Monday, November 7, 2011

The Apostle Paul Has Died

Those who are regular readers of my blog post know that a few months ago, upon the tragic, but not so sudden death of the great evangelical thinker and churchman Dr. John Stott, I wrote a piece entitled; "The Pope Has Died." Today, upon the news of the tragic, and very sudden death of Dr. Tom Gillespie, former president of Princeton Theological Seminary, I want to offer a parallel piece; "The Apostle Paul Has Died."

This past Saturday night, The Rev. Dr. Tom Gillespie died in Princeton, New Jersey, where, upon retiring as it's 5th standing President, he lived with his wife and family, until he was called home to be with God. Tom was 83.

Tom Gillespie was like the Apostle Paul in so many ways. Though Dr. Gillespie would surely blush (dare I say wince) at the comparison of himself with the great apostle from Tarsus, they both resembled one another in so many significant ways.

First and foremost, Tom and the Apostle Paul were both new church developers. Dr. Gillespie started a new church in the 1950's in Garden Grove, California. Like Paul, Tom started a church in a town where a great and flashy preaching figure (in Tom's case it was Robert Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral) held sway in a very popular neighboring church. Tom had Robert Schuller, Paul had the fiery orator Apollos. Both men encouraged their followers not to listen to the flowery oratory of their would be rivals. Both men were momentarily overshadowed by their counterparts until the more sobering tonics of time and age had a chance to even the proverbial scales of balance.

Tom and the Apostle Paul both took strong moral positions and stands on sexual libertinism and homosexual promiscuity. From my own vantage point, I can say that I feel the world is a much better place because of their forthrightness and verbosity about the Christian faith's foundational stance on these issues. However, in similar ways, it could be said that neither Paul nor Tom always articulated their well grounded and bitterly fought positions with the most poetry or rhetorical dexterity. Sometimes it seemed, in an effort to make a difficult point, both men had the tendency to lose sight of the individuals who's lives were effected by their strong stances. The final product was, in the main, positive. What was occasionally lacking in the area of prose on issues of same sex fallenness, was always made up for in courage and pure resilience in the communication of such doctrines.

Tom and the Apostle Paul spoke in similar ways. They both could say things in ways that were so utterly brash and forward that an unintended heir of comedy and humor would often occur. One time, a friend of mine from Princeton Seminary asked Tom for the best advice the president could muster for a future pastor. My friend, expecting the usual platitudes about "keeping your head up," or "sticking close to the text," was flabbergasted when Tom Gillespie said; "Are you listening? I want you to remember this young man. The best advice I can offer for a future pastor is 5 words in length...keep your pants zipped up!!!" I believe my friend has actually kept that very good advice in his ministry and his life. Tom Gillespie can be thanked for so many similarly pithy, strong statements about life and faith.

The most powerful talk I ever heard Tom Gillespie give was at my own graduation as an MDiv from Princeton Seminary in 2000. Tom was offering the perfunctory parting words of encouragement from the President. Dr. Gillespie, referring to a great English statesman's rise to power (I think it was Lord Mountbatton), told this story. "Once a young politician visited a great preacher to talk with him about his career trajectory. The preacher asked the young politician, 'What are your plans for your life? The politician said, 'I plan to get elected mayor.' The preacher then asked, 'And then what?' 'Well, after that I am going to get elected to the governorship.' 'And then what' asked the preacher? 'Well then, I am going to be elected Prime Minister.' 'And then what' asked the preacher? 'Well then, I guess I will die.' 'And then what' asked the preacher? The preacher then looked the politician in the eye and said, 'That my young friend is the most important question of all to answer...what comes after death...and then what?'

My mentor and pastor and former president of Princeton Dr. Tom Gillespie will surely now, at this juncture of certitude and finality, have no trouble answering the question that he posed in his memorable commencement talk. Tom surely now knows the answer to the question, 'And then what?' Thanks to Tom's ministry and his pastorate, thousands of others can have the same assurance as they arrive at an answer the same question.

All For Now,

Graham Baird
Highlands Church
Paso Robles, California


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The story was of Prime Minister William Gladstone.

    Thanks for preparing this tribute, Graham. Tom was, indeed, a faithful servant of Christ in the Church, a mentor to so many of us.

    Please give greetings to your brother, Jaime, from me. Blessings and every good wish. Neal Presa

  3. Thank you for the tribute to my father. He was a great man and even better father.

  4. Well done Graham! Thank you for this tribute to one of the great leaders in our church. I always appreciated his sermons in morning chapel and the witness he provided to the Christian faith.