One of my favorite stories that Dr. Anderson used to tell his students (and is written in the book, Dancing with Wolves, While Feeding the Sheep), is the story that is told of the connection between his farming and ministry days. Ray wrote:
“It happened only once. There was no suggestion that it was planned or premeditated. We were sitting on the edge of the furrow, behind the plow, facing the freshly turned soil over which the seagulls swooped in search of frantic worms. It was the second cup of coffee time. The cigarette lightened the load and loosened his tongue.
‘Stick your hand down into the soil, son,’, he suddenly said without warning. Breaking the rules by looking into my face and talking directly to me. As I did, he said softly, ‘Son, this soil is part of your life–you take care of it and it will take care of you.’ …..
…..What my father had long discovered, but left for me to find for myself, was that there was neither mystery nor magic in the soil. The mystery and the magic, if we dare to use such words, lie in the connection of the heart to the hand. There is no place or task on earth which can satisfy the restless hand which is not attached to the heart.
My father had not attached my hand to the soil on that day long ago, although that was how I had understood it. Rather, he had attached my heart to my hand. My inner self had become bound to my outer life. As a result, whatever task to which I put my hand was done with a sense of finality and completeness that brought joy rather than a feeling of fatalism, which can only produce melancholy and despair. Transplantation without transformation kills the roots as well as the plant. The once in a lifetime gift is one that continues to transform. (pp. 14,18)”
That passion for having one’s hand attached to one’s heart is one of the greatest gifts that I think Dr. Anderson imparted on me, as well as many other students. I think this most manifested itself in the idea of theological praxis, one of Anderson’s favorite words. Here we were, theological students locked away in classrooms and libraries studying theology…and he did not want theology to be just about that. Theology that is confined to academia and the ivory tower, but he was passionate that our theology was practical and that it was engaged in the work of ministry, whatever vocation that may call one to. I owe Dr. Anderson for forming that idea in seminary and helping me make sure that my theology was alive and vibrant, put to use in the work of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Anderson was a larger than life character, whose “maverick” reputation proceeded him. I first heard about him from my father who took one of Dr. Anderson’s classes at the Fuller extension in Phoenix back in the mid to late 80’s. So when I decided to attend Fuller I knew that I needed to take a class with him…just based on all the great things my father had to say and all the great things that students were echoing. I wish I would have had the opportunity to take more, but I took three classes from Dr. Anderson in my time at Fuller. I took his Karl Barth and Evangelicalism class (to Ray I owe the credit for cultivating a love for Barth and his Dogmatics); I took his Dietrich Bonhoeffer-Life and Thought class (Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship changed my life in college and Ray only furthered my passion for the life and work of Bonhoeffer); and lastly, Ray let me in his Ph.D. seminary, The Shape of Practical Theology (I was only an M.Div student at the time, but he allowed me the privilege of taking that class–one of the best classes I ever had). It shouldn’t be a surprise that two of Ray’s heroes were Barth and Bonhoeffer…two men who lived lives of practical theology.
The last time I spoke with Dr. Anderson in person was in early 2006 when he taught one of the counseling courses for my MSMFT degree. I still remember him that day…strong, farmer hand shake as always. I could hardly believe he was 80. His body and mind seemed as sharp as ever, and he was breathing theological life into a new class of students. Something he had been doing for decades. I consider Dr. Anderson a friend and mentor, and he was always gracious to meet me on campus on Mondays (his day at Fuller in the last few years), as well as always exchanging emails with me…I had sent him more than my fair share of theological question that were causing me problems. He was even a guest blogger back in July of 2006 when he wrote about his then new book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches.
Dr. Anderson was a prolific writer, passionate teacher, and a great friend. Dr. Anderson will leave a long legacy, and big shoes to fill. I like what was said of him by Kurt Fredrickson, Associate Dean for Fuller’s Doctorate of Ministry program:
“Ray blended a strong theological instinct with a passion for giving theology traction on the ground, in real-life situations,” says Kurt Fredrickson, associate dean for Fuller’s Doctor of Ministry program and a student of Anderson’s at both Westmont and Fuller. “He was never content with lofty theological ideas. Those ideas had to connect with real people. He also was never satisfied with the status quo, in theology or in the church. He challenged his students to think freshly, and even at the edges, all the while anchored to tradition.”
Check out the post from Ray’s former students, Christian D. Kettler. As well as the post by Fuller Seminary.
And you can visit Dr. Anderson’s website.