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Hefley honored at banquet as a courageous Baptist journalist


ST. CHARLES, Mo. (BP)–Tapping his foot in rhythm and singing out to the old gospel hymn, “I’ll Fly Away,” writer James C. Hefley smiled in appreciation at a banquet given in his honor Oct. 16 by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at First Baptist Church of Harvester in St. Charles, Mo.
Southern Baptist leaders from across the country joined Midwestern President Mark Coppenger to honor Hefley, who has authored more than 70 books and hundreds of magazine articles. He is best known among Southern Baptists for his five-volume “The Truth in Crisis” series chronicling a 15-year time period referred to as “the conservative resurgence.”
In a warm atmosphere punctuated by stories of Hefley’s humble beginnings, Coppenger and others who wrote the forewords to the “Truth in Crisis” series thanked the Arkansas-born author for his contributions to Christian writing and for the impact of his work among Southern Baptists.
Describing Hefley as a rare combination of poet and grammarian, Coppenger said, “Even in his correspondence, he is a cornucopia of ideas.” Coppenger, with his wife, Sharon, presented Hefley and his wife, Marti, with matching saddle-leather notebooks engraved with the seminary’s logo.
Referring to Hefley as a careful reporter who tends to both grammar and details, Coppenger thanked him for being “a tremendous Christian example.” Coppenger wrote the foreword to the fifth volume of Hefley’s book series when he was the executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana in 1990.
Greetings also were sent by videotape from Larry Lewis, a past president of Hannibal-LaGrange College and of the SBC Home Mission Board who wrote the foreword to the second volume of “The Truth in Crisis.” Hefley served as writer-in-residence at the college during Lewis’ tenure. Lewis currently is serving as national facilitator for the Celebrate Jesus 2000 organization.
Woodrow Burt, current president of Hannibal-LaGrange College in northeastern Missouri, where Hefley still leads the Mark Twain Writer’s Conference, spoke of human achievement. Citing Hefley’s “humble beginnings in the hills and hollows of Arkansas,” Burt lauded Hefley for founding his own publishing company.
“Can anything good come from Arkansas?” chuckled Burt, pointing to Hefley as a “tangible sign” of affirmation. “We at Hannibal-LaGrange love and appreciate Jim and Marti Hefley.”
Loretta Bringer, a member of South Union Baptist Church in Maywood, Mo., where Hefley is pastor and a member of Midwestern’s board of trustees, called him a “wonderful inspiration.” She praised him for guiding their congregation through earlier times of difficulty, adding, “He makes his congregation be loving, because he is loving.”
Charles Chaney also remembered Hefley as a pastor of a mission his church sponsored in Addison, Ill., in 1962. When writing the foreword to the third volume of Hefley’s series, Chaney was the dean of the Redford School of Theology at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo. He currently serves as director of master of divinity in church planting at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Forth Worth, Texas.
Recounting Hefley’s decision to write “Intrigue in Santo Domingo,” the story of missionary Howard Shumake, Chaney said it struck him to see how affected Hefley was by the hunger and poverty he witnessed in writing the story. “He never got over that,” Chaney said.
Former Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Lewis Drummond began his tribute by saying it was “a lot more fun to be a professor than a president.” He currently serves as the Billy Graham professor of evangelism and church growth at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., and wrote the foreword to the series’ final volume, titled, “The Conservative Resurgence.”
Calling “The Truth in Crisis” series “wonderfully profound,” Drummond said the books will be on the shelves of libraries and read thoroughly in the years to come. “We really thank God for that because you gave us such a clear, objective, honest evaluation” of Southern Baptist Convention-related events, Drummond said.
Drummond compared Hefley to Charles Spurgeon whom he quoted as saying writing is the work of a slave. Spurgeon is a great example of what good writing does for the cause of Christ, said Drummond in lauding Hefley. “I hope you’re going to write another series about a revolution in Southern Baptist life,” Drummond said. Advocating another revolution in Bible practice is needed in churches and the country,” he told Hefley, “It would be good to have this from Arkansas, you know.”
Richard Land, executive director of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote the foreword to the fourth volume in the Hefley series.
Land said he remembers going to convention meetings in the late 1970s and reading the news reports. “Did I go to the same meetings they went to?” Land said he asked himself.
“Jim was a true journalist instead of becoming PR flak for one side,” said Land of Hefley’s writing, comparing him to Harriet Beecher Stowe who dramatized the evils of slavery before the Civil War. “…On one side [were] most of the [Baptist ] state editors,” Land reminisced. “On the other side stood Jim Hefley with a tape recorder and a pen and a dogged determination to tell the truth. I truly don’t think we’ll know just how much those books were used by God to turn the tide,” Land told the audience of 100 and Hefley. “I have confidence and faith we would have been able to, but for the life of me, I can’t fathom how we would have done it without your books.”
Louis Moore, associate vice president for communications at the International Mission Board, wrote the foreword to Hefley’s first volume of “The Truth in Crisis” in 1986 while working as religion editor of the Houston Chronicle. Moore credited Hefley’s willingness to “take the plunge” in order to give a truthful account of the events that occurred. Not even a preacher would tackle the controversial job, Moore said. “Thank God for Jim Hefley. Thank God for your courage.”
While those training to be preachers have no trouble finding role models, Moore said it was difficult to find for himself a godly example of a Christian journalist. “Thank you for your role model,” he said to Hefley.
Coppenger also read excerpts of greetings from past and present Southern Baptist Convention leaders and others, including Paige Patterson, SBC president; Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board; Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., and a past SBC president; and, T.C. Pinckney, editor of the Virginia Banner and former secretary of the SBC Executive Committee.
After stepping to the podium, Hefley said he was “overwhelmed” by the number of folks present. “I expected there to be about 25 people here, including my family,” he said. Growing up in the Ozark town of Mt. Judea, Ark., Hefley said the “real heroines” are the three women who influenced his life, two of them from his hometown. Hester Hosannah Hefley, his mother, and Clara Kent, the high school teacher who lived in a log cabin and taught school in a one-room schoolhouse, left a lasting impression on his life, he related.
Hefley’s wife, Marti, an accomplished writer, editor and artist herself, was the third “heroine” of Hefley’s. “I’m here mainly because of three women in my life,” said Hefley, who added there are many women serving God while undertaking the true meaning of biblical submission.
About his “Truth in Crisis” series, Hefley said only one person ever asked him whether he profited from the book sales and then declined Hefley’s offer to come and tour his “home-based garage warehouse,” filled with stacks of the books.
With a word of caution about disagreeing with others without being “mean,” Hefley gave a bit of journalistic advice: “I hate to see anyone get hurt, but I feel that when you’re in journalism and when you’re writing about things as serious and as difficult as I was writing about, you simply tell the story and let people make up their minds — and that’s what I did.”
Hefley holds the bachelor of arts degree and honorary doctor of letters from Ouachita Baptist University, a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in mass communications from the University of Tennessee.
Both reminiscent and prophetic, Hefley said he would like to have two words on his gravestone, “I tried.” Concluding the meeting, Coppenger challenged the listeners with the question, “Where is the next generation of Hefleys coming from?”
Midwestern recently established an endowment for the James C. Hefley Emphasis in Christian Writing in order to “encourage the development of anointed, effectual writers of his caliber, and to awaken and foster such competencies in the range of ministers who pass through the seminary.” The endowment is designed to promote a strong emphasis in Christian writing through various formats that could include a professorship in Christian writing, an annual Christian writers conference, courses in Christian writing and a journal of pastoral writing.
Individuals interested in assisting in the endowment of the James C. Hefley Emphasis in Christian Writing may direct inquiries and designated gifts to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Office of Institutional Advancement, 5001 N. Oak St. Trafficway, Kansas City, MO 64118 or call 1-888-628-7123.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan