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April 10, 2014

MAY: The past vs. the future

— A couple of years ago I became hooked on a television show on cable’s Travel Channel. The host was a jovial, rotund fellow named Adam Richman.

During his show, Richman would find some of the best local restaurants across the country and would participate in food challenges in every locale. Most hot wings, biggest sundaes, largest steaks and most doughnuts were just some of the contests that he entered. Over the handful of seasons that the show ran, Richman showed us that in the battle of “Man vs. Food,” sometimes food wins.

We have been looking at several big match-ups — many in the arena of sporting events. Last week, we learned that some of the biggest challenges are not in sports, but in real life. We began that journey by peeking at how we stand versus the changes in society.

I was struck by another of those huge challenges this week when a friend sent me an email. He had been wrestling with an issue of theology. It was one of those deep questions that we can probably only answer with a degree of certainty, realizing that some questions will probably remain unanswered until we meet our Creator face to face.

So I began to craft my answer to him, first in my mind and then onto paper.

My thoughts went back to the college classroom where less than a handful of teachers shaped both my understanding of Scriptures and my teaching style. The first professor that came to my mind was Dr. Jack Cottrell, professor of Theology at the Seminary in Cincinnati. Cottrell hailed from Stamping Ground, Ky. — I am sure that you hail from there rather than are born there. He received undergraduate degrees from both the Cincinnati Christian University and the University of Cincinnati. His master’s came from Westminster Theological Seminary; his doctorate from Princeton.

Cottrell was meticulous in the formation of his theology. There did not seem to be any aspect of God that he had not wrestled through and arrived at a sound conclusion. His arguments were impeccable. His evidence weighty. His vocabulary scholarly.

What I appreciated most about Cottrell — and what I carried from him in my teaching — was his thoroughly developed lesson handouts. When Cottrell would lecture, his handout would contain an almost word-for-word outline of his message. I dusted off some of his handouts and began to study.

Dr. Lewis Foster was my next stop. Foster was the dean of the Seminary and professor of New Testament at Cincinnati Christian University when I was a student. Foster held undergraduate degrees from both Cincinnati Christian University and Indiana University. His advanced degrees came from Yale and Harvard. Foster served on the committee that originally translated the New International Version of the Bible, and also worked on portions of the New King James Version.

What I carried of this man from Cincinnati was his love for telling stories. He made the Bible and theology come alive by the stories that he told — practical, personal, important stories that related truth to real life. When the listener would be perceptive enough to make the connection, Foster would grin from ear to ear, a feat that would make his bald head glisten. So as I pondered the questions of theology, I paused to remember his stories.

My final point of reference was Tom Friskney. Friskney taught Greek and New Testament in the undergraduate division of Cincinnati Christian University. He taught English and composition because it was important that students know how to communicate correctly. He taught yearbook because no one else would and students needed a book to capture memories. He taught a night class once a week because the night students needed to know about the New Testament also.

He always taught more than a full load without ever complaining. He was always somewhere on campus, answering questions, reteaching lessons, modeling character and caring. He drove three hours to school one way because he loved to teach students.

He ate popcorn while sitting on the floor of my dorm room every Monday night.

In the great game of past versus future, in order for future to win, I must pass on lessons from the past to tomorrow’s leaders because of my love for the truth and my love for the student. Somehow the Cottrells, Fosters and Friskneys are counting on me.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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