Dinner with Warfield, Churchill and a couple of baseball blokes

I’ve asked a number of people if they would be willing to contribute to a feature on the blog where they would write about three leaders they would choose to invite to a dinner party. I’ve written a short piece myself, but the series proper starts today with a contribution from Steve Henderson in Munich.

Steve HendersonSteve is originally from the US, but he’s been living in Germany for over 15 years where he is pastor of Munich International Community Church – a congregation of some 250 households with people from over 50 nations. Steve has been married to Robin for 36 years and they have five daughters, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren. He also has two cats and a Weimaraner (look it up).

For dinner, Steve would invite three leaders from three different spheres. He’s not sure if he would like to have them all at once or whether he would prefer to have a long one on one conversation with each of them.

Over to Steve to tell us about his selection…

Church: Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield…

… professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary late 19th/early 20th century. Warfield’s defense of biblical orthodoxy was one of the formative influences on my life as a young Christian seeking to defend the faith and advance the cause of Christ on a hostile university campus in the 70s. Knowing that men like Warfield had gone before me was a great encouragement; I would be building on foundations laid by past generations, and proclaiming biblical truth to a shifting culture with hopeful expectations. Reading Warfield helped me build a strong conviction of the authority, reliability and necessity of Scripture.

At dinner, though, I’d want to get more closely focused on his personal life. In 1876, he married Annie Pierce Kinkead. While on their honeymoon in Germany, Annie was struck by lightning and paralyzed. When they finally returned to America, Warfield cared for his bride, tenderly caring for her needs, rarely leaving her side for more than a few hours to teach classes, until she died in 1915, thirty-nine years later. I’d want to know more about his sacrificial, steadfast leadership in marriage—he saw his wife as beautiful in herself, not useful—and he displayed a wondrous, Christlike love that sustained their relationship for thirty-nine years. There’s a lot for me to learn from this leader.

Politics: Winston Churchill…

… has intrigued me from childhood, as I read of his capacity to rally the peoples of the UK and stand firm in the face of evil. Certainly he would bring wit, enthusiasm, and charm to the dinner table along with his voracious appetite. I’d expect him to stir the pot of dinner discussions in an almost magical way, but I’d be most interested to know more of his ability to function as a well-differentiated leader, free from the fear of man, agile in his characterization of evil as evil, and determined to lead his people in the pursuit of a just cause. Having been through many episodes in life where cowardice (my own as well as others’) litters the ground and paves the way for loss, I’d want to know just how he experienced the weakness of the virtuous who could only reinforce the malice of the wicked, and how he was able to overcome the gravitational pull of the desires for safety and quiet life and ultimately avoid the real disaster to which compromise and defection would lead (paraphrased from his Memoirs of the Second World War).

Sports:(the baseball blokes)

Here I’m torn, but loyal to baseball. Casey Stengel was a well-traveled baseball player and manager who had never had much success, but was hired to lead the New York Yankees for the 1949 season. Stengel led the Yankees to a World Series championship that first year. And again in 1950, and then in 1951, 1952, and 1953—an unprecedented and as yet unrepeated five year streak of championships. When asked about his initial success, Stengel quipped, “You gotta have the horses!” In his previous stints as a manager and leader he had mediocre results, but now with the strength of a solid team, he led them to a championship. Later in his career, he offered this wisdom, “The secret of managing is to keep the folks who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds yet.” How true that is in life and in ministry, as Jesus warns us that the world hated him, and so it’s no surprise that they would hate us (John 15:18-20) and also alerts us of trouble in those times when everyone speaks well of us (Luke 6:26).

And as I said, I’m torn. My other baseball leader is Ernie Banks, shortstop and first baseman for the hapless Chicago Cubs. Never played for a championship team, but played his heart out with a sparkling attitude for nineteen seasons. One of his nicknames was “Mr. Sunshine” and he was renowned for stepping onto the baseball diamond and exclaiming, “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game. Let’s play two!” As a pastor, I’ve striven to imitate that model and delight in opportunities to teach and preach the Word of God. I never want to feel apprehensive about preaching, nor do I want to be deflated after a sermon (even a poor one), but I want to eagerly approach the pulpit like Ernie approached an afternoon in the ballpark. “It’s a beautiful day for a worship gathering, let’s preach two!” With Ernie or Casey at the table together with BB and Winnie, the conversation could pass around the horn from the seriousness of biblical truth and married life to the intensity of wartime strategy and then to the gentle joys of baseball.

And the menu…!

Probably ought to give some thought to the dinner menu, but if it were up to me, I’d introduce them all to some fine Bavarian dishes and Weissbier, and would certainly accommodate Churchill’s zest for cigars and whisky.

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