I wasn’t surprised to see every pew occupied. There must have been several hundred people packed into that sanctuary. I found a vacant spot smack-dab in the middle of the very back row and settled in for the funeral service of my Historical Theology professor, Dr. John Edward Millheim, earlier today.
As I waited for the service to begin, I read the program. It was brief. On the right-hand side: the day he was born (November 9, 1934), the day he died (December 29, 2013), as well as the location of the funeral service and the burial.
The contents of the left-hand side caused me to rummage in my purse for a tissue. It was a poem entitled Oh Praise His Name, which Dr. Millheim himself had written. It spoke of God’s transcending love, of God in human flesh entering into a sinful world to save sinners, and the quickening of his own heart as God the Spirit drew Him to God the Son.
The service began with a solo that again had me dabbing my eyes, as most Getty hymns will do. Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer. The song is about laboring though the storms of life on wings of faith. Surely it was sung for those of us left behind, but I couldn’t help thinking that Dr. Millheim was as near as one could get to Jesus, for to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.
Our voices joined in singing It Is Well With My Soul, and then the memorializing began. John Millheim was husband, father, Gramps, professor, and so much more. The common thread throughout was his lovingkindness, his heart for teaching, and his encouraging spirit. I knew him “simply” as my professor for one semester and a part (shortened by his failing health even then), yet he demonstrated those qualities toward me as a new seminary student.
I remember the first day of Historical Theology class. It was a late August evening in 2009. Our classroom consisted of a small conference table with about 8 chairs around it. Dr. Millheim sat at the head, a large and imposing figure. I was the only girl, (a Biblical Counseling major), surrounded by pastors-in-training. A non-traditional student—approaching my 40s and female—I was so nervous, but he treated me both like a lady and like one of the boys.
Dr. Millheim had this amazing ability to make the Bible look like something you could really get your arms around and understand. (Because you can!) He made the history of the church come alive. I was at his right elbow—literally—when I first learned in any meaningful depth about Martin Luther and John Calvin, his favorites in all of church history.
Dr. Millheim had this way of looking over his glasses at me, not in a condescending way, but with a twinkle that seemed to say, “I know what you are thinking, and I will help you to think more biblically.”
Sometimes in death, we make people larger than life. I’ll try not to do that with Dr. Millheim–he was, after all, the professor who stopped the class at the sound of my hungry stomach and quipped, “Someone needs Beano!”–but excuse me if I consider him one of the finest teachers and theologians I have ever had the privilege to know.