Keith Call, a SharperIron reader, e-mailed me and told me that if I was ever around the Chicago area, he wanted to invite me to his workplace, Wheaton College. He said he’d love to give me a tour of the Billy Graham Center, a museum dedicated to American evangelism; and the Marion E. Wade Center, which houses a major research collection of the books and papers of the following seven British authors: Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. The next time I went through Chicago, I called Keith and Bob Roberts and spent a great afternoon with him, touring the campus and its many historic places. During our correspondence, he mentioned that an interview with R. Kent Hughes, pastor of College Church, would be quite interesting. Initially, I tried to put him off. I told him that if he could find contact information for Dr. Hughes, I’d consider it. Within minutes, I had his e-mail address. The rest is history.
R. Kent Hughes is senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and the father of four. He has authored numerous books and serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series. He is known as an expositor and is a Reformed Baptist pastoring a nondenominational church. College Church is now looking for a pastor. Dr. Hughes is retiring after his decades of leadership. He plans to spend his time traveling and teaching. I was privileged to interview Dr. Hughes in his office lounge.
Dr. Hughes had an impact on my life through his writings when I read Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome during my college years. He recently caught my attention with a book titled Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life. I heard several comments through the grapevine that all sounded similar: “It sounds like a fundamentalist wrote this.” My ears perked up, and I got the book. The book is written to Christians, exhorting them to be separate from the world.
One of the benefits of doing these interviews is the conversation before and after the interview. Dr. Hughes took me into his office, which is lined with books. He admitted that he’s not one for computers. Once he completes his sermon longhand, he turns it over to his secretary, who transcribes it. Then it’s off to the publisher. Dedicating himself to one sermon a week, he spends 20 hours in his study to prepare to feed his flock.
I wanted to engage him on issues regarding Wheaton College, which sits next door. (The college and the church have no official tie). Wheaton used to be a flagship school for fundamentalists. We embraced it. The Sword of the Lord used to be located just down the road, and the Rice home is still within sight of the college. (I believe Billy Graham also served on the board of The Sword at one time). However, Wheaton went the way of New Evangelicalism. Wheaton seems to be having its share of identity problems as of late. The departure of Mark Noll for Notre Dame, the writings of Robert Webber, and the recent spat over the firing of a professor who converted to Catholicism all give cause for concern. However, Dr. Hughes showed no interest in talking about those issues.
The teaser for his book reads as follows:
Evangelical Christianity is becoming increasingly worldly. Materialism, hedonism, violence, sexual misconduct, pluralism, and divorce are becoming as common within the church as without. As a result the church is losing its distinct identity as a people set apart to reach the world.
In this book, R. Kent Hughes builds a case for godliness in the church—a case that echoes the biblical call to holiness. The church can reach the world only if it keeps itself from being ensnared by the world. Hughes is not simply urging Christians to say no to worldliness—he is calling the church to say yes to Christ and to his call to reach our lost world.
My pastor, Dr. Les Heinze, felt the book was so good that we made it a Wednesday night series at Red Rocks. The prevailing comment from the members was that we should have put the series on Sunday morning because so many people needed to hear it. I would heartily recommend that you make the book available to your people and even consider taking time to teach it to your congregation.
This interview is broken into two parts. The first part is about Dr. Hughes’s background, his reason for writing the book, his other writings, and the first few chapters dealing with hedonism and materialism. The second part of the interview (to be posted next week) deals with the second half of the book on topics such as sex, violence, marriage, the Lord’s Day, and Fundamentalism.
I have also included some pictures from my tour with Keith Call. Keith, thanks for the tour. You were more than gracious!
Lore has it that some kids at Wheaton made their own version of Monopoly but received heat over copyright issues. They destroyed most of the games only to find out that the game was public domain. A few of the original boards still remain. A close eye can see what they put on Mediterranean Avenue.
The desk of C.S. Lewis
A wood-covered Pilgrim’s Progress from Bunyan’s church
I sit at Tolkien’s desk, hoping for inspiration.
The wardrobe (or a wardrobe) depending on who you talk to
SharperIron is place to discuss news and ideas that would be of interest to fundamentalists. SI plans to conduct interviews with people from all walks of life. The commonality in all interviews is that questions will be asked that would be of interest to Christian fundamentalists. An interview does not necessarily imply agreement with all aspects of the ministry, the beliefs or practices of the individual, or the views expressed in the interview.