr. Myron and come away thinking that too much thought would harm your walk with God. If anything, thinking well about the scriptures only helped you to think well about your God and Savior.

I learned (yet again) that the best teaching makes time for the students.

The main reason I chose to go to seminary at Faith was the teachers. Having been to the college, I knew firsthand that the teachers made time for students. In fact, because they saw their college as a full time ministry to God, meeting with students was a matter of discipleship. Dr. Myron was no different. Even after I had graduated from FBTS and was attending Central, Dr. Myron was happy to meet to clarify some questions I had. The discussions were illuminating, and the jokes were always plentiful.

—Always Studying the Bible—

So, I’m thankful for the ministry of Dr. Myron in my own life. He was kind, knowledgeable, humorous, a bit feisty, and sincere in his theological ministry. Perhaps the best end to this tribute is to recount one final story that really captures the essence of Dr. Myron. During my freshman year at Faith there was an event where students and others did skits and other humorous activities. For one segment, Dr. Myron and Dr. George got up and told each other jokes. This was a full 10 minute, back-and-forth between two of the punniest punsters to walk the campus. It was too difficult to keep up with the wit! I probably missed as many jokes as I caught that night.

But then again, that was Dr. Myron. Always joking. Always thinking. Always studying the Bible.

1 Cor 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

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