Edward G. Dobson (@EdwardDobson), known as Dr. Dobson to some, as pastor Dobson to others, as author to still others, and as Eddie to many close friends, died on December 26, 2015. I was his publisher, he was my pastor, but to me he was “Ed.” I have prayed for him many times since he was diagnosed with ALS in the year 2000, a disease that he fought valiantly but that finally got the better of him. [See the Christianity Today article, Died: Ed Dobson, Pastor and One-Time Moral Majority Leader.]
My first contact with Ed came in the mid 1980s, but given the nature of our contact, I would not have dreamed that we would ever be close. You see, at the time he was associated with Liberty University, involved with the Moral Majority, the right-hand man for Jerry Falwell, and editor-in-chief for the Fundamentalist Journal. In fact, my first contact with Ed came when he wrote me as editor of the Journal and asked me to write an article for it. At the time I had little idea of who Ed was, but I did know that I was not Jerry Falwell’s kind of Fundamentalist (I am willing to be called a Fundamentalist, though, in the original sense of the term; that is, as one who believes and accepts the Fundamentals of the Christian faith). I do not even remember what Ed asked me to write about, but I do remember that I did not even bother to respond to his invitation.
Fast forward to 1987 when Ed left Liberty University and accepted the call to become the pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I live and work. I occasionally attended Calvary and was apprehensive about its future with Ed as pastor. I wondered if he would attempt to reshape the church in the image of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Jerry Falwell. But what I did not know was that Ed himself had become disillusioned with the rationale behind the Moral Majority that cultural and moral problems could be successfully addressed through the political process. So, while he remained a close and loyal friend of Jerry Falwell, Ed moved on and eventually we at Zondervan published the book he co-authored, Blinded by Might, a book that explores the futility, mistaken priorities, and temptations associated with what he had left behind when coming to Calvary Church.
So Ed turned out to be quite a different kind of person and pastor than I had imagined, and I began to regularly attend Calvary Church. We got together for lunch every couple of months. Originally, as a publisher I was interested in getting him to write for Zondervan. That did happen, but more significantly, he became my pastor, even though I once told him I could never officially join Calvary Church because I had a basic disagreement with the church on a matter of church governance. Ed knew what I was referring to, and his response was very simple, “I understand,” and that never became a barrier in our relationship. I mention this because this was so typical of Ed—he accepted people for who they were and welcomed them all into the congregation. He was well-known for having told his congregation that gays and lesbians were welcome at Calvary Church and that they would be right at home with the rest of the sinners in the congregation whether they be liars, cheats, swindlers, or gossips (not an exact quote, but this was the gist of what he said).
One day I decided to probe Ed a bit further in terms of his ongoing friendship with Jerry Falwell. I said something like this, “Ed, it is no secret to you that I am not a big fan of Jerry Falwell, and I am embarrassed every time Jerry is portrayed in the media as the representative of what it means to be an evangelical Christian. So, my question for you is, ‘What would you want me to know about Jerry that I would not otherwise know that would explain your loyalty to and friendship with him in spite of the fact that you have moved on and are no longer formally associated with the organizations he leads or with his agenda?’” His twofold response was a jolt to me and tempered my own attitude toward Falwell, reminding me that Falwell for all of his warts, was a Christian brother. “Stan,” Ed said, “Jerry is the most loyal person I know. I know that if anything were to happen to me, he would make sure that Lorna and my children were taken care of. But more than that, I would want you to know that I have never known anyone who makes prayer a priority in his life more than Jerry!”
During our lunches, I would sometimes try to draw out Ed on theological questions, especially the kinds of questions bandied about by biblical scholars and theologians. Most of these attempts were futile because Ed’s typical response would be something like this, “Stan, these are important and interesting questions, but frankly, these are not the questions and issues that the people in my congregation are wrestling with in real life.”
I always appreciated Ed’s teaching and preaching. He took the Bible seriously and handled it carefully. He explained the text and then applied it to the real life situations of those in front of him. When he was diagnosed with ALS and it became clear that the disease was taking its toll, I felt his preaching became even more insightful and convicting. I grieved when he decided that he could no longer carry the pastoral burden of preaching three times on Sundays. We continued to have the occasional lunch together, and my last lunch with him at Marco’s is etched in my memory; somehow I knew that this would be the last lunch we would have. And I grieve now over the loss of my pastor/friend who gave to me far more than he realized. Thank you, Ed, for all of those gifts.
Dr. Stan Gundry is senior vice-president and editor-in-chief for Zondervan.