I was informed yesterday of the passing of a great theologian and someone I knew as a teacher & acquaintance. Dr. Jim Grier was an instructor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, where I attended from ’05-’08. He had retired sometime before I started my track, so I never took classes with him, but his influence was heavy over the institution and he remained active teaching, speaking and writing.
Dr. Grier was an amazing thinker & gifted communicator. He would guest at the church were I came to faith in 1998 & even as a new Christian, listening to him preach—sometimes I’d feel as if I was transported to another time. In my imagination, the modern church sanctuary would fade away and I’d be sitting in the semi-circle of an ancient Greek amphitheater, listening to his insights & conclusions. His grey suit would turn into a toga (not at all in a funny way), and I would see him equally addressing his talk to the Lord, as much as the rest of us who were seated around him.
That image probably seems strange & I can understand that. I mean, Dr. Grier was certainly “high-minded,” but not at all in a way that was pompous or inaccessible to those hungry to hear God’s Word preached & applied. I gleaned so much from his teachings.
I also have a mentor/pastor/spiritual dad who is good friends with Dr. Grier so on a few occasions, I’d be invited to a lunch with the both of them. The discussions ranged from deep theological issues, to contemporary moral theology, as well as observations about everyday life and the quality of the meal.
What I remember about Dr. Grier is him being very encouraging of me to pursue a call to pastoral ministry. That meant so much to me at that time and still does as consider his legacy.
But another facet of his life that intriques me is that Dr. Grier had presence. I would feel something important but not unsettling when I was with him. And presence is a gift that not many have.
It wasn’t scary or stuffy or anything like that. I wasn’t intimidated, or in some weird awe of him. I always knew that even with that wisdom, he was just a man, and a sinner, saved by the same grace as I.
I just always had the sense that spending time with Dr. Grier was of high value. Whether it was listening to him teach, enjoying the casual lunch or a stealing a brief exchange in the church foyer… I just always thought to myself, This is important. Hang on to this moment.
I wish I could identify what that was. Perhaps it was the presence of the Spirit about him—a charisma of some type. It could have been the anointing that God had placed on him. I don’t know.
A few weeks ago, I taught on joy out of Revelation 22. That passage doesn’t include the word “joy” exactly, but it does describe this space where worship & service is happening in the full presence of the Lord. In this restored Kingdom, the people of God are there both reigning and serving. This vision shows us the fullest expression of joy, without using the word.
Joy is outward expression of being in the full & constant presence of God. Typically, we think of joy as smile, laugh or an unbounded positive energy; A bubbly nature, or happiness. But there’s something more to joy than a happiness. There’s the deeper more purposeful expression of serving & reigning in the full light of Christ.
That’s what I felt about Dr. Grier! He was a peace-filled man of truth, who exuded that different kind of joy; one that annointed and assuring. A absolute servant, and yet one who was given to reign by the humble authority invested in him by the God he loved so deeply.
I say, you go ahead and rest in that peace and with that joy, Dr. Grier. And thank you for the memory of your acquaintance and for the gifts you left here for us to continue to discover in the body of your good work.
Until That Day, when we might have lunch again.
Dr. Grier’s teachings are archived on his personal website, which he took to developing over the last year’s of his life… For such a time as this, I suppose.