David Ewert: Bible teacher and scholar for the church
Few leaders have served the Mennonite Brethren church with greater commitment, sacrificial diligence and longevity than David Ewert. For 70 years, his considerable intellectual, public speaking, and leadership gifts have been used to serve the church.
His influence has been felt not only among the Mennonite Brethren in Canada, but also in the United States and, to a considerable extent, in Europe and on other continents.
Ewert’s years of leadership and influence took place during an important transitional period for Mennonite Brethren in North America…. [He] was part of a generation that began working and living in more urban centres. They were more interested in doing evangelistic outreach and church planting that might lead to the formation of multilingual and ethnically diverse congregations. And they were more actively involved in all aspects of North American culture, including politics.
As a highly respected Bible teacher, preacher, and scholar, he defined and embodied the convictions of the MB church. His voice spoke into a remarkable number of the theological issues facing the Mennonite Brethren during the second half of the 20th century. As a full-time teacher in at least five Mennonite Brethren institutions in North America, he shaped the theological views of literally thousands of students, many of whom became pastors, missionaries, and leaders within the church. Ewert tried to emulate an irenic balance between denominational loyalty and collaborative, cooperative relationships with a broad network of evangelical Protestants.
His influence helped to move the Mennonite Brethren away from both a particular, and often exclusive, German-Russian ethnicity, and from aspects of American fundamentalism that some had found attractive….
Long-time colleagues noted that “classroom teaching has always been Ewert’s most cherished endeavour and pursuit.” Within the MB tradition, teachers, and Bible teachers in particular, were highly revered, and were expected to live as examples for others. Ewert conscientiously attended to such expectations, and was known by his students and colleagues as a person of integrity. Ewert’s commitment to excellence in teaching flowed out of his firm conviction that the pursuit of learning is a worthwhile – even vital – exercise for becoming a healthy Christ-follower. He wrote:
I can see it more clearly now than in my younger years, that intense academic efforts do not endanger a person’s devotion to God. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true. When one offers one’s academic activities up to God as a daily sacrifice, they become a means of grace….
His example continues to shine as a model worthy of honour and imitation for a younger generation of emerging Mennonite Brethren teachers, preachers and scholars.
One student’s tribute to a beloved teacher
I had the opportunity to get to know David Ewert in 1990, when he moved to Fresno, Cal., with his wife Lena, to teach at MB Biblical Seminary for two years as a visiting professor. At the time, David was nearing the end of a long teaching career, and I had the privilege of being on of the last thesis students he supervised.
It was easy to see that at the heart of David’s teaching ministry was a profound love for God’s Word. His deep love for the church was also readily apparent. David was willing to teach what the Bible said because of his conviction that the Scriptures are the authoritative guide for faith and life, even if that meant challenging long-held traditions or popular positions. At times, his teaching was controversial, particularly in relation to the issue of women in church leadership, eschatology, and the inerrancy of Scripture.
Yet David exemplified a generous humility by not claiming the Bible said more than it did and by refusing to malign those who didn’t share his perspective. while he proceeded with the assumption that the Bible is always correct, he accepted his own understanding was limited. Despite our best efforts to be biblical, he affirmed that “we will not always get it right, and that means we must have the courage to acknowledge past failures and the willingness to revise our position.”
David’s writing will continue to be significant for us as Mennonite Brethren because he reflected careful biblical teaching, an awareness of Mennonite Brethren convictions, and sensitivity to contemporary concerns. I will always remember a man who taught the truth graciously.
—Doug Heidebrecht is director of the Centre for MB Studies, Winnipeg.