The Rev. Dr. Richard Reid has died. (And I was thinking of 'eternity' just the other day!) My mentor, professor and friend has found out what is on the other side of "this" one way or another.
He taught New Testament at Virginia Seminary when I was there. He was so good that I took a couple of classes from him even though I had fulfilled my required NT studies in my two years at Harvard Divinity School.
I didn't take his "Introduction to New Testament' but I heard legends about it. It seemed every year, after Dick's first lecture, one or two students withdrew from Seminary. They were people who read the Bible like a believer. Dick read it like a scholar. The scholarly study of the New Testament is a challenge to people whose beliefs are rather literal about what the New Testament says.
Once in a class on Mark, I think, someone asked Dick this question: "Professor Reid, how many of the words of Jesus in Mark do you have confidence are verbatim, words he actually said."
Dick thought for a few moments. "At least a couple of dozen," he finally replied. I watched the student thinking, 'how can I get out of this class and into a one taught by a believer?'
But Dick WAS a believer. That's the whole point. He 'believed' the gospels would stand up to intense and scientifically based scrutiny. He believed God was big enough to be probed and examined and put under the microscope of scholarly commitment and survive.
Once another student asked him, "Dr. Reid, where do you stand on 'who will be saved'?"
That, to me was an odd question because I avoid 'standing' anywhere on that. I'll leave that to God, thank you very much.
But Dean Reid (he was the Associate Dean of the Seminary as well as a professor) gave one of the best two answers to a theological question I ever heard. He said, "I am a hopeful Universalist. There is nothing in the sacred writings of the Jews or Christians or Muslims that indicates that all will be saved. But the God I worship wouldn't leave anyone out of the party...."
Pretty wonderful, I thought. I'm not sure the student that asked the question felt the same!
One of my pet peeves about the Episcopal church is that the clergy get superb "theological education" and the laity receive what is called "Christian education". Seminaries of our church are rigorous and devoted to scholarship, with taking the gloves off and going at holy things with bare fists. Most of the stuff that happens in parishes masquerading as 'adult education' is really warmed over Middle School level. Most of us priests wouldn't dare answer a lay persons questions as honestly and probingly as Dick Reid and all my mentors from both Harvard and Virginia (and Manfred Meitzen who taught religion at West Virginia University, where I first caught the God-bug) did.
I honestly don't want to worship a God who doesn't stand up to the best nit-picking examination my mind can do. Really, what kind of God would that be?
I mourn Dick Reid and thank him and thank God for him.
(By the way, the other of the two best answers to a theological question I ever heard came from my friend and one-time Lay Assistant, Bryan.
Bryan was telling some folks at a coffee hour about the three week, silent Buddhist retreat. After about 10 minutes of Bryan telling them how much he got out of it, one of the rather literal minded folks in the group said, "Bryan, tell me, are you a Christian?"
And Bryan answered without a pause, "at least!"
Not bad. Something for all the 'at least Christians' out there to lean into and embrace and ponder.)
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