Is it possible to be influenced by people that you’ve never met? Of course, it is; however, you must recognize the limits of this influence. First, you’ve not been influenced by the person as much as you have been by his or her story and ideas. Don’t get me wrong here, I realize that the person’s life, ideas, accomplishments, etc. may have inspired you. Having never met and spent significant time with a person, however, greatly limits your analysis of his or her life. Thus, we must proceed with caution before deifying the people who have helped shape our thinking and/or inspired us to make our lives count. Second, the people who have influenced you were flawed and finite people who struggled with many of the same problems and faced similar challenges that we do. Okay, most of us have not spent 27 years in prison, lived in hiding under threat of death, or will die at the hands of a brutal dictator. Yet, we face many of the same fears, experience some of the same feelings, and may equally aspire to make a difference in a hurting world.
Someone once said, “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” In other words, your life is a mosaic of influences, both good and bad, so surround yourself with people who will positively influence you. Better yet, listen to people who’ve made their lives count! Fill your mind with stories of those who overcame great obstacles. Listen to the ideas of dissenters who influenced a nation. Follow the example of the faithful who would not bow to tyrannical leaders. Be inspired by those who, when given the chance, declined the opportunity to repay evil with evil. Give your life to something greater to than yourself and, maybe, one day you will be the one influencing others.
Here are just a few of the people whose lives and ideas have influenced me:
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Although I may disagree with some of his theological positions, I’d admire the application of his convictions. Bonhoeffer’s life is an example of the Christian’s civic duty to oppose wicked, murderous, and oppressive regimes.
We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
2. Abraham Kuyper: For those who believe that Christianity should not be restricted to the “church house,” Kuyper’s theories of Christianity and culture will be both thought-provoking and appealing. One the one hand, you may be inspired by the theories of sphere-sovereignty and principled-pluralism in which Christianity is given an equal voice in every area of society. Yet, you may be challenged by his views when considering the current political climate in America. The “winner-take-all” approach of America’s two-party political system will eventually strangle out the voices of religious minorities. In less than a generation, Bible-believing Christians may be in this minority.
Those who preach a “third way” of cultural-political-engagement, which seeks to advance a free market of ideas, often find themselves on the outside of the major political parties. These sojourners will likely find Kuyper’s political philosophy appealing because at its core it is a Christ-centered approach to cultural engagement.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” –
3. Martin Luther: Long before the days of celebrity pastors, Martin Luther was a mega figure in 16th Century Europe. Although he did not set out to become famous, his convictions concerning God’s nature, humanity’s condition, and the primacy of Scripture over tradition thrust him into the spotlight of the greatest schism in Christian history: the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s commitment to the superiority of Scripture over Papal authority and church tradition has inspired me to never be satisfied with someone else’s interpretation of the Bible. This may also be why I am suspicious of anyone who believes that he has every point of theology settled. Like Luther, I believe that we must always “be reforming” our lives according to Scripture.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures and by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” -Martin Luther
4. Anton Scalia: While Luther may have been the great reformer, Justice Scalia was the great dissenter. This title is not based on the number of written dissents he published but because of the way in which his witty dissents often overshadowed the holding of the majority. Justice Scalia was an originalist in that he interpreted the Constitution in accordance with the meanings and intentions that were present when it was first adopted. (This method is similar to the grammatical-historical approach to interpreting the Bible.)
I admire Justice Scalia for several reasons. First, his commitment to originalism. As a theologian, I apply many of the same principles when interpreting the Scriptures. Second, I applaud his devotion to the Catholic faith. As a Protestant, I disagree with some of Justice Scalia’s theological views. However, I admire the way he courageously stated and applied his beliefs and values in both his personal and professional life. His example inspires me to faithfully proclaim and live my Christian beliefs and values in every area of life, especially in my legal studies.
“If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity, . . . Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” -Anton Scalia
5. Nelson Mandela: Politically speaking, I am a conservative-libertarian (registered Republican). Really, I am a Kuyperian, but I’ve already mentioned Kuyper in this list. Thus, it may come as a surprise that I admire a man whose political theories are significantly different than mine. Aside from his politics, I admire Mandela’s commitment to equality and freedom.
His life was one of adversity, unspeakable pain, and endless obstacles. Yet, he stayed the course, not as a saint but as a statesman. In the end, he chose not to return evil for evil but instead sought reconciliation between the blacks and whites of South Africa. When I am tempted to quit or lose sight of my mission, I often think of how this man persevered through nearly three decades in prison before seeing the fulfillment of his dream. He truly was a modern day Joseph (cf. Genesis 39-50). Joseph said to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV).
“It is what we make of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” -Nelson Mandela
Pastor T.J. Francis