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A tribute to a ‘fisher of men’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Today on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, hundreds of people –- colleagues, current and former students, family members and friends — gathered together to honor Dr. Roy Fish for over 40 years of teaching evangelism. Scores of others, who were unable to attend in person, sent cards and letters of appreciation.

As a former student of Dr. Fish, who has just begun my third decade of teaching evangelism at the graduate level, I want to offer this tribute to a “fisher of men.”

Dr. Fish:

My first exposure to you was not through your teaching, but through your preaching. While a college student at Kansas State University, I watched a videotape of your message from I Corinthians 9, titled “Evangelism That Counts the Cost.” Seeing your passion for the Lord and for the lost was a major factor in my coming to SWBTS to study evangelism under you.

It is often noted that you have taught evangelism to more seminary students than anyone in history. You have shaped an entire generation of Southern Baptist preachers. Some of us have followed in your footsteps as professors of evangelism. Even though our pedagogy certainly reflects our own theological and methodological perspectives, your imprint on our lives and teaching is unmistakable. You have modeled for us the crucial importance of the personal life of the witness, of “being” before “doing.” You have personified what it means to have a passion for souls.

Your understanding of the relationship between evangelism and spiritual awakening has influenced many. Your book “When Heaven Touched Earth,” based on your doctoral dissertation, remains a classic treatment of the 1858 Prayer Awakening. I remember with great fondness the Friday morning prayer time for revival and spiritual awakening that you led for students in your office. You saw God bring revival to Southwestern’s campus in 1970, and have prayed for and hungered for a fresh movement of God since then.

Your impact certainly has not been limited to the seminary classroom, however. You have served approximately 50 churches (I can’t keep track!) as interim pastor, helping them through challenging times of transition. You have preached at hundreds of evangelism conferences, challenging those in attendance to set their focus on the Great Commission. You have also had the privilege of seeing many persons come to Christ through your evangelistic preaching at special events and revival meetings.

You are highly respected by your peers. Twelve years ago, when Alvin Reid and I edited a book to honor your teaching ministry as you completed 30 years in the classroom (“Evangelism for a Changing World: Essays in Honor of Roy Fish”), we asked several persons to contribute to the book. We did not have to ask twice, as people were eager to contribute a chapter in your honor. I still remember the response of Robert Coleman (author of “The Master Plan of Evangelism” –- for which you wrote an accompanying study guide) when I mentioned your name to him. He smiled and said of you with deep affection, “An Israelite in whom there is no guile.”

God blessed you abundantly when He brought Jeanie into your life. Someone once asserted, “Any man who doesn’t have enough sense to out-marry himself is a fool.” You are no fool –- Jeanie has been a wonderful helper to you over the years. The two of you have raised four wonderful children who love the Lord and who are serving Him.

In my personal evangelism classes, I always share my favorite Roy Fish story, a story that you told in class over 25 years ago, but that I call to mind on a regular basis. You shared about getting on an elevator to go up to your hotel room after an exhausting day of speaking and counseling. God prompted you to speak to the man riding the elevator with you, but you hesitated. You told us how you complained: “God, I’m just too tired.” You said it was as if God responded, “Roy Fish — too tired to share Jesus with someone? I never thought I would see THAT day!” You quickly prayed, “God, I’m tired, but I’m not too tired to share Jesus.” With that encouragement, you said to the man, his face buried deep in a newspaper, “Friend, I have some good news that you won’t find in that newspaper.”

To make a long story short, you led that man to the throne of grace that night to trust the Lord Jesus Christ. When I find myself weary and am tempted to say to God, “I’m just too tired to witness right now,” I remember that we should NEVER be too tired to tell someone about Jesus.

Most Southern Baptists do not know you were a track standout in college, but they know you have run the race of faith well. In a world where scandals all too regularly rock the Christian community, you have been a man above reproach, a model of consistency, a man whose name is synonymous with the word integrity.

Thank you, Dr. Fish for over 40 years of excellence in classroom teaching. But thank you even more for a lifetime of example as a man of passion, as a “fisher of men.”
Timothy Beougher serves as the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of “Overcoming Walls to Witnessing,” “Richard Baxter and Conversion” and the forthcoming “Invitation to Evangelism.”

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  • Timothy Beougher