Heroes are for the young, memories are for the old.
As a teenage preacher, one of my heroes was Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. I cannot remember the first time I heard him preach but I was quickly captivated by his resonate voice, biblical depth, and how he had a majestic reverence for the Lord Jesus. Personally being more of a tenor in tone of voice, I never felt the need to imitate him in preaching but I loved that fact that someone so solid on the Bible was out there, somewhere, preaching the truth. It was comforting somehow. There was a prophet in the land.
Arriving at college I soon found that some of the religion faculty did not share my preference in preachers. Adrian Rogers was more of a topic of criticism than a subject of praise. Though we religion students knew that some of our professors would not approve, several of us would secretly listen at night to Adrian Rogers on the radio…we called it Radio Free Memphis. Over time I learned why the professors and Adrian Rogers differed (the professors were wrong in my opinion) but my fascination with the text of Scripture drove me to agree more with Adrian and less with my professors.
Being the irreverent young theologues that we were, one of the college gang had a regular prank he would pull on me. I would get a call and a deep voice on the line would say, “Mike, it’s Adrian Rogers, can I speak with you for a moment.?” Good times.
After graduating from college and arriving at grad school as a seminary student I experienced a spiritually refreshing revival. My new professors gave me a deeper understanding of the Scriptures which so fascinated me. My seminary professors taught me the Bible, spiritual discipline, and, as if that was not enough, I even got to hear Adrian preach every year on campus.
As an older preacher, most of my heroes are in heaven. Sensing it more than knowing it, a change has somehow occurred–the need for heroes has declined as my focus turns to getting to know the Lord Jesus better. I still have the memories of my heroes, however, and maybe that is comfort enough.
On becoming president of a seminary (my seminary alma mater, in fact) I finally met this wonderful man and knew him as my pastor. I always hesitated to call him my friend, even though we socialized, partly because of our age difference and also because I had held him on a pedestal for so long.
On an embarrassing note, I received a congratulatory phone call soon after becoming the president at Mid-America. The voice on the phone said that it was Adrian Rogers and he wanted a moment to speak to me. I thought I recognized a familiar voice from college so I retorted, “Very funny, but I’m not going to fall for that after all these years.” Stunned silence greeted me from the other end of the line. “I said this is Adrian Rogers,” the voice repeated. “You’re really good,” I thought to myself, even after all these years. However, the realization soon dawned on me that this was the REAL Adrian on the line. He accepted my stumbling explanation with grace. Ouch.
Adrian Rogers loved Jesus and he loved Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. In fact, Adrian led Bellevue to donate land for a new campus for the seminary across the street from the church. We started construction as he began his battle with cancer and retired as pastor of the church.
Hours from Heaven
It was a beautiful Monday. Adrian and I were going to lunch to discuss some classes he would teach at the seminary. I still remember where we sat in the restaurant. He was not well and I could hear every labored breath he took. He talked about the future and several unexpected topics. After lunch, he asked to go see the new seminary campus, at that time only partially constructed.
We drove to the front entrance of the incomplete building and he looked across the street to the three large crosses on the church campus and paused. I asked him if he was pleased with the progress and he added a small smile to his distant gaze. “Oh yes, Michael, Mid-America will always be in the shadow of the cross and at the foot of the cross.”
Adrian Rogers died a few days later, after a short stay in the hospital. I had no way of knowing, of course, that he would be in Heaven in so short a time it could be counted in hours. I have been with several preachers shortly before they passed on and I stand in wonder when they seem to look to that faraway land. On the Mid-America campus, whenever I see a cross, I well remember the last words of Adrian Rogers . . . to me.