After 25 years of teaching, Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament, is leaving Wheaton College and moving to Calvin Seminary. Burge is a beloved professor in the Bible and Theology Department and known for his passion for the Middle East. Dr. Vlachos, adjunct assistant professor of New Testament, said of Burge, “From the time I began teaching New Testament Literature and Interpretation at Wheaton in 2007 up until the present, I have considered Gary Burge to be the gold standard. I became a better teacher because of him, and though some of my students never had the opportunity to take his classes, they were blessed to be beneficiaries of his influence.”
The Record met with Dr. Burge for an interview regarding his decision to leave Wheaton and what he hopes to leave behind to his students and community.
Kirkland An: Tell us about your decision to leave Wheaton College and go to Calvin.
Gary Burge: I think all senior faculty members need to ask themselves how you craft the last quarter of your career. And for me, there were a lot of personal elements that were in it: living close to my family, living near my grandchildren and also working with graduate students who will be serving the church immediately. It seemed to me that God was opening an amazing new door. So I don’t think of myself as “leaving Wheaton” if leaving Wheaton means you’re eager to go. I have an enormous sense of gratefulness for Wheaton and gratefulness for Calvin at the same time.
KA: What do you hope your legacy is?
GB: Since I started here at 1992, 5,000 students have gone through my classes. That’s kind of amazing to me. I hope that the story that I leave behind is an enthusiasm for the New Testament, understanding the New Testament rightly in its historical context and then understanding how the New Testament has something important to say to contemporary issues in our world.
KA: Another part of your legacy is also the social aspect of the things that you’ve advocated for and the clubs that you’ve participated in, like the feminist club and also Wheaton in Palestine. What do you hope that students take away from your involvement in those?
GB: For 25 years, two things have been important to me. The first is, I have been an advocate from the very beginning of affirming women in leadership and in ministry. And so I have spoken many times at the Christian Feminist Club in order to give guidance to students who are wondering how to read the Scriptures and still affirm women in leadership.
The second thing that I hope is part of that story is I have had an extensive number of experiences in the Arabic speaking church. And the Palestinian community has been prominent among those experiences. And I have wanted to let students know that there are two stories in this conflict between Palestine and Israel. Evangelicals tend to gravitate toward the Israeli side of that story. Here at Wheaton, that’s historically how we’ve seen it. And so, I have tried to represent the Palestinian side of that story, which in some cases has felt awkward in our community.
KA: How do you see professors who gravitate toward the minority views a little bit more? Do you feel like you have a legacy as that kind of professor?
GB: I think one of the challenges we have at Wheaton is protecting our center, while at the same time encouraging voices from the margin. And occasionally we have found ourselves uncomfortable with the voices on the margin. What I hope I’ve been able to do is consistently show my commitment to our deeper values here at Wheaton College. And yet at the same time want to champion and protect those voices and themes that really come from the margin … I think that one of our duties as faculty is to be both devoted and prophetic, so that we are respecters of our tradition, and courageous in calling our tradition to new places.
KA: Thanks. Can you tell me about one of your most cherished memories at Wheaton?
GB: My most cherished memory is when I participated in one of Wheaton’s best moments. In 2006, a bus of LGBT Christian students was travelling across the U.S. advocating for their views of theology and inclusion. They were sorely mistreated at Christian colleges from California to Illinois, but we decided bravely as a college that we weren’t going to participate in that mistreatment. When they arrived in 2006, we welcomed them on campus, we fed them generously, we had an entire chapel gathering in Coray gym in which we confessed initially how we in the church we have hurt this community, and then we listened to their stories and we invited them into our classes. We had an enormous public gathering in King Arena, and we had a real dialogue. We were respectful and civil in our disagreements and I think what we did was model the college Wheaton really wants to be. And we shocked the folks that came to campus.
KA: Can you tell me about what you are excited for moving to Calvin?
GB: I’m excited to be near my family. I’m excited to be joining an evangelical seminary connected to a large college campus that is preparing talented men and women for ministry in the church. I think much of what I will be doing there is exactly what I am doing here in my upper division classes.
KA: Do you see it as starting over, or do you see it more as continuing what you begun here?
GB: I see it as a continuation, no, an evolution of what I have already been doing here at Wheaton. So I’m going to continue to serve the church, I am going to continue to mentor and equip young men and women to serve the church, but because it’s a seminary it will be much more directly attached to the church.
KA: So here’s your farewell letter to your students and to your friends on the faculty. What do you want to say to them?
GB: For my students, continue to inform your faith with both your mind and your heart. Be passionate in how deeply you love Jesus. But also don’t shy away from understanding the more difficult things we believe. Be that one person in the church some day who is able to address the tough questions. And if you’re that person, others will be drawn to you because in your life you’ll be modelling both heart and mind.
KA: How about the faculty? Do you have anything you’d want to share here?
GB: To the faculty, I’d want to express my gratefulness for the countless invitations into friendship and the many times they had affirmed me in my work in New Testament and my own work in some of the moral and political issues that I’ve championed. I am enormously grateful for what they’ve given to me.
This interview was condensed for clarity and brevity.