(I received an unexpected e-mail yesterday from the staff of the church I’m a part of, announcing that they had asked our co-pastor, Tom Darnell, to resign, because they thought he was “no longer a good fit.” While it brings all kinds of questions to mind, I am not interested here in going into any details or wondering why they made that decision. I would just like to publicly thank Tom for the role he has played in my life so far.)
I’ve been sick to my stomach ever since I heard that you were asked to leave Midtown. You have played a vital role in my life over the last almost three years since I moved to Nashville, and I will be poorer for not having interaction with you in that setting. When I moved to town, I was not sure what church I would attend. I remembered seeing Midtown mentioned in the liner notes of an Andrew Peterson CD, and Andy Osenga had mentioned it on his blog, so I looked up the Midtown website and found the podcast. I listened to two sermons, both of them sermons from you, and really liked what I heard. The next morning, I visited the church, heard another sermon from you, and didn’t look anywhere else.
Even when I don’t always agree, as in the last year when my theological exploration has widened and I sometimes have serious questions about theological positions you hold, I still deeply treasure your teaching. In a recent sermon, as you read the text you were going to preach from, three or four questions popped into my mind. And by the end of the sermon, you had touched on every question I had. When I think back on the sermons and teachings I’ve heard from you in the last three years, whether from the 6:30 AM weekly Bible study on Ephesians at your house, or the Romans study at the same time a year later, or the wisdom you shared with us on Sunday mornings, several specific examples come to mind that have helped shape the way I think.
Last year, in the middle of a sermon, you recited a Larry Crabb quote to us that had a deep impact on my thinking that year and that was a large part of why I continued to try to do the hard work of relationships when I didn’t always feel like it. You quoted, “The greatest lie believed today is that man can know God without being known by someone else.” And by quoting it again in a sermon back in June of this year, I have no doubt that others were encouraged in the same way. Thank you for reading, and for sharing what you learned with us.
You frequently liked to remind us, contrary to the prevalent understanding of scripture today that looks first and foremost for steps to follow, or as if it were a morality lesson, that when we read the scriptures, we must look first to what it says about God, and then next what it says about redemption, and lastly to what is says about what I am to do.
Thank you for modeling a good and Godly marriage to us through your relationship with Cheryl. In one sermon, you told us, “When I criticize Cheryl, as her soul blood bleeds out, so does the blood of our marriage.” I have no doubt that that metaphor will stay with me when I enter that stage of my life, and help me to be a better husband.
You talked more than once about the impact your father had on your life, and how he shaped who you are today. You told us once, explaining one reason why you became a pastor, that, “My father was never part of a church that was structured and led so that he could grow in his faith.” Thank you for spending your life so that others would be able to grow. Thank you for writing study materials, for the study you wrote on Romans (over 130 pages!), on Ephesians, for the notes you wrote for the Midtown Life class and for the Equipping the Saints class. Thank you for letting me help edit them for future audiences.
A favorite topic of yours is the Gospel, what it really is, what it means, and how it affects our lives. “It is exhausting to not live by grace,” you told us. And in the same sermon, you said, “I used to think of the Gospel as the simple thing, the beginning, where we start out in our belief. Until I realized that the Gospel is the whole thing, the whole picture.”
With a sense of urgency that all would understand it, you said, “We desperately need Him in all we do. That is the gospel!” And you reminded us that, “Salvation is not God taking us out of our mess, it is Him being there with us.” You liked to say, “Scripture, and history, at its core, is the story of God redeeming His people.”
When exploring the underlying motives for how we live, you said, “A Christian who lives by faith is a lot more honest about their neediness. One who lives by works wants to spend more time talking about their “victorious Christian life.'”
In a helpful, concise summary of the current discussion over orthodoxy versus orthopraxy, you said, “When you want to examine someone’s theology, examine their relationships.”
You mentioned the “screen door principle” a couple of times (remembered from your college days), that when you find someone you think has spiritual riches, you should camp out on their front porch and learn from them. Thank you for being one of those people for me.
Thank you, Tom. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Thank you for being a part of my story. Thank you for the many discussions we have had over coffee or a beer (and the many more I hope to have). Thank you for telling me about movies I need to check out and discussing them with me. Thank you for joining me to listen to jazz and letting me buy you a beer. Thank you for opening your home, and for playing me your favorite jazz records. I will sorely miss hearing you preach regularly. Thank you.