In the current issue of Christianity Today, Ted Olsen writes:
Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsay says that of the evangelicals in cultural leadership he has studied, most notably for his 2007 book Faith in the Halls of Power, 39 percent named [William] Wilberforce, C. S. Lewis, or both men as their personal hero or icon.
I’ll admit — I don’t put much stock in personal heroes. Not because of their personal failings, though — Olsen’s article looks at revelations from Stephen Tomkin’s new book The Clapham Sect that the great abolitionist Wilberforce tolerated slavery as patron of Sierra Leone. I long ago realized that nobody’s perfect and that it’s much easier to criticize someone’s shortcomings than to praise their (imperfect) accomplishments, especially when we have the enormous benefit of hindsight.
My heroes, when I’ve had them, have usually been writers whom I admired for their writing accomplishments: W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Fred Chappell. There are various people with careers that I envy, but never to the extent that I want to follow in their footsteps. There are theologians and pastors who have taught me much about the nature of God — Augustine, N. T. Wright, John Piper (can I mention them in the same sentance?) J. I. Packer, Stanley Grenz come to mind — but I tend to give thanks to God rather than to them.
I should probably give thanks to God for them. In fact, my lack of heroes probably has more to do with my own shortcomings — an arrogance that I can do it all on my own, which I have displayed more than once when a potential mentor offered his time and attention, and I turned him down. (Or worse, I “never got around to it.”)
Heroes, though, have an important role in our lives. I don’t think it’s an accident that much of the Bible is made up of biographical sketches of men and women of the faith, warts and all. Like Rich Mullin’s sang in his song “A Boy Like Me/A Man Like You,” which asks Jesus about his childhood:
And did they tell You stories ’bout the saints of old?
Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold
Stories like that make a man walk straight.
Who are your personal heroes? Who are the people who have inspired you and still inspire you?