Dr. W.A. Criswell wrote one book, Why I Preach the Bible Is Literally True. Others sold, as by him, were either transcribed sermon series or compilation works. Amazon does list an autobiography. When, as a young ministry student and avid book buyer, I learned many authors hire ghostwriters, and that it was common knowledge Dr. Criswell did, my estimation, idealism, of Dr. Criswell died. I don’t think I bought another book he wrote.
The blow was not crushing. It is just that I had a hard time reconciling that someone would write a book about the literal preaching of the Bible but not really be the writer of books that bore his name. I know you technically minded will submit that these were Dr. Criswell’s words. I will not quibble that he originated the content. But, sermons are not books.
Young ministry students carry into their education a good dose of idealism. Mentors hope to harness their accompanying passion and enthusiasm without letting on that it just is not all peas and carrots. No one would want to dissuade a young person from his or her call.
But, there is little room for idealism in ministry. People you pray for die. Relationships you work to help reconcile remain fractured. Couples you pronounce husband and wife put their vows asunder. Friendships rarely grow deep with members – maybe it is our fear and theirs. Someone will let you down. “Don’t take it personal,” we are told. Good luck with that.
Our patterned response is to lay hold of a higher purpose, a high calling, and as such an Audience for whom we practice our craft that transcends the human. Piety becomes our friend. We get lost in the to come with such force of preservation that we rarely dip into the depths of pain suffered by those around us, those in our pastoral care. Distance helps us survive. Our hope that is built on nothing less longs for some glad morning. We would enjoy our craft more were it not for the people. A tempting conclusion.
Idealism always dies; it is just a matter of how. Holding on to idealism rarely leads to anything but skepticism. Pastoral ministry and skepticism make strange bedfellows. Mental health often demands one or the other, not both.
It is not that idealism died at Louisiana College. But, idealism within a number of students has now died. The dream of studying the bible and knowing Jesus turned nightmare at the grim realities of politics and potential scandal. What do we expect in a post-CR SBC? These young fellows believed they were promised different, not more of the same.
I have read comments on both sides. Some students claim relief from over-bearing Calvinist students and faculty as the hoped for outcome. Others contend this is just a Traditionalist move where students and faculty are mere pawns as ethical standards are shuttered for victory.
Amidst the anticipation of an emergency Trustee meeting on Monday and the impending hearings for two students charged with disparaging the college on Tuesday, I fear something else may have died. These skirmishes make it too easy to set aside the high ideal of loving our neighbor – be they impassioned students, Presidents, Trustees, or Convention Executives.
Idealism tends to be a framework from which we filter our experiences in and with the world. An ideal may be the aim of our action. In this case the ideal, the commandment of Jesus, represents the arena of personal and community transformation. Where idealism moves us to evaluate another person’s action, the ideal calls into question our own decisions.
When wounded, offended, challenged our attention turns toward the other. If we frame the events carefully, we may shutter the ideal to which we have committed. Amidst our own justifications we violate the love called for by the Man from Galilee. Doing so becomes a wedge between what is proclaimed and what is lived. Our faith becomes ethereal rather than material.
Our world is missing a material faith, that is a faith expressed in the tactile experiences of life. My friend Guy asked if those involved, mainly those leaders playing politics with a couple of students who questioned the non-renewal of beloved professors, knew others outside the Christian camp could see right through to the pettiness of their actions. He followed up with this gem,
Why would any person, looking for answers to life’s most difficult questions or relief from the burdens of suffering and guilt, take such people seriously, assuming, at some point, the Gospel message ever sprang from their mouths?
When idealism dies we are forced to wrestle with brokenness – our world’s and our own. When ideals die we lose our tether. Our actions will call into question our claims. Looking out for the school we lead becomes looking out for our own personal interests. Looing out for professors we love risks the same.
There are reports of much deeper issues. I believe there are. Someone named Nunya knows but hides behind a pseudonym. These matters noted are important. There is little doubt these will come to light. They take in the future of a school, not just professors, students, and administrators.
Not much has been said about the Trustees involved in the affairs of Louisiana College. You can be sure that will change after Monday. We will learn what really has died of importance at Louisiana College.