Category Archives: Witnesses
I want to tell you a little bit about one of the most influential, Spirit-led men, that most people will never know. Doug Coe, a leader behind the annual National Prayer Breakfast, and mentor to countless national and world leaders, for the sake of Jesus Christ, died on February 21, 2017.
Doug Coe’s ministry was simple: to help point people towards Jesus. His strategy was simple: to meet with people one-on-one and in small groups, to point people towards Jesus. What made Doug Coe unique was that he did this very quietly, with politicians and other leaders-and-shakers, for over 50 years, in the halls of Congress and the White House, in Washington, D.C. In 2005, TIME magazine labeled Doug Coe as one of the 25 most influential evangelical leaders in America, as the “Stealth Persuader.”
The TIME article needlessly overreaches in describing Doug Coe. But there have been a number of Christians who have had their suspicions, too. The cynicism is to be expected, but in the high-pressure, high-stakes, high-visibility political world of Washington, D.C., Doug Coe was a man that Congressmen and Presidents could simply trust, a man who gently pointed some of the most powerful people on the planet to take small, yet ultimately significant, steps towards Jesus.
No political boundary was too wide to prevent Doug Coe from sharing his message. Hilary Clinton often attended a weekly prayer meeting on Capital Hill, led by Doug Coe, when she was a Senator. Doug Coe brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda, after building years of friendships with other African leaders. Two years later, Congo and Rwanda, signed a peace treaty. To this day, the National Prayer Breakfast, that Coe helped to run through a movement called the “Fellowship Foundation,” brings together leaders from all over the world to consider the teachings and person of Jesus, connecting these leaders with the inner-city poor and disenfranchised, through service activities.
I had the privilege of meeting Doug Coe in the late 1980s, not too long after I became friends with one of his sons, Jonathan, who helped some of my friends at my college build an off-campus Christian community. Doug Coe avoided public attention, keeping a very low profile, with the Fellowship Foundation, networking people together in quiet ways.
Running a ministry like this, beneath the radar, creates a safe environment for leaders under the scrutiny of the press, and it has led to extraordinary, wonderful spiritual transformations, for which the public is mostly unaware.
However, on a few isolated occasions, the low profile of the ministry that Doug Coe gently facilitated, has had its disadvantages, too. Sadly, when a relative handful of participants in these small, quiet networks have veered off the “straight and and narrow,” either morally or doctrinally, the Fellowship Foundation really has had no effective means to discipline their “black sheep,”to get them back on the right path. But that probably is the price you pay when working with people with names like Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama. While I am confident that Doug Coe stayed above the fray, the lure of corruption and hubris for those who intermingle with the rich and powerful is a difficult drug to lay aside.
Aside from those who have met him, very few will soon remember the soft-spoken Doug Coe, but he would rather it be that way. In his obituary, Doug Coe was quoted as saying, “I am called simply to be an inclusive ambassador of Jesus Christ’s love. Early on I thought the work of God was evangelism, but I soon realized the only person I could evangelize or disciple was myself. I learned from Billy Graham that the Gospel isn’t three or five points; it’s a Person – Jesus. God is love, and since Jesus is God, then the Gospel is also love.”
A quiet, inclusive ambassador, indeed. Thank you, Lord, for Doug Coe’s quiet legacy.
Frederick Douglass was surely the most famous African-American of the 19th century. After escaping from slavery from Maryland, Douglass went onto become an outspoken leader of the abolitionist movement. Not only was he a great American, he was a follower of Jesus Christ. His commitment to Jesus played a major role in his efforts to end slavery. From his 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:
I was not more than thirteen years old, when I felt the need of God, as a father and protector. My religious nature was awakened by the preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson. He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that they were, by nature, rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God, through Christ. … I was, for weeks, a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and misery of doubts and fears. I finally found that change of heart which comes by “casting all one’s care” upon God, and by having faith in Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer, Friend, and Savior of those who diligently seek him. After this, I saw the world in a new light. … I loved all mankind—slaveholders not excepted; though I abhorred slavery more than ever.
He never knew the exact date of his birthday, but later in life, he chose February 14 to celebrate. Before his mother died when Douglass was about eight years-old, she called him her “little valentine.” Born in February, 1818, he would have been 199 years old today.
Just in case anyone is confused, Frederick Douglass is no longer living, as he died in 1895.
“To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible,” so said astronaut John Glenn, during his space flight aboard the Space Shuttle in 1998. “It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it’s like.”
This is a powerful testimony, decades after he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. The American novelist and secular writer, Tom Wolfe, in his essay on “The Faith of John Glenn,” in the Wall Street Journal, observes that Glenn’s Presbyterian confidence in God stood out back in the those early days of the Mercury program, too. In my years working as a contractor at NASA, I never had the opportunity to meet John Glenn, who recently died at age 95, but I always considered him to be a man of integrity and admiration.
By seeing God revealed in creation, above the curvature of the earth, John Glenn followed the lead of where his faith took him, which might seem controversial to some. In a day and an age where many think Christianity is in opposition to science, John Glenn was an advocate for science education in the public schools, even endorsing the teaching of biological evolutionary theory, seeing no contradiction between evolution and his Christian faith.
Christians today do indeed hold to a wide variety of differing viewpoints on the subject of creation and human origins. But I hope believers of all perspectives might be encouraged by the outspoken testimony of this man of faith, who saw God revealed in creation.
“I loved heresy…But the Holy Spirit found me,” so said Methodist theologian Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016), who died December 8, 2016.
Thomas Oden had grown up in the world of mainline Methodism, in the mid-20th century. He fully imbibed the liberal theology of his day, immersing himself in the writings of Rudolph Bultmann and Paul Tillich. He was a leading thinker and theological spokesperson for a radical redefinition of Christianity that swept through American mainline churches in the 1950s to 1960s. He had admired the Vietnamese Ho Chi Min as an agrarian patriot. But then he realized that he had been wrong.
In an interview a few years ago with Southern Baptist leader, Al Mohler, Oden confessed that his enthusiasm for Marx was misguided. “I loved the fantasies and I loved the revolutionary illusions. I truly loved them… I was one of those who was way out on the far left edge of accommodating to modernity. And I don’t know how but the Holy Spirit found me.”
A caring Jewish friend had encouraged Oden to read the patristic writers, those fathers of the early church who wrote extensively within the first few centuries of the Christian movement. Up to that point, Oden “was able to confess the Apostle’s Creed, but only with deep ambiguity. But I stumbled over ‘he arose from the dead.’ I had to demythologize it and could say it only symbolically. I could not inwardly confess the resurrection as a factual historical event.”
When Oden finally realized that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was something that he must believe and eventually did believe, in order to be a true Christian, it reoriented his life. He spent the second half of his life repudiating the hubris behind the very liberalism that nurtured him, and sought to build a case for a consensual model of Christian belief, looking to those early, classic church fathers for guidance. His change of heart was now to serve the church, and not to seek after the latest theological fad of academia.
Oden never broke away from his modest, classically-informed Wesleyan theological leanings. He sought for reconciliation in the predestination and free-will debates that still divides Calvinists and Arminians. He eschewed debates over the age of the earth, charismatic gifts, the “proper” view of the millennium and the “End Times,” and other intramural discussions, in order to focus on the common vision of faith embodied in the early creeds of the church, like the Nicene Creed.
As having read Thomas Oden’s Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, as the basic theology textbook in seminary, I can say that Oden was not as strong as an apologist or a textual Bible scholar, but these were not his gifts. His gift was in drawing together the widest range of the greatest teachers in the historical Christian tradition, to give us a “big picture,” consensus view of what it means to believe as a faithful follower of Jesus: Classic Christianity at its finest!!