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No one has influenced and impacted my life like the “prince of preachers,” the man known as Adrian Rogers. Dr. Rogers was one of the most popular and influential preachers and pastors of the latter half of the 20th century. He was known for expository preaching, evangelistic passion, love for the nations and his uncompromising commitment to the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God. His ministry spanned over 50 years, and he was pivotal in the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I have the joy of serving at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, because of Adrian Rogers.
The Conservative resurgence
Rogers joined others to navigate the most significant debate in the history of the SBC. This was a time of serious contention among Baptists and evangelicals due to the infiltration of theological liberalism and neo-orthodoxy that had spread throughout SBC seminaries and churches. Stakes were high. Not only did Rogers’s leadership have a significant impact on the debate over the doctrine of inerrancy, he modeled biblical conviction and compassion that caused even those who disagreed with him to respect him for his integrity.
During the conservative resurgence, Rogers was asked to serve on the Peace Committee. Rogers and the other committee members were charged with reaching a compromise between liberal and conservative Baptists on key theological doctrines. At one point in their meetings, Rogers was approached by a lawyer who represented the opposing side. During this conversation, Rogers made a famous statement that in so many ways defines the man. Of that event his wife Joyce writes, “A successful lawyer who represented the moderate faction pulled Adrian aside and said, ‘Adrian, if you don’t compromise, we will never get together.’” Joyce noted her husband’s reply, “I’m willing to compromise about many things, but not the Word of God. So far as getting together is concerned, we don’t have to get together. The Southern Baptist Convention, as it is, does not have to survive. I don’t have to be the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church. I don’t have to be loved; I don’t even have to live. But I will not compromise the Word of God.” This statement summarizes the tremendous conviction Rogers held for the inerrancy of the Bible and helps one understand why, at least in part, he was such a powerful preacher of the Word of God.
A Personal word about my spiritual hero
Adrian Rogers was my mentor mostly from afar. It was only in the last years of his life that I had the joy of being with him up close and personal. I will never forget when he preached in chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Spring of 2005. It was the last time he spoke in a seminary chapel before his death. He spent two hours with me in our home after lunch. He greatly encouraged me by telling me he had prayed that I would become president of Southeastern, and that he was very proud of me. I cannot overstate what that has meant to me these past 13 years.
Reflecting on lessons I learned by watching him for almost 30 years would take a book in itself. However, let me highlight several things that have greatly shaped my life and approach to people.
1. He taught me the importance of staying in love with Jesus. Dr. Rogers was a Jesus-intoxicated man who never got over the wonder of his salvation. He loved our Savior and it showed.
2. He taught me how to love a wife. Next to Jesus, no one doubted whom Adrian Rogers loved most; it was his wife Joyce. His public displays of love and affection for his lady were appropriate and affectionate.
3. He taught me how to love my children well. Adrian Rogers is greatly admired and loved by his children. Why? Because they knew of and experienced his deep love for them. To hear his children talk about him causes me to long for similar words from my own sons.
4. He taught me how to treat others. Dr. Rogers always made time for others. It did not matter who they were. The last time he was at Southeastern Seminary, he impressed this truth on me in a manner that has left a permanent imprint on my life. Following his message in chapel, people lined up by the dozens to speak to him. I knew this would happen. This started at about 11:00 a.m. At 11:45 a.m., the line was still long. I went to his wife Joyce to gain her assistance in graciously pulling him away. I should have listened more carefully when she said, “If you want to get him, then you go ahead. I am staying here!” Not listening, I walked up and touched his arm and attempted to begin nudging him away. I will never forget what he said. Gently but firmly, he quietly said, “Little Danny, when I am ready to leave I will let you know.” In the voice of a squeaky mouse I responded and said, “Ok,” then scurried back to a pew and sat there like a little boy who had just got his knuckles rapped with a ruler! At 12:15 p.m., I walked back up as the last person in line approached. It was a small grey-headed lady probably in her 80s. She approached Dr. Rogers and said, “I have heard you preach for years, but I never thought I would get to meet you. I just want to touch your cheek.” She, with a shaking elderly hand, reached up and placed that wrinkled hand on the cheek of this great servant of Christ. He gently placed his hand over hers, bent over and gave her a kiss on her cheek. With sweet tears running down her face, she turned and walked away. As she did, Adrian looked at me and said, “Now we can go.” Words are not adequate to express the lesson he taught me that day.
5. Finally, Dr. Rogers taught me how to finish well. Though his death was untimely and unexpected and all too soon, he finished as he ran – with compassion, conviction, grace, humility, kindness and love. He finished joyful, not bitter; sweeter not meaner. Who he was on the inside shined all the more brightly as he approached the finish line. I want to finish like that too.