God's calling to preach the gospel was clear to Ray, but the specific arena of ministry he was to be involved in was not. The Navigators offered a Personnel Classification and Allocation Program through their publication, The Log, to counsel men on schooling and possible fields of service, and Ray took advantage of this offer.(Betty Lee Skinner, Daws, 270.) The Navigators enthusiastically recommended a ministry called the China Inland Mission, founded in 1865 by Hudson Taylor as the first truly interdenominational foreign mission,(Harold H. Rowdon, "Hudson Taylor," Dr. Tim Dowley, ed., Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity (Hertz, England: Lion Publishing, 1977), 554.) and for some time Ray felt led to serve in China. He had even begun to study Chinese at the University of Hawaii while he was still a civilian there. And in the spring of 1946, as Ray and Elaine sailed from Hawaii to San Francisco on the USS Arthur Middleton, they studied Chinese language flashcards to prepare for future service in China.(Elaine Stedman, interview by author, July 15, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)
UPON ARRIVING IN SAN FRANCISCO, Ray and Elaine immediately made plans to visit the Los Angeles headquarters of the China Inland Mission to apply as candidates. But two obstacles closed this door for the young couple. First, since Ray still had not received an undergraduate degree, the mission required that he get more education before being accepted as a candidate. The second obstacle was even greater: Ray and Elaine began to doubt that CIM was the right mission under which to serve. Their major concern was the mission's requirement that children be separated from their parents and sent to mission schools. Ray and Elaine felt that they simply could not comply with this regulation and thus began to investigate other avenues of service.
But no matter what direction they explored, Ray's lack of a college degree was a major concern, so they began to examine educational alternatives. The GI Bill made it possible for servicemen like Ray to attend college, but which school should he attend? Many of his fellow-servicemen from the Navigators were attending undergraduate schools like Moody Bible Institute and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (Biola), but for some time, Ray's Navy friend, Ed Phillips, had encouraged him to consider Dallas Theological Seminary, located in Ed's hometown. Ray's own inclinations also drew him to DTS, and he applied to the seminary. Then he and Elaine returned to Great Falls, Montana, to wait for an answer. Meanwhile, Ray worked for the railroad, as he had in Denver, and Elaine worked for the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, which later became Mobil Oil.
Ray became increasingly convinced that Dallas Seminary was the school he should attend. But as the summer of 1946 drew to a close and he still had no word about his application, Ray made a characteristic decision. Throughout his ministry when Ray was convinced he should do something, he threw caution to the wind and just did it. Ray was so confident that Dallas was where they belonged that he and Elaine quit their jobs, packed their bags, and headed for Texas. It was a decision they would never regret.
Dallas Theological Seminary
DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY HAD opened in the fall of 1924 under the leadership of the founder, noted Bible teacher Lewis Sperry Chafer, who would be president of the seminary until 1952. The first class of thirteen students was the result of Chafer's passion to train men in expository preaching of the Scriptures from a dispensational perspective. In 1935 the seminary pioneered the four-year Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree, which required a year longer than most seminary programs. This additional year of study provided time for emphasis in systematic theology, Hebrew and Greek exegesis, and Bible exposition.("A Rich Tradition: A Brief History" section, Web site of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.)
Lewis Sperry Chafer was an ardent dispensationalist, as were all teachers at the seminary, and Chafer was the first theologian to organize a complete dispensational theology in his eight-volume Systematic Theology, published in 1948. Dispensationalism shares much in common with conservative Protestant theology; however, it is unique in the way it divides sacred history. A dispensation is defined as "an epoch in history characterized by a covenant or agreement made between God and humankind, or some segment of humankind." This agreement defines what is required of humans to receive salvation during that particular era. Most dispensationalists adhere to seven eras, but the number can vary from three to seven.
At the forefront of dispensationalist thinking is the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible and the need to interpret it in the most literal way possible. Dispensationalists also teach premillennialism, believing that this present age will end in judgment and the historical kingdom of Christ will be established on earth for a thousand years. However, many dispensationalists have added other distinctive elements to historic premillennialism, especially concerning the role of the church.
Dispensationalists teach that the church age is a unique dispensation that began at Pentecost and will end at Christ's second coming. This second coming will take place in two stages. In the first stage, called the Rapture, true believers will be caught up in the air to be with Christ. Thus begins seven years of tribulation, culminating in Christ's return to earth with His raptured saints. Then He will restore the nation of Israel as His chosen people and set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years. Dispensationalists teach that the true church is a spiritual entity that crosses denominational lines and consists of true believers.(C. Norman Kraus, "Dispensationalism," Mark A. Knoll, ed., Eerdmans' Handbook to Christianity in America (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 327-330.) Dallas Seminary, in the forefront of this teaching, was the school to which Ray thought God was calling him.
When he and Elaine arrived in Dallas, they promptly sought out the school's registrar, Dr. Nash, and were delighted to learn that Ray had been accepted to the school. Dr. Nash then explained why they had not heard from him. During a recent trip to Denver, Dr. Nash's briefcase had been stolen. Ray's application form, along with his address, had been inside the case, leaving Dr. Nash with no way to contact him. Ray and Elaine could plainly see that in the providence of God He had led them to make the long trip to Dallas without knowing if they were accepted.
Because Ray did not have an undergraduate degree, he was accepted as a non-degree student. As such, he would take every course required of a regular Th.M student. The only difference was that four years later when Ray graduated, he would receive a Certificate of Graduation rather than a Th.M degree.
Before long, however, Ray distinguished himself as an honor student and an outstanding thinker. He was a natural student of the original languages, especially Hebrew, and he loved to engage in dialogue with professors, questioning them to get to the heart of an issue.
Howard Hendricks, a fellow student who became a close friend of Ray's, recalls, "We always highly respected Ray because he had an incredible mind. . . I used to kid him and say, 'Ray, I think you've got a photographic mind. I had one once, but I ran out of film.' Ray would be the first guy out in every single test he ever took. If it was an hour test, he'd be out in thirty minutes, maximum. And he always aced it. I used to think, 'How in the world could a guy get all this stuff in his head?'''(Howard Hendricks, interview by author, March 15,2001, Gleneden Beach, Ore., tape recording.)
Life was not financially easy for most students at Dallas Seminary in those days. Ray was fortunate to receive a Navy pension of $90.00 a month, but their monthly rent alone was $92.50. To make ends meet, Elaine worked in the seminary office and typed doctoral dissertations while Ray worked at a variety of jobs, including counseling at a camp for needy boys and selling programs at local football games.
"We lived very frugally, very frugally," Elaine recalls. "Our big treat on the weekend was to drive to a Seven-Eleven-type store and have a Milknickel--it cost a nickel--if we could afford it. And I wore clothes out of the missionary barrel from Scofield Church. I had a nice wardrobe when I left my job and went to Hawaii, but after the war they changed the fashions. Skirts, which had been knee-length, were now mid-ankle length. I had nothing left to wear!" (Elaine Stedman, interview by author, July 15, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)
In this setting, Ray and Elaine learned some powerful lessons about God's provision--lessons that would remain with them for the rest of their lives. Years later, Ray reflected on one incident that proved to be a great encouragement to the young couple.
"I'll never forget the day, in our extreme poverty, when there was a letter in my mailbox from a man whom I had never met, but whose name I knew. When I opened it there fell out a ten-dollar bill and a note from him that said he had heard about our ministry among the servicemen during the war, teaching the Bible. He said he wanted to help us financially and was praying for us. To this day I can recall the immense feeling of gratitude that I felt because some man, unknown to me, had thought of us, and was praying for us, and wanted to help US." (See Ray's message The Power You Already Have from September 29, 1991)
Ray and Elaine lived on campus, along with seventeen other families, in a place affectionately nicknamed "Trailerville." This "village" was simply a group of seventeen trailers under a grove of pecan trees, located at the place where Chafer Chapel stands today. Life at Trailerville was anything but glamorous. There were no washing machines or dryers, so all laundry had to be hand-washed. Wooden boards served as walkways, but were often lost beneath the accumulated mud after heavy rains. These seventeen families also shared two toilet-and-shower facilities. With characteristic humor, Ray would often sing out the old hymn as he waited in line: "Why do you wait, dear brother? Why do you tarry so long?" (Elaine Stedman.)
But during their four years at Trailerville, Ray and Elaine's life was enriched by the deep friendships they made there, such as Don and Bea Campbell, who lived in a trailer directly behind the Stedman's. (Don would later serve as the president of Dallas Seminary from 1986-1994.) Howard and Jeanne Hendricks lived in the adjoining row of trailers, and Howard and Ray became the best of friends--a friendship that would remain rock-solid through the years.
"I have no brothers or sisters," says Howard Hendricks, "and Ray became my brother. For some reason we were just instinctively drawn to each other, and we spent hours and hours and hours of time together. Many of those hours were spent sitting under a pecan tree developing what Ray called 'nutty theology.' We would go over and over the stuff. We'd change sides--he'd be Premill, I'd be Amill--and then we'd switch sides just to test our thinking. It was there that we hammered out our philosophy of ministry." (Howard Hendricks.)
One of the other qualities that drew Ray and Howard together was their shared sense of humor. Howard affectionately named Ray "the Mayor of Trailerville" when Ray failed to show up at a Trailerville board meeting. From then on, whenever anything went wrong within the Trailerville facilities, Howard would stick his head out of his trailer and yell, "Stedman! Where's the mayor?" (Ibid.) Howard and Ray also dubbed Trailerville "Conception City" because of the number of babies born to the young couples who lived there.
Along with the great friendships he made at Dallas, Ray was also strongly influenced by several professors at the seminary. Dr. Charles Feinberg, his Hebrew professor, had a great affinity for Ray because he was so adept at learning the language. Years later, after Dr. Feinberg moved to Talbot Seminary, he would have a part in bestowing on Ray the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1971. Ray also admired the keen mind of Dr. John Walvoord, who would succeed Dr. Chafer as Dallas Seminary president in 1952.
But the professor who had the most profound impact on Ray Stedman was Lewis Sperry Chafer.
"We were one of the last classes that Dr. Chafer taught," remembers Howard Hendricks. "He was in his eighties and was teaching a course on the spiritual life. The guy would teach the thing, come to an end, get up, and nobody would move. He'd go over and flip the light off, and walk out, and we'd be sitting there, absolutely stunned." (Ibid.) Chafer's teaching on the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, eternal security, and the grace of God marked Ray forever. Chafer believed so deeply in God's grace that he gave all his students an "N' so they could see the principle of unearned favor in action. Chafer's teaching on grace also impacted Elaine, who credits Chafer's book, Grace, published in 1922, as the catalyst that set her free from the legalism under which she had been raised.(Elaine Stedman.)
But it was not just Chafer's teaching that had a profound effect on Ray. Having no children of his own, Chafer would often select certain students as his "favorite sons." Ray Stedman was blessed to be one of these sons. Chafer's affection for Ray was such that he crossed the normal boundaries existing between students and professors. After Ray's second daughter was born, Chafer could not bear to see her return to the stark conditions of the trailer in Trailerville, so he and his wife took the Stedmans into their home.(Ibid.)
These expressions of fatherly care and concern had a profound effect on the fatherless boy from Montana. But the incident that marked him most took place while Ray was an intern at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in California during the summer after his third year of seminary.
"I will never forget an incident in my own ministry when I was a young man," Ray remarked. "I was still a student at Dallas Seminary, but was spending my summers in Pasadena. I was working one summer as a youth minister in a church there, when Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer. came into town and was gracious enough to spend an afternoon with my wife and me."
Ray showed Dr. Chafer around the church where he was working, an impressive and beautiful building. When Ray told Dr. Chafer that the congregation was without a pastor and was seeking one, Dr. Chafer said to him, "Do you think you might end up here in this church?"
"I don't know," said Ray. "Who knows what God will do? I don't have any particular plans for that."
"I don't know either," Dr. Chafer said, "but it would be a good place for you because I believe God is going to give you a great ministry."
Ray later said, "I do not know what he had in mind by that. . . . But his words have been a great encouragement to my heart. Many times as a young man I remembered that Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer had seen something in me that was an encouragement." (See Ray's message Wage the Good Warfare from 1981)
Years later, in his own ministry, Ray would become known as a man who showed the same kind of affection for his own sons in the faith. Just prior to his death, I wrote to him in much the same vein as Ray had spoken of Chafer: "You have been a wonderful model of a pastor to me. But, more importantly you have given me something that I desperately needed--your blessing. In various ways you have shown me that you believed in me, or at least in God's presence in me. You have blessed me by seeing something of God's call upon my life even when I wasn't sure it was really there. I'd like to say that I'm beyond all that now--that I know who I am and don't need that blessing. But I know that I do and nobody reminds me of this like you." (Mark S. Mitchell, letter to Ray Stedman, August 1992.)
Opportunities for Growth and Learning
SUMMER BREAKS FROM SEMINARY provided opportunities for Ray to learn from experienced men and to grow in the practical aspects of ministry. After his first year at Dallas, in the summer of 1947, Ray served an internship with Dr. J. Vernon McGee at the Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California.
During that time, Elaine's father became quite ill, and she spent the summer in Great Falls while Ray worked in Pasadena. This was a difficult separation for the young couple, particularly as Elaine was expecting their first child. On May 20, he wrote to her from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, as he was driving to Pasadena: "Honey, I miss you an awful lot and would sure give an awful lot to have you with me right now. Bachelors are awfully unhappy people!" (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, May 20,1947.) Throughout his correspondence with Elaine during this time, Ray affectionately referred to their unborn baby as "Bruce."
Ray was eager to have children, and the minute it seemed a pregnancy was likely he went around Trailerville proudly announcing it. He wrote to Elaine, "I can't wait to get my hands on that little tyke, Bruce, so please hurry him along if at all possible. Does he still upset your stomach considerably or are things leveling out somewhat?" (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, June 7, 1947.) It would be six months before the "little tyke" was born on January 3,1948, and much to Ray's surprise, "Bruce" would be Sheila!
"Though I think he was surprised to have a girl baby," Elaine recalls, "she quickly won his heart, and mine, too, of course."
When Ray arrived in Pasadena, he discovered that his ministry was to be primarily with the young people and that he would have the opportunity to speak at two youth camps.(Ibid.) As the days passed Ray began to see himself as a catalyst for change in the youth ministry at Lincoln Avenue, moving them more in the direction of outreach to unchurched kids.
''Just now had a long talk with the sponsor of the C.E. for High School and Jr. High who has a real problem," he wrote to Elaine in mid-June. "I believe Young Life tactics are the answer and they are willing to try them. We are very near a Jr. College and a Jr. High School and I believe they can be reached. That project calls for your prayers." (Ibid.) Less than two weeks later, he told her that the transition to an outreach-centered Young Life model was progressing well.(Ray Stedman to Elaine Stedman, June 18, 1947.)
Being in Pasadena also placed Ray in close proximity to Dawson Trotman and allowed for some much-needed healing between the two men. Daws lived in the Los Angeles area, and Ray and Daws met together several times. They "had good fellowship together" (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, May 24,1947.) and began to experience some healing in their relationship. One of the valuable lessons Ray learned from these painful encounters was how to work through disagreement without compromising the standards set forth in God's Word.
"I had dinner at 509 again and afterward Daws and I thrashed out our difficulty. I had told you I was willing to admit there were questionable features about that mimeographed letter [the letter sent in 1945 regarding Dawson's misconduct] if and when Daws was ready to admit his backbiting and lordly attitude. Well, last night he did so, saying that the Lord had dealt with him a great deal and from our talk I was convinced that it was genuine. Accordingly, I promised to give him a statement he could print in the Log if he cared about the letter. We still differ somewhat about his treatment of H-- and some Navigator practices but those are pretty much differences of opinion and hardly call for discipline. I am glad the hatchet is buried and peace reigns again." (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, June 7, 1947.)
After his second year at Dallas, Ray returned to Pasadena, this time accompanied by his wife and daughter. One of the struggles Ray had to contend with each summer was how to finance the trip and make ends meet during their first few weeks before receiving a paycheck in Pasadena. They had very little cash to work with and it took all their savings to buy gasoline to make the trip. As Ray said, "We always arrived absolutely flat broke." Through this experience, however, he gained a powerful illustration of redemption.
"Usually we had spent the last of our money four or five hundred miles back and had gone without a couple of meals and slept in the car. There would be a week, or sometimes two, until my first check arrived. And so I always had to pawn something. The only thing of value I had, beside my wife, was my typewriter. So the first thing I did in Pasadena was to take my typewriter down and pawn it. (The pawnbroker and I became good friends as the summers went by.) We would live on that money until my first check came. Then I'd redeem the typewriter. Now, for that two-week period the typewriter was absolutely useless to anyone. No one could use it. I had no right 'to use it; the pawnbroker had no right to use it. He couldn't sell it to anyone else. It was in hock, in pawn. It was useless, absolutely useless. . .. When I bought the typewriter back, redeemed it, it was restored to usefulness." (See Ray's message Liberated! from August 13, 1972)
During Ray's second summer at Lincoln Avenue, he completely immersed himself in ministry with the youth. ,He also continued to observe Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whose faithful exposition of God's Word would influence Ray's preaching in years to come. Like McGee, Ray preferred preaching through the books of the Bible; and like McGee, his preaching was marked by simplicity, a conversational tone, and homespun stories and humor. Yet with a powerful model like McGee came a powerful temptation, as Ray confessed years later.
"When I graduated from seminary, I thought that the power needed for a ministry lay in the man of God--so I studied men. I followed them. I saw men that were being used of God, and I said, 'What is it that is the secret of their power?' When I thought I found it, I tried to imitate it, and to adapt it to myself. I caught myself aping men--talking like them. . . . coming fresh from the influence of the ministry of Dr. J. Vernon McGee, I used to talk like him. I wore bright red shirts, because I thought that was the hiding [the secret] of his power. I finally realized that the power did not lie in the man." (See Ray's message False Consecration from July 22, 1962)
The following year, Dr. McGee left Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church to become pastor of Church of the Open Door in downtown Los Angeles. So Ray spent his third seminary summer once again doing youth ministry at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pasadena.
By this time, Ray and Elaine were expecting their second child, and their daughter Susan was born during Ray's fourth and final year of seminary on January 25, 1950.
The man who expected to have four sons was now well on his way to having four daughters. Elaine confesses that she didn't know Ray's true feelings about this: "There was one overall deficit in our marriage, and that was communication. I think I could write a book about that. For instance, if Ray felt any disappointment about having all girls rather than the four boys he planned, he never expressed it to me, and certainly not to them. . . . I truly do not know whether he just stuffed any disappointment he may have felt or whether he genuinely received it as God's gift--perplexing maybe, but good nevertheless. I still marvel at the irony, that God should assign a house full of females to a man who had so much perplexity about women. But I never heard a complaint after any of our daughters' births. And when he announced the last to the congregation at PBC he said, 'I guess I'm just destined to live my life surrounded by beautiful women.' " (Elaine Stedman, e-mail to author, November 11, 2003. 244)
FOR RAY, THE HIGHLIGHTS of those Dallas years "were the visits of special expositors who came for two weeks at a time and lectured to the students. One of them was. . . Dr. H. A. Ironside, the long-term pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago.a great Bible teacher." (Ray Stedman, "Why I Am An Expositor," Theology, News and Notes XXXII, no. 4 (December 1985): 4.) Ray loved Dr. Ironside's teaching, and he quickly took the initiative to try and develop a relationship in a very practical way. Noting the older man's deteriorating eyesight, Ray offered to assist with writing out Dr. Ironside's notes, putting to good use the typing and shorthand skills he had learned in Chicago and Hawaii. As a result, Ironside developed an affinity for his eager student and asked if Ray would travel with him as his chauffeur and assistant during the summer after Ray's graduation from Dallas. Although this would mean separation from his wife and two young daughters, Ray could not resist the opportunity to spend time with a man of Ironside's stature. So while Elaine and the children spent the summer of 1950 with her parents in Great Falls, Montana, Ray accompanied Dr. Ironside in his travels and speaking engagements. Dr. Ironside's widow wrote of Ray's contribution to the publication of her husband's book on Isaiah:
In December 1949, Dr. Ironside gave lectures on the Book of Isaiah at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of the students, Ray C. Stedman, made wire recordings of the classroom lecture.
Mr. Stedman also did a great deal of secretarial work for Dr. Ironside during his stay at the seminary. He was so efficient and helpful that Dr. Ironside asked him if he would be willing to travel with us during the summer, and help with the writing of his exposition of the Book of Isaiah, which had long been delayed on account of his failing eyesight.
Mr. Stedman joined us in June 1950, after his graduation from the seminary, and for two months served not only as chauffeur, secretary, and companion, but as a "brother beloved" was so helpful in all the varied activities of the itinerant ministry that we came to love him as a son. Without his help and cooperation the publication of Dr. Ironside's "Isaiah" would have been impossible.
Traveling constantly, Dr. Ironside's reference library consisted of M. A. Vine's Isaiah--Prophecies, Promises, and Warnings; F. C. Jennings' Isaiah; a one-volume Bible encyclopedia; and J. N. Darby's New Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
As Dr. Ironside was unable to read at all during this time, except with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass, his method of working under this handicap may be of interest. Mr. Stedman writes:
"In general our procedure was as follows: I would read to him the portion chosen for comment, out of the Authorized Version--a portion which had previously been read to him and over which he had been meditating. He would take a moment or two to gather 'his thoughts and then would begin dictating, seldom pausing for rephrasing or changes. I would then read the next section and he would dictate on that until an entire chapter had been covered. After that I would read through the next chapter, usually from Darby's "New Translation" and also the corresponding portion from Jennings and Vine. This would form the basis for this meditation in preparation for the next day's dictation.
"Occasionally we would discuss interesting sections of the chapters together and he would ask me to look up certain words in a one-volume Bible encyclopedia he carried. I was always amazed at the way he kept his comments from simply being a "rehash" of Vine and Jennings, but always managed to bring out some interesting sidelight which the others had overlooked."
When Mr. Stedman left us to go to the pastorate of the Peninsula Bible Fellowship at Palo Alto, California, the first thirty-five chapters of Isaiah were completed and typed.
That summer proved to be another turning point for Ray as he carefully observed both the life and teaching of this seasoned pastor. One of the treasures he brought home with him three months later was a card file he had made of Dr. Ironside's illustrations.(Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, June 8, 1950.) (Providentially, this would be his last chance to glean from the great expositor, because Dr. Ironside died the following fall.)
"It was a great and choice privilege to be with Dr. Ironside for three months," Ray said years later, reflecting on that life-changing summer. "It was a fascinating time for me. Because he was almost blind with cataracts in both eyes, I was his constant companion. I was his chauffeur, his secretary, and his companion. We lived, ate, bled and died together for three months. Because I was young I listened to him with great interest, and watched everything he did. I saw his great strengths as a Bible teacher. I saw his warmth and compassion as a human being, and I saw some weaknesses. . . . He made an unforgettable impression upon me." (See Ray's message Who Is Jesus? from March 20, 1983)
What Ray did not know was the impression he had made on Dr. Ironside, Dr. Chafer, Dr. McGee, Dr. Mitchell, and Dr. Walvoord, nor could he imagine what that would mean for his future.