Yesterday, when I was looking at the stats for my blog, I noticed that one person who had been directed to my website had evidently Googled his way to the site by entering the search terms “Jerry Shepherd John Piper.” At first I felt quite honored: someone had Googled his way to my site by typing into the search box my name right alongside that of John Piper—and this person even gave me top billing! But then, that reminded me of a website that I came across a few years ago that also linked my name to that of John Piper’s, but not in a very flattering way. The website bears the name Conservapedia. I have no idea who runs the site nor where they get their information from. Here is the entry:
Jerry E. Shepherd is a contemporary liberal theologian in Old Testament Studies. He currently resides at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada. The well-respected senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church John Piper has stated “how is it that Jerry Shepherd, Assemblies of God, with whom I went to school with and one of my closest friends, teaches now up in Toronto at Seminary in Old Testament, endorses things that he would have thought were utterly unthinkable 20 years ago at Fuller. How did that happen? Should I blame it on Union and Yale where he went? Was it a family situation, his marriage broke down? Is that part of it?”
I think most of my readership knows that I am not a contemporary liberal theologian, that I have never been a Pentecostal, that I have never taught at a seminary in Toronto, that I have never attended nor taught at Fuller, Union, or Yale, and that I am still happily married to my bride of forty years.
Obviously, this Conservapedia report got me confused with the Old Testament scholar Gerald Sheppard, a professor of Old Testament at the Toronto School of Theology, who was indeed referred to by his friends as “Jerry.” The confusion is certainly, to a degree, understandable: What are the chances that, at the same time, there would be two seminaries in Canada, each of which had an Old Testament professor named Jerry Sheppard/Shepherd?
There are some definite correspondences between us. We were both fans of Brevard Childs. We both focused on canon. We both wrote in the area of the wisdom literature.
There are also some definite contrasts between us. Gerald Sheppard did seem to take more liberal positions over the years. He also, unfortunately, took an affirming approach on the homosexual issue, which I, of course, do not.
But, from what I hear, he was a very fine fellow, and I know he was a very fine scholar. With a little bit of searching of my own, I found out that we both employed some of the same humor. It is reported that Gerald would sometimes introduce himself to audiences by saying something like, “I’m Jerry Sheppard; I teach most of the Bible,” or “I teach the most important part of the Bible, since the New Testament is simply a circumstantial clause built on the main predication of the Old.”
Interestingly, the Conservapedia entry, which I believe was written in 2009, was not the first time we had been mistakenly identified. Gerald Sheppard died suddenly and too young in 2003 at the age of 57. One of my colleagues, Tyler Williams, who had studied with Sheppard, got a phone call informing him of his former professor’s death; and when he told his wife that “Jerry Sheppard had died,” she thought he was referring to me. And a couple of years after this, I came into contact with a former acquaintance who, upon seeing me, expressed his amazement that I was there in the flesh, because he had been under the impression that I had died a couple of years earlier.
So, what’s my point? I don’t know that I really have one. Life has its coincidences, or rather, providences! And this particular bit of providence has gotten me to reflect on a number of topics in a different constellation: liberal versus conservative theology, academic research and writing, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, canon, the wisdom literature, the legacy of Brevard Childs, the homosexual debate, my own mortality, and whether or not the terms Jerry Shepherd and John Piper belong in the same search string. Just kind of thinking out loud. Thanks for listening.
June 9, 2015