You probably won't know this man, but generations have been influenced by his story.
Dr. Robert Knight Rudolph (1906 - 1986) died before the age of the Internet. He didn't have a blog, a podcast, or a Twitter account. He simply lectured.
For 49 years, Dr. Rudolph taught at the little-known Reformed Episcopal Seminary in West Philadelphia, a glorious church and education edifice that was built when the building was surrounded by apple orchards. But Dr. Rudolph didn't just lecture in theology; he loved his students and infected them with a life-changing love for God’s Word and for the Son of God that his Word revealed.
A Different Type Of Lecture
I had no idea what I would encounter when I sat in Dr. Rudolph's class for the first time. I had sat in many rather boring theology classes before, where distant and impractical items of theology were dispensed by academic professors who seemed to have lost their passion for truth. But from the very first moment, I knew this was a theology professor of a different sort.
Dr. Rudolph's lectures were more than lectures; they were essentially sermons, and these theologically rich sermons were always applied to the hearts, lives, and future ministries of his students. His habit was to lecture behind his desk, and then somewhere in the lecture, he would come to front of his desk, lean against it and plead with his students not to ever forsake the life-giving truths of God's Word.
I had been exposed to the truths of the Bible in my home growing up, in youth ministry and at the Christian college I attended, but it was in Dr. Rudolph's classroom that I came to love God's truth. In three memorable years, God used Dr. Rudolph's zeal for the truths of the gospel to lay the tracks that my ministry has run on every day since.
I can remember evening after evening doing my best to regurgitate that day's Rudolph lecture to my amazingly patient wife, because I wanted her to get what I was getting; I wanted her to share my growing passion and zeal. One night in my excitement, I said to her, "I'm not just learning theology. For the first time in my life, I'm learning to think!"
Dr. Rudolph taught me how to excavate, unpack, analyze, critique and understand ideas from the vantage point of the truths of God’s Word. I can't think of a person, other than my Savior, who has had a more massive and continuing impact on my life and ministry than Dr. Robert Knight Rudolph. I am deeply grateful that in his latter years of lecturing, I was graced to be in his classroom.
Instruments Of Faith
When we initially come to faith in God, we are not yet people who understand and are committed to what it means to live by faith. So, God must transform us. One way of spiritual transformation is by putting us in relationship with other people of faith.
Dr. Rudolph was that instrument for me. He preached the zeal of the Redeemer to me. Our Redeemer works zealously and without interruption to craft faith in us. And one of the primary ways he does, is by putting Dr. Rudolphs in our lives to stimulate in our hearts a commitment to and understanding of what it means to approach everything in our lives from the foundation of faith in God and a love for his Word.
Several years ago, I was preaching on Sunday evening at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Little did I know that there was a fellow student of Dr. Rudolph's in the audience who for the last several weeks had come to Tenth to hear me preach.
He waited in line to greet me after the service and said, "I don't know whether you'll take this as a compliment or not, but I hear the words of Dr. Rudolph in every sermon that you preach." I smiled, not offended in the slightest, because when I preach, I hear Dr. Rudolph's words too.
Whenever I get up to teach or preach, it feels as if there are dozens of mentors are standing unseen behind me. It's a crowd of people who God has used to shape how I think and how I live. In the unseen crowd behind me is Dr. Rudolph, leaning on his crutches, still being used of God to teach me what it means to live by faith.
Dr. Rudolph often summarized complex theological doctrines in short aphorisms. There's a Wikipedia page that I would encourage you to check out.