Note: This is a guest commentary by Robert E. Sagers, who serves as special assistant to Dr. Russell D. Moore at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It has been posted here unbeknownst to Dr. Moore.
Root-beer flavored Mike and Ikes? Surely, this couldn’t really be happening.
Here I was, standing in the midst of an aisle at a roadside gas station somewhere in eastern Kentucky, looking at candy stacked up near to my neck. Standing beside me was a man whom I considered to be the greatest preacher in the world, with unparalleled intellect, unmatched godliness, a man whose writings and sermons and kindness had already deeply impacted me in the few months that I had known of him. So as he suggested buying the root-beer flavored sugar stuff to complement the strawberry candies I clasped in my left hand in order to sustain us on the road to Tennessee, the only thought that kept circulating in my mind was, “Russell D. Moore eats Mike and Ikes?”
The thought of this great theologian rattling out the last of the candy from a small, multi-colored cardboard box in preparation to preach one of the best sermons that I would have heard up to that point in my life seemed so benign, so inconsequential, so… normal.
Discovering a common love for a certain kind of gas station-bought candy may have been one of the first joys that I shared with Dr. Moore–also called, by me, Dean Moore, RDM, and the Cricket–but it was certainly not the last. I met Dr. Moore just over three years ago at a new student orientation, having come to Southern Seminary to train to be a pastor. I was 22 years old and only months out of college, a native Oregonian living for the first time in a place that serves sweet tea in its restaurants, and Dr. Moore had recently been appointed the youngest dean in Southern Seminary’s history in a state that he considers a bit too “Yankeefied” for his Mississippi tastes.
Sometime in early November of that year Dr. Moore asked me to accompany him to a speaking engagement in east Tennessee. During the drive, when filling up the car’s gas tank, and while eating bacon cheeseburgers at Cracker Barrel we talked about such things as our testimonies, our families and our upbringings, our home churches, and our respective callings to ministry. In other words, we were becoming friends.
So often in our churches we tend to make a “program” out of discipleship and mentoring. We may know that we are to look to the relationship between Paul and Timothy as a sort of model for this, but neglect the fact that, upon hearing of Timothy, Paul “wanted Timothy to accompany him” (Acts 16:3). The partnership in the gospel that Paul and Timothy shared wasn’t one in which Paul always neatly fit the category of “teacher” or “mentor,” with Timothy always serving as the “student” or “disciple.” Instead, there is a genuine friendship here, a friendship that survives suffering, imprisonment, persecution, separation, even ailing stomachs that need a little wine.
Paul asks the Corinthian church to send Timothy “on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers” (1 Cor 16:11). Timothy, Paul’s true child in the faith, oftentimes stands right alongside his spiritual father in writing to the churches in order to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness. Paul, out of his great love for Timothy and his desire to encourage him and be encouraged by him, writes that “I hope to come to you soon” (1 Tim 3:14) and, at other times, longs to see him (2 Tim 1:4) and asks that Timothy do his best “to come to me soon” (2 Tim 4:9). The result of such a relationship is that the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ “were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5). It is so humbling to know that God uses something so seemingly mundane as friendship and discipleship to edify the churches and rip people from the domain of darkness in order to transfer them to the Kingdom of his Beloved Son.
Since that first drive to east Tennessee, I have traveled with Dr. Moore to countless other preaching and speaking engagements, from Charleston to Chicago to Calabasas. I have witnessed the Lord use his preaching to encourage the Philippians, rebuke the Galatians, reach the Athenians, and in at least one occasion, nearly incite a riot among the Ephesians. I have seen the ways Dr. Moore pores over the preparation of his Sunday School lessons, gets excited to preach at Ninth and O Baptist Church, and still gets nervous to preach in our seminary’s chapel services. I have been witness to his uncanny, apostolic ability to preach Jesus from every jot and tittle of the Bible. But in all these times the power and conviction with which he preaches the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps when you are as immersed and saturated in the revelation of God recorded for us in Scripture as Dr. Moore is, the Holy Spirit of Christ cannot but be present and active in such proclamation.
But Dr. Moore has taught me much more than how a godly man prepares to preach, though this certainly would be more than enough to make me abundantly grateful to him. It is through the influence of Dr. Moore that I have begun to see the Kingdom of Christ as the central, unifying theme of all of Scripture and all of life, and what it means to live between the “now” and the “not yet.” He has taught me how the church, as the outpost of the Kingdom, ought to be speaking and living as a happy band of counter-cultural renegades making their way through a world plagued by sin and death to final victory at Jesus’ return. He has modeled for me how a man of God is to deal with difficult situations, how things are never as bad as the greatest critic says they are, and how things are never as good as the greatest encourager insists that they are.
Through Dr. Moore I have been introduced to the writings of Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, the music of Johnny Cash and Michael Card, the story-telling comedic genius of Jerry Clower, and the way that walnuts, cheddar cheese, and raisins–affectionately known as “Special Treat”–taste so good together. I have watched the way that he loves and cares for his wife, I have had the opportunity to watch his first two sons grow and mature from toddlers to rambunctious, curious, and brave six-year-olds, and I had the privilege of being the first non-Moore to hold his third and fourth sons soon after they were born. Around the dinner table at the Moore house I have seen the ways in which Dr. Moore leads his family in prayer, tells stories of wild things and other monsters of God, and hugs his sons and tells them he loves them.
I have felt the pressure of sensing Dr. Moore’s presence in the back of the room as I preach, even when he thinks he has hidden his face so well, because he cannot help but look up and smile. I have been on the receiving end of a stinging rebuke when Dr. Moore thought I was being foolish, and I have been on the receiving end of warm encouragement when he thought that I was feeling defeated. Dr. Moore has prayed with me, laughed with me, and cried with me through suffering, hardship, and joy. In other words, Dr. Moore has chosen to live life with me, a living of life that sometimes works itself out in 4 a.m. trips to the seminary to pick up another car trunk-full of books for his home library, and walks around the neighborhood as the fall leaves swirl around our feet.
In all these things, Dr. Moore has shown me Jesus. His leadership is exemplified in his daily taking up of the basin and the towel. In fact, if I could characterize Dr. Moore’s life and ministry in only two sentences, I would again borrow from Paul: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:28-29).
But I always laugh thinking about this master theologian, this world-class preacher, ask to stop at a Shell station just outside Birmingham for the ninth time in an eight-hour drive, only to debate whether he ought to get a Coke Zero or a Diet Coke Plus in order to caffeinate for the rest of the trip. Today, Dr. Moore’s 36th birthday, I am reminded again at just how normal Dr. Moore is, and yet how unique he is as well. As a Timothy to his Paul, Happy Birthday, RDM.