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 Edwin Bagley

Language, Truth, and Logos

                                                                                                                                bcx 

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Several years ago, mindful of the incredible influence of Byrns Coleman at Wingate University, I asked several members of the faculty to submit some of their recent writings to be included in a Festschrift to celebrate Dr. G. Byrns Coleman’s lengthy career teaching Bible courses at Wingate. None of us has been Byrns’ student in the usual sense, but all of us have been shaped, nurtured, encouraged, and guided by the extraordinary opportunity of working with him over many years. His vibrant presence on this faculty has sustained the collegial atmosphere we enjoy here. 

In a university culture, which encourages argumentation and criticism, Byrns always sees through to the opportunities to be constructive. His students come away proud to be aiming at the ministry and hopeful about their possibilities. Later, facing critical junctures in their careers, they often find their way back to his office, where they find reliable, nurturing guidance.  

My personal perspective is parallel to many others. From the moment we arrived in Wingate, nearly three decades ago, Byrns and Alice have loved and cared for our family as no others have. Byrns was the first person to visit us in our new home that summer. When Roy Ford, the Baptist pastor, was the next person to show up at our door, it was because Byrns and Alice had tipped him off. When our own daughter Elizabeth was struggling with cancer treatments, while she was a student in San Francisco, Byrns and Alice stayed in touch constantly with thoughtful cards and occasionally a little cash for a schoolbook or a nice meal.  

Byrns’ career stands astride several significant “boundary lines”: He arrived at Wingate Junior College with his college and seminary degrees, and when Wingate moved to become a four-year college, Byrns went back to school for his Ph.D.—to Vanderbilt University, one of the most respected universities in the nation, where he studied with the famous New Testament scholar Leander Keck, who eventually became the Dean of the Yale University Divinity School. I am proud of Wingate for cultivating that kind of personal growth and impressed that young Byrns Coleman, with wife and children, launched out on such a remarkable adventure. 

Byrns also bridges the interval between lectern and pulpit, teaching all sorts of students about the Bible five days a week and then, on almost every Sunday, preaching to a congregation somewhere as interim pastor or guest speaker or leader of an annual Bible study series. Sometimes, when Wingate Baptist Church is fortunate, he even finds time to preach in this church across the street which has been his congregational home for all these years. I was visiting an old friend in a South Carolina nursing home recently and she showed me another nice card she had received from Byrns and Alice. Byrns was interim pastor of her church down there a number of years ago, so he and Alice still write to her on special occasions—a remembrance all the more important because this lady has outlived everyone else in her immediate family. 

If there is an overarching theme in all of this, it is constant generosity with time, attention and all that he has. This legendary generosity has flowed through many channels. Byrns was so thoroughly convinced that our students would benefit from studying Greek, despite the fact that such old-fashioned subjects have become rare among undergraduates, that over the years he has usually taught the Greek class as an unpaid overload beyond the number of courses required by his university contract.  

Our hearts are filled with gratitude, our spirits celebrate, and our hopes for the future of Wingate University students rest largely in the knowledge that no other person has prepared this university to thrive in the 21st century like Byrns Coleman.

 

                                                                                    Edwin Bagley