by Fisher Humphreys
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
I have encouraged more than one friend to write what Dr. Humphreys calls “a personal history” (or what is often termed an autobiography). I do so because those of us his age (83) have lived through interesting and consequential times. I am referring, of course, to the Civil Rights Movement and the end of segregation through the presidency of Donald J. Trump and the rise of Christian Nationalism. In between, there is Rock and Roll, Vietnam, Watergate, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, the Millennium, Barak Obama, space travel, the internet and the iPhone, and the pandemic.
But Fisher Humphreys largely skirts many of these monumental episodes in modern American history. He sticks mostly to his own life: his ancestors, family of origin, education, nuclear family, career, and publications (with a good word about his travels). It is all interesting to me because Humphreys has been a close friend of mine for more than 30 years; I have come to appreciate all that he thinks and writes.
Which is considerable–his thinking and writing. His big book is, naturally, Thinking About God and it has gone through several editions. He convenes a small group of theologians of which I am a member (and about which he writes in the book); but he is too modest to report fully his role in forming and leading the group. We all listen to what he has to say, just like people all over the English-speaking world read what he writes about church, religion, theology, and ethics. His popular and scholarly output is impressive: frankly, more than the rest of our group combined!
But it is the personal stories that resonate with me: the scooter he bought as a young man while living with his wife and son at Oxford University in England; the tension he endured while navigating the organizational upheaval of the Southern Baptist Convention; the trouble that ensued when he violated a traffic rule while driving on a expired license; the grief he suffered when his only daughter died in the recovery room of a local hospital. I know from my own research that such personal reflections woven in and around better known public events are priceless when it comes to securing a well-rounded perspective on something. For instance, I treasure Sixty Years in Owensboro by William Foster Hayes, which I found and purchased while researching the life and influence of Methodist evangelist Sam Jones–but that is another story.
Humphreys dedicates the book to his three grandchildren and to the memory of one child and one grand who have died. He did this because they are the primary audience. Many parents and fewer grandparents tell their stories to their descendants, often because the children and grandchildren don’t yet have interest in, or appreciation for, such personal histories. But one day they will, and the Fisher folk will be blessed and grateful that their talented and influential forefather had the desire, the time, and the skill to put together such a narrative. Humphreys is both brilliant and kind, and both shine through in this book. I predict both qualities will continue to shape the Humphreys family for decades to come.
Which is why more of us need to write books like this: to pass along the better elements, the surer values of our lives, trusting that somewhere down the line, somebody will rise up and call us blessed. As they surely will for Fisher Humphreys.