By Maggie Walsh
The Alabama Baptist
His life is a love story. But I didn’t realize it until I talked to him one-on-one.
Robert Coleman, who will be 90 on his next birthday, is a man with an impressive resumé. He’s taught as a distinguished professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, since 2001 and averages about 35 speaking engagements a year that take him all over the world. He also taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for 18 years and, prior to that, at Asbury Theological Seminary for 27 years.
He’s been mentored by Billy Graham, is the president of Christian Outreach and has written 21 books, including best-seller “The Master Plan of Evangelism.”
There’s so much more that I could note, but none of that is what made me realize that his life is defined by steadfast, wholehearted, abiding love. When we talked on the phone, I only asked Dr. Coleman two questions during our 41-minute conversation. He’s one of those people who begins to answer a question and just gets rolling. But somehow, he manages to weave various details and thoughts together in such a way that you don’t want him to stop talking (even if you are sitting on a child-sized table at the end of a hallway and getting a neck cramp from holding your cellphone to your ear with your shoulder). You just keep listening.
Importance of discipleship
In answering my second question about how and when he discovered the importance of discipleship, Dr. Coleman told me that it wasn’t until he took the professor of evangelism position at Asbury Theological Seminary. It was then when he started asking, “What did Jesus do?” and “How did He relate this or that to the lives of ordinary people?”
Those questions combined with a concentrated studying of the Gospels led him to the importance of discipleship.
“I started letting my male students come with me to things … and said they could come study the Bible with me or pray with me,” he said, and since then “it’s been a pattern of my life.”
Dr. Coleman and his wife, Marietta, shared a desire to invest in others and be true partners in ministry.
A love story
Hearing how he talked about Marietta was moving. I could hear the appreciation in his voice when he mentioned how much she sacrificed so he could take on so many speaking engagements. I could tell that he was smiling when he talked about all the ways she served the Lord. He even said her name tenderly, like it was so much more than just a means of identification.
Dr. Coleman has been a widower since Jan. 3.
“When she was dying I would lay down beside her and sing. It was snug, but we were together,” he said. “She died in my arms.
“It was a wonderful time.”
When he said “it was a wonderful time,” that’s when I realized that Dr. Coleman’s life is a love story. It’s not a story about the love between him and Marietta, although theirs was beautiful to hear.
It’s a story about his love for his Savior. When Dr. Coleman can say in all sincerity that letting go of half his heart, his wife of 65 years was “a wonderful time,” it shows his heart. And it shows that his eyes are fixed heavenward, on the promise of eternity with the Lord that he was born to worship. No earthly loss, no matter how great, would take his eyes from his Creator. This is love, a love that not only drives him to disciple young men but also to accept with open hands that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
By the end of the phone call I was crying. What began as just one more thing to do in a whirlwind of a day ended as one of the most unexpectedly encouraging conversations of my life.
Dr. Coleman and I crossed paths because he was 1 of 8 speakers for the 2017 Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference on Nov. 13. This year’s Pastors Conference urged pastors to “finish the course” and “keep the faith.”
Robert Coleman, I can say with all confidence, is finishing well.