Ben Mitchell, Carla D. Sanderson, and Gregory A. Thornbury. Convictional Civility: Essays in Honor of David S. Dockery. Nashville: B&H, 2015. 196 pp. $29.99
I can pinpoint three significant encounters with David Dockery. The first encounter was in reading Interpreting the New Testament as a seminary student, a work in which he edited and contributed an early chapter, “A Historical Survey of the New Testament.” The second, when Dockery spoke at my seminary commencement — sharing specifically about the tornado that struck Union University. The third, at a dinner in the home of Scott Manetsch, just after Dockery’s recent arrival as President of Trinity International University. Each encounter left me more impressed with this kind eyed and courageously spirited man.
Convictional Civility is a festschrift in honor of David S. Dockery. A festschrift is a celebratory collection of essays in honor of the work, accomplishments, and character of a person, in this case David S. Dockery. This festschrift commemorates Dockery’s departure as President of Union University in Jackson Tennessee. As one of the editors, Carla Sanderson, puts it: “This volume is not intended to signify the pinnacle of Dockery’s career, his retirement, or his culminating work as a senior statesman. It is not the placement of a period on his legacy but rather the placement of a commemorative semicolon” (vii).
Convictional Civility has two parts. The first part is a collection of nine essays from the following contributors: James Leo Garrett Jr., Timothy George, Millard Erickson, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Robert Smith Jr., Gene C. Fant Jr., Hunter Baker, Autumn Alcott Ridenour, and C. Ben Mitchell. These essays are well researched, significant contributions from friends and admirers of David Dockery. These contributions explore various perspectives on the concept of convictional civility, a phrase that describes David Dockery’s leadership. The second part is a series of twelve tributes, each about two pages long. These tributes, similar to the essays, share the significant influence Dockery has had on the many people he has led. These individuals take a moment to offer Dockery their best wishes and express gratitude for his legacy of convictional civility.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Each of the nine essays in part one of Convictional Civility do not just celebrate the man, David Dockery, but they celebrate the ideas and principles that he champions. Timothy George relays the story of Dockery as a Baptist Statesman, who endeavors to keep the peace and foster a culture of civility, even in the midst of factions differing on vantage points or conclusions on certain matters (“With David Dockery Among Baptists and Evangelicals”). Millard Erickson impressively looks at each of the book title’s terms: conviction and civility, pondering how our culture has so lost its way from both of these terms (“Toward Convictional Civility”). R. Albert Mohler, resolute as ever, leverages his skillful study of worldviews and secularization to help readers value the kind of convictional clarity that David Dockery embodies (“Convictional Clarity”). This is just a sampling of the unique contributions that Convictional Civility offers.
Another editor of Convictional Civility, Gregory Alan Thornbury, writes in the afterword: “David Dockery’s leadership is characterized by grace and truth. And time after time, he has endeavored not to get the order wrong” (128). Throughout these essays and tributes, we see glimpses of the truthfulness of Thornbury’s observation. We see Dockery’s enduring influence and love for the church, both of which are recognized by his prolific scholarly work and noble efforts as a statesman.
Pastors need to look to examples like Dockery as they wrestle against the ongoing temptation to forsake principles for pragmatism. Gene C. Fant Jr.’s contribution on “Leadership Lessons from David S. Dockery” is a wonderful starting place for this. The moving case study (pp. 77-80) — recounting the devastating tornado that struck Union University and the courageous and optimistic leadership which Dockery possessed — conveys the crucial need of building your practice on principles in preparation for the crucible of leadership.
Finally, throughout Convictional Civility, we do not just get leadership principles but we learn a narrative. It’s a narrative of crisis between the church, the academy, and the state. These three spheres historically fostered powerful movements like the renaissance, the reformation, and the revivals. Yet, secularization has successfully minimalized or dominated each of these spheres. Convictional Leadership is an irenic attempt to rejoin the lectern to the pulpit. Just as Robert Smith posits: “There must always be a connection between the academy and the church congregation, the lectern and the pulpit” (60).
Convictional Civility isn’t your normal, run of the mill book on pastoral leadership or spiritual living. The contributions to this book from first-rate scholars doing first rate research make Convictional Civility far more perceptive.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Convictional Civility invigorates pastors, through David Dockery’s influence, to be charitable and truthful in all they do.