Today’s guest post is from Dr. Donald Hagner, George Eldon Ladd Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.
This week we celebrate the 103rd anniversary of George Ladd’s birth. When I first walked into his classroom as a transfer student he was a comparatively young 53 year-old and at his peak. He had joined the Fuller faculty 14 years earlier, in the third year of the founding of the seminary. The faculty of those very early years was extremely excited about the new seminary and enthusiastic about engaging in a high quality of scholarship within a community of biblical faith. It was a new start on the west coast that became known for a while as “neo-evangelicalism,” with the goal of pursuing a conservative alternative, which was neither fundamentalist nor separatist, to the liberal seminaries of the day.
Ladd brought with him to Pasadena the high standards of scholarship that had impacted him at Harvard. It was clear to me that the Ladd I encountered deeply loved the NT and delighted in the study of its content and origins. Equally obvious was his deep personal commitment to Christ and the mission of the church. He regarded evangelical scholarship as providing a vitally important—indeed, indispensable—service to the ultimate well-being of the church and the preservation of its doctrine.
Ladd’s enthusiasm for the study of the NT was contagious. Quite a few of his students, including myself, were drawn to graduate study and academic careers in NT through his influence. Ladd’s strength as a professor was not in straight lecturing—not that he was poor at it!—but rather in the give and take of the seminar format. With his somewhat stern visage, Ladd could be intimidating in this context. He expected only the best from his students, and when he didn’t get it, he could become more than a little harsh. The subject matter was too important not to give it one’s best effort.
Ladd’s New Testament Theology class was a basic NT core requirement taken by all B.D. students (along with Everett Harrison’s New Testament Introduction). Students of my era were privileged to get new installments every week of the NT Theology textbook being written by Ladd, the pages almost still wet with that blue mimeograph ink. We felt we were on the cutting edge as we shared Ladd’s enthusiasm for what he was writing and as the NT opened up to us in exciting new understanding.
The elective courses that Ladd offered were particularly exciting because of their small size, which gave us greater opportunity for one-to-one interaction. A few of these courses left an indelible impression upon me: four students meeting once a week with Ladd in his office to read the Greek text of Epictetus; a seminar on the Historical Jesus, meeting weekly in the evening in Ladd’s living room (including refreshments), in which we worked through a key book each week; a seminar on the Gospel of John, in which we read C. H. Dodd’s The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, focusing on the backgrounds of the Hermetic literature, Philo, rabbinic Judaism, Gnosticism, and Mandaism. Ladd was always insistent on the importance and necessity of knowing the primary sources. On the back of the paperback edition of Dodd’s book was found a statement that proved true: “the reader is asked to work very hard: the reward will be commensurate.” This could well serve as a summary of Ladd’s philosophy of teaching.
Part two of Dr. Hagner’s recollections of G.E. Ladd will be up next week, so be sure to come back for that. In the meantime, you can pick up Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament, the reading of which is sure to open up the New Testament for you in remarkable ways. You can also pre-order the George Eldon Ladd Collection (7 vols.) at a discount while it’s still on Pre-Pub.