By Dr. Dale R. Stoffer
Though there are many facets of Luke Keefer’s life and work that have left a lasting impression on me, I would like to focus on two qualities that especially stand out. The first is his unswerving commitment to certain principles that guided his personal and professional life. One of these principles was the need to see beyond our Western cultural perspective and develop a truly global consciousness. In his reading, in his selection of course texts, in his own life and ministry, Luke pushed himself and others to see beyond one’s own cultural context to the wonderful and enriching diversity that exists in the world and the church.
This global consciousness was highlighted in one of the few times that I ever saw Luke become emotionally agitated. He had been very active in a short-lived Korean Doctor of Ministry program at Ashland Theological Seminary, even teaching in Korea on one occasion. Due to serious concerns about maintaining the quality of the program and about its administration, the faculty voted to discontinue the program in 1997. At the faculty discussion about terminating the program, Luke gave an impassioned plea for its retention, in spite of the admitted problems. As one faculty member commented about Luke’s plea, he “spoke with passionate eloquence, challenging administration and faculty to keep the needs of the world at the seminary’s heart.”
Luke’s cross-cultural experiences had taught him the need for the seminary to maintain an international and kingdom perspective that could learn from and be enriched by other cultures and Christian traditions. We continue to need such prodding to appreciate God’s desire to draw people from every nation, tribe, people, and language into the community that will be gathered in worship before his throne (see Rev. 7:9). And I know that Luke will be overjoyed at sharing fellowship with such a grand and diverse collection of saints!
A second theme that was very evident throughout the time that I had the privilege of knowing Luke was his commitment to lifelong learning. Luke continually had a “growing edge” in his reading and his studies. This quality was reflected in the reading lists that he developed for his courses; he was always adding a new book or a new resource that he had discovered and that he wanted his students to appreciate as well.
During the twilight of his teaching career, Luke continued to push the boundaries of his teaching and his studies. In his final year as a full-time faculty member, Luke offered to teach a newly created one-quarter Survey of Church History course that had previously been taught in a two-quarter format. Luke could easily have avoided the necessity of a new preparation during his last year, but he chose to take on the challenge of the new format.
His willingness to develop new courses expanded his teaching repertoire into non-Western church history, the Eastern Church, and global Christianity. Even in semi-retirement and as his health was declining, Luke continued to forge ahead with his interests in the themes of the kingdom of God and of heresy. Luke’s example of life-long learning is a challenge to all of us to love God with all of our mind as well as our heart, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30).
Dale R. Stoffer, PhD is Professor of Historical Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 419-289-5985
Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Luke Keefer Jr. will take place on Oct 2 and 3, 2015.