Giving Honor to Bruce Ware, an Estimable Theologian and a God-Centered Man

Giving Honor to Bruce Ware, an Estimable Theologian and a God-Centered Man March 8, 2021

Give honor to whom honor is due…

–Romans 13:7

You know men—but what makes them who they are? Here’s an important part of the answer: they are the same man in private that they are in public. Integrity is not part of us; integrity (or lack thereof) is us. We are not private men part of the time, and public men part of the time. In terms of Christian manhood, and Christian leadership, we are just one man. The private man is the public man; the public man is the private man. If a man’s character in either realm does not match his claims in the other, then he is a divided man, a double-minded man, an ungodly man per the book of James.

The prevalence of double-minded men makes it a joy to find a single-minded man, a man after God’s own heart. When we lay hold of such a man in an era when men are either under attack or putting themselves to open shame, we should honor him. This is what the Bible teaches us: give honor to whom honor is due, as Romans 13:7 instructs (τιμὴν in the Greek). For this reason I rise to praise an honorable man. It is fitting to do so, for according to God’s Word, younger men should honor older men. Paul said as much without any nuance: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father” (1 Timothy 5:1).

Failure to meet this mark places one in the bullseye of God, for God hates nothing more than pride. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, James soberly reminds us (James 4:6). The Father is not a stone deity in the clouds; he is a God of real anger, real wrath, and he exercises real judgment. When he opposes something, you want to flee from its presence, whatever it may be. His reproach is not like human emotion, this is true; it is far worse, for unlike creaturely emotion it is perfect reproach, unfiltered wrath, undiluted judgment, and it is driven by unclouded adjudication. To be outside of God’s will, and to trip God’s wires through a pattern of pride, is to be in a terrifying place, a ledge over a 10,000-foot drop with a crack slowly spreading across it.

Honoring Bruce Ware, a Theologian and a Churchman

My father-in-law, Bruce Ware, is not such a man. He is the previous kind of man, the type who deserves honor. He is a theologian of the first rank, a brilliant biblical mind. He has rendered service to Christ’s church for decades now, incisively expositing and applying the truth of God to the hearts of seminarians. He was honored by his peers with the capstone rank of the evangelical guild, filling the role of President of the Evangelical Theological Society over a decade ago. He is a chaired professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the author of innumerable books, book chapters, and journal articles, and a mentor to many professors and theologians.

Some professors do little to help launch future teachers, but Dr. Ware is not one of them. At significant cost to his time and energy, he writes countless recommendations, goes to bat for his PhD graduates, and keeps up warm mentoring relationships with them long after such mentorship is necessary. He is, without exaggeration, one of the most generous and prolific shepherds of theologians in evangelicalism, having “placed” many academicians in desired roles.

He is a churchman besides. For year after year, he taught a packed-at-the-seams Sunday School class at Clifton Baptist Church, and never mailed it in. Rather, he shepherded men and women with passion, love, depth, ringing conviction, and an occasional flare of impishness. Even as he has trained numerous academics, he has helped form hundreds and even thousands of faithful pastors, and has spoken internationally in too many countries to count. Comprehending these and other unnamed efforts of his ministry, his contributions to his school, his church, and the global body of Christ are estimable indeed.

I have observed him up close for nearly two decades now. When I came to Southern Seminary for my MDiv in 2004, I sat in famed Norton 195 and listened to him give the introductory lecture to the School of Theology. I expected a perfunctory list of things to do from that lecture, but instead was gripped in my soul by a talk on studying to the glory of God. I immediately signed up for Dr. Ware’s “shepherding group,” a mentoring opportunity. For the next two years, I benefited directly from Dr. Ware’s kindness, biblical insight, and also his wife Jodi’s unearthly cinnamon rolls. The Wares had the group over to their home several times, and through their hospitality and kindness—qualities more than evident in his youngest daughter, Rachel—fast became a tremendous blessing to me.

There was more blessing to come. In the fall of 2005, I fell for Dr. Ware’s beautiful and godly daughter, Bethany. She was a senior at Moody, and after we initially talked and got to know one another, I was a taken man. We were married not long after. I will never forget how Dr. Ware responded when I came to his home and sat on the patio to ask him—as her head—for her hand in marriage. I was churning inside, but he was calm and gracious. At one point, he grew quiet, and mused for a moment on how he could recall, as if it was yesterday, when she was a tiny baby. It was clear that he loved his little girl beyond words. He had protected her, provided for her all her days, and led her to know the Lord. Now, he was handing her off to another man, a charge that makes me sit up straight in my seat to this day.

As a student, I knew of Dr. Ware’s theological gifting and elite doctrinal ability. But in the years since, I have seen his character up close. I say this without reservation or hesitation: he is the most God-centered man I have ever known. In terms of his spiritual walk, he lives his life for the glory of God. He trusts God. He delights to know God. He cares about the honor and praise of God. He knows that he is not naturally a humble person—none of us is—but that God has enabled him to grow in humility. Dr. Ware frankly does not concern himself with what people think of him, what his brand is, and whether his stock is rising or falling. He loves God; he lives for God; he has commended himself to God, and thus finds his identity and security in God.

Real Humility: He Points His Students to Scripture

One practical effect of this approach: Dr. Ware has never tried to create a tribe of Wareites. He could have. He has the personality, the intellectual forcefulness, the courage, and the reputation needed to do so. Many in the academy and the church do make just such a move. But Dr. Ware has never remotely attempted to organize his disciples and form them in his image. He has instead steadfastly pointed his students to Scripture, the act in ministry that most distinguishes a God-centered teacher from a self-centered teacher.

Dr. Ware’s students hold a range of views on a range of issues. This is not a weakness of his legacy, however, but a strength of it. He points us to the Bible, not himself. This is what you could call scholarly humility. Without egging the pudding, I believe this is the best gift a preacher or teacher of God’s Word can give his charges. (This was the mentality of so many at SBTS back in the day; when I studied there, the faculty was—and still is—possessive of outstanding gifting, yet the men I and many others trained under were humble, God-exalting, Scripture-saturated men. They did not agree on all counts–what faculty does?–but they lived and ministered by sola Scriptura. Now, years after I studied under them, I give thanks to God for them.)

This is Dr. Ware’s ministry, in truth: to point people to the one true God, not the God of the philosophers or the traditionalists, but the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is not what we always expect. He does not conform to what men think he should be. He is one God, three persons, and from that suprarational starting point we are off to the races in learning biblically about God. He defines himself; no one may define him. The Father is a transcendent ruler, high above the heavens, clothed in majesty and splendor, yet one who draws near to us. The Son of God is not God against us, nor God inaccessible to us, but God for us—the man Christ Jesus. The Spirit is a vital divine person who strengthens us even as he strengthened the Son in his earthly life.

All this Scripture teaches (and more); all this Dr. Ware taught me and countless others. But he did not only teach it, and teach it faithfully. He structured his life according to it. To this day, his ministry comprehends many glorious doctrines and undertakings, but collectively points people to the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Trinity is a source of endless wonder, and to be near Dr. Ware is to come away awed not by his own exploits, nor by his own significant accomplishments, but by the greatness of the triune God. This “gazing on God” has shaped his public engagement as well; while he makes a great case for his views, he always does so with charity, humility, and respect for the other side.

Marveling (one of Dr. Ware’s favorite words!) at God’s greatness cannot help but shape a man in all sorts of ways. Aside from his personal devotion to God, Dr. Ware is a terrific father, a Christlike husband, and a loving grandfather. He is the same man in private that he is in public. He gives wise counsel, laughs heartily at a good joke, pushes his three grandchildren to dizzying heights on the swing, cooks a mean breakfast sandwich, and meticulously tends to his lawn. Dr. Ware lives life in joy and contentment; he is not a grasping man, a man-centered man, but is instead a man in full, to use Tom Wolfe’s marvelous phrase.

Conclusion

We do not often give honor to those to whom it is due. As noted earlier, we are all informal now. We don’t praise our father and mother, we belittle them; we don’t thank our tutors and benefactors, we vault over them. But the Bible would have us see the folly and pride of such behavior. Per God’s Word, there is nothing less than divine wisdom in older times, and not infrequently, in older saints. So, after many years of knowing him and saying little about my connection to him, I honor my father-in-law.

I do not do so because he needs it; he does not need it. I do not do so because he wants it; he almost certainly does not want it, being a humble man. I do not do so because he has come to the close of his career; he has some miles left to go. No, I honor him because he is, by the grace of God, an honorable man. He is a man I want to emulate; he is a man I and many others across the world love; he is a man I pray I can be like.

While we can, we should stand, like the ancient Israelites in the halls of their kings, and give honor to our elders. Let us tell of their courage to our own grandchildren; let us walk in their footsteps, imitating them as they imitate Christ; let us worship their God, the one true God of Scripture.

Let us give honor to whom honor is due.

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