Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Remembrance: Brethren author and scholar Vernard Eller dies.

Vernard Marion Eller, 79, passed away on June 18 at his home in La Verne, Calif. An ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and a retired professor of philosophy and religion at the University of La Verne, he was well known beyond church circles for books that used humor and wit to popularize theology and religion.

“The primary thrust of my life has been to try to bring into focus four different elements not often seen as even being compatible: a strong Christian commitment; solid thought and scholarship; clear and powerful communication; and true wit and humor,” Eller wrote in a Feb. 1980 issue of the Church of the Brethren’s “Messenger” magazine.

Most notable among his books was “The Mad Morality” (Abingdon Press, 1970), the ten commandments seen through the eyes of “Mad Magazine.” The book sold 30,000 copies in its first year and a half of publication, and was named among the top five paperbacks Protestants were reading in 1970 by the “Christian Herald.” “Newsweek” praised “Mad Morality” in an April 25, 1983, article reviewing the history of “Mad,” saying Eller’s book was “one of the magazine’s proudest moments.”

Also among the more than 20 titles Eller authored were “The Most Revealing Book of the Bible: Making Sense Out of Revelation,” “King Jesus’ Manual of Arms for the ’Armless: War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation,” and “The Sex Manual for Puritans.” Books published by Brethren Press included “Towering Babble: God’s People without God’s Word” and “Cleaning Up the Christian Vocabulary.” His doctoral thesis was published by Princeton University Press, “Kierkegaard and Radical Discipleship: A New Perspective.” He was a prolific contributor to magazines and journals including “The Other Side,” “Christian Century,” “Christianity Today,” “Journal of Religion,” and “Religion in Life,” as well as “Brethren Life and Thought” and “Messenger.”

Eller was a graduate of La Verne College and Bethany Theological Seminary, and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University, and a doctorate from Pacific School of Religion. After completing a bachelor’s degree at La Verne, he was called by the Church of the Brethren General Board to be editor of youth publications, serving on staff from 1950-56. He met Phyllis Kulp of Pottstown, Pa., while leading a Brethren heritage tour, and they were married in 1955.

In 1958, he began his 34-year career at the University of La Verne (then La Verne College). Over the years he also served as Staley Distinguished Christian Scholar at numerous colleges, as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and as a summer session faculty member at Pacific School of Religion. He was a member of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History, the Brethren Journal Association, and was a fellow of the Swenson-Kierkegaard Foundation.

He was a founding member and free minister with Fellowship Church of the Brethren in La Verne, which later merged with Pomona (Calif.) Church of the Brethren to become Pomona Fellowship Church of the Brethren. He provided leadership as a speaker and Bible study leader in those congregations, and in camp and conference settings. He served terms of service on the General Board and on the board of Bethany Seminary, was a Brethren delegate to the National Council of Churches, and served on a study committee of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference that wrote the 1973 “Statement on Taxation for War.”

Eller was born July 11, 1927, in Everett, Wash., the oldest son of Jay and Geraldine Eller, and was raised in Wenatchee, Wash. In his last years, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and was cared for at home until his death.

He is survived by Phyllis Eller, his wife of over 50 years; children Sander Eller of La Verne, Enten Eller of Richmond, Ind., and Rosanna (Eller) McFadden of Goshen, Ind.; and three grandchildren.

Services will be at Pomona Fellowship Church of the Brethren on June 26, at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Pomona Fellowship Church of the Brethren or Heifer International.

Source: 6/20/2007 Newsline

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