Imagine attending an early church council.
Represented are people from Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, Rome and others. All of them different. All of them represent different cultures, but yet, each are united together. How in the world did they get along?
The simple answer, the Holy Spirit worked through one mentor: the Apostle Paul.
But this phenomenon didn’t end millennia ago.
Like those disparate groups then, I’ve found myself, today, also unified with others by a single mentor: Dr. Kendell Easley.
The list is long. From Southeastern Baptist Seminary, North Greenville University, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to California Baptist University, Mid-America Theological Seminary, Union University and many others. Though we serve in varying cities and states, many of us did doctoral work and now serve as professors because the Holy Spirit worked through Dr. Easley.
Sadly, this past week (Jan. 29, 2019), Dr. Easley passed away after a long hard battle with leukemia. Dr. Chuck Quarles, SEBTS professor of New Testament, said, “Ken Easley was a master teacher.” And so to honor our dear “Paul” I’d like to reflect upon his discipleship in my life.
I was privy to Dr. Easley, not only as my professor, but as my pastor and surrogate father. In essence, every aspect of Dr. Easley’s teaching taught me to answer God’s call in all of my life.
The first time I met Dr. Easley, he invited me to his Memphis house. Even though his children were visiting from out of state, he welcomed me. He let me learn by watching him interact with his son and daughter in-law.
This was a picture of Dr. Easley’s teaching method: he let all of his students learn from his example. I imagine this was his best attempt at doing what Jesus commanded, “as you are going make disciples.”
As a prolific writer, reading was always a priority. But it never took precedent over conversations. I recall numerous times when he would put a bookmark in, set down the book he was reading, and just to talk with me.
And then, as soon as we finished a serious conversation, he’d say something like, “let me show you something I’m working on.” The conversation would then flow into his current research and how it was applicable in the academy and the church.
But perhaps the greatest thing Dr. Easley did for me, was to help me--like Paul helped Timothy. Dr. Easley helped me grasp God’s story and my place within it.
I was born and raised in South Louisiana and am a mix of Filipino, Cajun-French, and Spanish. Like Timothy, I struggled to find my “place in this world” due to my multi-ethnicity. Dr. Easley’s frequent course exercise was for us to memorize his one-sentence summary of the Bible:
“The Lord God, through His Christ, is graciously building a kingdom of redeemed people for their joy and His glory.”
When I heard this sentence, I wept.
I finally understood that I will never find my place in this world, because my place is in God’s Kingdom. Though this may sound elementary to you, trust me in saying this is a difficult conclusion to come to as a person of multi-ethnicity.
Truly, because of Dr. Easley, I finally felt emotionally freed to belong and contribute in ways I never perceived.
I imagine if Timothy were around to tell us about how Paul impacted and taught him, he’d articulate something very akin to this concept. Today I think I know what Timothy felt when he heard that Paul had died … sadness and a hopeful joy.
It was Dr. Archie England at NOBTS—also a student of Dr. Easley—who suggested I study under Dr. Easley.
At the time he was at Union University. Prior to joining the Union faculty, Dr. Easley served at Mid-America Baptist Theological seminary, where he taught current and former NOBTS faculty: Archie England, Jeff Griffin, Jim Parker, and Chuck Quarles.
Long before I finished my master’s at Union University, Dr. Easley wrote on one of my research papers, “Have you considered doctoral work?”
Apparently, this method of grading a paper was applied to several of us, including Dr. Jeff Griffin, NOBTS professor of Old Testament and Dr. Chris Morgan California Baptist University dean of the school of Christian ministries.
Personal notes like this gave many the strength to continue into and through Ph.D. work.
“Dr. Easley taught students,” said Matt Akers (MABTS professor of Greek and Hebrew), “to use their minds to glorify God, and modeled this important quality with his warm and engaging scholasticism.”
His professorship had such an impact upon us all because he was able to demonstrate what it means to be a discipling-ministering-publishing professor.
"When life went well and doors opened, he was there to rejoice,” said Dr. Chris Morgan, another whose life was affected by Dr. Easley. “And when I needed counsel, he was there with wisdom."
Dr. Jeff Brawner, former MABTS student and dean of missions told me: “Ken modeled how to disciple the next generation by spending time one on one with individuals hungry to learn.”
Dr. Chuck Quarles reflected, “I am still impressed by his ability to combine high academic standards with grace.”
Likewise, I too recall sweet times of sharing his sermon research for the week.
“Remember the text drives the sermon,” he would say, “and the text is God’s word to deliver.”
As a scholar of the Word, he committed the whole Greek New Testament to memory. Dr. Easley’s consistent mantra regarding the union of academics and ministry was, “Christ died for the church, so love her and nourish her, in ministry and academics.”
“I have always been amazed,” Dr. Chris Morgan told me, “how Ken could work carefully through tough passages and truths and consistently package them in ways every church member could understand.”
A simple review of Dr. Easley’s Facebook page, since his passing, reveals post after post saying much of the same thing. The words from Dr. Archie England sum it up well:
“He showed me how to invest in others.”
Dr. Easley’s impact resounds throughout many churches and schools. I believe that I speak on behalf of all Dr. Easley’s students when I say, we all hope to live up to his example as a Paul “for the sake of the church.”
I love you, Dr. Easley. And already, my dear friend, I miss you.
Mario Melendez is a Ph.D. student (ABD) at NOBTS focusing on Biblical Interpretation. You can read more from him on his blog at revmario.com.