Every young man who survives the challenge of a lonely childhood secretly embraces a hope that one day he will meet a soul brother, a kindred spirit, another guy who sees life the same way he does. So when I met Ray Stedman on the post-WWII campus of Dallas Theological Seminary, the two of us bonded immediately. In His all-knowing wisdom God sometimes designs a rocky path for spunky little boys, a maze of twists and turns with dark shadows and blank walls. When a man finally emerges, he spots another grown-up doggie right away.
From opposite sides of the North American continent, Ray and I melded together our permanent heart connection. Both of us were sure of where we wanted to go, and here was a comrade for the journey. We were marching in a war-weary world that was done with victory parades and memorial monuments. Our generation was asking, “Now what?”
Ray brought his western outdoorsmanship, honed with military exposure and Pentecostal roots. I contributed my eastern conservatism polished with college disciplines and Presbyterian flavoring. Together we sat in classrooms absorbing ancient biblical truth; together we leaned against tree trunks and squatted in the shade of campus pecan branches to sort out what it all meant for the spiritual mixmaster where we found ourselves.
We hacked away at theological mysteries and proposed our solutions, pounding and kneading them, only then to discard them and start all over again the next day with altered assumptions. Our theological wrestling matches always ended with a win-win verdict. Each of us was clarifying in his mind what we knew God wanted in the years ahead. As graduation approached, our focus narrowed and we agreed to a split teamwork. Ray would go back to the West Coast and I would stay someplace east of the Rockies. Together we would trust God to incubate a new batch of young leaders to show mid-century USA the power of biblical belief and practice. Now, it’s been more than a decade since God called Ray home to heaven. His departure left a cavernous hole in my heart. I have missed him more than words can ever express. Our visceral linkage never detached, but always vibrated with a mutual love. Though we lived many miles distant from each other, every phone call or visit or hastily scribbled note started as if the previous one had simply ended with a comma and this was the continuation.
Ray’s exceptional contribution was not only to me personally, but to his constantly expanding world. The life-changing message of God’s grace in Christ had ignited his inner confidence in such a way that every fiber of his being was devoted to translating an accurate representation of Jesus Christ to our ever-more-secularized world. Consequently, every message he delivered was a carefully prepared feast for hungry hearts. He did his exegetical homework with diligence, but just as intently he scrutinized his society. And thus he engaged his listeners with logic and irrefutable data so compelling that any hearer had to respond. Whether he addressed two or three informally, or several thousand in a large meeting, Ray was always the same—conversational, confident, and magnetic. Ray defied every stereotype. He was totally approachable, never wanting to be known as a condescending cleric. He spoke as an ordinary man, but his words seared permanently like a tattoo. He was affable, warm, yet exacting, but he never scarred an earnest seeker. He was spiritual but never churchy; he was impatient with pretense, angry with arrogance, but always at ease with the awkwardness of a crippled sheep seeking spiritual shelter.
Ray was rough-hewn but never abrasive; he was always a gentleman, never coarse or crude. He loved to laugh and learned to lay his deepest sorrows on his Lord, so that in the midst of disappointment he could still rejoice. His eye was fixed on an eternal objective.
I am a rich man for having had a companionship with Ray Stedman. My heart beats with anticipation to catch up with him in heaven. For those who know only the sweet aroma of his lasting fragrance, Mark Mitchell has crafted a remarkable literary likeness of Ray. Read it to meet one of the most attractive men who ever walked this earth. Like Abel, “. . . by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.”
Ray was unique, impossible to encapsulate in words, but he was a man through whom God’s Spirit brought light to darkened minds, a man totally devoted to serving our Savior, and solid proof that it is not the man but the message that makes the difference.
Howard G. Hendricks
Chairman, Center for Christian Leadership
Dallas Theological Seminary