Celebrating the Retirement of Dr. Buist M. Fanning after 42 Years
And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well (2 Tim 2:2, NET).
Dr. Buist Fanning retires in June 2016 after forty-two years of teaching and faithful ministry to the DTS family. His decades of service have been marked by a gracious spirit, encouraging heart and a commitment to Scriptures. Share your Dr. Fanning stories in the comments below.
Buist, a tall, college student, met his friend, Jan, a canoe instructor, at summer camp while he worked as a dishwasher. By the end of the season, Buist had given his heart to the Lord, and by the following June, he had grown both in his relationship with Christ and in the way he felt about Jan. They dated that whole summer—actually, they mostly hung out—when they weren’t too busy scrubbing pots or securing life preservers.
During the school year that followed, the couple had a long-distance relationship. Jan attended Wheaton College in Illinois; he studied at College of Charleston in South Carolina. Before the days of email, text messaging, or FaceTime, Buist exchanged letters with his girl. And soon they made plans.
During the summer of Woodstock and the first moon landing, 1969, on the fourteenth day of June, Buist married his camp sweetheart. The following year, he received his BA diploma. And following his graduation, the little Fanning family packed up their belongings and traveled to Dallas so Buist could begin his studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).
It Wasn't All Greek to Him
Born in the last year of the 1940s, Buist Martin Fanning III, was the second out of nine children born to Myra and Buist M. Fanning, Jr. Buist lived in Charleston most of his life until his move to Dallas.
He recalled, “I came to study at DTS because of its emphasis on the Scriptures. In 1974 during my fourth year of ThM studies, the New Testament Department asked me to teach Greek.” He has taught at DTS ever since.
Buist, who earned a doctorate from Oxford University in 1987 says he enjoys working with Greek grammar. “You need the original languages to be competent in knowing what the Scriptures say,” he said. “We need some people in every generation to ask fresh questions to see what God has revealed there to face the new issues of the day. Every generation has different needs, questions, and problems. The Scripture is our guide.”
His colleague and friend Dr. Dan Wallace, who also teaches Greek, said of him, “Buist is always the first to say that the Word of God must be the primary focus of life and ministry.” Greek is only a means to an end.
Buist says that God gave him the burden for helping students learn what the Scriptures say and how the Bible can make a difference in their lives. “I teach students how to study the text for themselves, providing realistic preparation that they can use in the real world,” he said.
During his long tenure at DTS, Buist’s major teaching duties and research interests included New Testament Greek syntax and discourse analysis; New Testament criticism and backgrounds; and exegesis and theology of Romans, Pastoral Epistles, Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude, and Revelation. To read about his involvement in the NIV Bible, go here.
Many who know him say his love for research spills over into his life; he truly embodies the spirit of study and service that he sees at the heart of the Christian faith, and all of his students saw this in his life and the classroom.
“The older I get, the more I appreciate long term, faithful service. And that most certainly describes Dr. Fanning,” said DTS president Mark Bailey. “He taught at DTS for more than forty years, while also serving in various leadership positions at his local church and in teaching Christian workers in other countries. His passion is to know God and make Him known around the world and to see people transformed by the message of the Scriptures. I have no doubt Buist will continue to live out his passion, and I’m excited to see how the Lord will do this in his retirement.”
A Man for His Generation
Tina Karnes, who serves as the administrative secretary for the New Testament Department, said, “Dr. Fanning is a private, quiet, gentleman. . . He loves to run (in marathons), loves sports, Greek, and his family.” He is known for his soft-spoken, patient and gracious demeanor. For any former student of his, the first glimpses of it came from the way he walked in to teach Greek. Nothing about him intimidates; Greek, on the other hand, was another story.
Dr. Samuel Chia wrote, “The first professor I met at DTS was Dr. Fanning. . . . I went into a classroom for my first class at the seminary—it was called NT201 back then. Dr. Fanning’s warm welcome and smile totally removed my anxiety of learning Greek, and made me feel I could do it! I can say it was all because of him that I chose NT Studies as my major. When I joined the DTS faculty to head up the Chinese Studies program in 2008, he also graciously let me teach [in] the NT Department, which was a great encouragement to me.”
Dr. Dan Wallace wrote, “In the summer of 1977, I had the privilege of taking [a class from] Buist for Advanced Greek Grammar. I was in heaven! I learned then how seriously he took the text; this was a great model for me. I caught his spirit and a small bit of his knowledge.”
“Not only did he serve as senior professor, but he also served as Department Chair of the New Testament Department since 2001,” Dr. Michael Burer, associate professor of New Testament Studies, wrote. “Sirach 44:1 states, ‘Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations.’ Buist would never take that honorific for himself, so allow us to give it to him for a time. You may not think of Dr. Fanning as famous, but he is: He is famous for his teaching here at the seminary; for his rigorous scholarship known to the wider world; for his dedication to the church through his ministry at Irving Bible Church; for loving his family through thick and thin. Perhaps most of all he is famous because he loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
Together with his wife, Jan, Buist approaches ministry as a team. He said, “We had students in our home at various times. For that reason I've had the privilege of meeting and rubbing shoulders with so many amazing people over these forty-two years. It’s been a blessing to serve together.”
Buist and Jan, who have four children and twelve grandchildren, have been consistently involved in various teaching and leadership capacities in church ministry throughout their entire marriage. Jan worked as the children’s pastor at Irving Bible Church and Buist served on the board of elders, and including service as chairman at IBC. “I am always burdened by church life that gets to be routine,” he said. “We need to be constantly recaptured by the love of God in Christ, realizing how much God loves us, and responding back with love for him. We talk about the Bible but don’t open it for what it says to us. We should read the Bible freshly looking at it as though for the first time, open for God to teach us something we have never seen before.”
Jan said of her husband, “He is amazingly patient and gracious in working with people. That’s a great lesson for me and all of us. He believed in what he was doing and felt like it was a privilege to do the work that he did. He has a servant’s heart and loves his family—children and grandchildren—greatly.”
A New Routine
Many who know Buist know he engaged his students and faculty alike with his soft-spoken conversation, showing interest in the lives of those with whom he came in contact. Evidence of this comes in the way others who work closely with him appreciate him. At his retirement reception, fellow professor Dr. Darrell Bock said to Buist, “What a pleasure it has been to work with such a Christian gentleman for all of these years. Your Charleston roots combined so well with your Christian commitment to shape a true man of God who is serious about Scripture, applies it in a way that is exemplary, and is a joy to work with. We wish you well in your ‘retirement.’ The word is in quotes because at DTS virtually no one retires, they just minister in fresh ways. All the Lord’s best.”
Dr. Wallace wrote, “It has been a joy working with and under [Buist]. He has the patience of Job and a great capacity to forgive contumacious department members like me. His humility is legendary (but Buist, don’t let that go to your head!). I’m glad that his retirement will be in name more than in reality. It will be good to see him on campus in the coming years. And Buist, I pray that the Lord will give you the strength to finish those commentaries. The church is in dire need of detailed, honest, critical exegesis that has as its goal the glorification of Jesus Christ.
Retirement will involve a new routine for Buist and Jan Fanning. “We feel like we can face anything as long as we’re doing it together. It will be an adventure. Buist loves to travel, so we’ll probably fit that in as well,” Jan wrote.
Not too long ago Buist said, “In different stages of life, God prepares us to see more and more of what He is like and what He has for us. It is easy to get into a routine and not be willing for God to break through and teach us something new.” DTS wishes Buist well in this new stage.
So what is ahead for Buist? In the next few months, he hopes to wrap up the commentary he’s been writing on Revelation that Zondervan has agreed to publish within a year or two. Then he plans to give full-time attention to a commentary on Hebrews for a series that Logos Bible Software is doing. Later, he will have commentaries on Philippians and on the Pastoral Epistles and a few works on Greek grammar to tackle. “I am excited that my retirement from full-time teaching will give me more time to devote to these projects,” he said.
Additionally, the former pot scrubber and canoe instructor hope to log some travel miles. “There are lots of places in the US and Canada that Jan and I are hoping to visit in coming years,” Buist said. “Some of the great national parks out west—Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite—the Canadian Rockies, and places like New England and Nova Scotia in the Northeast are all on our list. But visiting grandkids is a high priority, too.”
Reflecting on his career, Buist wrote, “It has been my great privilege to serve at DTS for all these years. I still love studying and reflecting on the Bible and its life-changing message about God’s grace in Christ as well as working with gifted students who have come to the Seminary to prepare for communicating that message to others. The most motivating thing for me as a DTS prof is to see students whom I have had some small part in preparing to go out and have a significant ministry for Christ in parts of the world and in ministry roles in which I could never have been effective. Seeing students whom I have taught over the years now serving Christ well across the US and the world gives me great delight.”