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In Memoriam: Michael Robbins Weed

Michael Weed, November 26, 1941 – April 27, 2024

The central theme of the Center for Christian Studies is “Scholarship for the Church.” It is what guides us in all of the resources we produce. Whereas most scholarship has its proper place and audience in the academy (and rightly so), advancing human knowledge and understanding, CCS’ scholarship is meant to directly help the church better understand, practice, and pass on their faith, to train teachers of teachers (2 Timothy 2:2).

 

The phrase, “scholarship for the church,” was coined by Michael Weed, emeritus professor at Austin Graduate School of Theology, concerning the work he wanted to accomplish in his teaching. Michael’s seminary education was formative for him. From brilliant teachers such as Stuart Currie, E. T. Thompson, and Prescott Williams, Michael learned that theology is a long-running conversation which is meant above all to nourish the life of the church. Michael used to relate the story of a discussion he once had with Professor Currie about possibly pursuing further graduate work. “We would be happy if a few of our students continued on to pursue PhDs,” Currie said in his southern accent, “but this is a seminary, and we mean to provide educated ministers for the church.”

 

Ultimately, Michael did pursue and earn his PhD from Emory University. Drawing from his experience with professors dedicated to the service of the church, Michael made this his life’s work. His publications reflect this concern. In looking through the Austin Grad publication Christian Studies—the inspiration and model for CCS’ Journal of Christian Studies—I noted that Michael published an article in every volume. This publication became his venue for exploring and critiquing some important beliefs and practices of the church, in light of socio-cultural developments and vis-à-vis the Christian theological tradition.

Michael with student, circa 1980

Michael walked the fine line described by Jaroslav Pelikan regarding the church’s inherited faith: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Michael’s faith was born from and nurtured within the restoration tradition. His deep affection for this tradition, especially as expressed within churches of Christ, drove him to offer thoughtful—and thought-provoking—articles. In some cases, Michael found himself driven, out of his love for this tradition, to perform the thankless task of the watchman, calling out danger from the walls (for which his work was once criticized by a lesser scholar as “not a force for unity”). He analyzed every issue from legalism to postmodernism, but perhaps his most insightful work was his examinations of the entertainment culture and its impact on church practices. In each of these reflections, Michael expressed his deep concern for the church’s well-being and faithfulness.

 

In addition to his work in Christian Studies, Michael produced other materials focused on the church. As just one example, Michael was the driving force, along with David Worley (of blessed memory), behind the production of the book, Things That Matter, an outstanding introduction to the Christian faith for seekers.

 

Michael’s was the most incisive, and indeed intimidating, mind I’ve ever known. I remember in my first course with him, Christian Ethics, realizing during a class discussion that he was already five or six steps ahead of me in my own argument. He could precisely and completely dismantle any argument that wasn’t completely sound. Watching his mind work was a thing of beauty.

Michael with Austin Grad colleague and CCS board member Allan McNicol

 

He was capable of seeing outcomes of arguments and practices with great prescience, and thus his voice was prophetic and always worth hearing. To look back through the old Christian Studies articles he wrote, especially those focused on technology and technique, is to see a vision of the world that we’re currently living in, predicted and described twenty, thirty, even forty years ago.

 

But Michael was much more than this. Those of us who were blessed to know Michael as a teacher and friend saw the praxis of his scholarship. Michael engaged students and parishioners pastorally countless times in his long teaching career at Austin Grad and as an elder of the Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ, whether in academic or personal crises. These moments were, for Michael, moments in which theology became incarnate. Many students, friends, church members, and colleagues have been blessed through his concern.

 

I began studying with Michael in 1998. My wife Jennifer and I took several classes with Michael through 1998 and 1999. During this time, I watched him engage theological issues with the precision and insight described above. It was during the summer and fall of 2000, though, that I saw Michael’s theological acumen lived out in a pastoral crisis.

 

When Jennifer died in June of 2000, leaving me with an 8-week old baby girl, I began a long journey of exploration: it was an exploration of suffering, of grief, of hope, of God, of grace. My guide in this exploration was Michael Weed. I include, below, an email I received from Michael regarding a query about Christians and suffering. It is one of many.

 

Todd

You know there is not an easy answer to the questions you are asking. We live in a universe constructed for rational, social, and dependent beings to grow in wisdom—and, unfortunately, much of that is through suffering.

 

Actions have consequences—harsh words don't turn into compliments and bullets do not turn into snowflakes. This means that there is a lot of latitude regarding what can happen and much of who we are called to be is shaped in response to the consequences of our own actions—perhaps most of who we are is shaped in response to the actions—good, bad, irresponsible, etc.—of others.

 

We had a member of my congregation killed this spring by a drug addict whose car jumped the divider and crashed head on into his truck with his two daughters in the cab with him. This was an event that is part of a whole scheme of events that unfolded over years. I have no satisfactory answer. I do know that, to me, the alternative, (a) no God, (b) God does not care—provides little comfort and leaves even more unexplained than my trust in a God who takes our suffering on himself. Thus, can we assume that a universe in which free beings are shaped in response to the consequences of their own decisions and actions requires the freedom to commit irresponsible and even evil actions which tragically shape our own lives and those of others? Again, a critical part of who we are is how we respond to those things which we did not cause—but which we nonetheless have to live with and suffer from.

 

Clearly, Christianity is not an artificial, “Blue Skies and Rainbows” religion. (This superficial understanding perhaps leads many to become bitter when tragedy strikes.) But then, Christianity invests our individual lives and actions with great significance. It is in such circumstances that we image God. Pilate presents Jesus in John 19, “Ecce homo, Behold the man”—betrayed by one of his own, abandoned by his followers and friends, mocked, beaten—standing in absolute obedient trust in God—here is John's picture of Paul’s “Second Adam,” the man we were/are called to be as images of God—faithful in spite of overwhelming odds. Yes, it is painful, lonely, occasionally despairing—but, “Our hope is not in ourselves—our circumstances, our abilities, our emotions—but in God who raises the dead!”

 

Todd, again, I do not have an “answer.” This is not a math problem. We live in a fallen world—inescapably subject to the intended and unintended repercussions of actions by countless thousands—millions—of others. No, I can’t give an answer. I can only find hope in a God who does not abandon us but takes our agony and despair on himself.

 

God bless you,

Michael

 

Michael knew, also, how to gently reprove. Several months after receiving this email, I was in Michael’s office yet again (I spent some time with him almost every day that first year), struggling with moving forward in life after the loss. After a while, Michael looked at me and gently said, “Look, Todd, you could spend the rest of your life just lying around. You could just stop taking care of yourself, grow your beard out, wear the same shirt, let yourself waste away and spend the rest of your life smothered in grief. And the thing is, people would understand, people would accept that and sympathize. But, Todd, how would that honor her?” I pray that the life I have lived since that moment has honored her, and I pray that the life I live from this moment on will honor Michael, a mentor and colleague and dear friend.

 

Michael and Libby Weed

Michael’s greatest asset, above all of his intellectual and pastoral gifts, was his beloved wife of 57 years, Libby. He would tell you this truth, too. A scholar friend of the couple once expressed that their partnership was “the marriage of Augustine and Pollyanna.” I

once saw someone express to Michael how kind and beautiful Libby was, to which he responded, with a chuckle, “Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to be married to a saint?” I loved seeing them together. They were beautiful and wholesome and good. I am grateful to have known him, and them, and their beautiful children Susan and Jonathan.

 

The Center for Christian Studies was blessed to have had the guidance and wisdom of Libby in our most formative period, and we greatly miss her. We now mourn the loss of Michael, a great scholar-churchman, and a major inspiration for the idea of CCS. As did his beloved Libby, Michael leaves this world a better place, having blessed and taught and formed so many.  We will miss him, and we grieve with Susan and Pat and Jonathan and Amber and all of their kids. But we grieve with hope, because Michael evidenced in his character a heart shaped by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We commend him to the God he sought to serve, and we await now our reunion with this dear brother and sister in Christ.

4 comentarios


I enjoyed caring for you, you will always have a special place in my heart, you will truly be missed. I love you Mike.

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Todd, your thoughts are very well stated and shared, as always. Countless seekers owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Michael and Libby Weed. As a former member of Brentwood and Brentwood Oaks church congregations, I know firsthand of the long and steady hands with which they helped steer many Christians to a more intimate relationship with our triune God. This is a tremendous loss, but their legacy has very deep roots and will continue to be a beacon for the greater good of the church universal.

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Thank you Todd, for an excellent and fitting tribute to Michael Weed, an outstanding scholar and teacher and a fitting example of the Christian life well lived. I too, fondly remember his course in "Modern Theology" that I was fortunate to have taken at AGST and only regret that I did not enroll for other classes he taught when I had the opportunity. I still have my class notes from that course and from the classes he frequently taught in the adult curriculum at Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ.. Thank you again for helping us remember and honor this fine Christian scholar and educator.


Elbert "Hutch" Hutchins

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Todd Hall
Todd Hall
29 abr
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Thank you, Hutch, for sharing that! I figured he must have been a great teacher at BOCC, too. God bless you all in your grief, as we grieve with hope.

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