(Dr. Bruce Waltke was a professor of mine at Dallas Seminary in the early seventies. This is a short tribute to him.)
We sat in alphabetical order. Art Vanderveen to my right and Gary Vincelette to my left. We were such a large class (150) that the only “classroom” large enough to accomodate us in the fall of 1972 was Chafer Chapel. The class was OTI (Old Testament Introduction) and the professor was Dr. Bruce Waltke. We had a textbook that was thicker than my thigh (and my brain) and from the very first class it was clear, abundantly clear that he was there to introduce us to not just a knowledge of the facts, but a love for the people, the times and the history of the Old Testament with a level of scholarship that was extraordinary. And, more than that, to the Lord God he clearly loved and served and who had endowed him with an academic brilliance I had never experienced before.
Every student was assigned a “faculty advisor”. As it happened, I was assigned to him and stayed assigned to him for three out of four years (when someone discovered that I was actually N.T. major and then I was transferred to Dr. Hoehner). As a result, even though I was not an OT major, I got to know him a bit better than most and was in his home on a number of occasions.
My guess is that anyone who knows Dr. Waltke knows he is brilliant (on the second day of that OTI class, when asked a question, he referred to Edersheim, and with left thumb and fingers on his forehead and looking up to the right with eyes closed, proceeded to quote several pertinent paragraphs from “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”). And anyone who knows him knows him as a gentle soul. And no one questions the depth of his spiritual walk.
But what do I remember him for?
My second year I took Psalms from Dr. Waltke, which fulfilled part of the Hebrew requirement for the Th.M. By this time there was a new building on campus, which is now called the Todd building. On the ground floor there were two classrooms that were state of the art seating for about 60 or so each. The seating was cushy (a new experience for us), there was a desk that ran the length of the classroom in front of each row of seating, and the floor rose to the back, giving everyone a good view of the prof, the white board (wow, a white board!), and (unfortunately) giving the prof a perfectly good view of each student.
Into the class strode Dr. Waltke.
Different profs started their classes in different ways. Sometimes a song was sung (hymns, never something like “It only takes a Spark to Get a Fire Going”). But every class I ever took was started with a prayer. Sometimes short. Sometimes long. Sometimes the prof asked a student to lead. Most often, however, the prof prayed.
In the case of the Psalms class, Dr. Waltke would come in and the first thing he would do is pray.
About the third or fourth day I noticed that something odd was happening. First, our class did not fill the classroom, there were 10-15 seats empty, but at the start of class every one of those seats was filled and, in fact, there were students (generally upper classmen) standing at the back. When Dr. Waltke walked in there was a series of clicks.
And then Dr. Waltke would pray. Some days those prayers were long. Sometimes pretty short. But ALL of them were infused with a rich theology born of a life of study of the Bible as well as with an intimacy with our Lord and Savior. And when he was done, there was another series of clicks. And he would launch that days lecture on the Hebrew of a particular Psalm.
It took me a couple of days to figure this out, but what was happening was that other students, students NOT taking this Psalms class, were coming in to hear him pray. This was the day of cassettes and cassette recorders. The clicking was the sound of those little machines turning on when he walked in and again off when he finished. And then those 15 or so students would take their leave and we were back to our normal class size.
Think about it. They were going out of their way to come hear someone pray. Just pray. And then they left.
What do I remember about Dr. Waltke? I remember his prayers were so extraordinary that they were being recorded and not the lecture.
He was there to instill knowledge. What he really instilled was far greater.
Steve Van Rooy