The Power of Words

21 06 2009

When you sit in a class, in one sense, all you are doing is listening to a series of words, letters, and sounds put together by a certain teacher and spoken to a particular group of people. But why do these words, letters, and sounds affect you, influence you, and sometime change you altogether? What gives these words so much weight and power? The quickest response one might give to such a question is, especially if you are philosophically oriented, “truth.” If the words hold in them truth, then it must have power and must hold weight.  I do not disagree, per se, but I would like to posit that it is incomplete to view that the sole reason that gives words their power is the conceptual notion of “truth.” It seems that the real power is effected by the person behind the words, the person behind the truth. If either an escaped convict or a close friend were to tell you the same true and wise advice, which would affect you more? I would guess the close friend’s. Though the same set of words, a different person lies behind them, changing the effecting power of the phrase.

Looking back at the education I received at Westminster after graduation, I learned a great deal of valuable information and truths that were taught, spoken and presented in class, but the greater jewel that I cherish incomparably more is having met the people behind the information. What has shaped me to a greater degree is the personhood of the professors at the institution, and I want to share what I have learned as a thank you to these teachers, professors, and mentors.

Prof Al Groves– The first professor I met at Westminster, the professor I never had the privilege of taking a class with and yet have learned so much. The second time I spoke to him, he remembered the details of our first conversation, a great listener. Even when he became terminally ill, he did not seclude himself to just his family but made himself available to all who needed him. A great servant leader, he truly knew what it meant to spend one’s life for others for Christ’s sake, as he would never draw attention to himself, but always pointed towards Christ.

Prof Steve Taylor – A professor who was always available to his students, was not only interested in giving us the plethora of knowledge he had but was interested in mentoring his students. I learned from him that Christianity must never be reduced to a set of principles or a well written document but that it is about a person, the Person of Christ.

Jerry McFarland, Dean of Students – Standing with a cup of coffee at the door way of our lecture building, he is remembered for lovingly shouting, “GET TO CLASS!” His energy and engaging personality was very fitting to be a pastor for future pastors. But more so than his personality, the one thing that stuck in my mind was the statement that he would always press us students to mindful of, which is to always in our speech, actions and thoughts, to remember to honor the name of Jesus Christ.

Prof Tim Witmer – The jolly man on campus. His smile and pastoral demeanor always made him approachable and available. Maybe it’s because he’s experienced much in ministry but he would never be surprised towards a shocking story in a paternalistic sense, but rather always spoke advise in concern that the listener will be directed toward Christ. Also, he also showed with his engagement of other cultures (at church and school) that Christ allows for the crossing of any boundaries.

Prof Pete Enns– He taught that asking questions should not be feared, but that God wants us to direct our questions toward him and struggle towards him because that is what children do. In OTI, he taught us that as Christians we need to know when to fight and for what we need to fight. In short, to know the distinction between dogma, doctrine, and Christian practice. One other thing that I will never forget is his warning in Wisdom & Poetry class where he told us, ‘You guys are not here for money because most of you will not be rich, but what you will have is power, you will all have influence over someone.’ And he warned us of the dangers of power if it is not used in wisdom.

Prof Manny Ortiz – The professor who knew my name before I met him. He would look at the student directory and find the enrolled students in the upcoming class and pray over each of us by name. He would never ask, “How are you?” without willing to listen for a good 30 minutes (and more), and he was always willing to listen. A truly pastoral professor

Prof Carl Trueman – The professor who helped me fall in love with the ancient historian Augustine. His lectures on the Confessions and the pear tree incident coinciding with the Ted Haggard scandal was a great reminder of the depth of our depravity and the importance of Christian accountability.

Prof David Powlison – Not only is he an excellent counseling professor, but he remembered me by name. Whenever I spoke with him, even the littlest thing like his posture and tone of voice showed that he listened with sincere concern. Taught me one of the greatest principle of theology, that ‘All theology must lead to practical theology’ (paraphrased).

Prof Harvie Conn– The man that I’ve never met but owe much to. He was my father’s teacher, a missionary to Korea, was a big reason my father was able to come to the US to Westminster and thus, in effect, allowing me to be a Westminster student and US citizen. His theology of contextualizating of the eternal Word has shaped a large part of the theology to which I hold. A brilliant yet personable teacher, a compassionate minister, and most importantly, a humble servant. Would have truly loved to have share a conversation with this man.


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One response

10 09 2009
becka

Paul, great post here. I love seeing the great impact such a diverse group of men made on your seminary education. God bless!

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