Bookends: Two Reflections on the Teaching Career of Dr. Bill Larkin

January 15, 2013

By Bob Holmes

Columbia International University seminary student Phoebe Liu had just arrived on campus in 2010 when she read a fellow student’s post on Facebook: "I'm sitting with a world-class scholar and reading one of his books in the library." Liu later found out that the world-class scholar was Dr. William Larkin, CIU professor of biblical studies – a man who would become her own professor, advisor and encourager. She will also be one of his last students. Larkin retires from CIU at the end of the school year.     

But long before there was such a thing as Facebook, let alone the Internet, Larkin was making an impact on students at CIU. Liu discovered that recently when she met CIU alumnus Leiton Chinn, a former missionary to Korea, at the 2012 Urbana Missions Conference in St. Louis. Chinn was in one of Larkin’s first classes when he began his teaching career at CIU in 1975.  

“Dr. Larkin introduced himself as just beginning his teaching ministry,” Chinn recalls. “His humble spirit was not perceived as nervousness or feeling intimidated. As he reviewed the course expectations, it was clear that though he was a ‘rookie’ instructor, he assumed his responsibility in the confidence of the One who called him.”

After 38 years of teaching and scholarship, Larkin’s resume includes a long list of accomplishments. Heis an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and joined the faculty of CIU after a year of pastoral ministry in Philadelphia and the completion of graduate study in England. He has authored or co-authored six books, including Bible commentaries. He has contributed numerous articles to a variety of scholarly publications and is recognized by his peers as a leader in evangelical missions and biblical societies.

Chinn says he was a benefactor to Larkin’s diligence to the Word of God.

“I was impressed with Dr. Larkin's focused desire that we learn how to study the Scripture and glean from its depths,” Chinn said. “While he fulfilled his professional responsibilities as an instructor, I felt that his teaching was a ministry rather than a job, and that his personal passion for understanding the Bible exuded in his teaching.”

Liu agrees that Larkin teaches his students to be careful expositors of the Bible.

“He teaches us to understand the Scripture within its context and communicate its message faithfully,” Liu said. “His teaching style is more lecture-oriented, but he always allows his students to raise questions and share different views.”

But it is perhaps how Larkin related to his students that they will remember the most.

“(He had) a gentle seriousness with high expectations,” Chinn remembers. (But) more than what he said or taught was his humble and meek spirit.”

Liu says that spirit was often on display, not in the classroom, but in the dining hall.

“He is actually very personal and cares very much about his students, Liu says. “He would find students at the cafeteria during lunch, and sit with them and get to know how they were doing in their personal, family, study, work and ministry life. He has encouraged me a lot through these little talks and prayers at different times. I am going to miss him dearly and am sincerely praying that God will continue to strengthen him physically and use him to bless many others spiritually even after his retirement.”