In just a few weeks, Dick Terman, a dear friend and mentor of mine, will be moving away from Williamsburg, Virginia. I want to tell you about him.
Dick Terman grew up in the Midwest, in a Christian family. His grandfather was a Free Methodist pastor, and strict promoter of “Prohibition,” the 18th Amendment, that sought to ban alcohol in America. Dick describes his grandfather as a caring man, but boy, could he be strict. Dick remembers his grandfather (rightly) scolding him once, from the pulpit! As a kid, Dick took only a casual interest in spiritual matters.
When Dick was in high school, he was active in the Boy Scouts. However, he had trouble. Another boy in the troop loved to pester and irritate Dick. One day, on a troop hike, the boys were hiking the perimeter above a steep gravel pit. The thought crossed Dick’s mind that he could push this pestering boy off this high ledge. It would only take a few seconds, a strong shove, and Dick’s problem would be gone.
Dick restrained himself. But the angry temptation that filled his heart, scared the wits out of Dick Terman. He could have gotten rid of this bothersome boy, by pushing him over a hundred foot drop, to the boy’s death.
Dick could have been a murderer.
Dick had come face to face with his own sinful nature. He knew he had to get right with God. So, Dick kneeled in prayer before his Maker, admitted his need for a Savior, and gave his life in submission to the Lordship of Christ.
Follower of Jesus, Raising a Family, and Loving God Through Science
Dick met his soon-to-be-wife, Phyllis, at Spring Arbor University, a Christian school, in Michigan. Dick also fell in love with the study of biology, earned his degrees, and secured a teaching job at Taylor University, another school of Christian higher education, in Indiana.
But when Dick’s oldest son complained to Phyllis, wondering why “daddy never smiled anymore,” Dick knew he had a problem. Even though Dick was beginning to enjoy his study of mice, it was difficult to get funding for scientific research.
A well-known Christian speaker had come to Taylor University, challenging the students and faculty there, that they had to make a choice between what the Bible had to say, versus what scientists had to say, about Creation. As a scientist who loved Jesus, and loved the Bible, the negative attitude towards scientific research, among some of his fellow Christians at Taylor, both frustrated and discouraged the young scientist.
Thankfully, the forward-looking leadership at Taylor had hired Dick, in hopes of reversing this mindset. But Dick still found it next to impossible to obtain grants, to support his research in population studies, among deer mice. Where could he follow his calling from God, to explore the wonders of God’s creation, and celebrate God’s majesty, as Creator?
In the 1960s, Dick found out about an opening in the biology department at the College of William and Mary. The opportunities for doing scientific research at William and Mary, and teaching, looked very promising.
Nevertheless, the prospect of going to William and Mary filled Dick with trepidation. William and Mary was a secular institution, and it was not quite clear how friendly the College would be towards people of evangelical faith. Plus, Williamsburg, Virginia seemed a long way from his home upbringings in the Midwest. Dick took the job offer, but not without harboring some questions. Why would God be calling him, with his wife and young family, to William and Mary? Was he hearing God correctly, or was this the wrong decision to make? Was he making a terrible mistake?
Dick discovered the answers within a just few days of settling into his new office, on the William and Mary campus. A group of Christian students showed up at the new biology professor’s door. For two years, these students had been praying that God would send a Christian professor to William and Mary, who might be willing to act as faculty sponsor for a new, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, student chapter. When asked if Professor Terman might be their answer to prayer, Dick Terman accepted their request.
Over the next decade or so, the InterVarsity chapter at William and Mary continued to grow. On several occasions, they had invited a dynamic and gifted pastor from Virginia Beach, Dick Woodward, to come up to Williamsburg, and give talks at the chapter’s large group meetings. Dick Woodward had been affiliated at one point with Norfolk Tabernacle Church, and Dick Terman decided to meet with the elders of Norfolk Tabernacle, to see if a similar church could be founded in Williamsburg, that could meet the growing spiritual needs of the campus and greater Williamsburg area community. Yet, was this the right thing to do?
Dick and Phyllis had joined another church in Williamsburg. However, they left that church, when they learned that the church leadership would not allow African-American students to participate in the local fellowship. The Termans believed that the Christian faith was for all people, not just a select few. Starting a new Christian community, one that would focus on solid Bible teaching, evangelism, discipleship and missions, while maintaining an “agree to disagree” posture on non-essential doctrinal matters, was needed in this college town. After much prayer, they decided to move forward.
Dick and Phyllis, together with another William and Mary scientist, Dave Thompson, and his wife, Karen, started the Williamsburg Community Chapel in 1976. Dick Terman even gave the sermon at the first church meeting, in the Thompson’s home. People came back, so he must not have put everyone to sleep! … That is a personal joke that Dick Terman always likes to tell on himself.
Impacting a New Generation for Christ
This is where my personal story weaves in a bit. As a high school kid, I went to my first Young Life meeting in the Terman’s living room, in 1979. Dick and Phyllis’s daughter, a student at a neighboring high school, was involved in the Young Life club. Though I was raised in a church, up to that point, I knew next to nothing about what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I then went off to college as a fairly new Christian, but soon struggled with finding a good church in my college town. I did finally settle on a church, but as a mathematics major, taking science classes, as part of my major, I wrestled with that church’s teaching, that tended to place the study of the Scriptures in opposition with the pursuits of modern science.
I went through a crisis of faith in those years, but I took great comfort in the fact that I could come home to Williamsburg, and meet up with Dick Terman, who was a practicing scientist, who deeply loved the Lord. Was Christianity really compatible with modern science? Do you have to stick your intellect in the sand in order to follow Jesus? Dick helped me work through many of those questions. I eventually started going to the Williamsburg Community Chapel, on a regular basis, after college, and I was always encouraged by Dick Terman’s cheerful and winsome manner.
Dick Terman is probably one of nicest men you could ever meet. His love for Jesus just flows out in everything that he does. Some years later, I started having questions about faith and science again, and Dick was always positive and modeled for me a generous, humble and Christ-like spirit. Dick encouraged me to join him in becoming a member of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of evangelically-minded Christians, who seek to integrate biblical faith and a love for science. Dick’s youngest son, whom I also became friends with in Young Life, followed in his father’s footsteps as a scientist, currently teaching and doing research in neuroscience, at a university in Texas.
Just a few years ago, I had the privilege of serving with Dick Terman on a speakers panel, for a “Faith and Facts Symposium,” sponsored by our church and the Veracity blog. About the same time, my wife and I met up with Dick and Phyllis for a 50th year anniversary celebration of the founding of the InterVarsity chapter at William and Mary. There I saw well over a hundred alumni, gathered together to honor the guiding influence that the Termans gave to students, over that time period. The impact for Christ can be measured in generations.
Looking Forward at God’s Movement in Our World
When I asked Dick recently, what he thought were some of the greatest concerns he had for the future of the evangelical Christian movement in America, two ideas stood out.
First, Dick believes that younger people in our churches today are losing connection with some of the more historical expressions of faith. For example, fewer and fewer younger believers today are familiar with some of the great hymns of the faith, classic expressions of Christian worship. While Dick believes that churches should continue to innovate, to keep reaching new generations for Jesus, there is a great need for balance in how we experience corporate worship today.
Secondly, Dick is troubled that many Christians are not making an investment in integrating matters of the intellect with a vibrant, biblically-based faith. The culture is rapidly changing, and Christians need to be actively engaged with developing a “Christian mind,” that addresses the challenges of a world, growing increasingly disinterested and even hostile to the Gospel.
Nevertheless, Dick is overall quite positive about the future of God’s Kingdom spreading and the Gospel having an impact on the lives of people. Dick Terman’s desire and prayerful enthusiasm to see others come to know Jesus is absolutely contagious. He has a real heart for people and giving. Whenever we have met for lunch, he has always insisted on paying the bill.
Dick and Phyllis are nearing the last stage of their earthly journey, as they will soon move out of state, to live near one of their children, and several grandchildren. The Termans leave behind an incredible legacy in Williamsburg, a thriving InterVarsity ministry at the College of William and Mary, and a growing church in Williamsburg, that far exceeds anything they originally envisioned, and friends who will miss them.
God speed, Dick and Phyllis!