I met with Vernon Grounds the morning after his 65th wedding anniversary and the day he joined dignitaries in breaking ground for Denver Seminary's new campus. The years had taken a toll. He reached up now and then to adjust a hearing aid and rose slowly from his seat to answer the phone. His hunched posture belied a lifetime of working out with weights. "I have three secrets to longevity," he said as he turned 90: "God, genetics, and the gym."
For 23 years, Grounds served as the seminary's president before retiring into the role of chancellor. He crisscrossed the country at a time when that meant three or four stops in propeller planes. He preached thousands of sermons and delivered thousands of lectures. He was a pioneer in Christian counseling as well as social activism. Along the way, he sustained fierce attacks from fundamentalist board members who scorned Billy Graham as a modernist and argued for strict separatism.
"I still have a walking stick from those days," Grounds reminisced. "I used to take long walks, a couple of miles at a time, discussing my critics aloud with God." He knew the fundamentalist controversy well, having attended a seminary founded by the combative Carl McIntire. (Christian authors Joseph Bayly and Kenneth Kantzer were classmates.) It was there Grounds first heard the definition of fundamentalism as "too much fun, too much damn, and not enough mental."
Over the years, Grounds's faith matured in a way that offered both hope and comfort to young seminarians. In his lectures and in personal counseling sessions, he told the honest truth about the ups and downs of life with God and with the church. Love is the key, he insisted. Jesus gave it as a command, not an option. We serve a God who even loves ...