Fisher Humphreys is a Christian theologian. And I mean that in more than one way.
He is a thoughtful, careful and insightful theologian concerning the nature of God and other Christian beliefs. Also, he is a humble, faithful practitioner of the Christian faith who reflects the life and teachings of Jesus and is one of the best theologians among us.
In my earlier career in campus ministry, Fisher would speak at various student conferences. He was not a commanding pulpit presence with a booming voice and a string of well-rehearsed punchlines. Rather he spoke directly about Jesus, God and the Bible in ways that were insightful, inspirational and understandable.
That led me to pick up some of his earliest books including Thinking about God: An Introduction to Christian Theology, first published in 1974. Over the years, I shared the book with college students who showed an interest in theological pursuit at a deeper level.
The book is classic Fisher: Clear, concise and well-reasoned. It is available now in an expanded third edition from Insight Press.
Other of Fisher’s books were added to my shelves including For God So Loved the World: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism with Paul Robertson (2000) and Fundamentalism with Philip Wise (2004).
So I was most pleased early in my editorship (more than 20 years ago) to receive a call from Fisher. He was professor at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University after many years at New Orleans Seminary.
Fisher and his wife Caroline, he said, were driving to Macon, Georgia, from Birmingham, Alabama. We made plans to have lunch.
It was as delightful as I could have imagined. And since then, we have enjoyed every opportunity to be with them or to communicate otherwise. Fisher was even gracious enough to serve on the Nurturing Faith Board of Directors.
So earlier this year—after enjoying a great meal and stimulating conversation with them and other friends—I was pleased to receive a copy of Fisher’s life story.
Simply titled A Personal History, the book is professionally done since Fisher co-owns Insight Press, a small publishing company. Yet it is not written for broad readership.
Fisher wrote the book to share his story with family and close friends. He realized how much he wishes his parents and grandparents had recorded their stories to be passed from generation to generation.
For me, it was another opportunity to learn from a superb teacher. Not only did I enjoy garnering more details of Fisher’s biographical journey, but his insights punctuate the book throughout.
Fisher treats everyone with respect, even those with whom he has great differences of opinion—including those who’ve misrepresented him and his viewpoints.
A classic mark of Fisher’s writing and speaking is his clear enumerations. Whether explaining the Trinity or his preference for a particular restaurant, expect four or five well-articulated reasons to be given.
His eight-step explanation of the Southern Baptist Convention takeover—to which he had a front seat and sometimes a debate table— is the best place to turn when someone asks what it was all about.
Both the Christian and the theologian are present even in recounting with humility and gratitude his upbringing, educational endeavors, family matters and professional journey.
Unlike Fisher, I can’t reduce the insights I’ve gathered to a specific number. But here are a few: His “third source” for educational pursuits was “a desire not just to know but to understand”—seeking answers to, “What’s it all about?”
His articulation of the relationship of philosophy to theology (both of which were my areas of study) is helpful: “What the engagement with philosophy did for me was to encourage a kind of theology in which we weren’t just talking about the Bible; we were also talking about what the Bible talks about, namely, God and the world and ourselves in relation to God.”
Fisher rightly notes the “two principle intellectual barriers to Christian faith are evidence and evil.”
He doesn’t ignore these challenges, noting: “From the beginning, I was fairly certain that there are no knock-down arguments on either issue.” However, he doesn’t shy away from them either. The facts of these arguments, he suggests, don’t mean “there is nothing to be said.”
And Fisher, once ridiculously labeled and libeled as an “infidel” by a fundamentalist publication, says those God-affirming things extremely well. Understandably, the mild-mannered professor was threatening to Baptist fundamentalists because he so clearly explained the errors in their methods and beliefs they ironically called “inerrancy.”
Their foundational claim was not in defense of an error-free Bible in hand but so-called “original manuscripts.” Fisher noted that such manuscripts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and “were never together in one place, and they no longer exist.”
Therefore, inerrancy was a mere battle cry in defense of fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible designed to keep women in submission and advance other aspects of their social agenda. That’s my assessment, not Fisher’s words.
His desire for understanding, said Fisher, is second to his desire for love. That is felt throughout his writing when referring to God, family, friends and strangers—especially those in need.
Fisher and his late friend Philip Wise shared the belief that the Christian faith is better understood when it is written down. Among many, I’m glad that Fisher so often put his good thinking in print—both his theological insights and personal story.
Maybe the best line in the book is not only sage advice but reflects Fisher’s life overall: “Example is better than precept.”
Fisher is a Christian and a theologian from whom much can be learned if not counted.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.