As he lay sick, John Donne wrote: "From the bells of the church adjoining, I am daily remembered of my burial in the funerals of others." Listening to those bells, Donne contemplated the deaths of others who, because they were baptized, were engrafted into the body of which he was a member.
I don't hear church bells from where I sit, but I get letters, faxes, e-mail messages, and press releases tolling the deaths of influential Christians: ministry leaders, teachers, pastors, writers, singers, and beloved parents and spouses.
Some of these make a mark big enough to merit an item in our news columns. In this issue, we note a university professor and three ministry founders. We give more extended comment to the passing of singer Johnny Cash, who like John Donne contemplated death. In "Johnny Cash's Song of Redemption", Ted Olsen tells how Johnny Cash witnessed his older brother's gruesome death from a table-saw accident. Jack Cash said he heard the angels singing, and Johnny responded by turning his life over to Christ.
Others who make huge contributions to the kingdom do not make a name for themselves. They rarely get noted in these pages, but their names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life and on the hearts of the many they have influenced for good.
In the days before we completed this issue, CHRISTIANITY TODAY received e-mail messages from professor David Howard Jr. of Bethel Seminary about his mother's unexpected death, and from former Columbia International University president Robertson McQuilken about the end of his wife's long decline.
Since our last issue, we've mourned the death of one of our vital behind-the-scenes people here at CT: Dave Hemstreet, vice-president for financial operations, was struck down at age 54 by lung cancer.
In our highly mobile society, Dave was a member of one church for 51 years. I'm sure there's a special place in God's heart for those who anchor themselves in congregational life that way, not swarming to the latest hot preacher or worship innovation. That was just one way Dave was extraordinary.
In other ways, his story was a familiar one: Youthful indiscretions followed by a rude awakening—in jail. Having hit bottom, he returned, like the Prodigal Son, to the waiting Father. So many have walked that path.
Skeptics of evangelical religion are frequently cynical about its staying power. Dave's renewed faith had staying power. Skeptics also caricature evangelical faith as otherworldly and divorced from present realities. Dave integrated his faith with everything he touched. As our corporate number cruncher, he discerned God's hand and listened for God's voice in the balance sheet.
The unexpected discovery of his cancer drove the one-time Prodigal further into the arms of the Father. In the lonely hours after he got the bad news, he turned to Luke's story of the annunciation. The angel Gabriel told Mary, who was soon to be pregnant out of wedlock, "The Lord is with you." You may be in trouble, you may feel alone, but the Lord is with you. Dave took this and many other promises to heart. His life was (to borrow Eugene Peterson's title) a long obedience in the same direction. His dying was short, but just as faithful.
Next issue: Why Protestants should honor Mary; how Hugh Hefner sabotaged the national soul; and how evangelical views of social justice have changed.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more