How Shall We Then Learn to Preach?
Part III: Scared Straight
Part III: Scared Straight
Seminary scared me. I was so scared when I took my first Hebrew exam (writing the alphabet), I had a bad case of brain lock and failed. But, even more fear producing was the first Friday of “Senior Preaching.”
In those unenlightened days all seminary students preached for criticism three times. The first two years you preached before your class and got criticism from the preaching professor and a fellow student. But the Big Show was in your senior year when you preached before all students and all faculty members.
The preaching of the sermon was scary enough, but what followed resembled a trip through Dante’s inferno. At least three faculty members gave their criticisms before God and everybody else, as the shaking senior sat on the anxious bench (front pew), the first two parts being a criticism of his handling of the text and his use (or abuse) of theology according to the usual pattern.
But by far the worst of it was the homiletical criticism delivered by Richard Allen Bodey. The criticism included the quality of the manuscript version, all aspects of the construction, and the delivery itself. It was detailed, thorough, unsparing, withering, long, and not a little embarrassing.
Taking all the criticisms together, a number of pictures come to mind. A soldier on the battle field under enfilade fire. Jezebel thrown off the tower and the dogs licking her blood. An oral equivalent to being drawn and quartered.
Willie Nelson tells the story how he used to come home to his first wife somewhat less than sober. Eventually she got enough of it. One night as he lay unconscious on the bed, she sewed him up in a sheet and commenced to whack him with a broom. Willie’s comment was, “Well, she got my attention.”
That’s what that first Friday of Senior Preaching did to me. It got my attention. In two years or so all that would happen to me. It became an apt illustration of the sinner anticipating and then experiencing the Judgment.
That’s not to say that the previews (something like temporal judgments foreshadowing final judgment) were not in themselves painful enough. The wife of classmate and dear friend has given me permission to share a story which she wrote me after my first blog about Mr. Bodey. It shows him at his critical yet funny best:
“Y says he's been in shock since his first sermon in Bodey's class. He was assigned II Corinthinians 8:9. (Professor Z) helped him prepare....said it was about filthy lucre...so Y was preaching away and made the mistake of saying ‘Christ humbled himself to be carried in the bosom of a woman’ and Bodey threw his manuscript up in the air & said; ‘Mr. Y by all that is holy and sacred, don't ever mention the parts of the anatomy in God's holy pulpit! You would think that with as many children as you have, you would know how to distinguish the parts of the body....but then on the other hand, maybe that's why you have so many children!!!’”
The fact that we can look back on bloody Fridays with laughter does not take away the terror they produced in those who experienced them. Knowing the terror of Richard Allen Bodey helped prepare us for “knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men.”
I am doubtful professors could get away with or students could endure what was once quite common. Niceness has overwhelmed the personalities of professors, and, forgive me, but students are wusses.
In my seminary years, professors were not bland. We saw their anger sometimes. One had the nickname “Snortin”. He snorted at me when I showed up to take a final exam wearing knee length shorts, and he refused to let me take the exam till I went home, changed clothes, and met with him and the President. Another came within a fraction of an inch walking out of class because a student took his bare feet out of his shoes. The professor to whom I was personally closest did walk out and refused to teach because we became too boisterous in the early minutes of class. And, we all knew what it was like to watch the red creep up Mr. Bodey’s neck onto his bald crown, knowing what was to follow.
Charley Chase, a good friend, who in my opinion is the best of my generation of preachers produced by RTS, shared with me part of the introduction to a book he has written: “The preaching professor in seminary who assigned the Only One Sermon book was Richard Allen Bodey. Mr. Bodey was the Bear Bryant of the faculty. He would have been that on any faculty fortunate enough to have him. He was that good a teacher---and that scary. Students who made it through Dick Bodey’s classes were the theological version of Bear’s “Junction Boys”: survivors.”
When I first read that, I didn’t get it. Mr. Bodey didn't see too physical to me. Did he, Yankee though he was, have some connection to the University of Alabama? Did he have a penchant for bourbon I didn't know about? But now I do get it. Drill. Repetition. Demanding. No Excuses. Scaring the…well, daylights… out of you. Getting you ready to leave it all on the field.
Thank you, Bear Bodey.