On November 8, the BJU Seminary inaugurated the Stewart Custer Lecture Series, a sequence of in-depth, scholarly presentations on a theological topic presented in Scripture. This year’s inaugural lecturer was Dr. Kevin Bauder, research professor of systematic theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Minnesota. He taught for several hours on “Baptist History: Then and Now.” He also held a 90-minute lecture-discussion on the Church and the influence of culture on her, from era to era.
The Custer Lectures, planned by the Seminary as an annual event each fall, are named in honor of Dr. Stewart Custer, long-time professor and chairman of the Division of Bible at Bob Jones University. In remembering and honoring Dr. Custer for his long and fruitful ministry of the Word as a scholar, teacher, writer, and preacher, we are simply obeying God, while avoiding “hagiography” by painting an exaggerated picture of his ministry achievements for the glory of Christ.
After graduating summa cum laude from BJU, Custer completed his PhD degree in New Testament Greek Text. He was for a full generation, (from 1955 when he began teaching Greek as a graduate assistant at BJU until 2002, 47 years in all), a master-pastor-teacher.
He taught on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, often teaching five or six different courses per semester. His courses in exposition of the Scriptures covered most of the individual books of the New Testament. He taught a wide variety of advanced theology courses such as Christology, Eschatology, Soteriology, New Testament Theology, Advanced New Testament Theology, Contemporary Theology, and Apologetics. To this list may be added courses in Greek exegesis covering many books of the Greek New Testament verse by verse, and courses in Advanced Greek Grammar, Advanced Greek Lexicology, and Advanced Greek Synonymy.
To his full-time teaching efforts, sustained over 42 years (1960-2002), he added the reading of a full book each day from widely diverse academic disciplines, resulting in an annotated bibliography of hundreds of books useful for the ministry called Tools for Preaching and Teaching the Bible (400 pp.), published first in 1979 and then in a second enlarged edition in 1998.
One of the areas of his reading interest was astronomy. The fruit of his study in this academic discipline led him to the directorship of the University’s planetarium in the Howell Memorial Science Building from 1960-1994. In 1977 he published his unique work The Stars Speak: Astronomy in the Bible which explains all the biblical references to the heavens and specific heavenly constellations and phenomena. This book was the newest work added to a budding writing ministry. His book Does Inspiration Demand Inerrancy? had already been published in 1968 followed by A Treasury of New Testament Synonyms in 1971, a masterful contribution in the field Greek synonymy as an aid to interpreting the New Testament. He led in the founding of the Biblical Viewpoint in 1968, a journal of Biblical exposition published by the School of Religion and Seminary and served as an author and editor of the journal until 2002, 34 years.
As his full-time teaching ministry was coming to a close, his passion for writing through the University’s Religion Writing Endowment increased. In 2000, his 465-page verse-by verse Witness to Christ: A Commentary on Acts was released. This was followed in the spring of 2002 two years later by his 250-page, fully illustrated Stones of Witness: Images of the Holy Land, with all the text written and photographs taken by him, capturing his life-long ministry of leading study tours to Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, and Rome.
In 2004, his 392-page verse by verse From Patmos to Paradise: A Commentary on Revelation was released. Then, just one year later in 2005 the 529-page The Gospel of the King: A Commentary on Matthew rolled off the presses. This was followed in 2007 by the 417-page The Righteousness of God: A Commentary on Romans. One year later in 2008, his 198-page work In the Heavenlies: A Commentary on Ephesians appeared. In 2010, his 225-page Critical Questions for New Testament Study, dedicated to the students at BJU Seminary was published. The following year, in 2011 he added the 127-page The Divine Son of God: A Commentary on John, with an annotated bibliography of primary works on that gospel at the end of the book.
A Model Shepherd
Beyond all of this prodigious effort and productivity in the ministry of the Word is the man himself. Perhaps a hint of who he is may be seen in the three daily devotional guides for believers, with daily spiritual counsel, which he wrote during all of his other teaching and literary labors. All those who have sat listening to Dr. Custer teach, watching his quiet but intense work in the Word, his warm emotion for the Lord Jesus, his slightly quavering voice and his eyes moist with tears, his mind brimming over with truth and his heart overflowing with love, have witnessed that the kingdom is not in word, but in power—the power of a compelling example of a man with the heart of a shepherd.
For over 25 years, while teaching and writing, he served as the pastor of the Trinity Bible Church in Greer, South Carolina, a fellowship of believers which began with a three dozen people (including his own parents in their old age) and grew to several hundred members. Perhaps his crowning achievement, he shepherded them, following the example of his Master, the Good Shepherd of the sheep. Today, Dr. Custer is Pastor Emeritus of the Trinity Bible Church and lives in retirement in Greenville, South Carolina, just a few miles from the church and university where he invested a lifetime of service.
To hear one of Custer’s sermons that captures both the essence of his expository skill coupled with down to earth life applications and warm-heartedness, click here.