After 33 years of faithful ministry at DBTS, Dr. McCabe will be retiring this year and moving with his wife to Arizona to live with their family. Paul Finkbeiner sat down with him in his office to talk about his life as a seminarian and Old Testament professor.
Paul Finkbeiner: How did you end up working at DBTS?
Dr. Robert McCabe: Robert Smith, Pastor Doran’s brother-in-law, invited my wife and me to visit DBTS while I was working on my Th.D. After we visited, I sent my resume to Dr. McCune who then offered me a job in the fall of 1983.
PF: What was it like going to seminary?
RM: It wasn’t easy. I married my wife after finishing my first year as an M.Div. student. During my Th.D. work, I worked two full-time jobs, which included working at a publishing house called Eisenbrauns and doing security work too. It took me three years to finish my thesis.
PF: Why did you pursue ministry rather than a secular vocation?
RM: After getting saved, I wanted to serve God however I could. My passion was to be in ministry.
PF: What made you interested in the Old Testament?
RM: The best teacher I had at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary was an Old Testament professor named James Price. After having him for an Old Testament Introduction class, I realized that he was a true scholar, and he became my mentor as I pursued Old Testament studies.
PF: How long have you taught at DBTS?
RM: For 33 years. Overall, I’ve taught for 37 years, and I’ve spent half my life teaching at Detroit.
PF: What have you enjoyed about teaching?
RM: Two things mainly – camaraderie with my colleagues and my students. Besides those relationships, I really enjoyed doing an Israel study hour and Great Britain study tour. Another great experience was going whitewater rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as part of a young earth creationist tour.
PF: What was challenging for you as a professor?
RM: It was hard getting everything together when I first started and creating my own syllabi. During my first two years at DBTS, I was completing my dissertation while teaching full-time.
PF: What were some of your favorite classes that you taught?
RM: 1st and 2nd year Hebrew, OT Poetic Books, and Ecclesiastes
PF: How do you hope you have influenced your students?
RM: I hope I’ve influenced them to focus more on the Old Testament. And I hope I have influenced them to be pastor-scholars.
PF: How have your students influenced you?
RM: As I’ve aged, they have helped me stay younger. And they have helped me think more carefully about how I relate to them and to see things from their perspective as well as my own.
PF: What’s your favorite book or passage in the Bible? Why?
RM: Ecclesiastes. I started teaching it when I first came to DBTS. And I have continued studying it for many years. My favorite passage is Ecclesiastes 7:13-14. With some of my surgeries these past few years, I’ve gone over this passage again and again for comfort.
PF: What have you learned during your years of study in Ecclesiastes?
RM: I think Ecclesiastes reflects life. Life is full of ups and downs. But in the midst of it all, if we have the fear of God, we can judiciously enjoy life.
PF: What will you miss about teaching?
RM: I will miss my colleagues, my students, and the friendships I’ve developed for 33 years. I’m sure my wife and I will make friends in Arizona, but it can never compare to friends we’ve had for more than 30 years.
PF: What do you plan to do during your retirement?
RM: I would like to find a good church to be involved in. I hope to find a Bible institute where I can teach.
PF: What do you look forward to in retirement?
RM: I look forward to being with my son and three daughters. And I look forward to potentially having a swimming pool in my backyard.
PF: Are you going to miss Michigan winters?
RM: Absolutely not. I’ll come back here to visit friends and family in the late spring or summer.
PF: What advice do you have for seminarians beginning their ministry?
RM: Keep your focus. There’s a lot of other sidetracks that will distract you. Keep your objectives. Keep your family intact. And do as well as you can with the time you have.
After we had completed the interview, we chatted for a little while longer and reflected on the history of DBTS and its future. Time goes on, and no one knows what the future may hold. But certainly, Dr. McCabe’s time spent at DBTS for over three decades has been a wonderful investment, and his influence here will continue as he moves on to the next phase in life. As a professor, colleague, and friend to many, he will certainly be missed.