Recently, in a fit of shelf-reorganization, my gaze and thoughts fell on books. (Another day, I may tell of CDs.)
I commented to my wife that I would credit only three current-day Christian authors with changing my life.
The first of these is Rubel Shelly, with his restorationist I Just Want To Be a Christian (1984). For 15 years or more, my direction was changed; for life, my comprehension of the universal church was altered. It was, of course, not so much a new direction that Shelly commended to those who would hear and read. Rather, it was a bona fide (in the truest sense of that term) return to the unity ideals of the American Restoration Movement. Shelly recently stepped out of his role as president of Rochester College, a relatively progressive Christian college. He now serves as chancellor and teaches courses in philosophy, ethics, logic, and introduction to Christianity.
The second was Cecil Hook. Cecil’s Free series included Free in Christ, Free To Speak, Free As Sons, Free To Change, and Free To Accept (1984-1994), all distributed free of charge. Cecil, who was once a preacher and later simply cleaned the church house to eke out a living, was a remarkable figure for me and for many others in challenge of traditional beliefs and practices. After I put a few feet forward in offering some proofreading, Cecil regularly invited me into his writing-world by sending drafts of articles. I had the distinct honor of proofing a couple of his books and portions of others, including the entire manuscript of the 2nd edition of his first book, Free in Christ. Always an example of grace and kindness, even in his most challenging of challenges, Cecil was fond of closing an article with words like these: “I will understand if you do not arrive at the same understanding. But we are still brothers — sons of the same impartial Father” (Free to Change, p. 101). It bears mention that sometimes the experience of someone else’s life and manner does not harmonize with the power of the same person’s pen. (Mea culpa.) In the case of Cecil Hook, I found, through a string of communications over a period of years, and during one visit in his home, that his was the humble, inviting kind of spirit from whom anyone could learn. The grace this man showed to others was not always shown to him: I personally witnessed the censure of some watchdogs as they passed my display of Hook’s books at a men’s retreat. Some years ago, a website with Hook’s writings was corrupted; since I am a bit prone to fear conspiracy, I wondered if the site had been an intentional target of some with malevolent intent. Cecil Hook is now in the “land of the eternally living” (his words at the passing of his wife Lea a few years before).
The third is Gary Collier, through many writings of both public and private-group nature —not the least of which are his monograph Scripture Canon and Inspiration (2012) and his work on Matthew’s gospel The Forgotten Treasure: Reading the Bible Like Jesus (1993). Gary is more energetic than ever these days. I have quoted him on this blog before and will again. His voice is singular. He is a first-rate textual Bible scholar, and a Christian sibling who cares deeply about many, despite the miles between them. Gary’s online study program Coffee With Paul is innovative, instructional, and peopled by many deeply committed students. One of Gary’s mantras is “contextual, responsible, and conversational Bible study.” He also manages a chock-full Bible study resources portal at bibledashboard.com.
These authors’ voices have been positively life-changing for me. The Shelly and Hook writings served important purposes during a prior period of life in which I was constantly engaged in evaluating and reevaluating the traditions in which I had been raised. I discovered new courage to open my eyes, heart, and mind, and I continue to believe those men were on target.
At this juncture, there is no author’s voice as significantly formative for me as Gary Collier’s; his insistence on reading scripture devotedly, honestly, and responsibly continues to shape me.
I am grateful for the influence of each of these authorial voices in my life.