Every man is a man of influence to some extent. He may be a power for good or for ill, but most men have a sphere of influence wherein they have enough clout to shape someone’s life to one degree or another. Normally that is within a man’s own household. In my experience there were a number of individuals of influence who had a hand in shaping my worldview.
My parents were born again in the mid 1960’s when I was in grade school. One of the first things they did was pull my siblings and I out of the public school system and enroll us in a private Christian school. As a result, most of my education took place in the context of a “conservative Christian” day school.1 One might think I emerged from that experience with a firm theological foundation and a well developed Christian world view. That isn’t the case. I was spared the anti-God world view of the public system (thank God) but the Christian school I attended really didn’t provide me with much of a theological education. Admittedly, part of the problem was that as a youngster I had little interest in things academic; my world revolved around basketball in those days. It wasn’t until I was married that my theological education began in earnest.
Realizing I was ill-equipped to provide proper leadership to my wife and (future), children, I began to study the Bible with genuine attention soon after my marriage. I also embarked on a reading program in the early 80’s that I have continued for nearly thirty years. By the late 1980’s my theological foundation was firmly in place, but I continued to read a minimum of one “solid” book each week (this excluded fiction or any other reading done purely for entertainment).
The reading program that shaped my theology and world view found its beginnings in a book list that Ern Baxter published in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Although Ern was a pioneer in the Charismatic movement and part of the driving force behind the Discipleship movement2, his list was dominated by Reformed and puritan writers. Before long, I left the Baxter list behind and began to read more widely within the context of Reformed thought. I read John Calvin, Richard Baxter, Benjamin B. Warfield and Charles Hodge early in my quest, but I also “discovered” a number of modern writers who contributed to my education.
One of the modern writers was Gary North. Throughout this period it was my practice to read from several books each day. There were times when nearly every book on my “current” shelf was a tome written by North.3 In addition to writing dozens of books himself, North published the work of other writers; David Chilton, Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Greg Bahnsen – each of these men also played a part in my theological instruction.
Now, it may seem that the greatest men of influence in my life were distant figures – authors of books or preachers of sermons with whom I had no personal relationship. Yet, the fact is, the man who wielded the greatest influence in my life was my Father, Dave Williams.
At 6’7″ and nearly 300 pounds my Father has always had a commanding physical presence. Yet his character impacted my life far more than his titanic size. My earliest memories are those of a man of towering strength who stooped to serve others. He was an elder in the Church of my youth and although he was never an accomplished writer or speaker, his passion for Christ and his unwavering commitment to the Gospel provided a bulwark of strength to our local fellowship that no one else could have supplied. Yes he was “able to teach” as an elder should be – and he taught well. Nevertheless, it was the teaching accomplished without words that carried the greatest weight.
As my theological knowledge increased I, in my youthful folly, began to consider his lack of interest in the “deeper things” of doctrine a weakness. Later I came to realize my error; alarmed at my arrogance, I have sought to add that better part of Christ-likeness to my own life which my Father modeled so well.
My Father taught me we don’t need to write books or preach stirring sermons to be men of influence. What we need is to express Jesus Christ to those around us. I’m not suggesting we neglect theology; it is important – and if God has gifted you with an interest and talent in the area of academic study then you are required to pursue it. Nevertheless, as Paul says, if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know (1 Cor. 8:2). All the theological knowledge in the world is useless without the loving heart and servant attitude of Christ. My Dad has taught this truth consistently for forty years. I have no doubt that when the roll is called up yonder, there will be many who take the time to shake my Dad’s hand and thank him for the example he provided to them in this life. I have no doubt my hunger to be evermore like Jesus stems primarily from the influence of my Father.
So, if you want to be a man of influence look no further than your own living room. Moreover, if you want your influence to have eternal consequence, it is imperative you model Christ-likeness to your wife and children (and anyone else within your sway). I’m not saying you should neglect your studies – of course not. I’m not saying my Father neglected the study of God’s Word either. No, I’m saying that Dad got his priorities straight. Go and do likewise.
1. I look back on this with amazement. In a day when Christian education wasn’t considered a high priority by most Believers I find it miraculous that brand new Christians would go thorough the trouble and financial strain to send their five children to a Christian school.
2. Much has been said – both good and bad – about Ern Baxter and the other leaders of the discipleship/shepherding movement (a Google search for “Ern Baxter” turns up thousands of results), and I’m not interested (nor am I really qualified), in critiquing his theology. I can say without equivocation that Ern Baxter was the most powerful preacher that I have ever heard. He never wrote anything that I’m aware of other than a slim booklet titled The Chief Shepherd and His Sheep, but his preaching and book recommendations had a major impact on my life. Some of the other teachers who touched my life in the 70’s and 80’s include Tom Geotz, Dennis Peacock and Dick Williams.
3. Gary North is another controversial character for many Christians. He and the other early members of the Reconstructionist movement were – and are – vilified as heretics, anti-Semites, liberal or far right wing conservative (I’ve read both charges), un-Christian and a general menace to the health of the Church. The truth is that North et al merely take the Bible seriously. We may agree or disagree with their conclusions, but it’s foolish to suggest that the Reconstructionists imperil the very future of Christianity simply because they reject Dispensationalism and accept the continuing validity of the Law as a blue print for righteous living (note: I’ve never read any Reconstructionsit writer who even hints at a works salvation and I’ve read dozens of Reconstructionist works; besides, there really isn’t any such thing as a Reconstructionist movement anymore; it’s been absorbed into the greater body of Reformed thought).