Barclay Press #8

I just finished reading the biography of Thomas Kelly, written by his son Richard. My friend Steve gave it to me; Kelly’s Testament of Devotion has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and Steve has loved The Eternal Promise. Kelly has an ability to give voice to what’s beyond words, that true encounter with God that is possible.

My first reaction as I was reading was, “There but for the grace of God go I.” For most of his life, Kelly was a driven perfectionist who constantly pushed himself as a scholar. With a Ph.D. already earned and a teaching job already in place, Kelly pursued the holy grail, a Harvard Ph.D. He excelled in the course work, his dissertation passed and was published and well received…but when he went for his oral exam he froze up and failed so horribly they said he could never stand for a degree again.

I have had to battle the beast of perfectionism quite often in my life. And the thought of failing utterly at something I wanted as badly as Kelly wanted that Harvard Ph.D. makes my stomach churn and begin to wretch.

But here’s the twist. It was this failure, everyone agrees, that led to the power of Kelly’s writing. God met him in his failure, and became intimately real. God healed him. We remember him because of his ability to make God-encounters touchable, and that only happened because of his failure. God met him in his very weakness.

Which sort of turns my fear into hope. Kelly’s power came from God. Which changes me to, “There WITH the grace of God go I.”

One thought on “Barclay Press #8

  1. I love Thomas Kelly too for many of the same reasons. The thing that kills me is that when I did a research paper on him last year, I learned that there are hundreds of his unpublished sermons archived with his things that T. Canby Jones and Joshua Brown were preparing to publish when the family pulled the plug on the project. They thought Kelly’s early work was less mature and would tarnish his reputation so have given strict instructions to the archivist to NEVER release them for publishing. In conversations with Joshua, I have come to believe that they would show his development in a way that could have been very encouraging to the rest of us – showing a progression of spiritual development and deepening of faith rather than the instant flash of deep spirituality that his biography portrays.


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