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RIP Francis Monseth

Dr. Francis Monseth (1941–2013) was the subject of the following story, written as an illustration of Questions 46–48 of the Westminster Larger Catechism. He passed away yesterday (Good Friday).

Christ Jesus, . . . although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself . . .

—Philippians 2:6–8

Once upon a time, a seminary professor, soon to be Dean, spent part of his summer teaching VBS in a small town in South Dakota. This man’s normal station was Professor of Systematic Theology. It was his privilege to spend his days in his office and classroom in suburban Minneapolis, studying Scripture and theology, teaching aspiring young pastors, and preaching as the opportunity arose. His was an ivory tower vocation, and he needed never to get his hands dirty. Yet there he was, in a town so small you could view it in toto on Google Maps large enough to recognize your old house and the trees you used to climb, had you lived there.

From teaching seminary level theology to teaching children in VBS—quite a descent, that was. But the children loved it, particularly when he brought out a dummy and engaged it in elementary-level theological discussions. I imagine that would have been quite a sight, had the Deans of other seminaries, particularly the larger, more prestigious ones, gathered to watch. It certainly wasn’t his most dignified moment. But he wasn’t thinking about them, or even himself. For the sake of those children, he humbled himself.

His descent didn’t end there. There was no fancy hotel for this distinguished guest. He was given a room in a house where lived a boy who, I’m afraid, was something of a nuisance. With the boy’s coaxing, the professor found himself in the dirt in the back yard, driving trucks and bulldozers, building roads and digging holes. Of course I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that was his preferred recreation. But he had something else in mind. While driving and digging, he talked to the boy about Jesus. He spoke of sin and the need for a savior. He asked the boy if he knew Jesus, and pressed him to look after the state of his soul. That was the one thing on his mind, and he was willing to bring his diplomas down into the dirt for the sake of the gospel.

It would be blasphemous to try to make a one-to-one correlation between any man and our Lord, but surely you can see the shadow of Christ in his humble service. Since I was that boy, I’ve often thought of it in the decades since, when I read “‘they shall call his name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’” God with us: God in the dirt, God on our level. God on my level.*

imageThat was only one of many personal encounters I was to have with Dr. Monseth over the next twenty-or-so years. On each occasion, the gospel and his concern for my soul was foremost on his mind.

It is customary, I suppose, to offer exaggerated praise for departed friends, and so this may seem, but I can, without hyperbole, repeat the words written by Izaak Walton of the puritan Richard Sibbes:

Of this blest man, let this just praise be given,
Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.†

* Originally posted October 18, 2011.

† The Works of Richard Sibbes (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:xx.

Posted 2013·03·30 by David Kjos
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