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Too soon?

By Darrin Rodgers

On Dec. 10, 2008, Dr. Gary B. McGee, longtime Assemblies of God educator, died at age 63. His life of service and the grace he demonstrated during an extended illness powerfully reflected his commitment to Christ. His loss is a reminder of a difficult truth — even choice servants of God suffer.

Few Assemblies of God educators have attained the breadth of influence achieved by McGee. His extensive college and seminary teaching experience spanned five decades (1967-2008). He taught a generation of leaders and laypersons in the Assemblies of God through his many years at Central Bible College and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo. He was a prolific author, and he helped to build bridges through his leadership in numerous professional and interchurch organizations.

McGee authored seven books, edited and contributed to three books, and wrote more than 185 published articles. He was a frequent contributor to denominational publications, including Today’s Pentecostal Evangel, Assemblies of God Heritage, Advance, Enrichment, and Paraclete. He is probably best known for his two-volume history of Assemblies of God World Missions, This Gospel Shall Be Preached, for his biographical approach to Assemblies of God history, People of the Spirit, and for coediting the award-winning Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. He completed his last book, Miracles, Missions, and American Pentecostalism, just weeks before his death.

McGee traveled extensively and also taught at Bible colleges around the world. He emerged as one of the most highly respected and loved educators in the Assemblies of God, as well as one of the most articulate voices concerning the history of Pentecostal missions. His family and friends knew him as a man of sterling character, good humor, humility, spiritual sensitivity, and personal warmth. According to fellow historian Grant Wacker, McGee “was always ready for a joke as well as a prayer.”

Gary McGee’s family came into the Pentecostal movement after his maternal grandmother accepted Christ in an Aimee Semple McPherson evangelistic campaign in Canton, Ohio, in 1921. The family became faithful members of Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Canton.

McGee began teaching at AGTS upon completion of his doctorate in 1984. He was already a veteran Bible college instructor, having begun his ministry at Open Bible College (Des Moines, Iowa) after graduating from Central Bible College in Springfield in 1967. He was named Distinguished Professor of Church History and Pentecostal Studies in 2006. McGee was the second AGTS professor to be awarded the “Distinguished” title, following Dr. Stanley Horton. In March 2008, the Society for Pentecostal Studies conferred on him the Lifetime Achievement Award.

McGee demonstrated how a holy man — a man of God — can die well. During the last 10 years of his life he suffered from cancer and arthritis, but he did not complain. Instead, he joyfully focused on other peoples’ needs and labored to complete the tasks he believed the Lord had given to him.

“Watching the grace and beauty you have displayed in the midst of your suffering over the years has taught me more than any book on the subject,” wrote former student Jennifer Strickland Hall.

And McGee did, by the way, write a book on that subject: How Sweet the Sound: God’s Grace for Suffering Christians.

Just before his final hospitalization, he finished the manuscript for his last book. Gary McGee completed his life’s assignments well, and he placed his life in the hands of God.

DARRIN RODGERS is director of the Assemblies of God archives at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

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