Our beloved professor and colleague, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, went to be with the Lord on April 28th, 2014. Dr. Charles R. Swindoll, chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, gave this tribute at Dr. P’s memorial service on May 7th. Watch a recording of the service on Dr. P’s remembrance page.
How do you sum up a life that continued for 99 years and 4 days? Not easily. And when it happens to be the life of Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, it is virtually impossible. No matter how many pages we may write, all the things he did cannot be included in a tribute … and no matter how well we may have known him, all the things he was cannot be described in mere words.
The best we can do is remember a few of those things he did that endeared him to us … and then reflect on some of those things he was that made him great. Both, for the sake of brevity, must be selective.
Some of the things Dr. P did that we remember:
Dr. P taught the Bible.
Any of us who sat in his classroom or occupied a seat in chapel or among a congregation in a church or at some conference grounds could always count on that. His Bible would be open, his finger would be on the text, and his mind would be engaged in teaching the truth of God’s Word—usually without notes, since he had spent so many years studying the Scriptures.
A former student of his sent me this vivid memory: “He would come into class carrying his Bible. He’d sometime ask, ‘Where did we leave off last time?’ Dr. P would turn there and quickly scan the next few pages of the Bible for about 90 seconds … and then say, ‘All right, we want to look at ten things about such and such.’ And off he would go, naming those principles and observations, and expositing each of them—with not one note in his hands or in his Bible.”
The man knew The Book!
He also taught without apology.
He firmly believed that if it is written in the Scriptures, it must be proclaimed with accuracy and with passion. Whether others believed it or not made no difference. He did, and you could tell it. Toward the later years of his ministry he lamented the erosion regarding the exposition of the Scriptures. He openly expressed his disappointment. How he longed that all who filled the pulpit would be faithful, accurate, reliable expositors of the Word! He often shared that heartache with me, knowing I felt the same.
Dr. P loved his wife and his family.
Though shy and reluctant to display much affection publicly, he considered Dorothy his equal and his beloved partner in ministry. He remained faithful to her to her last day. And when he lost her, his heart broke. He later sighed, “Losing a mate is the hardest thing any man could endure.” His daughters, Jane and Gwen, meant the world to him as did his grandchildren.
When I served alongside him from 1961 through most of 1965, I had the privilege of getting to know him, intimately, and spending extended periods of time with him, privately. During those hours he would often tell me of something one of them had said or done, always with tender words of endearment.
Dr. P enjoyed life.
He had his own inimitable sense of humor, which was often expressed with a touch of sarcasm. His off-the-cuff comments were choice.
My friend Michael Easley tells of the day when he had taken his seat right under Dr. P’s nose so he could take his notes without being distracted by others. One day Pentecost leaned over and asked the class, “What’s the purpose of baptism?” Michael said, “Since no one else said anything, I, having nothing to say, said something! I shot my hand up and declared, ‘It’s a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus!’ He leaned over the podium, glared at me, then said, ‘What are you, a Baptist?’ He then began immediately to expound on identification. To be baptized was to be identified with Christ. He expounded directly from the biblical text. I’ll never forget it!”
Another student had a stamp he pressed into the front of all his books. Instead of its reading, “From the Library of Charles F. Boyd,” it read, “Stolen from Charles F. Boyd” (which his classmates thought was hilarious). Dr. P’s book, Words and Works of Jesus Christ had just been published. All the students had purchased copies, and sheepishly asked Dr. P to autograph their book. Going through the stack, he arrived at Charles’ book. He smiled, then wrote something longer than normal. All the students were curious, wondering what he wrote. He had written, “Stolen from J. Dwight Pentecost.”
He truly enjoyed life: loud laughter, all expressions of the arts, original paintings, beautiful photography, the craft of excellent woodwork—rebuilding, restoring, and refurbishing antique furniture, often starting with a pile of wood and rusty, old hinges—exquisite rugs, vintage clocks, and grand, classical music, to name a few.
And there were those things Dr. P was that we respect:
He was discerning.
He not only listened to what was said, he discerned what was not said. He could spot a phony instantly. He had no time for small talk and could not abide inaccurate statements. He was notorious for cutting to the chase. His appraisals could be pointed. He was invited to a liberal church on one of his trips. I later asked him about the sermon. He said, without hesitation, “The man said nothing, beautifully.”
Shortly after returning from my first tour of Israel, I was preaching on the David-and-Goliath battle in Chafer Chapel. I brought with me a small bag containing five stones I’d picked up at the base of the Valley of Elah where that ancient conflict had occurred. Excitedly, I told the students that, perhaps, David had pushed these very stones aside while selecting those five smooth stones to put in his bag before he fought the giant. Dr. P, who had traveled to Israel only a few times less than Jesus, later told me that what I didn’t realize was that Tel Aviv sent a truck loaded with rocks two or three times a year and dumped them in that valley so tourists would think what I had thought. I don’t use my bag of rocks all that much since that private conversation with Dr. P.
He was hospitable.
He moved into the seminary’s Swiss Tower student residence hall when the school graciously provided him a place to live. I asked him at the time he was moving in, “Do you realize that there could be students who will probably knock on your door day and night?” His response: “I sure hope so!” With the influx of student families in the years that followed, he became the honorary grandfather/great-grandfather to hundreds, many of whom continued to stay in touch with him through family photos, email, Skype, and Facebook.
He was generous—unselfish—and fun to be around.
Many years ago he was given a brand new Mercedes Roadster—one of those gorgeous and expensive vehicles that made your eyes water. Dr. P, while grateful, was totally unaffected; regrettably, others weren’t. A groundswell of criticism from all the squint-eyed, envious saints began to grow. I suggested, since so many people criticized him for driving that beauty, he should have a big sign stuck on the back window that said, THIS WAS A GIFT! He responded, “Why? That’d ruin all the fun!”
One time I was scheduled to go to an event to raise some money for DTS. I jokingly said to him that I had a choice. I could either drive his Mercedes (which he would happily have loaned to me) or I could drive the Seminary’s beat-up old station-wagon with a bad paint job and slick tires. I told him, “I better take the station wagon. If I were to show up driving your bad boy I’d never get a nickel for the Seminary!”
Years later, when his health began to fail and he couldn’t walk very easily, all of us remember that he started driving a scooter around the campus. Pedestrians, beware! Everybody knew it was dangerous to get in his way when he was heading to his next class. We all smiled as he whizzed around us, noticing that he had given his scooter the name, JEHU. When we checked it out in 2 Kings 9:20, we understood why. Referring to those days back when men drove chariots, “His driving is like that of JEHU son of Nimshi…he drives like a madman!”
Another of my favorite stories comes from Dr. Bailey, back when he was dean. By then, Dr. P had retired, but still taught. Bailey felt his stipend of one dollar a year should be doubled to two dollars a year! Very reluctantly—and with no little persuasion—Dr. P accepted the raise. The following year, when Dr. Bailey decided to double it again, Dr. Pentecost firmly declined, saying, “Enough is enough!”
He was consistent to the very end.
Dr. P gave new meaning to “finishing well.” His was a life of loyalty. Loyalty to one Book, the Bible. Loyalty to one woman, for 62 years. Loyalty to one school, Dallas Theological Seminary. Loyalty to one calling, his gift of preaching and teaching the truth. Loyalty to one Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. How he loved his Lord!
It’s thrilling to think of his standing true to his Master all of his years on earth, and now, bowing before Him throughout eternity. We have said our goodbyes on this side. Others, including his wife, Dorothy, and his daughter, Gwen, have welcomed him home on the other side. He’s gone from our sight, but he is more alive than ever in his Savior’s presence.
Someone has described that epochal transition beautifully:
I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she's gone.”
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in ME, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she's gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” And that is dying.
Yes, after 99 years and 4 days, our beloved professor, colleague, mentor, friend, father, and grandfather has died. How we loved him and admired him! We shall miss him for the rest of our earthly years. But one glorious day we shall see him again. We’ll stand alongside him in that “land that is fairer than day.” We’ll join our voices with his as we gather around the throne, singing the hymn he loved:
All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall, let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him, crown Him, crown Him, crown Him,
And crown Him Lord of all.