|by Steve Charles • September 7, 2010|
The much-anticipated final written work of Wabash College’s beloved professor and most acclaimed theologian Bill Placher ’70 has been published by Westminster John Knox Press.
Placher’s Markis the first of a series of theological commentaries on the Bible for which Placher was general co-editor along with Louisville Theological Seminary Professor Amy Plantinga Pauw. The entire series has been dedicated to Placher’s memory “with affection and gratitude.”
“It is most fitting that Bill’s splendid commentary inaugurates this series,” the publisher states in the book’s opening pages. “Bill brought great energy and vision to the series and was instrumental in defining its distinctive approach and in securing theologians to write for it. Bill’s own commentary for the series was the last thing he wrote, and Westminster John Knox Press is grateful to Wabash College, especially Dean Gary Phillips and Professor Raymond Williams, for their generous cooperation in bringing this manuscript to publication.”
“One could not ask for a better introduction to this promising series than William Placher’s commentary on Mark,” Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Emeritus Patrick Miller writes. “Placher knew what was needed and has now given us a great gift in his powerful interpretation of the Gospel of Mark. Clarity, verve, humor, and deep faith pervade this study. I could not put it down.”
Listen to an interview about the book and series here.
The College was still reeling from Bill Placher’s death in late 2008 when Professor Williams, his colleague, former teacher, and the man entrusted with his literary legacy found on Placher’s computer the nearly completed draft of his commentary on Mark. At his friend’s memorial service weeks earlier, Williams had noted, “It is the season of eulogy—the good word. But our best word has been silenced." With the discovery of the manuscript, suddenly there was hope that even after such a loss, readers would have the chance to hear from Bill Placher again.
“It was like finding a treasure trove,” Professor Williams recalls. “There was great joy in discovering a draft of his theological commentary on the Gospel of Mark in his computer. Bill’s publisher was very relieved and pleased that the text was virtually complete and in publishable form. It would be, as planned, the first volume of an extensive theological biblical series.”
While the work was an early draft, Williams notes that “Bill’s first drafts were always better than most of our finished works, so there was very little left before publication except standard copyediting.
“Westminster John Knox Press was the publisher for most of Bill’s books. It was a great pleasure to work with the Press in preparing Bill’s book for publication. It was a labor of love for all involved.”
Co-editor Amy Platinga Pauw comments in an interview with the publisher that “Mark was a [gospel] that Bill had a special passion for, and that really shows. His commentary makes you want to go back and read Mark all over again.
“And it’s definitely a book by Bill Placher—Bill’s theological beliefs shine through the entire volume, so readers who admired Bill’s other work will definitely want to read this.”
Pauw says the book is written in Placher’s trademark clear, concise, and conversational style.
“He sets a great tone that we hope all the other authors will emulate. It’s very clear, engaging prose, it manages to raise big theological issues but it does so in a compelling way, sometimes with a touch of humor, all these in conversation with the important theological voices of the church. It’s really a wonderful volume.”
“Bill thought so clearly that his writings are models of good communication, especially about complex, important, and compelling matters,” Williams says. “His theological commentary on the Gospel of Mark is a fitting capstone for his published work.”
While the draft Williams discovered was nearly complete, it was missing the personal epilogue that Placher intended to write when the book was finished.
“We have decided to publish “the shorter ending” of Bill’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, rather than attempt to provide a closing epilogue in another hand,” the publisher explains. “Thus his commentary, like the Gospel of Mark itself, ends without a sense of final closure.”
“Bill was already thinking about his next book, which was to be a history of Christian theology in the twentieth century,” Professor Williams says. “It was taking shape in his head, but unfortunately it wasn’t yet on paper. The loss of his future work adds to our enormous sense of loss.
“But the Wabash College community can be proud that this entire series of theological commentaries will be published in Bill’s honor, just as we have always taken great pride in his work.”
In photo: Bill Placher ’70 (1948-2008) at home in the Wabash classroom