Seminary professors, bless ’em, are saddled with expectations that run the gamut, and they forge on, day after day, knowing the likelihood of having “another Billy Graham” in their classes is beyond remote.
Though their patience be tested, they give their best shots, even for struggling students who feel called to the ministry from a myriad of backgrounds far removed from theological study.
Jimmie Nelson, longtime professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a couple of decades removed from full-time teaching. His memories, though, are aglow with thoughts of classroom experiences.
He always has been a respected mentor and guide with much sympathy for students new in the faith. After all, he never owned a Bible himself until a junior in high school.
Nelson remembers a preaching seminar where students voiced 11-minute sermons, knowing they’d be critiqued by fellow students. One absolute “newbie” spoke of the Apostle Paul’s being “buffeted,” like unto a slap in the face.
This was a new term to the student, who pronounced the word “buffayed” each time he uttered it. Most classmates stifled chuckles. This pleased Nelson, since he always was on the lookout for teaching moments.
The professor counseled with the student privately, trying hard to “prop up” the lad’s self-confidence. The student eventually served on foreign mission fields. Throughout his career, he stayed in touch with his mentor, always signing off as “the buffet guy.”
The late Robert Smith was another biblical scholar cut from “Nelson cloth.” He, too, was very big on grace. He once was a panelist discussing the Tower of Babel.
On the program before Smith, another theologian pronounced the word “Bay-bull.” Again, snickers were stifled.
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Smith—unable to make himself pronounce the word correctly—carried on with his predecessor’s choice of “Bay-bull.” He later said privately our current word “babble” was coined after the Tower of Babel account.
Years ago, when professional groups attended conventions in private railway cars, one was filled with astronomers and another with preachers.
In the dining car, an astronomer and a minister struck up a conversation. The astronomer said his view of religion pretty much boiled down to simply “following the Golden Rule.”
The preacher responded he felt similarly about astronomy. With a smile, he said, “It pretty much boils down simply to ‘twinkle, twinkle, little star.’”
Religion is a popular topic at care centers, I am told. One day, a resident asked another if he believed in infant baptism.
“Without any doubt,” the other guy responded. “As a matter of fact, I’ve seen it.”
The late Jesse Fletcher, longtime president of Hardin-Simmons University, was one of the most versatile Christian leaders of my acquaintance. He was a respected educational leader, minister, missionary, author and scholar. He also was an avid private pilot and held his own with golfing friends.
He loved to tell self-effacing stories. He admitted at several speaking engagements that during his early years in ministry he was “delighted to learn that the Bible has both an Old and New Testament.”
A final thought
I’m not sure if the setting for this final vignette was on the porch down at the feed store, or maybe on the patio of a retirement center.
Their topic, however, was mere conjecture on the origin of the word “grandparent.” One opined that long, long ago, a grandparent who had prayed for a grandchild many years, finally had petitions answered. In early November, his daughter presented him with a bouncing baby boy.
Granddad, awash in cash, bought his grandson lavish presents, including presents for Thanksgiving, December 1, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
When he added up his purchases, the total was almost exactly $1,000, or, as some say, “A grand.” Maybe that is how “grandparents” got their designations. I dunno.
Don Newbury, retired president of Howard Payne University, writes weekly and speaks regularly. This article is adapted from his regular column, ‘The Idle American.’ Newbury can be contacted via email: [email protected]; phone: (817) 447-3872; Twitter: @donnewbury and Facebook: Don Newbury. The views expressed are those solely of the author. Published by permission.