Remembering Arthur O. Roberts

Arthur Roberts

Richard Foster remembers his mentor and friend, Arthur Roberts, whose legacy at George Fox spanned eight decades

Richard Foster

By Richard J. Foster
Author, Celebration of Discipline
Class of 1964

I came under the influence of Arthur Roberts (G44) beginning in the fall of 1960. He was at the height of his academic teaching career, and I was an eager, if somewhat ill-equipped, college freshman. Others in our group were far more skilled than I, and most certainly Arthur found great delight in their academic and literary accomplishments. Immediately four come to mind who became acclaimed writers and led noteworthy careers: Lon Fendall (G64), Ron Stansell (G65), Nancy Thomas (G67) and Howard Macy (G66). Next to them I felt a little like Winnie the Pooh, who, as you may remember, was “a bear of very little brain.” But, this only meant that I needed to study harder than most everyone else if I was to succeed in college. And Arthur was exceedingly kind to me and encouraged me in ways too numerous to count.

I majored in religion and philosophy and so, as God’s providential care would have it, Arthur was the key figure in my training. How very fortunate!

I took courses in biblical studies and logic and ethics and philosophy and much more. If I had all day long I could not share with you all that these courses meant to me. They opened up an expansive world of knowledge and wisdom and right reasoning. I do want to pause for just a moment on one course in particular. It was entitled The History of Christianity.

Ron Stansell and I took this course together, and every week we traveled by car with Arthur into Portland, where he taught this course at what was then Cascade College. He assigned us the magisterial text A History of Christianity by longtime Yale professor and Oregon native Kenneth Scott Latourette. To this day I still use this text and have worn it ragged.

Right here in this course began my furious love affair with the “devotional masters.” I entered the world of Philo of Alexandria and Evagrius of Ponticus, of Augustine of Hippo and Francis of Assisi, of Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildergard of Bingen. I wrestled with the penetrating thought of John Calvin and John Wesley, of George Fox and George Herbert, of Toyohiko Kagawa and Madame Jean Guyon. And so many, many others.

Arthur Roberts writing

What a dazzling array of people and ideas this opened to me. You see, somehow I had this notion that there was the early church (the book of Acts) and then there was . . . me. I guess I recognized a little blip at the Reformation, but that was about it. But here I was being invited into an exotic world dancing with engaging individuals and challenging ideas and wonderful living traditions. This course planted deep into my soul the foundational concepts for a book I would later write: Streams of Living Water.

Yes, I eventually did begin to write. In my very last meeting with Arthur he reminded me that in my college days I frequently – too frequently for him – used “big words.” (After so long how did he remember that detail?!) I was, of course, learning to work with language. And it was Arthur who taught me to love words: to love their sound, to love their meaning, to love their history, to love their rhythm.

You see, Arthur handled words in a way that was new for me – as treasure to be cherished rather than propaganda to be maneuvered. He had a special regard for the mystery and the power of words. In fact, words seemed to usher him into another world, a world that I could only look at from a distant shore. But what I saw tantalized and encouraged me to see more, even to visit this world if only as a foreigner. It was a strange world to me as an enthusiastic sophomore – a world in which zeal and insight met in friendship, a world in which truth and beauty kissed each other.

So, Arthur was my teacher and my mentor. But there is more. In God’s time and in God’s way I believe we also became friends. Carolynn and I always lived a considerable distance from Arthur and Fern, and so for our friendship to develop over the years we needed to invest in careful planning and intention. Many years ago he invited me up to the property above Springbrook to help him plant trees. Sometimes we would meet as we traveled to various speaking engagements.

At other times we would meet in Newberg or at their home in Yachats on the Oregon Coast. Arthur stayed with us in our home in Colorado. Sometimes he would graciously suggest a joint writing project for us to do together ... unfortunately that never did materialize. I introduced him to my publisher at HarperSanFrancisco through which he wrote his book Exploring Heaven. I dedicated my book Prayers from the Heart to him, and he kindly invited me to write introductions to four of his books. It was a unique and special friendship.


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