Although we rejoice when a beloved friend passes from this life into the presence of the Lord, from our human perspective we sorrow at the loss. That is the way I feel at the loss of our dear brother Calvin Miller.
Calvin passed away unexpectedly Sunday after complications from heart surgery. I was shocked—I had only recently been corresponding with him about upcoming articles for his regular column in Preaching, and he was scheduled this fall to speak for my Master of Ministry preaching class and then to preach in chapel for us at Anderson University. All our plans are dependent on the greater plan of the Father, and in His knowledge and providence He had other plans for Calvin Miller.
Calvin was pastor of the Westside Baptist Church in Omaha when I first wrote to him in 1984, asking him to become one of the original contributing editors of Preaching. He was the best-selling author of The Singer, one of the monumental Christian literary works of the 20th century, and had led that Omaha church from 10 members to more than 3,000 during a 25-year pastorate. Through the years, whenever we had a chance to visit, he would thank me for allowing him to be part of that group, as if we were honoring him rather than the reality, which was that his presence blessed us and our ministry.
We became good friends during the years, though separated by many miles. He loved pastors—speaking to them and writing for them—and that shared mission linked our hearts. I recall being in his home years ago and seeing his great loves: his love of art and literature, his love for the American Southwest, and most of all his love for his wonderful wife Barbara, as well as for his children.
Once I was invited to provide an endorsement for one of his books, and in that brief text I referred to him as the “poet laureate of the evangelical world.” He loved that phrase—he didn’t think he warranted it, but he was tickled by it nonetheless; and I noticed it showed up on the backs of several of his books afterward! He kidded me about it several times, noting that I had given him one of his favorite endorsements. I’m glad he enjoyed it, but he was wrong about one thing: Calvin Miller was the poet laureate of the evangelical world, a pastor-poet whose love for Jesus and His Word and for the art of preaching made him one of the most captivating preachers of his day.
Calvin Miller’s newest book is called Letters to Heaven; if you visit his website you can watch a brief DVD in which he talks about the book. If I could write a letter to heaven today, I’d like to write Calvin to thank him for his friendship, his encouragement and his faithfulness to God’s call on his life. Of course, he won’t have time to read it for awhile; he’s going to be busy sharing stories with a whole new audience.