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geoff new: the life and times of the preacher

In a sermon entitled, “The Real Point of Conflict Between Science and Religion”, Harry Emerson Fosdick said:

What areas of human need science has met in my lifetime! When I was born, Edison was thirty-one years old; Sigmund Freud was twenty-two; Henry Ford was fifteen; Charles Steinmetz, thirteen; Madam Curie, eleven; Orville Wright, seven; Marconi, four; Einstein, minus one.

(as quoted in K.L. Northcutt, Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 40-41).

Northcutt points out how Fosdick orientated his life and ministry with an awareness of these powerful personalities and their influence upon the context into which he preached. When I read this quote, I was challenged about how I view the world in which I inhabit and preach. I was reminded of two verses especially; “…of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”(1 Chr 12:32) and “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died” (Acts 13:36). These verses always grip me because of their sense of discernment and intentionality in living life for God with awareness and insight. Fosdick essentially paraphrases 1 Chronicles 12 and Acts 13 and his exercise inspires me to consider the times into which I preach week-by-week.

What are the influences and legacies which have shaped the world today? Am I competing against such forces or complementing them? Am I even aware of the influences, let alone whether I am for them or against them?! So, I have sat down and crafted my own Fosdick File. I have deliberately omitted theologians, preachers and influential Christian leaders – except for one. I simply could not find it within myself to leave her out!

When I was born, Mother Theresa was fifty-five years old; Nelson Mandela was forty-six; Sir Edmund Hillary, forty-six; The Beatles, generally mid-twenties; Muhammad Ali, twenty-three; Bill Clinton, nineteen; Steve Jobs, ten; Bill Gates, nine years old; Oprah Winfrey, nine; Osama Bin Laden was seven; Michael Jackson was six; Bono, four; Princess Diana, three; J.K. Rowling, minus 4 months; Tiger Woods, minus nine; Sam Morgan, minus ten; the four Facebook founders – generally minus eighteen.

No doubt I might have to justify why some have made my list and others haven’t – but why don’t you create a Fosdick File and post it here? From your pulpit, what does the world look like? What is your understanding of the times (1 Chr 12:32) so that you might serve the purposes of God in your generation (Acts 13:36)?

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Geoff New has been minister of Papakura East & Hunua Presbtyterian Church since 1997. He is currently working on a DMin thesis exploring the effect of using Ignatian Gospel Contemplation and lectio divina in sermon preparation.


  1. Robyn Mellar-Smith says:

    Thanks Geoff for your stimulating post. It looks like I’m 3 years older than you 🙂

    I think about these things when I am preaching on Sundays, with a bunch of young people on my right with an average age of 16, and the rest of the church mostly 40+ years older. It’s a different world!

    Just wanted you to know that I’ve printed out the last 2 sentences of your post & hung them above my desk to remind me. Thanks.

  2. Tony PLEWS says:

    Your omission of theologians is generally sound. However I would remind you that in 2003 John Stott was included on Time magazine’s list of the100 Most Influential People in the World. Interestingly, the tribute to JWRS was written by Billy Graham, who did NOT appear on the list.

  3. Hi Geoff,

    This is great – what a cool list!

    Beloit College in the States produces a similar list for its staff each year to describe the life experiences of their first year students.

    My favourites for this year’s new students:

    19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
    28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.
    46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

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