22 Limericks at the Kitchen Sink

PART I: CREATIONISM AND BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

This post begins Christopher Smith’s personal story.

When I was only a few weeks old, my parents presented me for baptism in the Congregational church where my father was the pastor. The Rev. Otto Reuman, minister emeritus of the church, performed the baptism so that my father could, with my mother, make the promises asked of parents on such occasions. Mr. Reuman said all of the usual and necessary things, but he also added something out of the ordinary. As he was baptizing me, he said, “I dedicate this child to be a minister of the gospel, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.”

The Rev. Charles L. Smith, Sr. (center); the Rev. Charles L. Smith, Jr. (left); and the [eventual] Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith (right).
Mr. Reuman had not consulted with my parents before making this declaration. I learned of the incident from them only years later, when I was a junior in college and shared that my plans were to attend seminary and prepare for the ministry. They, in turn, shared this story, and added that they hadn’t told me any earlier because they hadn’t wanted me to be unduly influenced. Having finally learned of this unusual occurrence, I can only conclude that God has always had a particular plan for my life. (I also conclude that God has a good sense of humor, since the child whose call to the ministry was first announced at his infant baptism grew up to be a Baptist minister!)

But for the purposes of this volume, how I have gone about being a minister—in some ways like, and in other ways unlike, my father and grandfather—is just as significant as the fact that I became a minister in the first place. As I wrote recently to a friend in seminary, “When God calls you to the ministry, he calls you.” That is, such a call must be fulfilled by drawing on and developing the specific abilities, interests, and gifts that God has given.

In my case, I have drawn extensively on literary and linguistic interests and aptitudes. As I have used and developed these, particularly in biblical interpretation, they have enabled me to articulate my faith in God as Creator in a way much freer of unresolved tensions than I once could.

I began to show signs of these literary and linguistic aptitudes, I’m told, from an early age. One Saturday when I was in grade school, for example, my grandparents came to visit for the day, bringing me as a gift the book Treasure Island. I disappeared upstairs as they visited with my parents. When the time came for them to leave, I came down to say goodbye, and when my grandmother said, “We hope you enjoy the book,” I replied, “Oh, I did.” I had already finished it.

Such a voracious appetite for reading, while indicative of a later vocation in which literature and language would figure prominently, was also only to be expected in someone who grew up in a family like mine. My mother was a part-time professor of English literature, and the interests that had led her into this work made themselves felt throughout the house.

To pass the time while washing and drying dishes, for example, we would make up and recite limericks at the kitchen sink. If one of us five children ever expressed something in non-standard English, a discussion of some fine point of grammar inevitably followed, in which we all joined enthusiastically. (I can still remember the happy day on which I was first introduced to the counterfactual subjunctive, after saying “If I was” instead of “If I were.”) And then there were those irresistibly fascinating books on my mother’s desk, with titles such as How Does a Poem Mean? In one way or another I’ve been asking myself that question ever since.

In high school I recorded that it was my future ambition to be “a minister, a writer, a linguist, or all three,” and I seem to be on my way to fulfilling that ambition. I’ve made it my commitment to preach each week from the original Hebrew or Greek texts of the Scriptures. I’ve published articles in journals of church history and biblical studies, including studies of the literary structure of biblical books, for which I’ve done research in French, German, Spanish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Recently I taught a summer seminary course on “Discovering the Bible’s Inherent Designs,” meaning the literary designs of its individual books.

It will be equally clear from what I have just written, however, that my life’s work has also been shaped by the influence of my father’s Christian ministry, just as much as by my mother’s literary bent. Indeed, while I believe my call to the ministry comes directly from God (how could I argue with this, given how it was first announced?), I also recognize that my father’s ministry has furnished precedents, prototypes, and possibilities that have enabled me to discover, by both comparison and contrast, what my own ministry should look like.

As children we met many fascinating and engaging church leaders when they came to the house as Sunday dinner guests: missionaries, preachers, conference speakers, devotional authors. Holiday dinners typically featured a different kind of guest—people who otherwise would have had no family to eat with. Through these and countless other means, Christian ideas, and Christian practice, were continually held up to us.

Because our home was characterized by the confluence of Christian ministry and enthusiasm for literature and language, we never sensed a sharp conflict between the Bible and science. Stated simply, literature was available to mediate any conflict that might have arisen. The question of origins, specifically, had never really been troubling to us.

I remember my mother once showing us children an article she’d just finished reading in the religion section of the newspaper. In it, a man who described himself as trained in both paleontology and theology had written, in effect, that “God created the world, but used evolution to do it.” This made sense to us. Even if the early chapters of Genesis didn’t seem to be talking about evolution when read literally, why couldn’t they be poetic? Interpreting them would then be just another case of answering the question, “How does a poem mean?”

2 thoughts on “22 Limericks at the Kitchen Sink”

  1. I resemble this intro very much! A reader from early on, a love of linguistics, and an M-Div. All together with a love of science and Scripture. I can see where this is going! Have enjoyed the Pilgrimage through the beginning. Keep it up! (A BioLogos Member)

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