Portrait by Sam Kerr
Glenn Miller, former dean of Bangor Theological Seminary, died on July 5, 2022. He was a leading American religious historian who wrote three seminal volumes on theological education in America. Barbara G. Wheeler, former president of Auburn Theological Seminary, reflects on his legacy.
Some theological educators are revered for their excellent teaching, others for brilliant scholarship, visionary institutional leadership, spiritual depth, or courageous activism. Glenn T. Miller’s contributions spanned all these areas. Here are testimonies from some of his distinguished colleagues.
Glenn was an American religious historian, trained at Union Seminary in New York by fellow Baptist Robert Handy. Bill J. Leonard, fellow historian and founding dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest, writes of Miller’s status in his field:
“Glenn Miller was a consummate scholar. His three-volume history of theological education in the U.S. demonstrates the breadth of his knowledge of the country’s multiple ecclesiastical contexts, controversies, and ideologies. As researcher and teacher, Glenn was an ever-insightful analyst of those diverse issues, past and present.”
While a junior faculty member at Union, Glenn was recruited by Robert Lynn, then dean of Auburn Seminary, to join a team working to write a history of Protestant theological education. The team did not produce a publication, but Glenn made that project his life’s work. Daniel Aleshire, retired executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, describes the impact of Glenn’s history of theological education:
“Theological education is the business of all theological educators, but it is the scholarship of almost none of them. Glenn Miller was a wonderful and endearing exception. He spent a career researching and writing three volumes of the history of Protestant theological education. He examined history across schools and through time, leaving few original sources unchecked and omitted few stories. The deposit of scholarship about theological education he has given us is without parallel.”
After a teaching stint at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Glenn moved to Bangor Theological Seminary, where he became dean. Marvin Ellison, professor emeritus of Christian Ethics, recounts how much Glenn accomplished:
“As dean, Glenn worked with four presidents, implemented the redesign of the school into a seminary-in-three-places with long-distance learning, initiated new academic programs, and shepherded the process of our becoming an Open-and-Affirming theological school, all while fostering collegiality among faculty, students, staff, and trustees and encouraging deep engagement with church life and social justice advocacy. That Glenn did this and more while teaching a full load, doing ongoing research and writing, and continually showing up in large and small places speaks to his level of energy, high intelligence, and faithful devotion to a life-transforming Gospel. The title of one of Glenn’s books on U.S. theological education hits the mark: Piety and Intellect.”
Those of us who knew Glenn well remember his eccentricities (he wore red socks and read How the Grinch Stole Christmas in English and Latin to both his grandchildren and his seminary classes, with different commentary for each). Even more, we admire his character. Late in Glenn’s career, Robert Lynn, who had steered him toward the subject that became his scholarly focus, paid tribute to Glenn “as an historian and a Christian.”
“I have talked with him throughout his career and I still do every week. It’s a matter of learning from him and with him. He is a thorough-going realist. He always pays attention to the seamy side of religious history as well as the glory side. He is fearless. Nothing scares him. He’ll go down any path, making stern judgments along the way, but ultimately, all his investigations lead to forgiveness.”