By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – December 3, 2016) — Over the years, I’ve been approached by both students and layman about the mentors I’ve had. And every time I’m asked, I get excited. Why? Because mentorship is important, even if the mentors are found in the books they’ve left behind.
Recently, a student from the ministry school at the church I serve (Calvary Albuquerque) asked me to mentor him throughout the school year. Being that I’m not teaching this year, I agreed. His name is Peter, and he’s spent most of his life in the business world. But over the past couple of years he’s felt a tug towards ministry, which led him to the school.
Each time we meet, Peter asks questions about difficult Bible passages, theological quandaries, or about books. It’s been a blast for me to discuss the books—and mentors—I’ve had. This past week he asked about John Stott. I was more than obliged to discuss Mr. Stott, one of my book mentors. One of the things I told Peter that I like about Stott is that his being — his person — matched his books (as his several biographies clearly state); he put feet to his faith, he walked the talk.
I told Peter that one of the things I look for in mentors is a real life witness. It’s fairly easy to give lip service to a bunch of things that sound spiritual or Biblical, it’s a whole different thing to live them. I told Peter about the Anabaptist theologian, James McClendon, who helped coin the phrase “Biography as Theology.” One of the tenants of McClendon’s thought is that you get a clearer picture of what a person really believes by how that person acts: belief shapes a person’s biography, and biography shapes belief. The two go hand in hand.
As an example, if a person teaches from the pulpit (or in person) that Christians are called to serve one another (which is true), but turns around and consistently treats people poorly, wanting to be waited upon rather than serving others—his or her actions should give pause. Jesus said that people who pursue God (as opposed to false prophets) will be known by the fruit produced in their life, the things they do and say for the Lord (see Matt. 7:16). And the fruit defined in the Bible clearly are action-oriented (see Galatians 5: 22-23), products from a productive Christian life.
Now it must be said that no one — apart from Jesus— — s perfect. So we all fall short with our actions at various junctures in our life; it’s true with me and the mentors I sought out. And, yes, it is better to pull the plank out of our eye before we point out the twig in someone else’s (Matt. 7: 3-5). So don’t be legalistic in your pursuit of a mentor; you won’t find the perfect person. But I think finding mentors whose consistent actions match their arguments, whose lips match their life, their words to their walk — is the best to find.
This being said, here are a few men — both in books and in life — I’ve been honored to be mentored by. Most of these folks I’ve either studied with or worked along side. And though I don’t always agree with all of their theological points or positions, I found them to have a consistent “Biography as Theology.”
John Stott. Mr. Stott taught me practical theology, Christian leadership, and a love for Biblical exposition. More importantly, his humble life and Christ-centered witness was a wonder to watch and read (I only met Mr. Stott on one occasion, but know many who worked with him personally). One of the men that served along side Dr. Stott told me that he saw John get mad only once during his time with him, and he immediately apologized after, saying something to the effect that having a good witness for Christ is greater than having his point made.
Norman Geisler. Dr. Geisler was my theology professor at Veritas Evangelical Seminary. And though I had little interaction with him on a personal level, his unpretentious nature and impressive mind — not to mention his legion of books — left an indelible impression on me. When I asked Dr. Joseph Holden, President of Veritas Evangelical Seminary, why there wasn’t a biography about Geisler, his reply said it all: “He’s too humble.”
R.C. Sproul. I met Mr. Sproul on a couple of occasions, but the Bible training I received through Ligonier Ministries and Sproul’s multiple texts tantalized me throughout my Christian life. And more importantly, Dr. Sproul stands as an example of someone I may not completely see eye-to-eye with theologically, but through his testimony and teaching his life tethered him — and me — to walk in the truth.
John Warwick Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery taught me that your mind matters; that having a robust witness — both in word and deed — is important to a healthy and productive Christian life. As a professor-at-large of the first seminary I graduated from, Montgomery’s eclectic life, various interests, and evidential apologetics made him one of the more enduring mentors I’ve had. Impressions from his life can be found in his memoirs, Fighting the Good Fight.
Chuck Smith. I could write lots about Chuck. I was privileged to work with him for eighth years, running the school at Costa Mesa, California, editing his books, and co-hosting the radio broadcast, Pastor’s Perspective. To most that ask me about Chuck Smith I usually reply with “he was the real deal,” a man elated in his walk with Christ, helping others discover the same joy. Yet there are two topics that Chuck Smith really helped unpack for me: the person and work of the Holy Spirit and grace. And though I worked on several books by Chuck, two that I didn’t work on remain my favorite: Why Grace Changes Everything and Living Water. Classics. As mentor, Chuck taught me many things, but a reliance on the Holy Spirit and to choose grace over and above a host of alternatives were the most lasting.
I could go on and on about other mentors I’ve had, both recently and from the past— Vernard Eller, C.S. Lewis, NT Wright, Elton Trueblood, Peter Riola, Alister McGrath, Tony Campolo, JP Moreland, AE Wilder-Smith, William Lane Craig, Jeff Newman-Lee, various pastors and authors, etc.—but I won’t. Instead, I encourage every Christian to find a mentor—someone you can talk with, glean, and learn from. As the noun form of the word conveys, “an experienced and trusted advisor” is something all people can benefit from. With a mentor, your life will be richer, challenged, and hopefully help your biography match your theology.
Photo captions: 1) Brian Nixon and John Stott discussing a book. 2) Brian, John Warwick Montgomery, and friends. 3) Illustration of mentor coach. 4) Chuck Smith. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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