APU Remembers Professor John E. Hartley

by Bruce Baloian with Paul Lehman-Schletewitz

This article, entitled, Tough Hesed, originally appeared in a 2015 issue of APU Life magazine, and was republished in honor of Dr. Hartley who passed away on August 6, 2019. A memorial service will take place on the APU campus in Upper Turner Campus Center on Friday, August 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Some call him a legend, some a mentor, others the most challenging teacher they have ever encountered, but nearly all of his students throughout the past 46 years call him friend. John E. Hartley, Ph.D., distinguished professor of Old Testament, counts business leaders, missionaries, pastors, and professors among his many protégés as he continues to pour into new generations of eager minds with fresh impact that stands the test of time.

Known for his unconventional teaching style, Hartley loves to challenge his students, interjecting his dry sense of humor along the way. For example, A.J. Zimmermann ’12 sat in astonishment as someone gave a wrong answer in class. Hartley made the student sitting next to him do 20 push-ups. Then, in his wry manner, announced that the entire class now knew what “vicarious suffering” meant. Though such a technique could signify an intimidating, egotistical scholar, Hartley’s students quickly realize the good behind his tactics. They discover that his humor serves as subterfuge for a man who deeply cares about his students but does not want to seem sentimental or phony. Hartley doesn’t mind offending at times, nor does he worry about displaying piety, but rather concerns himself with how his students learn and how they walk with God. Mike Luchtenberg ’83, M.A. ’84, once asked him why his classes were so hard, and Hartley replied, “All of life seems geared to mediocrity and just getting by. I believe each of you can excel, so I ‘challenge upward’ and expect you to strive to be your best.”

That unwavering commitment helped shape some of today’s most effective ministers. Frederick “Rick” Harrell ’80 gained an appreciation for Scripture from Hartley that still informs his theology and practice regarding social justice and impacts his ministry. Raul Ries, M.Min. ’86, M.Div. ’87, M.A. ’90, credits Hartley with enriching his ability to teach the Word of God, transforming his life. His brother, Xavier Ries, M.Div. ’88, says Hartley taught him how to seek the original meaning of Scripture, enabling a right interpretation and a practical application for his congregation. Chris Neal ’04 once struggled with Hartley’s assignments but remembers the countless hours they spent together so he could master them. Neal now counts those difficult assignments as the key to faithful exegesis and learning the true meaning of servant leadership.

Just as works show the fruit of faith, Hartley’s selfless actions demonstrate the depth of his love for his students and friends. For instance, he discreetly paid a colleague’s house payment for months to ease his financial difficulty. He also paid for expensive aviation ear protection for former student Terry Jones ’89 who served as a missionary pilot in Africa and would have lost much of his hearing without it. I, too, found myself on the receiving end of Hartley’s compassion and friendship. After I failed a key exam, Hartley and his wife, Dorothy, appeared at my front door with dessert under the ruse that he was “just in the area.” He then telephoned friends in different parts of the country who had similar experiences with graduate exams and encouraged them to call me as well. Once, he visited former student Paul Lehman-Schletewitz ’81, a young seminarian far from home and family, who never forgot the incredible gesture. Years later, Paul and his wife, Kathy (Bivens ’80), had a daughter they named after Hartley’s daughter, Joy.

Alissa Jones Nelson ’02 remembers Hartley’s wise words after presenting her first paper at the Society of Biblical Literature, where she was verbally attacked: “In academia, everyone is smart,” Hartley said.

“There is no point distinguishing yourself by trying to be the smartest, but you can distinguish yourself by being kind.”—John Hartley, Ph.D.

Kindness comes naturally to Hartley, who called William Yarchin, Ph.D., dean’s endowed professor of biblical studies at APU, at his parents’ house the night before Yarchin departed to study in Israel at Hebrew University, just to encourage him. Tim Finlay, M.A. ’96, Ph.D., professor of biblical studies, took multiple classes from Hartley, drawn not only by the popular teacher’s attitude toward Scripture, but also by his attitude toward him—a genuine relationship that transcended the typical teacher-student connection.

“Dr. Hartley was more than a professor, more than a mentor; he was a father to me in many ways,” said Vondie Lozano ’83. “He challenged me in the classroom and advised me about studies and my career, but what I needed and valued most was the personal relationship. He brought me into his home and into his family, and he took the time to really get to know me and give direction to my life choices. Dr. Hartley is fond of the Hebrew word hesed—loving-kindness. And that’s what I learned most from him—God’s loving-kindness.”

Bruce Baloian, Ph.D., is professor in the Department of Biblical Studies. bbaloian@apu.edu

Paul Lehman-Schletewitz ’81 is an adjunct professor in the Departments of English and Biblical Studies. plehman-schletewitz@apu.edu

Originally published in the Summer '15 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.