What's Tony Thinking

The Blessings of a Long Friendship


Had lunch, and a pint, the other day with my longtime friend, Rob Wall. We first got acquainted in the late ’70s, when I invited Rob to be a speaker for the first ever church retreat of Tolt Congegational Church, in Carnation, Washington. My first church post Union Theological Seminary. Several years later, when I accepted a call to Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu, Rob followed me at Tolt, serving as their interim minister.

Rob retired recently from Seattle Pacific University where he had a long and distinguished career as a New Testament professor and scholar. He became known far beyond SPU for his scholarship and, in particular, as a leader in the field of “canonical criticism.” That field may be described as a focus on how the Bible got put together in the form we have it, and how paying attention to that form can open many fruitful interpretive windows.

CC is a bit of push-back on the ascendency of “historical critical” study of the Bible, and its often single-minded fixation on the “original author” and context (even though in many cases we know little about those original authors). Historical-criticism turned the Bible over the academy, but often left it in Humpty-Dumpty like pieces. A canonical approach helped put Humpty-Dumpty back together again and returned the Scripture to its first home, the church.

Anyhow, we’ve been friends, and colleagues, for going on fifty years. During that time, Rob has taught classes at the churches I’ve served. We have taught half a dozen classes at SPU together. We have co-authored two books. And we have had a steady round of lunches (with a pint!) during which we talk theology, Scripture, politics, family and most everything else.

The other day, at our most recent lunch, a very sweet thing happened. Rob pulled two of his latest books from his backpack, a gift for me. Leafing through one, titled Preaching The Pastoral Epistles, I noted the dedication. It read, “For Tony Robinson, friend and mentor.” How very kind. I was, and am, touched.

In the acknowledgments Rob enlarged a bit on the dedication, writing,

“The publication of this new book, especially for the Proclamation Commentary series, provides me an opportunity to pay modest tribute to my deeply affecting friendship of many years with Tony Robinson. I know of no other clergy person who better embodies the role and work of the ‘teaching pastor’ than he. May God raise up, call, and gift others to copy Tony’s Spirit-led example in equipping Christ’s church for the ministry of God’s gospel in today’s world.”

Well, that made my day! And yes, as I have written elsewhere, it has been my aspiration to be a “teaching pastor,” one who shaped by the rabbinical tradition of being a community-based scholar and teacher.

We are both aware that our friendship is a gift — especially as it might not have happened. That because because we each hung our respective hats in quite different parts of the world of the church. I was a pastor in the very progressive United Church of Christ. Rob was a prof at an historically conservative, and evangelical, school with historic ties to the Free Methodist Church.

But we were also both, I think it’s fair to say, mavericks in our respective tribes. And we clicked with one another.

One final note, we’ve both made sustaining our friendship a priority. This involves reading stuff the other person has written and offering comments, as well as our joint authorial endeavors. But the heart of it has simply getting together periodically over the years — nearly fifty now — to compare notes, and to comfort and challenge one another, to share a bite to eat and, always, a pint of a good local brew.

What a blessing is a long friendship.

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