Lessons from a Dying Pastor

This is the story of Ed Dobson – the story of a dying man.  In 2001, Ed was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and was given 2-5 years to live.[1]  But this is not what makes Ed’s story so fascinating and so worthy of our time.  You see, Ed is a Christian whose life has taken him down a path that few within our society are willing to travel – a path that ultimately puts him at odds with political activists on both the left and the right.

Born in Northern Ireland in 1949, Ed Dobson immigrated to the United States in 1964.  By the age of 23, he had earned his Masters Degree from Bob Jones University, and had taken his first post as the Dean of Men at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Just seven years later, in 1979, Ed joined the Board of Directors for Falwell’s newly organized Moral Majority.  In the hopes of combating the moral decline of American culture, Falwell, Dobson and others eschewed the traditional Baptist practice of separating faith and politics; and instead sought to build a grassroots network that would lobby for a “pro-family” agenda in America.

But by the late 1980s, Ed Dobson had come to realize that Falwell’s vision of a fundamentalist “Christian Nation” was one that he could no longer embrace.  While his convictions regarding Jesus and the Scriptures remained rock solid, he came to believe that the cultural problems of the late 20th century were not problems that could be remedied through political activism.  So, in 1987, Ed left Liberty University and the Moral Majority, and became the Senior Pastor of Calvary Church[2] in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  For the next 18 years, he labored to build into this congregation, before eventually resigning when the rigors of his illness became too great to bear.

Now, in the Twilight of his life, Ed Dobson has undertaken a new venture.  No longer able to minister in the ways that he once did, he has released a series of short films, in which he ruminates on the lessons he has learned as a follower of Christ.    These are not lessons about building grassroots organizations, nor are they lessons about ministering in the context of a megachurch.  Instead, Ed is taking us on a journey to the doorsteps of death, bravely offering insights about what it means to live as a Christian at the end of a long and unexpected journey.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to sit down for 10 minutes with Ed Dobson.  Listen to what he has to say.  And if, by the end, you find yourself longing to hear more, you can follow this link,which will lead to you to Flannel.org.  There, you can purchase all five “shorts” for just $7.99.


[1] Amyotrophic lateral scleosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a motor neuron disease.  In the simplest of terms, it is a disease in which the spinal cord begins to deteriorate, which in turn leads to weakness, muscle atrophy, and spasticity.  Generally speaking, most patients die of respiratory compromise and/or pneumonia within 2-3 years of the initial diagnosis.

[2] It may be of interest to the reader to know that Calvary Church is the church responsible for planting Rob Bell and Mars Hill.

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5 Responses to Lessons from a Dying Pastor

  1. Rich Bennema says:

    “his convictions regarding Jesus and the Scriptures remained rock solid”

    This is going to be hard in text. I don’t want this to sound like I’m kicking a man suffering from ALS.

    But I’m a little surprised that after your repeated hammering of James MacDonald, you seem to be going light on Ed Dobson. My wife’s family used to go to Calvary Church and then Mars Hill Bible Church. I was actually at Mars Hill when Ed Dobson preached there shortly after his diagnosis.

    Partly because I was worried about the direction of Mars Hill, I used to listen to the weekly podcasts. I stopped about two years ago when they embraced themselves as a cult. Rob Bell and Shane Hipps team taught what could be summarized as, “if friends or family try to warn you about Mars Hill, just smile and walk away.” Wow. Fortunately, everyone I knew had already stopped attending Mars Hill, so it was obvious there was no more reason to listen to that train wreck.

    But in that time, I heard Ed Dobson preach many times. I can’t imagine what he has gone through, but, if formerly rock solid, he is now squishy. I unfortunately cannot remember specific instances, but there were several times where I would cock my head like a dog hearing a strange noise. It wasn’t outright wrong, but it just wasn’t quite right.

    And if bad company corrupts good character, then those he is around (and more than just around – those he launched) cannot be ignored. And I am not simply referring to Rob Bell. I first and foremost mean his son, Kent Dobson. Without mixing words, Kent is a heretic. But from what I can tell, he has received his father’s full support and endorsement both before and after the ALS diagnosis.

    I have heard many good things about Ed Dobson. However, my only direct experience has been in connection with Mars Hill. And based on what I have heard from him and those he surrounds himself with, I don’t think he can be accepted without warning.

    • Rich … Most of what you said is completely fair. In fact, the reason I inserted the second footnote pertaining to Rob Bell is because I too wondered about … associations. Having said that, I have never read/heard anything by Ed Dobson that was off. That’s not to say that I agree with his interpretation of Scripture all the time, but genereally speaking, I have found him to be a solid teacher. Here’s the caveat: I haven’t read or heard a lot. Hence, the Bell footnote.

      Out of curiosity, I was wondering if you could explain your “Kent is a heretic” statement. I know almost nothing about him whatsoever, so this is not an argument. When I “googled” him, all I could come up with was the Northpoint Controversy. Is that what you are referring to? And if so, could you share a few more details, becuase the websites I looked at were very sketchy on the details.

      Thanks friend. Appreciate you taking the time to comment and challenge the post.

      • bennemarmema says:

        Heh. I knew I might need to defend that. NorthPointe is definitely part of it. In retrospect, they were extremely wise in cutting ties with Kent.

        After NorthPointe, Kent began to preach every now and then at Mars Hill (including team teaching sessions with Ed). I never once heard Kent where he had proper exegesis. Everything was eisegesis and out of context.

        I actually kept one of the podcasts because I just couldn’t believe it. So I re-listened to it just now. It’s from May 25, 2008 and is titled Saint Peter. Kent begins with a quote from Abraham Heschel: the Bible does not tell us what faith is, only what it does. So, let’s ignore Hebrews 11:1 and give Kent the benefit of the doubt for now. Kent says he is going to focus on the stories from the life of Peter to see what faith looks like.

        According to Kent, faith looks like:
        – Luke 5 – a moment of self awareness (I am sinful)
        – Matthew 14 – just trying something – a good attempt and, if you fail, that’s ok
        – Matthew 16 – a moment of insight that’s pure grace (then it’s gone)
        – Matthew 16:21 – you will miss the point (and then move on)
        – Matthew 17 – moments of realizing that history does make sense – that your story and our story fits somewhere
        – Luke 22:31,55 – a denial – moments of saying, “no”
        – John 21 – get busy – get out there and do something (it’s your turn to give)

        And then he’s moves to his conclusion that faith is a journey, which has ups and downs, but is never boring.

        Really? Now, if you were going to teach on Peter and Faith, would you stop before the book of Acts? Would you even use passages from the Gospels? And, if you did, would you draw these conclusions? Does the “faith” of the disciples as shown in the Gospels really give the best examples of what faith looks like? Faith looks like a denial? Really? That doesn’t even make sense.

        1 Timothy 3:5 If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?

        I get that plenty of pastors and Christian leaders have rebellious children. And I get that families should be able to deal with things privately. But Ed Dobson should have said something or distanced himself if he thought Kent was off base. To my knowledge, he has not, which, in my mind, calls into question how solid Ed Dobson is.

        • Morning Rich … Got a favor to ask. As I tried to follow your breakdown of Kent’s sermon, I was completely stymied. While I understand that you were trying summarize, I was still left scratching my head, wondering “What is he talking about?!” Completely lost. So any chance you’d be willing to send me the podcast. I’d really like to hear it.

          As for eisegesis, you ain’t seen nothin’ until you’ve heard Steven Furtick preach. Now that’s a guy who really knows how to eisegete a text! 🙂

          • bennemarmema says:

            LOL! I emailed you the mp3, but it might not change matters. I’d say that “what is he talking about?!” is a perfectly acceptable response to Kent’s sermon.

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