The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Harding (Page 1 of 3)

Jimmy Allen (1930-2020)

I was saddened to hear that Jimmy Allen, well-known evangelist and long-time Bible professor at Harding University, passed away early yesterday morning. He had been in poor health for some time, so his passing was not a surprise, but still, I feel that the world has been made a dimmer place by his absence.

Allen was best known as an evangelist, and specifically, was a revivalist in the style of Billy Graham. In the 1960s and 1970s, he held a series of citywide gospel meetings, preaching to thousands and thousands in coliseums and sports stadiums. It is estimated that his evangelistic efforts led to over 10,000 baptisms.

Within the Harding community, however, Allen was also well-known as a Bible professor, and it was in that role that I knew him best. Dr. Allen was one of three absolutely outstanding Bible teachers that I had at Harding who made a profound impact upon my life (another was Neale Pryor, who I wrote about after his passing in 2011). By the time I came to Harding in the early 2000s, Allen’s style of fiery preaching was not popular with college students, but he seemed to be universally loved by those who had him as a teacher, and this despite the fact that he was notorious for rarely giving out A’s (the running joke was that the Apostle Paul couldn’t swing better than a B+ in Allen’s Romans class).

When I took Allen’s Romans class (and, also, when I read his autobiography, Fire In My Bones), I learned so much. Here are some lessons that have stayed with me:

Burden for the Lost

The driving passion of Jimmy Allen’s life was telling people about Jesus. He did not hide the fact that he had lived a prodigal sort of life before giving his life to Christ, but once he made Jesus the Lord of his life, he was obsessed with telling others about Him. There are so many stories of Allen taking advantage of “captive audiences” (friends in his fishing boat, even hitchhikers in his car!) and converting them to Christ. Allen didn’t consider himself to be a preacher (he would say, “I’m not a preacher, I’m a school teacher!”), but he felt that it was his mission to share his faith and it was unfathomable to him that so many other Christians didn’t seem to feel the same way.

Biblical Interpretation

I well remember an idea that Allen repeated often:

“You don’t learn anything about a Bible subject by reading a verse where it is not mentioned.”

This, perhaps, seems obvious, but people neglect this sound advice all the time. For example, if you want to know what baptism accomplishes, you need to read the various passages that talk about baptism and what it does. It is poor biblical interpretation to read passages that don’t mention baptism and then infer ideas about baptism from its absence.

Believing the Best of Others

I don’t remember the specific context, but it was in his Romans class that Allen said these words that I’ll never forget:

“If I hear something bad about someone, I never believe it. If it comes to the point that I have no choice but to believe it, I do not delight in it.”

These words have become a standard for my life. I do not always abide by them perfectly, but this is the goal that I seek. In an increasingly graceless cancel culture that pounces on the misdeeds of others and seeks to write them off, these words obviously represent a different path, but I believe it to be a path of profound wisdom.

Continual Learning

In Fire In My Bones, Allen shares several areas in which his views have changed over the years. He introduces that chapter with these words:

“A brother who says, “I haven’t changed any of my Biblical views in the last twenty five years,” has not had his head in the Bible. Furthermore, he would make a stagnant, mosquito-infested, mud hole look like fresh water! In teaching others, we are continually asking them to change from error to truth. We should be willing to practice the same.” (201)

This idea has played out in my own life: the more I study Scripture, the more my understanding of it grows. Some beliefs are anchored more deeply, others are nuanced and refined, and still others are changed significantly, as I learn new things that I didn’t know before. Like Allen, I am deeply suspicious of those who hold their never-changing ideas up as some sort of badge of pride.

Hope of Resurrection

In his younger days, Allen was an impressive athlete. I remember he used to tell us that when he was in college, he could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, and there are all sorts of stories about his exploits on faculty teams in intramural sports. When I had him as a teacher, he was in his 70s, but I would still see him jogging outside.

In Romans class, I well remember his exposition of Romans 8.18-25, and his discussion of the resurrection body. Well aware of his own decaying body that no longer could do the things it once did, he eagerly anticipated “the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23), and the splendid and powerful body that he would have post-resurrection. His emphasis on bodily resurrection as the center of Christian hope was re-orienting for me, and remains influential in my own views; his teaching on the redemption of creation (from the same passage) was a significant influence in my understanding of eschatology that has developed over the last several years.

In addition to what I mentioned above, Allen was also noteworthy for his teaching on grace at a time when that had not been properly emphasized, his commitment to racial equality in a time of segregation and racial tensions, and his dedication to a nonsectarian Restoration ideal. In short, he was an impressive and inspirational man in a lot of ways.

For a man who was so active and had such a brilliant mind, I cannot imagine how frustrating the last few years must have been: from what I understand, he was confined to a nursing home, in declining physical and cognitive health.

Echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, we can truly say that for a man whose life was Christ, his death is gain: Jimmy Allen is now with Jesus, and he awaits the resurrection. But at the same time, we can lament, for death is never a good thing; it is not a part of God’s plan. It is an enemy, indeed, the last enemy to be defeated. But as Christians, we believe that it will be defeated, that our bodies will be raised, and our lowly, corruptible bodies will be transformed and become like Christ’s glorious, incorruptible body. Jimmy will enjoy that; he has long anticipated it.

Friday Summary Report, November 2

Today’s installment will be brief, as I am in the midst of a particularly busy day:(1) Yesterday, Harding University (my alma mater) announced that Bruce McLarty has been selected as the next President of the school. It has been interesting to me to read the array of responses from various parties about the announcements. I think Bruce firmly grasps Harding’s identity in the context of Churches of Christ, Christian colleges, and education in general, and it is my belief that he will continue to steer Harding on the unique course which it has chosen. In general, my feeling is this: if you love what Harding is, then I think Bruce is a great choice; if you are critical of Harding, then probably he is not your ideal candidate. Personally, I am excited.

(2) Here is an outstanding post from Scott Bond on “Why Little Girls Need Their Dad.” As a fairly recent father of a little girl, the post was especially meaningful for me, but I think it’s a good read for any Christian father.

(3) Last month set an all-time record in traffic here at The Doc File. This was a pleasant surprise, as my school workload really slowed down my posting after the first few days of the month. Thanks to all who continue to read!

(4) This post on Hashtag Media has gotten some attention. If you haven’t read it yet, check out the good things that these guys are doing.

Comforting Words From An Eminent Scholar

Dr. Jack Lewis (fittingly) in the midst of research

Dr. Jack Lewis is one of the great scholars in the fellowship of Churches of Christ, and really, is a pioneer as well. At a time when none of our Christian colleges offered post-graduate education (and a time when a lot of churches viewed such education suspiciously anyway), Lewis went on to receive a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Hebrew Union.

Either degree on its own would be impressive—together, it’s almost unbelievable.

Lewis went on to teach Bible courses at Harding University and the Harding University Graduate School of Religion (now Harding School of Theology) for over 50 years, and also served on the editorial boards of multiple scholarly journals and wrote more than a dozen books.

Dr. Lewis is highly respected, not just within Churches of Christ, but within the field of biblical studies as a whole.

To be as clear as possible, I will never even approach his level of scholarship.

So it was pretty cool that yesterday I got to meet Dr. Lewis (He still hangs out at the library at Harding School of Theology, and despite his advanced age, continues to spend his time doing research). I introduced myself to him after lunch and we exchanged a few pleasantries, and then, I had the privilege of getting to talk to him some more at Bible study last night.

The fellow grad student I was with asked Dr. Lewis (who had Ph.D.’s in fields which required extensive study of Greek and Hebrew) if language study came easily to him. Dr. Lewis smiled and said, “No, not at all,” and then proceeded to describe how, when he first took Greek, it was so stressful for him that he developed shingles!

Furthermore, he informed us that he had to take Elementary Hebrew three different times. Apparently, he originally had taken a Hebrew class in college, and then when he got to graduate school he was asked by a teacher which level of Hebrew class he thought he should be placed in. Dr. Lewis wasn’t sure, so the teacher gave him a Hebrew text to read to test his ability. When Dr. Lewis didn’t understand any of what he looked at, he tried to turn the book upside down so that it would make more sense. At that point, the professor said, “It looks like Elementary Hebrew is the class for you!”

For someone who is struggling through language study, it was comforting to hear that such a world-class scholar had similar difficulties.

Wise Words I Once Heard…and Bobby Petrino

If you pay any attention to sports at all, you are likely aware that Arkansas Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino was in a serious motorcycle wreck eight days ago, and that as more details of the incident came to light, it was revealed that a female passenger on the bike turned out to be an employee with whom Petrino was having an inappropriate relationship.

The national media has been quick to pick up on this story and has been decidedly anti-Petrino (a quick Google search on ‘Bobby Petrino’ will confirm this). Perhaps neither of those facts is very surprising—our culture (and by extension, the media) is always interested in a juicy story about the misdeeds or failure of public figures, and Bobby Petrino has never been very popular with the media anyway (ESPN’s Pat Forde has been on a personal crusade against him for years).

I don’t know if Petrino will be fired or not, and I have mixed feelings about whether or not he should be. I am disappointed in him and embarrassed by his actions, but at the same time, he has been the most successful football coach that Arkansas has had in my lifetime (or at least, in my memory), and I was never under the impression that he was hired because of his reputation for upstanding character.

All of this—the initial report of the accident, the rumors flying around after that report, the revelation of Petrino’s female passenger and his relationship with her, and the response of the national media—has reminded me of some wise words I once heard from Jimmy Allen.

Jimmy Allen is well-known within Church of Christ circles as an evangelist, and additionally, within the Harding University community as a Bible professor. It’s in the latter role that I know him best, as I took his outstanding class on the Book of Romans during my time at Harding. It was in that class (I don’t remember the specific context) that he said these words which I’ll never forget:

“If I hear something bad about someone, I never believe it. If it comes to the point that I have no choice but to believe it, I do not delight in it.”

I’m not entirely sure what it is about us as humans that makes us crave and delight (cf. Proverbs 18.8) in hearing of the failings of others. It likely stems from our own insecurities, and our tendency to feel better about ourselves when we see the shortcomings of others. But that craving and delighting is all closely related to the sin of gossip, which is a topic that the Bible has an awful lot to say about.

In the case of Bobby Petrino, I’m not delighting in the story like a lot of people in the National media and fans of other programs are, but if I’m honest, a lot of the reason for that is because he’s the coach of my team, and I don’t like the ramifications of all this for me. When it comes to hearing gossip about someone I might not like as much, I don’t always do a very good job of following Dr. Allen’s words.

Instead of gleefully focusing on the failings of others, the Apostle Paul suggests an alternative course of action in Philippians 4.8:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Neale Pryor (1935-2011)

A week ago Sunday, Neale Pryor, a longtime preacher, scholar, and Bible professor at Harding University passed away after a lengthy illness. Originally, I hadn’t planned to write anything about him here, but as time passed, I felt that I couldn’t let the passing of such a man go unmentioned.

Dr. Pryor was one of three absolutely outstanding Bible teachers that I had at Harding, and I sat through a lot of his classes—he was my teacher in multiple college courses, I often went to his mid-week Bible study, and I sat through his Sunday morning auditorium class at the College Church of Christ for most of my time at Harding. In a Bible class setting, I would estimate that I’ve heard more lessons from Dr. Pryor than I have from any other teacher.

Of course, there were reasons that I kept coming back for more. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone who simultaneously so impressed me with his biblical knowledge and scholarship and his humble spirit. As we discussed what were sometimes controversial issues in class, you could always tell that Dr. Pryor had good reasons and support for his views, but he never made anyone feel stupid for disagreeing with or not understanding him, and he was willing to admit that he didn’t have all the answers (One thing Dr. Pryor said that has always stuck with me was that he had come to suspect that when he got to heaven, he might find that more people had “made it in” than he expected. If that was the case, he assured us that he wouldn’t find a corner to sulk in—he would enjoy their company!).

In 1 Corinthians 11.1, the Apostle Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” A lot of the people that Paul was writing to in Corinth probably hadn’t known Jesus personally, so imitating the lifestyle of Paul (someone they did know personally) as he himself attempted to imitate the life of Jesus was something that was easier to grasp. I think the same thing could be said of Dr. Pryor—during his years at Harding, he gave a tangible example to countless students of what imitating Christ looked like. To me, that was what was most impressive of all about him—as good of a teacher as he was, he was an even better man.

Dr. Pryor liked to quote his favorite verse a lot: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26). For him, the main priority in life was always clear, and he lived his life accordingly. Congratulations to him for finishing the course and keeping the faith, and for joining that great cloud of witnesses.

I look forward to meeting him again.

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