It was my first semester of grad school, and I was excited to be taking a class from Tom Olbricht, who had achieved legendary status in my circles of influence. Alas, the opening class session brought a different professor, a young guy who was finishing his dissertation from the University of Iowa. While I viewed the development that night with disappointment, I now view it as an important positive moment in my life.
I consider Leonard Allen, the replacement prof that night, as the best teacher I have ever had. And I’ve had some great ones: Stuart Love, Lemoine Lewis, John Willis, Everett Ferguson, Richard Hughes, Jack Reese, Carl Holliday, Rick Marrs, Tom Olbricht, Pat Keifert, Gary Simpson, Craig Van Gelder, and the list could go on. Leonard’s lectures were brilliant and inspiring for me, full of intellectual passion. He gave me an appreciation for theology and history, including my own. I asked Leonard to chair my MA thesis, and later he was a reader for my DMin thesis.
But Leonard also shared his life with me. He was generous with his time. We spent hours in his office discussing basketball and track and theology–the important things in life. He stayed once in my home in Arlington, TX when Josh was small. I woke up that Saturday morning to the sound of Leonard and Josh giggling while watching cartoons together, a scene that would surprise those who know the more public Leonard.
Leonard also knows ministry. For awhile, he was the lead teacher for the Abilene Mission Church, a congregation with rich practices in pursuit of the Spirit.
One of my favorite images for the relationship between theology and the Holy Spirit came from Leonard. The Spirit is a powerfu source of life, like the electricity that powers your home. But if a power line goes down, it arcs and moves in dangerous ways. It is potentially harmful to people. Good theology is the safe conduit for our experience of the Holy Spirit. Within the practice of good theology, the Holy Spirit provides power for life.
When thinking about this year’s conference theme, Baptized with Fire: The Holy Spirit and Missional Communities, I could think of no one better able to guide us than my teacher, Leonard Allen.