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Dr. Larry Fine Retires

Dr. Larry Fine, professor of practical theology at MidAmerica Nazarene University, retires from full-time professorship after 46 years of teaching. Portions of this article first published in The Trailblazer.

In 1969, a young Larry Fine sat across the lunch table from Dr. Don Metz, the dean of the tiny, new, Olathe college known as Mid-America Nazarene. Fine was a man full of aspirations—at first to be a center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, then later to be a pastor and evangelist for the Church of the Nazarene. Standing between him and his dreams, however, was a series of closed doors.

“How come every time I try to take a church, I get blocked?” he remembers asking Metz as his hope waned. He was just finishing his studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary, determined to pastor a congregation. He did not realize that, by the end of the meal, he would be offered an opportunity to teach at the college—an opportunity that would completely change the direction of his life. 

Nearly five decades later, Fine is convinced that God’s divine intervention guided him to MNU. When Metz first asked him to teach freshman Bible for one year, his first inclination was, “It beats working on the third master’s degree!” Now he says he wouldn't trade his investment in students’ lives at MNU for anything—not even playing center field for the Cardinals.

What began as a one-year teaching assignment turned into a career. Not only did he find fulfillment in developing and teaching future ministers personal development and spiritual formation courses, but also he saw one of his dreams come to fruition.

“My desire to be an evangelist got fulfilled fairly quickly,” Fine says. “By 1975, I was traveling most weekends.”

As of spring 2015, Fine has held more than 900 revivals, camp meetings, retreats and other church engagements, in addition to leading groups on more than 20 international trips. 

“I got to do what I wanted to do, but not the way I thought I would do it,” he says.

At MNU, Fine discovered a new passion, one he calls the most rewarding experience in his career. After earning his doctorate from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978, he struck out on his next mission: to better care for and understand the struggles of his students. During a sabbatical, Fine began working in the mental health unit at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and continued working evenings there for the next three years.

“I said [to the head of the mental health unit], I know the theory but don’t know a thing about therapy. I've got all these students lining up to talk to me and I don't know what to do,” Fine says recounting the conversation. “That [experience in the mental health unit] changed my whole emphasis and my whole understanding [of a lot of] theology and salvation.”

From that point on, Fine’s approach to teaching and student interaction has included the connection between students’ emotional pasts and their present religious experiences. He developed a deep desire to get to know his students and help them wrestle with things from their childhood that keep them from having a more intimate relationship with Christ.

His students, past and present, say this approach has made Fine authentic, creative and open minded. 

 

“He always brought in personal stories to help relate,” says Julia Willis (’15). “He completely humbled himself and even told us stories that were personal, [even when] it hurt to bring them up again.”


“He expected us to think for ourselves, under his guidance and the guidance of the Holy Spirit,” Bynum says. “He never pressured us to believe a certain way or force-feed doctrine to us. And I liked that.”Ron Bynum (’77), a Nazarene pastor in Colorado, says Fine inspired students to think. 

Dr. Frank Moore (’73), general editor for the Church of the Nazarene, took classes from Fine and later taught with him at MNU. He 
considers Fine one of his best friends. 

 

“I have never known anyone who embodies Wesleyan holiness theology any better than he does,” Moore said. “He lives before his students what he teaches in the classroom. What’s more, he has modeled his classroom notes for a lifetime. When my students ask me if I have empirical evidence that our theology can be lived out in daily life, I remind them of the life and ministry Dr. Larry Fine.”

Fine says the most rewarding aspect about his experience at MNU has been the time he’s spent ministering to students.

“I learned that it’s a tremendous honor when another human being becomes so vulnerable and shares the intimate detail of their soul,” Fine says. “It’s quite an honor and it’s quite a responsibility. Being able to work with students—oh my goodness—it’s the most rewarding thing here.”

Fine hopes to be far from finished with God’s work for him at MNU and beyond. He has agreed to return to the university next year to teach part-time, continues to lead and develop a personal growth seminar for the Church of the Nazarene, and plans to fulfill a number of speaking engagements. He is looking forward to spending time with Doris, his wife of nearly 50 years, and his children and grandchildren.

Fine would like students to remember this, “If they could understand that they have a strong identity apart from anything they do or they possess … that they are powerful people, and then if they could understand their identity in Christ, and bring their identity under the lordship of Jesus Christ, that’s an unbeatable combination to be able to stay out of the victim’s chair and live life not as a victim of life, but enjoy life.”

 

"Dr. Larry D. Fine is not only an outstanding teacher and scholar, his life and his passionate heart have literally ministered to many across the nation and now around the world. His interest in the spiritual lives of students and his willingness to listen and hear has made his counseling transformational for many. His godly counsel and kindness has represented this university well through his high standards of academic excellence combined with a true model of Christian love."

Dr. David Spittal, MNU president, at presentation of Fine’s professor emeritus status at 2015 Commencement.

When writing about Dr. Larry Fine, we received so many great memories from alums, we just had to share them. Please read through some of the comments we have shared below and add your memories too.

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