Theological “friendly fire”

I attended the funeral of one of my teachers last week. I won't tell you how many years ago he taught my Grade 8 Protestant religious education class.

Though an ordained Anglican minister, William Clinton was initially hired to teach science when Quebec's regional high schools first opened in the late 1960s. By the time I was making the hour-and-a-half bus ride to the gigantic institution with 4,000 students he was back in his element leading the "moral and religious education" department and teaching many of its classes.

I began Grade 8 at the peak of my evangelical arrogance. I knew Josh McDowell inside out, kept several tract publishers in business and memorized Scripture like crazy. It took me five minutes to size up Mr. Clinton on the first day of class—the man was wearing a Roman collar for heaven's sake! I never got the nerve to tell him that he spent the first six months of the school year on my list of prayer targets for conversion.

I was thrilled whenever he assigned essay homework because that gave me opportunities to witness. As we built a relationship in writing—he would respond to my essays in great detail—I was startled to discover that he knew as much Scripture as I did. I was surprised to find he was also a Calvinist and pleased when he responded to one essay expressing reticence about one of the five petals of Calvin's TULIP with a simple "Amen."

Very gently, his written responses began to challenge me, but with a respect that I hadn't afforded him. His reading suggestions were the first to introduce me to the wealth of the early church fathers. We shared several lunches in the cafeteria, and I occasionally accompanied him to his office after class so he could lend me a book or read a section he thought I needed to hear.

I had expected attacks from godless teachers who drove the universal humanist plot to eradicate Christianity, but I had not anticipated the friendly fire. Between Mr. Clinton and another teacher, a lapsed evangelical who introduced me to Schaeffer and Lewis, my faith matured and grew.

In the crowded little Anglican church, on August 29 in Dunham, Quebec, I sat with some retired teachers from the high school. As the funeral progressed some who remembered me as a zealous evangelical were impressed by my familiarity with the Book of Common Prayer.

I have never worked up the nerve to publicly admit that a well worn copy shares the top drawer of my nightstand with my Bible, but I'm sure Mr. Clinton will be glad to hear it the next time we meet.

Dear Readers:

ChristianWeek relies on your generous support. please take a minute and donate to help give voice to stories that inform, encourage and inspire.

Donations of $20 or more will receive a charitable receipt.
Thank you, from Christianweek.

About the author