September 2, 2008
The Last Lecture
Fuller professor taught students to live and face dying as Christians.
David Scholer lived for six and a half years after doctors diagnosed him with colorectal cancer. A popular professor at Fuller Seminary, his course "Women, the Bible, and the Church" was always well-attended. In it and other classes, Scholer taught his students how to live well as Christians throughout life.
"Not all theologians benefit from their scholarship. There is a divorce between what they do as scholars and how they live as mere mortals," William Pannell, a senior professor of preaching at Fuller who knew Scholer for 30 years, told the Los Angeles Times. "I thought David did a wonderful job of integrating his understanding of life in God and God in life."
Last year, in an interview with CT, Scholer said he had taken to heart James's admonition not to "say that we're going to go to a city and do this and do that. We should say 'If the Lord wills, I'll go to this city.' Of course I've read that text hundreds of times, but it came to have new meaning for me. I am very, very conscious of the daily limits. I never accept anything in the future now without explicitly saying, 'If God wills,' 'if I'm still healthy,' and in some cases I say 'You should have a backup plan in case I can't follow through.'
Other excerpts from my July 2007 interview:
I began to be suspicious by January of 2002 that I had cancer. In February, I had the official evaluation with the man who would be my surgeon and learned I had cancer. He said, "You will live six months unless you let me do surgery. It's one of the most difficult surgeries possible." And he said, "I don't know if I can do it." And I said, "Well, let's go ahead and do surgery."
When you learn that you're going to die is really not the best time to formulate a theology of dying. It really rests on things you have clung to and believed for many years. And it sounds pretentious to say this, but in my little journey I've never felt angry at Got. I solved for myself those issues a long time ago. My father died eleven years ago, and my mother two years ago his month. And so I did a lot of reflecting about their deaths. My mother was a person who faced death very well. And so I've given a lot of thought to that. And when I learned my situation I thought I really need to think about how to live well while I'm dying.
I believe God is the giver of life and that we have eternal life starting now. But God is an affirmer of life, and therefore it's entirely appropriate to appreciate life even in this world and to enjoy it and want it, yet still be confident of the life to come. I've never been the kind of person who would say, I can just hardly wait till I die and go to heaven. And so I've tried to develop a theology of enjoying life without being presumptuous about life.
There were times, especially early in my cancer journey, that I would wake up and think I don't want to die. I don't think that anymore. [Yet] I want to live as long as possible.
I try to think of all the wonderful things I can still do as well as a lot of things I can never do again. I've come to the point where I don't feel too regretful about those things. I traveled an enormous amount up until a couple of months before my diagnosis. Travel is now extremely difficult, and I avoid travel as much as possible. But I miss that. But on the other hand, as I've said, I try to remember all the things that I did do in those first six decades of my life. And I did a lot of wonderful things, had a lot of wonderful experiences. You don't live in the past but you want to mine the past for its significance for your life.
One of Scholer's sermons, titled "Prisoners of Hope" is available from Perspectives magazine.