The news in March 1999 newsletter of Dr. Robert Barnes’ (’62) death caused me to pause and remember one of my favorite professors of the many I had in junior college, senior college, and graduate school.
Dr. Robert D. Barnes, a gentle quiet intellectual . . . .
Registering as a beginning freshman at NGJC in September 1960 proved an intimidating experience for an 18 year old from a tiny (10 seniors) rural Kershaw County high school. Following registration, nearly all freshman excitedly asked each other, “Who’d you get for . . . ?” and “What time is your class?” and inquired of sophomores, “How hard is (s)he?” and “What’s (s)he like?” The replies led to extremes from euphoria to depression!
This writer found himself in an Old Testament History class under a Dr. Barnes. No one seemed to know about him except that he taught Greek to pre-ministerial students – Greek, the course so difficult that small groups spent hours trying to translate a brief paragraph! Armed with this bit of knowledge, an already terrified freshman (who had been placed in Jean martin Flynn’s freshman English class, affectionately called “Flynnglish”) wondered what lay in store!
On the first day of class, a fragile man slowly and with difficulty walked to the teacher’s desk. We later found our Dr. Barnes suffered from Muscular Dystrophy. He demonstrated an inordinate amount of courage, struggling up the hill to classes each day. One felt sympathy for the man who very deliberately and with great effort climbed the stairs to the second floor of the Donnan Building, carefully taking each step, occasionally resting after three or four steps and always resting for several minutes at each landing. Yet in spite of the obstacles, he cheerfully appeared for each class. One had to admire his courage and inner strength.
Once classes began, Dr. Barnes’ intellect became apparent. He had earned associate and bachelor degrees from Mars Hill (Junior) College and Wake Forest University, a master’s degree in theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Theology with an emphasis on Geek New Testament from prestigious Edinburgh University in Scotland. We never learned how North Greenville hired an instructor with such credentials (freshman were too timid to ask “nosy” questions!)
Soon, however, we realized this man knew how to teach and inspire. He provided new and exciting ideas and knowledge for this writer while challenging him with probing, intellectual questions, expanding and re-forming a mind. This freshman, with the rural background from a tiny Baptist church served by under-educated preachers, found himself awed by the knowledge Dr. Barnes possessed and imparted.
For example, early in the semester, Dr. Barnes mentioned the apparently conflicting Creation accounts in Genesis. Instead of shattering one’s brittle (hard surface, yet thin and weak) faith, Dr. Barnes quietly explained that early Church leaders used multiple sources when compiling Genesis, and although there were occasional differences in the narratives, the true meaning of the account remained unchanged. He demonstrated that apparent contradictions in our Bible often proved less “troublesome” once one achieved knowledge of the background. Learning to place ideas in a broader context helped this writer later in graduate school.
Robert Barnes inspired and challenged his students. He taught them to think independently. He demonstrated the fundamental importance of combining knowledge and faith. After all, Robert Barnes was both an intellectual and a theologian who revealed to his students how to strengthen their faith through knowledge. He performed his teaching tasks well, in his gentle, quiet style.
Article written by Douglas T. Young (’62) and published in the September 1999 issue of the North Greenville College Alumni Newsletter.