Meet an Alumnus

March 20, 2012

Rev. Allen Harris, Jr. (M.Div., '68)

Join us on March 21st in Rust auditorium at 10:30am, when Rev. Allen Harris, Jr., will be speaking at this semester's alumni chapel.

What is your current ministry role?
After 43 years of ministry—10 with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and 33 with an Orthodox Presbyterian Church that we planted in Maryland—my wife, Kathie, and I have decided to take a bit of a sabbatical. We bought a house near the ocean at Wellfleet, Cape Cod, and moved last June. We are involved with a small church plant there. My interest is to do some consulting with churches that want help in becoming more healthy.

I have also taught Leadership in the Westminster D.Min. program since 1990, and I enjoy applying the principles of biblical pastoral leadership to real life situations. I also want to do some teaching, preaching, and writing, especially on the book of Ephesians.

What are some significant memories from your time at Westminster?
I immediately think of my long and frequent talks with John Murray after class. I was from a non-Christian background and became a Christian in a Baptist church. I knew nothing of the Reformed faith. He was so patient and kind. He retired while I was there, I hate to think that I hastened that! Also talks with Harvie Conn, whose vision for the Kingdom was so large and contagious.

There was also the time I saw the classroom building on fire and went in to warn the class and suggest they consider ending early. But Dr. Knudsen was so caught up in his topic that he just kept lecturing until the fire trucks arrived.

How has Westminster shaped your ministry over the years?
It gave me a confidence in the Scriptures as God's infallible Word, and a grasp of the Gospel that has shaped my ministry over the years. I came to Westminster from the University of Pennsylvania, where as a brand-new Christian I naively took Bible classes. I took Old Testament Introduction from J.B. Pritchard, who was the editor of the classic, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, and was one of the world's most renowned archeologists. But he seemd on a mission to destroy any confidence anyone might have in the Bible as authoritative. I lamely tried to defend the Bible as true, until one day in front of the whole class he gave me a look of disdain and said, "Mr. Harris, do you have any idea how few intelligent people hold to your views, compared to mine?" I was desperate for answers, and Westminister provided them for me. I was in charge of taping when Francis Schaeffer first came to do a lecture series at Westminster in the mid-1960's. That changed my life and ministry forever. 

What are some things you've learned after your studies at Westminster?
I came out of Westminister known as "Harris, the heresy-hunter." I could spot an Arminian at a hundred paces and nail his errors in self-righteous abandon. God led me to minister with Inter-Varsity Christain Fellowship where I humbly learned there were many people whose theology was quite inferior, but who loved and trusted Jesus far more than I did. I saw Christ's Church as much larger than I had imagined. I learned that "equipping the saints for ministry" was much more than making them Calvinists. I learned that I was an inveterate moralist who needed to see that my righteousness was soley in Christ, and not in being "right."

What advice would you give to graduating students?

  • Do not seek to reproduce your classrooms in your ministry with people, focusing only on knowledge. Sanctification does not equal Knowledge. I say this as one who is currently doing a major study of Calvin's Institutes in the context of his life. Be practical and simple in feeding sheep, knowing the worlds they live in.
  • Learn what it means to "equip the saints for ministry" (Eph 4:12) so that they will think ministry. Build a church where people speak truth to one another, whether comfort or confrontation, because they know how to apply the Gospel to themselves in daily repentance and faith.
  • Evangelize regularly. Keep sharing the gospel with unbelievers. When I do, no matter the response, it changes me. When I do not for a while, I get a distorted view of what life is about, and my theology gets skewed. We saw our 85-year-old neighbor pray to receive Christ at our kitchen table two weeks ago. This week she shared how God has changed her. It was very moving to hear. I need that.