Dr. Luke Keefer: Honoring a man who taught me to honor the past


Dr. John Swope

By Dr.John Swope

When I came to ATS in the early 90s, I was in my thirties and had not encountered formal teaching on church history (that is, I knew nothing). Dr. Luke Keefer was one of my professors that semester, and I am so grateful for having experienced his teaching from the beginning. Dr. Keefer started us out “from square one” in such a way that allowed even me to grasp the rudiments of Christian history, and did his best in a single quarter to convey the vast scope of Christianity. He brought history alive, not only by the stories he shared, but by the way he connected the significant players and events to portray the movement of history.

As a teacher, he was clear, direct, and passionate about his subject and communicating that subject to his students. I came to seminary with experience and an advanced degree in education, and Dr. Keefer impressed me with his sound teaching methods and style. His approach to teaching was simple and straightforward. His expectations were reasonable, and taught in such way that those expectations could be met. We used to have weekly reading quizzes, and normally I hated that type of assessment. But I remember being amazed that Dr. Keefer’s quizzes didn’t bother me. Perhaps that is because they covered the significant points of the reading, instead of the trivial details that too often find their way onto reading quizzes.  Dr. Keefer believed that knowledge of history was vital to a deeper understanding of who we are as Christians and to effective leadership in the kingdom of God. To that end, he did his best to help students not only master the subject, but to apply its lessons to the culture and context in which we live.

Beyond the classroom, Dr. Keefer invited conversations with students, and I was hungry for historical information. Of particular interest to me was the story of Anabaptist and radical reformers. I entered seminary with exposure to several denominational traditions, but none of them from this side of the Christian family tree. In the roots of the Radical Reformation I found a hermeneutic that fit the way I had come to read Scripture. Dr. Keefer was there to explain it and nuance my understanding. His extensive knowledge of the broader Brethren tradition helped me to find a home in that family. He was not the only professor at ATS who led me to my current denomination, but he was the first.

In addition to being Dr. Keefer’s student, I had the privilege of serving as his graduate assistant.  As such, he impressed me with his commitment to research and continued learning. He was constantly looking for new sources and perspectives for his courses and writing. Additionally, he gave me opportunities to teach at the graduate level, which was extremely helpful to an aspiring pastor/professor. Dr. Luke Keefer stands among those I look up to as a servant and leader of God. He modeled the Christian life for me, and I am grateful to have been blessed and inspired by his genuine and gentle example.

 John Swope, PhD serves as Director of Field Education and Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary. He can be reached at jswope@ashland.edu

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Luke Keefer Jr. will take place on Oct. 2 and 3, 2015

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