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Fall 2017 · Vol. 46 No. 2 · pp. 164–175 

Faith Testimony

Tim Geddert


Growing Up with the Bible

The Bible has always been central to my life. I grew up a fairly typical second-generation Canadian, of Russian-German Mennonite heritage, and with Mennonite Brethren church affiliation. Hepburn, Saskatchewan, where I grew up, was in many ways a typical Mennonite farming village, but in other ways an “education center.” No, I am not comparing it to areas around Boston or Berkeley. But it did boast a larger educational institute than any other Canadian prairie Mennonite village: Bethany Bible Institute (later Bible School, later Bible College). I grew up on the school campus: my dad taught there, and later my mom was a cook. We had the run of the campus as long as we did not interfere with students during the winter months.

My faith journey is nourished most by engagement with the Scriptures . . . It is deepened when I serve with the gifts God has given me . . . And it is confirmed when I engage with God’s people. {165}

And we learned the Bible! Every morning we listened to three chapters of the Bible being read while the porridge was getting cold. Sunday school consisted of “bible lessons.” Preaching was Bible exposition. Youth meetings were doctrinal classes. We even helped my dad grade Bible exams. By the time we were twelve years old, my brothers and I had proof that we knew the Bible better than the average graduate of the Bible college.

Why then did I think I needed to attend Bible school after completing high school? Partly because it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t study in the school that had been the center of our lives all my growing up years. Partly also because I knew there were debates about some theological issues, and I fancied myself a pretty good debater. I wanted all the right answers and all the best defenses for them.

So, I intensely learned Scripture for another three years. And I learned, first to my chagrin and then to my delight, that Bible teachers, even those endorsed as “faithful Bible teachers,” sometimes disagreed. The point of view that was clearly communicated to us was that whenever there were two points of view out there, the most “conservative” answer was always to be preferred over the “not-quite-as-conservative answer.” That was about the time I started to get seriously suspicious.

Mastering the Bible

I took perverse delight, sometimes, in posing a challenging theological question in one lecture hour, and then the same one again an hour later to another teacher. My goal was to catch them defending different points of view. Whenever it happened, I considered it a personal victory. I had exploited a crack in the conspiracy of agreement that was starting to feel oppressive.

Don’t get me wrong. I mostly listened to those long chapters of Bible content before breakfast and found much of it interesting. I mostly liked Sunday school and youth group meetings. I sometimes liked sermons. There were, of course, way too many of all these things to suit me, but what could I do? I was a preacher’s kid, and that meant if anything was going on in church we had to be present. And if there were visiting missionaries, we heard their presentations all over again in the Bible school. And in Bible school I mostly enjoyed the books we read, the essays we wrote, the lectures we heard. I was becoming “truly biblical”: learning all the right answers, memorizing a great deal of Scripture, becoming a true theologian, someone well-equipped to out-argue any opponent.

But something also didn’t feel quite right. If our esteemed teachers sometimes disagreed, one of them must be providing the wrong answer. What if both of them were? What if this fascinating search for absolutely defensible truth were to fall short of full success? {166}

Looking back now, the set of answers we learned in Bible school could hardly all have been “correct.” They were being drawn from various theological traditions that (at least in my opinion) are quite incompatible with each other. There were strong vestiges of an underlying Anabaptism in the theology I absorbed as a child and learned in Bible school. However, most of my teachers had attended conservative Evangelical schools, and decidedly non-Anabaptist ones at that. Or if they didn’t, their teachers did. So, a set of conservative Evangelical perspectives was melded with the underlying Anabaptism. And then there was Dispensationalism. It was clearly the reigning eschatology of almost all Mennonite Brethren teachers in the first half of the twentieth century, so even if my own teachers were not convinced in every way by the system, most were not aware of plausible alternatives. “Bible prophecy teachers” were sometimes invited to our churches, and what they taught was straight Dispensationalism. Fascinating! Fear-producing, sometimes! Plausible? It seemed so at the time. And then there was the Calvinism that was never called that, but certainly strongly influenced the soteriology of those who taught me theology, but in some ways more than that.

At the time, I assumed that “mastering the Bible” consisted first in knowing every piece of trivia to be found anywhere in there (not that we would have dared call any of it trivia). Once that was accomplished, the next goal was to ponder every possible question and to figure out which Bible verses, or which combination of Bible verses, provided the right answer to each one. Add together all the right answers and one had achieved the goal. A daunting task, to be sure, but at least the goal and the path toward it were relatively clear.

There was both too much and too little system to it all. On the surface there was none, since no “system” was ever taught us. We just learned all the “right answers.” But most of the answers seemed “right” because we were unconsciously absorbing the system that our teachers were unconsciously communicating to us. A set of answers seems plausible because another whole set of answers has already been assumed. And clearly, we were swimming in a sea of modernism that was completely invisible to us.

Rethinking the Bible

During my university years I immersed myself in philosophy (my chosen major), in mathematics and physics (just because I loved them), and in a few other courses I had been told would provide the best preparation for subsequent seminary studies: psychology, Greek, etc. Nobody mentioned that learning how to read literature might be a good way to prepare to read the Bible more faithfully. Amazing, when I think about it now.

I was involved in what was then called “Campus Crusade” and learned that trying to out-argue theological or philosophical opponents was not {167} a very effective evangelistic tool. I also further developed my ability to argue . . . out-argue. The rest of my life has presented me with the challenge of drawing from this ability some useful functions while trying to learn when arguments are not helpful, either in relationships, or even necessarily in the search for meaning and truth.

And then I attended Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (Fresno, California; now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary). Little did I know when I first arrived in 1976 that over forty years later I would be sitting in an office at this special place on the corner of Chestnut and Butler writing these words.

For many students, seminary provides overwhelming challenges, like busyness, financial pressure, and cultural adaptation (if one traveled internationally to attend seminary). For me the biggest stress by far was rethinking my theology. Seminary radically changed my perspective on the Bible and, with it, on the church and on the mission of the church, on Christian ethics, and gradually on a whole lot of other things. It’s not that I left seminary with a brand new set of convictions (though I did change my mind on some things). It’s more like I left knowing a lot better than I ever had why I believed many of the things I believed. I had gained a theological center. I had started to learn both how to challenge and how to confirm theological claims from a defensible “center.” I learned Anabaptism as both a set of convictions and as a method. Or at least I had made a good start in learning it.

Three months before graduating from seminary I still did not know what was coming next. The most likely options were teaching in a Mennonite school in Canada; teaching in a mission school, either in Austria or Uruguay; and pursuing further studies in Poland as an employee of MCC. Three months later my wife and I moved to Fort McMurray, Alberta, to plant a Mennonite Brethren church.

If I had to name the two most important things I learned during the five years in Fort McMurray (1978–1983), I think they would be these two:

  1. Biblical preaching takes individual texts radically seriously; it does not “contaminate” them with harmonization, with cross-referencing or with promoting a “conspiracy of agreement” between them and other texts from other places in the canon. (Many years later I gained a vocabulary for this conviction by reading Walter Brueggemann’s book, Texts Under Negotiation). 1
  2. The whole created universe, and within it the Christian community (not the individual soul), are the central concerns of God’s redemptive plan; therefore, the redemption of the world, not just enlarging its own membership, needs to be the central concern of the church in mission. {168}

Doctoral Studies

I guess I had already fallen in love with Mark’s gospel before moving to Scotland. I had memorized it and in the process was increasingly mesmerized by it. Three years spent exploring this amazing Gospel were nothing but fascinating—and my fascination with Mark has never waned. I studied Mark 13 in the narrative context of the whole gospel. The project provided the occasion for rethinking how gospel studies are best done. Source criticism and redaction criticism were no longer providing much insight or fascination for their practitioners. Gospel studies were moving in new directions. I believe I made my own modest contribution to the shift from “diachronic” approaches to more “synchronic” approaches like literary and reader response critical methodologies. I learned to read Mark and the rest of the Bible in ways that weren’t even seriously contemplated in my earliest Bible school training.

I now read the Gospels as inspired portraits, not as documentaries or undigested historical reminiscences. I see in all the Gospels, but especially in Mark, layers of meaning and embedded clues, designed to lead perceptive readers to its life-transforming message.

The things I have learned along the way have always made the Bible seem more amazing, more fascinating, and more clearly communication about and from God. I know that others sometimes experience academic learning as a challenge to faith or at least a challenge to trusting Scripture. I’ve experienced the opposite and have done what I can to help my students experience the opposite as well.

Teaching, Teaching, Teaching

One of the greatest joys of my life has been teaching Scripture to generations of students, predominantly through teaching at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, but also through preaching and teaching in countless churches and schools in many, many places.

There is no course I have taught more frequently than a course first called “Theology of Church and Ministry,” then “The Reign of God in the Church and the World,” then “The Church and God’s Mission,” and sometimes variations of these. My best guess is that I have taught full length three-unit versions about fifty times in the classroom and about ten times online. I’ve also taught it at least fifteen-to-twenty times in other formats: as intensive courses, in short versions, adapted for Bible conferences or pastors’ orientations, and so on. It allows me the greatest freedom to track the full story line of Scripture from beginning to end and draw out diverse biblical principles that help reveal God’s plan for the Christian community and its mission. This course has significantly shaped me, and has allowed me to equip others with a “theological framework” {169} for understanding the Scriptures. In that sense it functions as a foundation and a grid for everything else I teach, like New Testament Theology, Greek courses, courses in biblical interpretation, book studies (Mark, Luke, Acts, Revelation), and topical courses (Miracles of Jesus, Parables of Jesus). What a privilege to keep learning along with my students! There is not a single course I have ever taught that I would not happily teach again. None has ever exhausted my curiosity about, or my fascination with, the course’s content. None has ever become boring for me (I will not claim that none has ever bored my students).

Books, Books, Books

Of course, every professor reads a lot of books (and even more student papers). Yes, I have read a lot. But I have also been privileged to write a lot, and quite diversely. My first four books were published in four different countries: Watchwords (my reworked doctoral dissertation, in England); Gott hat ein Zuhause (my first book published in Germany); Mark (in the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series, in the United States); and, The Mystery of the Kingdom (the first of several booklets and books I have had published by Kindred Press, in Canada). 2

After those four, it just kept going, in all the same countries except England. I wrote German books on ethics, on a series of biblical themes, and (with my wife) on how Christians read the Old Testament. I wrote English books on ethics, on Bible interpretation, and most recently a commentary on Luke. Alongside these were numerous adult Bible study books (quarterly Sunday school series), mostly for Faith and Life Press. I also translated some books from German to English and wrote articles and book chapters. Most of this has been written for preachers, teachers, and interested lay readers. Only recently have I written on technical scholarly issues, and then (again) mostly about Mark’s Gospel.

This catalog was not designed to impress anyone but rather to give a glimpse of the wide variety of contexts in which I’ve offered my refections, the many topics I’ve been privileged to address. Often my writings have grown out of public presentations given in response to requests from churches, conferences, or schools. To mimic a line I learned from my doctoral supervisor, I. Howard Marshall: “I have thought deeply about many subjects, and written on even more.”

Renewing Biblicism

I return to the title of this essay’s first section. I grew up believing I was becoming more and more biblical by memorizing biblical facts and mastering every challenging theological question by finding in the Bible whatever verses I needed in order to answer it. {170}

Today I am convinced that “being biblical” is something quite different. Without taking time to explain what I mean by each of these, I believe we are renewed in our “biblicism” as students and teachers of the word when we do the following:

  • Learn to love Scripture more and more. That usually includes a good dose of fascination that comes with new discoveries we make.
  • Keep Jesus at the center. Unless the Bible has a “hermeneutical center,” the diversity of its parts can be overwhelming (and less than helpful).
  • Read the Bible as a story. Whatever else it is, it is a story. There’s history there; there’s theology; there’s proclamation; there’s much more. But all of these are embedded in a story. Unless the story line is seen clearly, all else stays out of focus.
  • Resist systematizing everything. In our seminary we often say we prefer “biblical theology” to “systematic theology,” but there are many other ways to express this conviction. To harmonize the Gospels is to lose most of their value. To harmonize Paul and James is to fail to listen carefully to either of them. To harmonize Daniel, Mark 13, and Revelation is to misread each of them. There’s a whole seminary course to be taught on this one, but enough said for now.
  • Centralize the divine author and the subject, not the written words. The authority is always in God, not in the words of Scripture that God uses to address us. The life and ministry of Jesus are what Scripture most directly wants us to encounter, not words on a page. The Bible is a means of divine communication to us: we dare not confuse means and ends.

That was part one of this testimony. It was my attempt to provide glimpses of my intellectual, theological, and (especially) biblical journey.


I was asked to share a “faith testimony.” What I have shared so far has more to do with intellectual convictions and the ways in which I have gained and shared them. What does “faith” have to do with all this?

I don’t think I understand the English word faith very well. I am much more comfortable with the Greek word that lies behind it. In the New Testament, pistis usually means “trust” (a relational term) or else “faithfulness” (a lived reality). I don’t know why most translations insist on using the word “faith,” a concept far harder to grasp. I have learned {171} to trust God; I have aimed to be faithful. Beyond that, I don’t think I understand much about “faith.”

The rest of this article simply shares glimpses of the person who is here sharing his “faith testimony,” that is, his journey of learning to trust God and be faithful.

Early Steps

I am profoundly grateful for my birth family, for godly parents, for a stable home, for a sheltered community, for numerous opportunities through childhood and youth to explore interests and abilities, and so much more. I grew up with four brothers and a sister and with many close friends. I was fully integrated into a church and village (the two were not always easy to separate). All of this was used by God to shape me. I have consciously walked away from some aspects of my early upbringing—its conservatism and its legalism, to name two—but I am nevertheless profoundly grateful.

Many conscious and unconscious faith steps preceded the “great decision” I made in August of 1966, the decision to be baptized on the confession of my faith. I knew I was committed to Jesus—I knew him as my Savior and Lord—but I wrestled with whether an almost fourteen-year-old could possibly make a commitment that would be “for all of life.” The Lord helped me see that it was a decision I could and should make, there and then. And I have never reconsidered it.

Highs and Lows of My First Quarter-Century

I was twenty-five years old when I moved to Fresno for seminary studies (it was the first of four times I would move to Fresno). My first twenty-five years had been happy childhood years combined with mostly joyful years of discovering who I was: graduating from high school, Bible school, and university, exploring various possible career paths, falling in love and marrying, and beginning my seminary studies in Fresno, California.

Alongside many joys were some significant challenges. One of them was the extreme shyness/anxiety that I experienced at various points along the way. In tenth grade I could not speak two sentences aloud in my classroom without clamming up, gasping for breath, and wishing I had kept my mouth shut. It was completely obvious to me that I would never, ever be a public speaker! Singing a solo was also beyond what I could imagine myself doing. I would never have believed at that time that five years later I would be singing baritone solos at our school’s performance of the Messiah, and, the following year, solos at a friend’s wedding.

Another challenge of those years was thinking through potential career paths. Before I graduated from high school I was really sure I wanted to be a mathematics teacher. In retrospect, physics would have been a better {172} choice. But those plans all shifted when my Bible school years provided numerous opportunities to explore church ministry options. Even before I started my university education, I knew I’d be heading for seminary after graduation. Though I staunchly defend my conviction that a “call to ministry” can be completely valid even if it comes only through the normal channels of personal inclination, feedback from others, doors opening, and so on, my own “call” included some quite extraordinary “divine communication” in forms rare throughout the rest of my Christian experience.

I ended that first quarter-century of my life living in Fresno, California, halfway through my seminary training, not really knowing what would happen when I was done. Pastoral work? Teaching? Further study? I was married but without children. Life was really quite simple, apart from the stress of rethinking so much of what I believed about the Bible and theology (see above).

The Next Quarter-Century

I am quite randomly choosing age fifty as the endpoint of this next time block. So this covers the years 1977 through 2002. Twenty-five years is a long time. But when I recall all the things that happened within them, it still seems like a whirlwind. Along with my family I moved from Fresno to Fort McMurray, Alberta, then to Pitmedden, Scotland, then to Fresno, California, then to Ingolstadt, Germany, then back to Fresno again. I celebrated my fiftieth birthday living back in Germany again, this time in Thomashof, a beautiful village near Karlsruhe.

Family life: My oldest two sons, Matthew and Andrew, were born to me and my first wife, Bertha. Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We learned to trust God through tough times, and to lean on family and friends for support, as we faced surgery, radiotherapy, and a slow recovery. When we moved to Scotland it was in the hopes that the cancer was gone for good.

Two years later Bertha died in Scotland and was eventually buried in her hometown of Coaldale, Alberta. I finished my doctoral studies and began my seminary teaching role as a widower with two young sons. God was faithful. We learned to laugh and enjoy life again.

In August, 1987 I married Gertrud. We brought four more children into the world. Life has been good! And her origins in Germany opened up whole new chapters in my life. We moved our young family (only three children at the time) to Ingolstadt, Germany, in 1990, where for three years Gertrud and I shared a leadership position in a German Mennonite church.

We returned to Fresno for eight more years of teaching and then moved to a small village in western Germany with three new sons and our daughter. This time we left our two oldest, now young adults, back in the States. {173}

What an adventure that quarter of a century was: four different countries, various “careers,” two marriages, six children, friends all around the world. We became a blended family, a bi- (or tri-) cultural family. All of us spoke English and German; some of us, other languages as well.

Had I never married Gertrud, I would likely never have made much connection with Germany—or for that matter Austria, Switzerland, and Paraguay, countries I’ve been privileged to serve with the German that Gertrud helped me learn. I certainly would not have had as large a family as I now have. And I suspect I would not have learned some of the important life lessons that one inevitably learns through love and loss and grief and renewed joy and surprises and so much more.

Since Then . . .

I am well over halfway through the third quarter-century of my life. If I were to retire at the “normal” age of sixty-five, I would be doing that between now (when I am writing this) and now (when you are reading this). But if the Lord gives me strength and joy in doing so, I hope to continue in my present ministry and most of my present roles for about another five years.

And in case you imagine our lives settled down to a boring routine after I turned fifty, let me set the record straight. When I turned fifty my wife and I had a junior high daughter and three elementary school boys. During the next fifteen years we added two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren, all while providing housing for many months (sometimes years) to international students, MCC IVEPers (International Volunteer Exchange Program), friends of friends, adult children, and then finally a little foster girl.

And she has now become our seventh child. After two-and-a-half joyful years of parenting her and many agonizing prayers that God would guide us and intervene in the affairs of the social services department and the family courts, we finally welcomed Eliana permanently into our family as our own daughter, just before Christmas 2016. A brand new wonderful adventure!

Learning to Love God

This is a personal testimony. Allow me to share an incident I recently wrote for another publication (Adult Bible Study, Fall 2018). I was nineteen years old and serving as a “summer intern” missionary in Columbia. One day I found myself sitting in a bus, traveling with a mixed group of Canadians, Americans, and many Colombians. We wound our way from Cali to Medellín, heading for a summer Christian camp. Many in the bus were going to be campers; a few of us would be the counselors. {174}

The girl sitting next to me asked why I had decided to volunteer my summer as a missionary helper. I highlighted the adventure, the opportunity to learn some Spanish, and then said, “I want to serve the Lord. I often don’t think I love God very much, but at least I can choose to do God’s will.” She responded with words that have stayed with me ever since: “Of course you love God. Choosing to do God’s will is what it means to love God. Loving God is not a feeling. It’s being loyal to God, choosing God’s priorities, serving God.” That perspective has shaped me these past forty-five years.

I admire and occasionally envy those whose relationship with God seems more like a “love affair”—deeply felt, nourished by deep meditation, exuding fervent praise and conversational prayer. Apart from a few times of crisis, my walk with God is not much like that. It is more like the kind of “faith” I described above: trusting God and seeking to be faithful. My faith journey is nourished most by engagement with the Scriptures, often when I prepare lectures and sermons or when I write. It is deepened when I serve with the gifts God has given me, which can be preaching and teaching, or simply helping where I can. And it is confirmed when I engage with God’s people, whether in worship or fellowship.

And Finally: Little Things along the Way

I wrote that subject heading and then asked myself: Who really gets to decide what we should count as “little things”? Sometimes what seems little shapes us in bigger ways than we can imagine. Sometimes a small stepping stone leads to a whole new path. Sometimes the word of a friend shapes our journey and sometimes a small choice we make affects our traveling companions in ways neither we nor they will never quite understand. So, for what they are worth, here are tidbits!

My health has almost always been great. Apart from a few childhood diseases and infections, and a broken leg five years ago, the only significant health concerns have been a thyroid condition, which has been easily controlled with medication for almost thirty years, and minor early stages of some osteoporosis. Otherwise, gratefully, I have been healthy indeed!

I’ve enjoyed a lot of fun hobbies over the years. While living in Germany I took up hobby bike riding, sometimes taking three- to five-day trips with my sons, crossing Germany or visiting most of its neighboring countries. A few years later one son and I rode our bicycles from Abbotsford, British Columbia, to Fresno, California. I climb Mount Whitney almost every year now with family and friends. This year was the tenth time. And I have taken up running, mostly because when I broke my leg my physiotherapist said I would recover but would never run. I’ve always enjoyed strategy games. These past years Scrabble has been my {175} favorite. When nothing gets in the way, I’ll be at a Scrabble club Wednesday evenings, enjoying games with players who are mostly a few levels above me. And I love astronomy: reading my Astronomy magazines, looking through my telescope, and keeping up with new discoveries and fascinating space travel.

I’ve been known to do quite a few crazy things. I remember climbing the tallest tree in downtown Cali, Colombia, much to the embarrassment of my traveling companion. Just this week I rescued a fellow tourist’s credit card when it fell among a pack of seals on a San Diego beach. And between these two events, almost fifty years apart, there have been a lot of other crazy off-the-wall things, like building snowmen over sixteen feet tall, being known as “the preacher who knows how to break into cars,” or as the crazy guy who secretly ran a half marathon on a whim (without training). And I’ve certainly embarrassed myself often enough with typical “absent-minded professor” events, like the time I cleverly escaped from a locked room through a window, instead of noticing there was an open door beside it. Well, don’t ask. Or maybe just ask my kids.

Oh, yes. For the last fifty years I’ve also had a second career. Almost every summer I’ve painted houses as a paint contractor. It helps keep me in shape. It helps keep me in the “real world,” interacting with ordinary people instead of just seminary students. It supplements our family budget. And I am pretty good at it.

Enough said. I’ve reached my word limit. Life goes on and I love it!


  1. Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1993).
  2. Timothy Geddert, Watchwords: Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1989); Gott hat ein Zuhause: Biblische Reden zum Thema Gemeinde (Weisenheim am Berg, Germany: Agape, 1994); Mark, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2001); The Mystery of the Kingdom: Studies in the Book of Matthew (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2002).
Tim Geddert is Professor of New Testament at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California, where he has taught New Testament since 1986. His PhD is in New Testament, granted by Aberdeen University (Scotland) upon completion of his dissertation on Mark 13. Tim has written books on Bible interpretation, ecclesiology, and ethics, in English and in German. He has written commentaries on Mark and Luke and numerous Bible study books and booklets. Tim and his wife Gertrud have seven children, ranging in age from six to thirty-eight.

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