Dr. Glenn Pemberton, professor of Old Testament studies, will teach his final classes Friday as he prepares to retire because of health concerns.
What started as a simple stress fracture in his foot ten years ago, steadily grew into almost unbearable pain. Pemberton suffers from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) also called reflex sympathetic nerve dystrophy. This disease causes the nerves in his body to send pain signals to his brain even though his injury has healed.
“We caught it early,” Pemberton said. “We did everything we were supposed to do to turn it around, and it didn’t stop it.”
Five surgeries, a wheelchair and a morphine pump that sends medication directly to his spinal column have not able to solve the problem. But Pemberton continued to teach from a wheelchair, typing notes rather than writing on a whiteboard during his lectures. His students helped him pass out papers in classes and he had office hours at his house or online when needed.
“The only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do was teach,” Pemberton said. “Working with students, writing, everything about it. I still love it.”
Now the pain has become constant in both legs up to his knees, hands and other parts of his body, sometimes so unbearable that he can’t speak during intense pain.
“It’s very clear this semester that I can’t do this anymore,” Pemberton said, “and it breaks my heart.”
Pemberton earned his undergraduate degree at ACU in 1985 and earned his master’s in 1995. He taught for 15 years, six at Oklahoma Christian University. He started teaching at ACU in 2005 when he was hired to be chair of the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry. After five years, he had to step down when his pain got worse. He was replaced by Dr. Rodney Ashlock, current chair of the department.
“He is one of the most excellent teachers,” Ashlock said. “The real loss is that he’s one of the rare professors who is both excellent in the classroom and writing articles and publishing.”
Known by many students as the author of the The God Who Saves: An introduction to the Message of the Old Testament textbook, Pemberton wrote the book as an introductory text for undergraduate students. He and other Old Testament teachers struggled to find a textbook for undergraduates as most introductory textbooks are written for graduate students. He spent the last three years working on the book, which was used in some courses in 2015. He rewrote some parts after it was reviewed by other professors and the textbook was published in August 2015.
Ashlock said Pemberton would bring his research into the classroom, helping both Bible majors and non-Bible majors understand the Old Testament. He currently teaches two sections of BIBL 211, Message of the Old Testament, and one section of Wisdom and Devotional Literature. The department has already rearranged teachers to cover those classes.
Pemberton’s wife, Dana, serves as chair of the Department of Teacher Education. He said it has been hard for her to be unable to take away his pain. He describes his journey with chronic pain in the first chapter of his book, Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms. When he retires, Pemberton said he plans to write from home and spend more time reconnecting with old friends.
“I plan to be a writer,” Pemberton said. “That’s what I want to do. That’s reframing.”