Calvin Miller: In Memoriam and His Letter to the Church

By Ed Stetzer

I was deeply saddened to hear the news about the passing of Calvin Miller. It was always a joy to learn from him.

A native of Enid, Oklahoma, Dr. Miller was a faithful servant of the church. Though he only pastored two churches in his lifetime, his 25-years of service at Westside Church in Omaha, Nebraska, shaped his ministry and that of many others. Under his leadership, Westside grew from 10 members to over 2,500 when he left to join the faculty of Southwestern Seminary in 1991. Since 1999, Dr. Miller had served at Beeson Divinity School (one of my alma maters).

A prolific writer, he authored more than forty books and countless poems and free-lance articles. Dr. Miller was deeply committed to the evangelism, apologetics, and cultural engagement for the cause of Christ. He even contributed a “Letter to the Church” for the Mission of God Study Bible (that essay is below). When he asked me to endorse his book, Letters to a Young Pastor, I felt like a kid was asked to endorse a celebrity. (You should get the book.)

He was never one to seek the spotlight like so many others. However, those who knew Dr. Miller knew of his unabashed fervor for the word of God and his desire to make Christ known among the nations.

Dr. Miller knew the importance of story as well. A wonderful wordsmith, he would use the element of story in such a way that cold facts and dry doctrine came to life in ways rarely seen. His poetry was an outpouring of his devotion to both his Savior and his sweetheart, Barbara Joyce.

Like many, I will miss Dr. Miller. He has greatly influenced my, my ministry, and my writings.

As he wrote in his memoir Life Is Mostly Edges:

The edge is a good address. It is a good place to remember our temporariness. It teaches us to spend our time wisely. So our last days can become our best days.

Life is good. So is God.

And life with God is full of glorious daybreaks. After all, it was God who gave me the courage to walk the edges of a life that was never mine!

May we all not take for granted each and every daybreak and remember we are living a life that is ultimately not ours.

Thank you, Dr. Miller.


A Letter to the Church by Calvin Miller, from The Mission of God Study Bible

To every Christian who reads this book: you are a missionary. Missions is the joyous work of informing the world that it is loved. Missions is unrelenting in its desire, it pushes in flaming light against the dark walls of human ignorance. It is honest about all things eternal: we can be free only when we know the truth (Jn 8:32).

Missions is clear, cold water–a cup of grace, a draft of life in the desert. It is as free as air, yet as precious as a pearl buried deep in the brokenness of the human spirit (Mt 13:46). Missions is a message, as simple as two words Jesus Saves–one noun, one verb–and yet this simplicity is God’s broad banner posted just above the gates of eternity (Lk 19:10).

Missions is ravenous in its hunger to please God. It knows no other purpose for its existence. It lives for the single pleasure of hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful slave (Mt 25:21). You have told the truth in a false world, you have turned the iron key of liberty in the steel door of hell, and the captives are freed (Lk 4:18)! For this liberation you have been called “missionary.”

Missions is a divine madness that hears the voice of God’s only begotten, crying from a mountaintop, into all the world (Mt 28:18-20). It takes this cry to bed and pillow every night. It wakes at every dawn, as Christ whispers in the heart, “I was dead, but look–I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rv 1:18). You must arise for I have come to seek and to save that which was lost. There is no time to waste, the world is loved and doesn’t know it. Hold out your hand and I fill it with gold, and you must go out to give the gold away, making rich all those who are poor in spirit (Mt 5:3). Tell all those who starve about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rv 19:9).

To every Christian who reads this book: you are a missionary.

No matter your credentials. All who name the name of Christ have been ordained by the urgency of God’s agenda in a fallen world. Missionaries are not just those special few who have accepted some certificate of some profession. They are not servants of a special calling. Missionaries are all those who have said “yes, Lord!” To say “I believe” is to understand that you have accepted the commission to go into all the world, starting right inside your home, your village, your nation, your world. You have been empowered. Christ has breathed upon you (Jn 20:22). When Christ moves in, you move out. Out where? Out there! Outside your narrow life. Anywhere is the place to start. So start. Seek! Knock! Any door will do (Mt 7:7). You need no grand beginning point.

There, it is done! You have spoken to someone the entreaty, “Come with us to Christ!” Congratulations! You are a missionary and missionaries are the merchants of hope. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring Good Tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, Your God Reigns (Isaiah 52:7).

But be not proud! In redeeming the world all arrogance is precluded. There are no good, arrogant missionaries (2Co 12:5). Christ’s ambassadors (2Co 5:20) are men and women made humble by the immense size of the message given to them by Earth’s Lover. They feed on the bread they give away. They remember who they were when they met Christ, and just that little act of memory causes them to weep that that they once stumbled into grace, before they were ever called to dispense it. Now they are driven by the joy of God’s call, they are the cleansed unclean, the forgiven forgivers, the wounded healers. Nothing is more important than their preachment. They live for it, they die for it (1Co 9:16). They will not change their minds and they cannot change the subject. They are intentional about one truth, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (Jn 4:29). I can baptize you only with water, but He will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:16). Thus holding forth the world in their left hand they reach for heaven with their right hand, and the gulf between time and eternity is pulled shut (Lk 16:22). The world at hand is made one with the world that is on the way.

All we who know Him are the heralds of God, missionaries blind to our own greatness because we have served a magnificent obsession, a glorious compulsion, “Jesus lives, Jesus saves.” There is no other significant, eternal truth (Ac 4:12).

The day we became missionaries we were no longer good at the sedentary life. The word “go” forbids us to settle into the plush present, for we know that the future is where we were meant to live, for only the future holds the possibility of us making our next disciple (1Co 9:19). Of course we love our last convert, but that believer has only fueled our fever to meet the next one.

Here in this volume you hold the grand marriage of the Word of God and the Commission of God. This is the book that holds the definition of forty holy men, the Bible writers, who have defined the heart of God. Missions plus the Word equals everything. You cannot serve just one of these, for to serve the Book is to serve the mission (Php 2:16). To fail to serve either of them is to choose to serve neither. Read herein what God has for you, then do all that you have read. Only then will you enter into life a whole person waiting on God, and knowing who you are. And knowing who you are you will find pleasure in your identity (Php 3:8,10).

Your life belongs to the world. Your zip code is the globe. You are a missionary.

You might also visit his website and see his most recent book… it will be worth the click.

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research, one of the best and most-quoted Christian research organizations in the world. He has planted churches in multiple states; trained pastors across the US and on six continents; and taught at 14 seminaries. Author or co-author of 12 books, Stetzer is a leading voice among evangelicals. He is a contributing editor or columnist for several publications, including Christianity Today, Outreach Magazine, The Christian Post, and Facts and Trends.