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EVAN MUSGRAVES: This is Evan Musgraves. It's August 24th, 2016, and I'm here with Dr. Robert Smith. So, Dr. Smith, to start out, when and where were you born?

ROBERT SMITH: I was born on May the 26th, 1949 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: And what were your parents’ names?

ROBERT SMITH: Robert Smith Sr., my dad, and Ozella - a very unusual name - (O-Z-E-L-L-A) - Smith, my mother.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What did they do for a living?

ROBERT SMITH: Daddy was a porter at the Cincinnatian Hotel in Cincinnati [Ohio]. He moved the family up to Cincinnati in 1953 when I was four years of age. And after working in a kind of assembly line job in a factory in Knoxville, he took a job in Cincinnati at the hotel and worked there until he retired. So that was about forty-five years he worked at the Cincinnatian Hotel.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: And was your mom just a stay-at-home mom?

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ROBERT SMITH: No, Momma was a worker. She worked at the hospital in Mariemont. It was the Mercy Hospital in Mariemont in Cincinnati, Ohio. And then she worked at the general hospital [Holmes Hospital, Cincinatti, Ohio where she retired]. So she worked there and she always worked in the area of cooking (culinary arts we call it today). She just said she was a cook, that she's one of the Lord's best.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: [laughs] I'm sure you guys ate well growing up.

ROBERT SMITH: We still do. Almost ninety-three, and we're still eating well.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: Do you have any memories of living in Knoxville?

ROBERT SMITH: A few - very, very few. I was four when my family relocated. I remember living on Perry Street (that's what they called it) up on a hill. The house was up on a hill. In the back I can still see chickens - Daddy had some chickens back there. I can remember a man by the name of Mr. Charlie, who 2:00befriended me and served really as a guardian kind of person for me. So I had a lot of fun with him. He loved me. I can remember my oldest sister but not my younger sister. And I didn't remember my baby brother. He was six years [months] of age when we moved to Cincinnati so he wasn't around for the first three and a half years of my life.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: And then what do you remember of your childhood in Cincinnati?

ROBERT SMITH: Oh my goodness gracious! Well, a bad memory first of all. I remember speaking - my parents used to tell me, "You know, you can't just speak to everybody." But that's the way I was: I'd walk down the street and speak to strangers. And remember I'm a little four year old boy - "Hi, how are you? Hello! Hello!" And I remember wandering away from our apartment where we lived on Carlyle Street in downtown Cincinnati. And they found me on the railroad 3:00track, which was the section of the bridge… In other words, I was just above the Ohio River on the railroad track with, of course, spaces in between and all of that. And they found me. I think the police came and found me and took me home. But how dangerous it was there! I could have fallen through but "through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me on." So that was my first known experience-even though I didn't know it at that time-of grace.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What about some good memories?

ROBERT SMITH: Oh my goodness, great memories! Church was a great memory. I was saved at seven but even before then I was taken to church and enjoyed it, and enjoyed being with the children there, going to Sunday school, having to know 4:00the golden memory verse, being given a quarter for that if you knew it, by the pastor. I remember playing in the Sinton (S-I-N-T-O-N) - Sinton Shelter, which was opposite the school—Stow [Elementary] School that I would later go to. And being introduced to baseball and track and all of that. So I remember those things. I remember collecting pop bottles because you could get a penny or two cents for a pop bottle and gathering those along with our friends. And that's how we got money to have our little parties of Kool-Aid, and Ho-Hos, and Twinkies, and Snickers, and potato chips. And we just cashed them in. When we found a pop bottle - people threw them away - we'd always be saddened when we 5:00found a pop bottle and it was broken. But that's what we did, all those kind of things I remember.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So have you always had an interest in baseball?

ROBERT SMITH: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. I started playing baseball really as a member of a team probably about eight years of age. I played for the YMCA and we played down on Red Bank Road. We played against teams like Findley Street Neighborhood House - they were tough. I started off playing second base. And then I became a short stop (that's my favorite position). They used to call me "Lightning" because of my speed. Of course, that's changed a bit now since I'm sixty-seven. But they called me "Lightning." I've had an interest baseball - so that means fifty-nine years now - and enjoyed it tremendously. Played it up to 6:00the place where I was on the verge of moving into a major league setting in terms of the minor leagues - semi-pro, all that kind of thing, but the Lord called me to preach. I made the right decision.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: How did you come to know Christ? I know you were in church but what was your conversion like?

ROBERT SMITH: Quiet. Unplanned. Uninfluenced in terms of what other young people may have done that I thought I wanted to do this. I saw them baptized - being baptized and I wanted... No, it wasn't that. I had heard the gospel, Evan. I sit under people who believe the Bible and people who were serious about Christianity. Thinking about my first Sunday school teacher, her name was [Ms.] 7:00Birdie Edwards. I used to think she was tall, and when I grew up I realized she was four feet-four. And she had a left hand that held that board of education that was applied to the seat of knowledge when you were out of order. She had permission to spank you. But she challenged us. We had to sit up straight, couldn't chew gum, had to know a golden memory verse, had to be conversant as a child in terms of any question, needed to be prepared. So Sunday school was the precursor, the forerunner to my accepting the Lord Jesus Christ because I knew the basics and then I heard the gospel preached so that the gospel reconfirmed or confirmed what I was taught in Sunday school. And then at seven years of age, 8:00I heard the gospel not anew but something mysterious happened. I'm still trying to put my arms around it but it's mystery so not that it's unknown. It has not yet been totally revealed to me. I'm still seeing through a glass darkly. And I trusted Christ by simple faith and believed and was saved. Now, after fifty-nine years, I am still trying to understand, as best as I can, what it meant when I was justified that moment. I know I was justified but it's still beyond me in terms of being able to comprehensively define what that really is. I can give you the scriptures but the experience is too wonderful. The Psalmist says in 139, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me." It is.

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EVAN MUSGRAVES: What was the name of this church?

ROBERT SMITH: Rose Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. 661 Cutter Street [in Cincinatti]. Yeah.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: And...

ROBERT SMITH: Cutter and 6th... Cutter and 6th Street. Yeah.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What influence did the pastor there have on your life?

ROBERT SMITH: You should ask me, “What influence is he continuing to have on my life?” He's been in heaven since December 18th, 1978. So that's almost forty years. And like Abel's blood, as the Lord said to Abel in talking to Cain, "Your brother's blood cries out from the ground." [Dr.] E.L. Alexander was my first pastor. He disciplined me. My mother gave him - gave me to him like Hannah gave Samuel to Eli. And He made me a junior deacon, which did not carry with it any authority. I'm nine years of age, but it allowed me to sit on the front row 10:00with the senior deacons. My dad was a deacon. I sat there - my feet wouldn't touch the ground. When they gathered to lead devotion - we call it praise and worship now, but in those days the deacons were the praise and worship leaders. They would open up the service with hymns and with Scripture and with prayer. Sometimes they would allow me to read Scripture. I'd stand there and sing to them. And every now and then be able to pray. But Dr. E.L. Alexander - Elijah Lee Alexander - from Pine Bluff, Arkansas was the one who made me a junior deacon, which carried [no authority] with it: you have to know the twenty-four 11:00articles of faith. You've got to know (not just recite it) what does it mean "I believe in God?" Or "I believe in the Bible?" Or "I believe in justification?" Or "I believe in..." Whatever. You've got to know that. It was nine years of age that I had to know the Baptist church covenant: "Having believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and received Him upon profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God and in the sight of the angels who are before us most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ..." I had to know that! And if I didn't know it, he was allowed to chastise me physically. What does that mean? There was no excuse for not knowing it. You get your homework done first before you go out to play. You do your church work and then you play. 12:00So he was a parent's aid. He assisted my parents in raising me in terms of disciplining my mind and my work ethic. I had no idea what he was doing, but that's what he did. That's just at an early age. I could go on and on and on and tell you what a difference it made later on when I accepted my call to preach when he was no longer my pastor. How he had ordained me, how he married me.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: How has he influenced your preaching style?

ROBERT SMITH: [Dr.] E.L. Alexander was now (when I accepted my call to preach my first sermon on July 3, 1966) pastoring the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Newark, Ohio. I was still at Rose Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Cincinnati. Different location - now at 761 South Crescent in Avondale. He was still calling 13:00and influencing me. So I preached my first sermon on July 3, 1966. And he came down that night and I met with him at his aunt's house. We must have stayed up about three or four o'clock in the morning talking [about] preaching. I'm seventeen years of age. I had never heard the word hermeneutic, exegesis, nothing like that, but that's what he was doing. Later on he invited me - and this was a life changing moment in my ministry of preaching - he invited me to preach at his church in Newark, Ohio - Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church - when I was eighteen years of age. It was in March of 1967. I preached [my first sermon on] July 3,1966. So about eight months [later]. I went up there to preach what we called (still do in African American congregations) "Youth Day." So I'm a 14:00teenager. I'm eighteen. I took a bus up there (wasn't driving yet then) and stayed with him that night. I must have gotten there that Saturday... I know I did. Got up there on Saturday. Spent time with [him and] his wife (always called her Aunt Louise) - major influence in my life... sweet. And had dinner with them. Then it was time to go to bed. I didn't go to bed. I stayed up and worked on the sermon. [I] took [his] Pulpit Commentary and just wrote [notes] on a yellow legal pad. I don't think I went to bed that night because I preached the next morning. I could tell that he was up because I walked past his bedroom. He was up reading. And it was time for breakfast - he called me for breakfast. I'm going over my sermon, fifty pages of sheets from a legal pad - all written from [his] Pulpit Commentary on the text John 8:12, "I am the light of the world." So 15:00that's what I was preaching on. "The one who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the Light of life." So he asked me at breakfast, as we got finished, "Bobby, you got your sermon?" I said, "Yes sir!" "Where's your sermon?" I brought it out. I just thought he was going to be so proud because I had all the material. He said, "Bobby, you need all this? You have thirty minutes to preach. You need all this? You can't remember any of this? And you expect the people you're going to preach to remember what you are preaching on, and you can't remember any of this without fifty pages? How do you expect them to remember what you can't remember?" Now he wasn't against manuscript preaching because that's what he used. What he was saying was it wasn't internalized, it wasn't in me. I was just going to get up and read fifty pages. He says, "Bobby, 16:00give me your sermon." I gave it to him. He took every single sheet. [Tears paper] That's what he did. Fifty pages. And threw it in the trashcan. The service was within an hour. "Now, Bobby, go get your sermon." It's the best thing that ever happened to me in my ministry because he taught me in that sermon that preparation is not just ink on paper. Preparation is turning ink into blood so that it gets in you. You can preach it with the manuscript, with notes, with an outline. That's not the point. All kinds of styles - wonderful. But is it in you? If it's not in you then I don't care how many pieces of paper that you have, then you're not ready to preach. Get it in you not memorized but internalized. So we used to have discussions. I'd preach. He would have me preach. And then he'd take me to his aunt's house - his aunt lived here [Cincinnati, Ohio]. Three o'clock in the morning critiquing [my sermon]. 17:00Constructive but it was rough because he expected excellence out of me.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So speaking of preaching, when did you experience your call to preach? What was that like?

ROBERT SMITH: I was teaching the deacons of our church when I was fourteen in Sunday school. At age twelve, I didn't know the word evangelism, I just knew I wanted to teach the Bible. So I would go up and down our street and in our neighborhood, knock on doors, ask people to come to the home Bible study in our home, our apartment. And I would gather about forty people. Borrow chairs from the church and I'd teach. And I'd speak various times at the church - youth days, things like that - but not as a preacher. The people used to tell me and tell my mother, "He's going to be a preacher." And Mama would get very upset and 18:00she would say, "Don't tell him he's going to be a preacher. If he becomes a preacher, it will be because God told him." She didn't want anyone influencing me. She wanted it to be a call from God. So I was open to that. I was telling the Lord whatever he wanted me to be I'd be willing to be that. I told you I became involved in baseball which kept me away from church. We were traveling on Sundays. And the Lord convicted me of that. Baseball wasn't wrong but it was interfering with what He wanted me to do. So I remember that night (this is the irony of it) - our church (at this time, our pastor was Rev. R.F. Harriston Jr.). We went to the New Mission Missionary Baptist Church on my father's birthday, which was Friday, June the 10th 1966, and we worshipped at that church 19:00and I was singing in the choir and God moved upon me, not audibly, but He impressed me with his presence to the point that I knew clearly that He was calling me to preach. I knew it. And I worshipped that night and I wept and I committed. I told Him that I would. Well, that's Friday, June 10, 1966 - that's dad's birthday. I called my pastor late that night after the service was over in his home told him that. He told me to announce it on Sunday June 12, 1966. I did that and I preached my first sermon July 3, 1966. Now the odd thing - the ironic thing about this is the church where I was called to preach in, which was the New Mission Missionary Baptist Church on June 10, 1966, would later call me to 20:00be their pastor on July 1976 - ten years later. Same church where I received my call is the same church where I would pastor and be a senior pastor for twenty years. Twenty-eight years I'd be there - eight years as assistant pastor and ten years as senior pastor – twenty-eight years. Same church where I was called. That's the way the Lord worked it.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So you received your call to preach, then you did preach. Where did you go to college and what did you major in to prepare you to preach?

ROBERT SMITH: I graduated June 1967 from the Hughes High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was eighteen. There was a man by the name of Rev. Leonard in our church (he was ninety years old as I recall) - saintly man. I wanted to go to college. 21:00And he said to me, "You don't need to go to Bible college and seminaries because Bible colleges and seminaries will ruin you. They will corrupt you. They will cause you to lose your faith. So I stayed out of Bible college and seminary for one year. And I didn't go to Bible college until a year later when I was nineteen. He assured me that all I needed was a set of Matthew Henry commentaries and a Scofield Bible. That's what I purchased, but it wasn't enough. So I went against his advice and I went to God's Bible College in Cincinnati and did an associate’s degree in Bible/what they call the Christian worker's degree. and [I] got married in 1969. Which then we had children. The 22:00first child showed up fifteen months after my marriage. The next one twelve months after him. And so I had to work. And I was old-fashioned and I still am. I didn't believe that [married] women should work. I had my wife quit her job and I worked two jobs a week, fifty-four hours week for one and forty hours [for] the other. That's ninety-four hours a week. I did that to take care of our family because I didn't think that mothers/wives should work. So that's what I did and I would not get back in school until I was age thirty-four, started pastoring when I was twenty-seven. [So we started to build a new building and completed with I was thirty-four]. The building was built and we built a new 23:00building between twenty-seven and thirty-four. [Smith snaps his fingers] Then the Lord released me and said, "Now you can go back to school. Finish your education." I did that at Cincinnati Bible College and finished a bachelor [of science] degree in Christian Education and went to Southern Seminary and did the M.Div. and a Ph.D., which I finished around age forty-four. So from thirty-four to forty-four I finished school and pastored at the same time. Yeah.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: How did you meet your wife?

ROBERT SMITH: [My first wife, Gayle Walker Smith, died on March 5, 1984. I met my current wife when] I was preaching at the First Baptist Church of Oakley, which is a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, November [1984]. I preached that first night and as I got ready to stand up to announce my text, to read the text and then to preach, [for] the first time in my life I forgot what my text was because I looked down and I saw her and God said, as she sat on the pew and the Lord said, "That's your wife." I had not planned on getting married. Didn't want 24:00to. Well, when he said that, I forgot the text, I forgot the sermon title, I forgot the introduction. So I was in a holding pattern like a plane just circling, talking, saying things like "It's good to see you tonight. What a blessing it is to be in the house of the Lord," thinking "Oh. What am I supposed to do?" And it came like [snaps fingers]. I did not know that God had said to her when I stood up, "That's your husband." The rest is history after thirty years.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So you went to Cincinnati Bible. How did you end up at [the] Southern [Baptist Theological] Seminary?

ROBERT SMITH: I ha[ve] a friend by the name of Billy Strother, who graduated one semester ahead of me. I graduated from Cincinnati Bible College, April 1984. My first wife Gayle died March 1984. So I took off that fall because I wanted to 25:00just bond more with my boys [children]. I took them to Disney World and things like that. Billy encouraged me to come there [to Southern Seminary] because I... I wanted to continue my education. So I went down there and I interviewed and met with the various committees. They accepted me. I started in January of 1985 taking that elective course and then for the latter part of January started my spring semester 1985. So it was this encouragement - both of us graduated. He 26:00[Billy] finished his Ph.D. He's taught at a couple of Christian universities and is now pastoring in Kentucky - a friend now for over thiry-two years - very dear.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What was the climate like at Southern when you were there?

ROBERT SMITH: I can tell you what the latter part of it was even when I was professor. It was militaristic in terms of this tension between conservatives and moderates. Contentious. As a professor there - I never got involved. I was guided and encouraged by a great theologian at that school to go into my class. He said, "Go into your classroom. Take care of your students. Do your job there. Go home." So my focus was strictly on my students. I didn't get involved with 27:00any kind of political group, moderates or conservatives. I just went to the classroom and took care of my students. After all these years that's what I do here at Beeson. That's my only purpose: to take care of my students. If I do that, and I do it and I feel like I have done my best, then I'm satisfied. Yeah.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: How did you end up as a professor at Southern?

ROBERT SMITH: Evan, God is always putting people in my path. It's providential. There's no reason I should have gone to Cincinnati Bible College. I was told even... Well, I was discouraged. But the Lord opened the door for me to go. And there's no reason why I should have done a Ph.D., but my professor, Dr. James W. 28:00Cox, who I eulogized this year, saw something in me, he said, "I want you to be my Garret Fellow (which is teaching assistant)." What? Then he wanted me to be a judge in terms of evaluating some of the sermons that appeared in his book "Best Sermons". What? Then after graduating he said, "You know, I think you need to do a Ph.D." I said, "Oh, Dr. Cox, I couldn't do that." "Oh, yeah, you could. I see it." He said, "I promise you I will be your supervisor if you pass the test and you're accepted. You don't have to worry about waiting for a supervisor [which was hard to get]. I'll be your supervisor." And he was. He was the head of my program, the head of my instructional committee. He was the one who led the 29:00questioning during my oral defense. You know, that's how it happened. It's God placing in my life a Barnabas for this Paul, if you will, to vouch for me, to encourage me and help me along the way.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What are some highlights of your time teaching at Southern?

ROBERT SMITH: I was very honored to be the recipient of the Carl E. Bates Chair of Preaching My greatest highlight though came when I could step in that classroom, shivering like a leaf on a tree for that first day and then step out of that classroom and go to my office and sit in front of my students and talk 30:00to them about their messages and pray with them and supplement my teaching in my study. I began to realize [my] one-on-one [student conferences were] for me was going to have to be the way I taught because it was pastoral. So my classroom gave me the platform but my office gave me the relationship. After twenty-five years, that's how I do it.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: During your time at Southern, was that when you got to know Dean George?

ROBERT SMITH: No. Not at all.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: Oh. Really?

ROBERT SMITH: Dean George taught there, taught church history. I took church history from a brother by the name of Dr. Doug Weaver. He taught church history. Doug Weaver was a student of Dr. [Timothy] George. So I'm sure I spoke to him [Dr. George]. I never had a formal meeting or informal meeting [with him]. I 31:00didn't know him at all. So when he called January of 1997 and said this is Timothy George, it was just a name, a voice. I didn't know him. And he called inquiring about any interest I might have in being open to talking about a homiletic position that was now available at Beeson Divinity School. I didn't know him at all.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So what led you to accept the position at Beeson?

ROBERT SMITH: Well, I was recommended by two internationally-known theologians. I am not at liberty to name them. Dr. George, needing to fill this position and knowing that, the way he put it to me, "It was central for what we do at 32:00Beeson, that is our preaching, since the motto is training pastors who can preach." He said he called one of these persons [and asked], "If you were starting a divinity school and preaching was most significant and you needed help with teaching, who would it be?" And this person did not hesitate and said, "Robert Smith." Dr. George hung up [the phone] and immediately called someone else. Dr. George called the other person and asked him the same question. And the response was Dr. Robert Smith. So on the basis of those two responses he called me. He didn't know me. I didn't know him. But he knew those two persons and he trusted them. He called me and I told him I was not interested. I didn't want to go to Beeson, not because of Beeson, because I didn't know anything 33:00about Beeson. I didn't want to be five hundred miles away from [my] home [in Cincinnati, Ohio. I taught at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky but I lived in Cincinnati]. Plus, in a couple of months in April of 1997, unanimously, I'm going to be voted to receive tenure. So I didn't want to go. But he kept calling. His administrative assistant would call and I'd get on the phone. He wanted a syllabus. I said, no, I don't think I wanted to do that because I thought it might get out. My wife said, "You know, you ought to at least send him a syllabus and ask him to keep it confidential." I sent him a resume. And he called me. He wanted me to come down and visit. And he wanted me to meet with the search committee. I said, "No, I don't.” Wanda [said], "The Lord may be up to something." And I said to her (I'll never forget it), "I don't want the Lord to be up to anything - I don't want to go." But she insisted. So I came down here [to Birmingham] and I met with Jill McCool, [Dr. J.] Norfleet Day, and Dr. 34:00Ken Mathews. The first thing I said to them on that Saturday when we had a breakfast meeting, "I don't want to come to Beeson. The only reason I've come here [is] because I wanted to see if a bush was burning and if a voice was going to speak from the bush” (using Moses' experience at the backside of Mt. Horeb, Mt Sinai). And the bush did burn and I did hear a voice, much to my dismay. So I told my wife. Then they wanted to fly her down. She came down. they asked her a question, "Do you have anything you'd like to say to us?" She said, "No, except this: if you call my husband, he will do a great job. But if you misuse him, you'll hear from me." And I know my wife, and they would have. So eventually I had to make the decision. And the Lord spoke to me and on the eve of my class 35:00[at Southern Seminary] on Tuesday [the next day]. I told Dr. Danny Akin, [who was the dean of the School of Theology and] who now is the president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina... I said to him, "The Lord is calling me to Beeson." He wept. I wept. He was one of my best friends actually. Professionally, we have a great relationship but we have a personal relationship. And I called the Dean [Timothy George] and I said, "Hello Dean George." So he knew. And I went to class the next day and told my students and that's all we did is cry. Both of my classes cried. I don't even know how we got through the lecture or whatever. That's what happened. And I've been here [at Beeson] - I'm in my twentieth year now - and I am as happy as I've ever been in my life because this is where the Lord has wanted me. I'm totally fulfilled.

36:00

EVAN MUSGRAVES: How do you balance teaching in Birmingham but still living in Ohio?

ROBERT SMITH: I'm a citizen of two worlds. It's called discipline. It's also called having a wife who understands that the purpose of our marriage is not ultimately to find fulfillment within ourselves but to fulfill the ministry that God has given to each of us. So that means I'm here on Sunday night. (She's coming next week, incidentally, to be here about three or four days.) Then I'm here until Friday I’ll fly home. We're always together ministering. She's doing women's conferences. She's a nurse - that's about thirty years as a nurse. So she does health symposia for men, women, and combined groups. She does 37:00pastor's school conferences, and she's with me. We've had an empty nest now for twenty-one years. So we've had no children. She's a wonderful servant in terms of... (just a wonderful servant), but her volunteering ministry is incredible. She's the most unretired retired person I've met. And we're very fulfilled. It works, it clicks with us, we understand [each other]. We love each other. We’re committed to each other. And we're just having a ball. We travel the world. This is our season, and this is what God has called us to do so we enjoy it fully.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So we've covered most of your life to this point. Now, we'll talk about a few themes that are running throughout your life. But before we do 38:00that, are there any other significant events from your life that you'd like to share?

ROBERT SMITH: Well, significant in terms of God speaking to me about whether I really believed what I preached. My first wife died - Gayle Walker Smith - on March 5th, 1984. I had to stand and eulogize her before our children. I preached Ezekiel chapter 24. Ezekiel’s wife dies, and he had to preach, even as he wept. It was devastating but he preached. That was profound for me because I tell people that the Lord will be with you as you walk through the Valley of the Shadow. Now, can you preach that? You preach it, now, can you live it? So that was significant. That informed my ministry that preaching must not be dependent 39:00upon feelings [and] circumstances, events that God by His Spirit is in you and will enable you to carry out your ministry, even if the bottom of life falls out. [The] same thing happened, when our son, Antonio Maurice Smith, was killed on October 30th, 2010 - murdered while he was working on a job. And the Lord asked me, "Do you really believe what you preach?" [I] preached his eulogy, Psalm 42 and 43, at a time that was most significant in terms of feelings of retaliation on the part of his friends and some family members, etc. So those are the kind of things. I bring them up because they're always markers for me. 40:00Do you really believe what you preach? Then live it.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: The first theme I want to talk about is preaching. How would you describe your philosophy of preaching and how has it changed over the years?

ROBERT SMITH: I just rediscovered my first sermon that I wrote out. I gave our Dean, Dean George - he asked for a copy. I gave it to him. I looked at the sermon. I was blown away because in a way, my preaching had not changed. I was 17. I wrote this sermon June 26th, 1966. I preached it July 7th [3rd], 1966, seven days later. The title of the sermon was "Lord, I Shall Preach the Gospel." 41:00That was fifty years ago. And the text was Luke 4:18: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because He's anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor." I have taken that text, explored the text, lived at the address of the text, and then I have moved out into the zip code of supporting texts and scripture to corroborate, examine, to buttress, to confirm, so that in essence the sermon is theocentric. The sermon is pneumacentric, in terms of the Spirit. The sermon is Christocentric. It ends on an eschatological note. Well, that's what I believe now. But it's like a ripple. Now it's widening and widening. I was doing then what I do now, but I did it unconsciously then. I didn't know. So preaching 42:00for me (and you're familiar with this as my student) - preaching for me is the exegetical ushering, or the exegetical escorting, by the Word of God into the presence of Christ the Son of God by the power of the Spirit of God for the purpose of transformation, which for me means, preaching is not laborious. Now, preparing to preach is [laborious], but preaching is not because all I am doing is taking the hearer and escorting the hearer by the Bible into the presence of Christ through the power of the Spirit, then my job is over - for the purpose of transformation. Because I don't transform anybody. Isaiah 55:11, "My word shall not go out void... It shall not return void but it shall accomplish that for which it was sent," And he [the Lord] does the transforming. I just need to be 43:00responsible as an exegete. So that's my philosophy. It's D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones's very wise words in his book, Preaching and Preachers: “Prepare carefully. Preach freely." Prepare carefully. Preach freely. Preach freely. Why? Because you're not [ultimately doing the] preaching. Preaching freely because you know the Spirit is working through the Word to apply the message to the people so that Christ is exalted and God is center stage. And transformation will take place. So that's, I mean that's it, Evan. That's it.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: In your twenty-thirty years of teaching-preaching, what trends in preaching have you seen change?

44:00

ROBERT SMITH: I'm seeing more (what Dr. Calvin Miller and I used to talk about) narrative exposition. He'd been talking about narrative for a long time and for some people narrative was antithetical to expository. But how can it be if three quarters of the Old Testament is narrative? And then you can't study the gospels without the narrative. It's there. The biographies of the stories of Jesus. As Haddon Robinson would say, "We have to preach expository sermons in a narrative world." People are narrative. They're visual. So I'm seeing a move more toward that which I think is great. But not the narrative without the exposition. People say, "Oh, I want to be narrative." They do. But they take and jettison and throw overboard the exposition, the text, the exegesis! Then you have other 45:00people who want to be expositional and exegetical on a narrative text and just deal with the abstract - you know, not deal with the imagistic, not deal with the picture, just a proposition. I'd like to see narrative and exposition in [an] inextricable relationship. So that's one of the trends I'm seeing moving more back toward that, and I think that's right but not to the extent of losing the exegesis, etc. And then I think there is more of an emphasis on the eschatological trajectory because that's the hope. - I'm talking about the not yet, and yet, the not yet becoming the already so that we begin to get a 46:00foretaste in this life of glory divine. So rather than ending the sermon in this world, you project it to what God has in store for us. The church ought to be a Kodak moment of the future state of eternity. So most of our hymns that are solid Biblical hymns end on an eschatological note. They just do. I think preaching needs to be that way. I don't want to ignore the now, but I want to talk about the not yet and put them together so that people have the blessed hope: Christ coming again, etc. And even though circumstances don't change here, my hope is built on nothing less than Him. And that's important to me. So those - at least those two trends: more toward narrative exposition and more an 47:00eschatological trajectory in our preaching.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: Teaching at Southern Seminary and now at Beeson, they're both predominantly Anglo institutions. So how has your heritage in the African-American preaching tradition influenced teaching preaching in these kinds of contexts?

ROBERT SMITH: All of my learning, God's Bible College (two year's associates[degree]), Cincinnati Bible College [bachelor of arts degree] and seminary (two and a half years) and then the eight and a half years actually at Southern Seminary in those ten years - all white institutions. In Cincinnati Bible College I was two of nine hundred people, so that meant eight hundred and ninety-eight were white and one or two black. What I'd learned to do, I dipped all my education - theological education - and Bible training education in 48:00[dark] chocolate, all of it, because I know that I have to go back to the black church. But I say to white brothers and sisters, whenever you are in a situation and you are receiving lectures from an African American who is emphasizing black preaching, you dip that in white chocolate." Because chocolate is not only black (dark), it's also white. Why? So that you can go back in your context and be effective. It's called connecting. So, that's what I've done. I believe that the church consists of people from every tribe, kindred, nation, tongue (Revelation 5:9 and 7:9). So my ministry is a ministry of racial reconciliation. It has always been, even when I started preaching as a teenager... the churches I 49:00preached in were [often] white churches. Seventy percent of my preaching, even now, is in a white context, not because white is better or worse. It's just the way that God has formed me. And without having studied in these white institutions then I would not be able to relate. I couldn't contextualize, I couldn't understand. I am always myself. I tell students and I tell preachers that Spirit is greater than soil. People can preach in black soil, in white soil, red, brown or yellow soil. So [if] you're white and you preach in a black church, you remain who you are because the Spirit is in you and because [if] you preach in a black church and you preach the Word they will forget that you're white. They will be concentrating on the Word because Spirit is greater than soil. I'm going to be who I am and I'm going to be authentic. But the thing that 50:00will never change will be the Spirit who inscripturated the Word. That's always been crucial for me and that's exactly what I insist on every student [doing]. God did not make a mistake making you Hispanic, or making you Asian, or making you Native American, or making you white, or making you black. No. No. There's diversity in the midst of unity - that's the body of Christ. But what doesn't change is that Word.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What would you say are some of the greatest strengths and what are some of the greatest weaknesses of each preaching tradition?

ROBERT SMITH: Well, [one of] the greatest strengths of the African American preaching tradition is that there is no distinction for us between the Christ above and the Christ below, between the Christ of history below and the Christ of eternity above. It's just Jesus. They make no distinction. We call Jesus. We 51:00believe Jesus. We preach Jesus. That's a strength because for us we didn't have the terminology: Christ-centered preaching. We didn't use that term, like [Bryan] Chapell or [Sidney] Greidanus - we just made him the center. And I always did it. It'd be unthinkable. You preach a sermon and you don't talk about Jesus? Uh-uh! What's - Man, you ain't preaching! You haven't talked about the death, burial, and resurrection? What? No! So we didn't have the jargon, but we had the essence. So it's very Christological, very Christ-centered. Another is the fact that we are visual. Ok? "Paint the picture, doc!" That's what the folk would say. They meant it. Then when you did it, they'd say, "I see it, Doc!" Now, Doc may mean that the preacher didn't even have a high school education. It 52:00was a term of endearment and respect. "I see it, Doc! I see it!" You had to make people see it. See it not abstract but very concrete and very visual. And then preaching was always for black preachers a personal witness, not a personal address where you are addressing the people ("You. You. You. You. You") but personal witness ("I"). "In the year King Uzziah died, I also saw the Lord sitting upon His throne.” But they would incorporate their testimony - what Peter was saying on behalf of John in Acts 4 and 20, "We can not help but speak the things we have seen and heard." We only talk about what we've seen and we only talk about the things we've heard.” The personal witness, which in my 53:00opinion is ebbing away and being reduced in too many African American preaching circles and losing the testimony of preaching. Tom Long wrote a wonderful book. He retired from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, having formerly taught at Princeton Seminary. The book was called The Witness of Preaching. Preaching has to witness and that witness cannot be just relegated to what someone else said. You go into a court and the judge is going to ask you, "Tell me what you saw." "Well, someone told me this..." "Oh no, no, no, no. Not the secondary report... What did you see? And if you can't talk about what you've seen, sit down." Particularly if you watch Judge Judy. [Both Musgraves and Smith laughing]. For my white brothers and sisters, I would say there is 54:00little witness in too many circles, little personal testimony. Because the concern is: you are supposed to be preaching the Bible and you get up and you tell - you give your testimony then you're preaching yourself. And they'll quickly go, let's see what Paul says, "We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus." But Paul talked about himself! He's always talking about the Damascus Road [experience] and all that stuff. That's for the purpose of allowing your personal testimony (as an illustration) to be a servant to the text, which is the master. Text is the master. Your testimony is a servant that serves the text. So they - I think whites are, at times, concerned about saying anything about themselves, and yet they will incorporate other people's story. So that's 55:00one of the things. Another thing: whites at times tend to be more abstract and more punictiliar, less... less linear, less visual, more propositional, and depend upon people understanding concepts without seeing the concrete. You know the Greeks asked Andrew in John 12:21, "Sir, we would see Jesus. See Jesus! We've heard about him. We've got to see him." Whites don't have the best preaching tradition. Blacks don't have the best preaching tradition. Asians. Hispanics. Native... No one! No best preaching tradition. We all need each 56:00other. Evan is white. Robert is black. Evan needs Robert. Robert needs Evan. So that we can take the best out of our traditions and be more effective. I want to draw out of... I want to draw the best out of every preaching tradition. And I don't mean imitating, I mean assimilating. The very best out of every... because every preaching tradition has something to offer. And I am inadequate just drawing out of my own preaching tradition. Yeah. I'm going to be white in that then I want my students to be white.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: You said racial reconciliation has been a part of your ministry from the very beginning. When you were a teenager and in college in Ohio, what were you seeing about the civil rights movement happening in the south? Did you feel like you were removed from it or did you feel like that struggle was 57:00happening in Cincinnati as well?

ROBERT SMITH: The struggle was in Cincinnati. I didn't graduate formerly in terms of a graduation exercise in June 1967 because the racial riots broke out on the very day of our graduation, which was to be in downtown Cincinnati in Music Hall. People were dragging white people out of cars in Avondale [a black community] in Cincinnati. Tempers flared. A great deal of anger. It was too dangerous to have graduation - all the graduations were canceled! As a little boy, Evan (I'm talking about ten years of age or so), I lived in an integrated community and I would eat - spend the night in my white friend's home and they'd do the same in ours. So I knew that something was awry and it wasn't their skin; it was sin. And if the hearts of people could be changed (black, white, yellow, 58:00and red) then their way of treating others would be changed. And so, yes, we felt that. And a lot of white brothers and sisters were hurt. A lot of black brothers [and sisters were hurt as well]... It was just a sad time. We had protests and a lot of anger. It was dangerous to come through Avondale, which was primarily a black community. Now, it used to be a white community. The whites moved out - white flight. It wasn't as volatile and as explosive in the community I lived in and in Cincinnati like it would have been in other areas like Memphis later on, obviously Montgomery and Birmingham.

59:00

EVAN MUSGRAVES: So more subtle.

ROBERT SMITH: Exactly. It was there. There! It was subliminal.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: What are your thoughts on the current state of race relations?

ROBERT SMITH: I have often said (and I still believe this) I think we've improved somewhat. That there's a table where blacks and whites have come together and sat down to talk. And often... Too often, whites have had the power but no conscience. Blacks have had the conscience but no power. So that no real negotiation could take place because it's not conscience that provides the moves and decides what's going to be done. It's power. And what I've said is what needs to happen is that we no longer have powerless conscience or conscienceless 60:00power but we have people - we have both conscience and power. And I'm seeing some of that happening. I like the philosophy of William Sloane Coffin who pastored the Riverside Church in New York City and wrote in his book Credo (which in Latin means "I believe”). He would march with Martin Luther King Jr. He was put in jail because of his resistance. I mean this white man! [He pastored a] prestigious church. In his Credo said there are three kinds of patriots: two bad, one good. He said that the two bad kind of patriots are: number one, one who is an uncritical lover who loves the United States so much that he or she will not criticize. My country - right or wrong! The other one is 61:00a loveless critic. One, who criticizes the country all the time, downs it but doesn't love it. The third one is the good kind - what he calls one who is a lover involved in a lover's quarrel. A lover involved in a lover's quarrel. Like a marriage, when you have an argument and you say, "Well, look we're going to argue this thing out until we come to some agreement because I'm not going anywhere, you're not going anywhere. We love each other but we love each other so much that we're not going to allow this, our marriage, to remain in a state of unrest." So it's a lover's quarrel. Now that's what I think is needed in America. We are involved in a lover's quarrel. We are going to disagree until we can come to a mutual understanding because we love the church and yet (and we 62:00love the country)... but we're not going to allow to stay the way it is because it's on the wrong route. That's why preachers need to be more prophetic. It's time for the prophetic voice to be heard.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: Well, those are the all topics that I have. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

ROBERT SMITH: This has been exciting, not because of me, but because I think Samford wants to engage the voices of people so that their voice will still be heard even when their voice is hushed [in death]. I think that's really important. It says, "Look, I want to talk about something that's huge." I mean the first question you asked me was a very simple one, "When were you born? Where were you born?" Fine. But now you come all the way down to racism and tension in America. You know, "Are we retreating or are we advancing?" Blah, 63:00blah... Now that requires some thought. And I appreciate those kinds of questions because they are crucial.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: Well, it was a pleasure to interview you.

ROBERT SMITH: Well, you know how I feel about you and your wife, and now your baby. So thank you for giving me the space. Thank you.

EVAN MUSGRAVES: Thank you, Dr. Smith.

0:04 - Early Life

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Partial Transcript: they found me on the railroad track, which was the section of the bridge… In other words, I was just above the Ohio River on the railroad track with, of course, spaces in between and all of that. And they found me. I think the police came and found me and took me home. But how dangerous it was there! I could have fallen through but "through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me on." So that was my first known experience-even though I didn't know it at that time-of grace.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Robert Smith talks about his early life and tells some stories about his youth and growing up in Cincinnati.

Keywords: Cincinnati, Ohio; Mercy Hospital; Stow Elementary School

Subjects: Cincinnati (Ohio)--History Pastors Preaching


GPS: The Cincinnati Hotel, where Dr Robert Smith's father was employed.
Map Coordinates: 39.102514, -84.513840

6:34 - Coming to know Christ

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Partial Transcript: And then at seven years of age, I heard the gospel not anew but something mysterious happened. I'm still trying to put my arms around it but it's mystery so not that it's unknown. It has not yet been totally revealed to me. I'm still seeing through a glass darkly. And I trusted Christ by simple faith and believed and was saved. Now, after fifty-nine years, I am still trying to understand, as best as I can, what it meant when I was justified that moment.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith gives his testimony and tells the story of him coming to know Christ.

Keywords: Birdie Edwards; Rose Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

Subjects: Cincinnati (Ohio)--History Pastors Preaching


GPS: Rose Chapel Missionary Baptist Church
Map Coordinates: 39.150877, -84.488016

9:23 - Influences

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Partial Transcript: He would have me preach. And then he'd take me to his aunt's house - his aunt lived here [Cincinnati, Ohio]. Three o'clock in the morning critiquing [my sermon]. Constructive but it was rough because he expected excellence out of me

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith talks about the many people who influenced him in his life, especially Dr E.L. Alexander, his first pastor.

Keywords: Dr Elijah Lee Alexander; Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church

Subjects: African American preaching Christian preaching Pastors Preaching


GPS: Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Newark, Ohio
Map Coordinates: 40.057222, -82.386273

17:20 - The Call to Preach

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Partial Transcript: I was singing in the choir and God moved upon me, not audibly, but He impressed me with his presence to the point that I knew clearly that He was calling me to preach. I knew it. And I worshipped that night and I wept and I committed. I told Him that I would.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith tells the story of him receiving, and accepting, the call to become a preacher.

Keywords: New Mission Missionary Baptist Church; Rev. R.F. Harriston Jr.

Subjects: African American preaching Christian preaching Pastors Preaching


GPS: New Mission Missionary Baptist Church
Map Coordinates: 39.158802, -84.394898

20:47 - Education

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Partial Transcript: There was a man by the name of Rev. Leonard in our church (he was ninety years old as I recall) - saintly man. I wanted to go to college. 21:00And he said to me, "You don't need to go to Bible college and seminaries because Bible colleges and seminaries will ruin you. They will corrupt you. They will cause you to lose your faith. So I stayed out of Bible college and seminary for one year. And I didn't go to Bible college until a year later when I was nineteen.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith provides some details about his experience in training to become a pastor.

Keywords: Cincinnati Bible College; Cincinnati, Ohio; God's Bible College

Subjects: Baptist theological seminaries Christian education Divinity schools Religious education Theological seminaries

24:48 - Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Partial Transcript: So I went down there and I interviewed and met with the various committees. They accepted me. I started in January of 1985 taking that elective course and then for the latter part of January started my spring semester 1985. So it was this encouragement - both of us graduated. He [Billy] finished his Ph.D. He's taught at a couple of Christian universities and is now pastoring in Kentucky - a friend now for over thiry-two years - very dear.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith talks about his time as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Keywords: Cincinnati, Ohio; Dr James W. Cox; Dr. Timothy George; First Baptist Church of Oakley; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Subjects: Baptist theological seminaries Christian education Divinity schools Religious education Theological seminaries


GPS: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Map Coordinates: 38.248528, -85.686811

31:51 - Coming to Beeson Divinity School

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Partial Transcript: He wanted me to come down and visit. And he wanted me to meet with the search committee. I said, "No, I don't.” Wanda [said], "The Lord may be up to something." And I said to her (I'll never forget it), "I don't want the Lord to be up to anything - I don't want to go." But she insisted. So I came down here [to Birmingham] and I met with Jill McCool, [Dr. J.] Norfleet Day, and Dr. Ken Mathews.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith talks about being called to teach at Beeson Divinity School, and his decision to accept that position.

Keywords: Beeson Divinity School; Dr Jill McCool; Dr Ken Mathews; Dr Norfleet Day; Dr. Danny Akin; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Subjects: Baptist theological seminaries Christian education Divinity schools Religious education Theological seminaries


GPS: Beeson Divinity School
Map Coordinates: 33.464200, -86.793597

Hyperlink: Dr Robert Smith at Beeson Divinity School

37:54 - More Life Events and Stories

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Partial Transcript: [I] preached his eulogy, Psalm 42 and 43, at a time that was most significant in terms of feelings of retaliation on the part of his friends and some family members, etc. So those are the kind of things. I bring them up because they're always markers for me. Do you really believe what you preach? Then live it.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith recounts more stories and events from his life.

Keywords:

Subjects: Christian preaching Pastors Preaching

40:16 - Philosophy of Preaching

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: Now, preparing to preach is [laborious], but preaching is not because all I am doing is taking the hearer and escorting the hearer by the Bible into the presence of Christ through the power of the Spirit, then my job is over - for the purpose of transformation. Because I don't transform anybody. Isaiah 55:11, "My word shall not go out void... It shall not return void but it shall accomplish that for which it was sent," And he [the Lord] does the transforming.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith discusses his personal philosophy on preaching and gives some insight into how he prepares for and presents his sermons.

Keywords:

Subjects: Christian preaching Pastors Preaching Preaching--United States Preaching--United States--History

43:56 - Changes in Preaching Trends

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: The church ought to be a Kodak moment of the future state of eternity. So most of our hymns that are solid Biblical hymns end on an eschatological note. They just do. I think preaching needs to be that way. I don't want to ignore the now, but I want to talk about the not yet and put them together so that people have the blessed hope: Christ coming again, etc. And even though circumstances don't change here, my hope is built on nothing less than Him.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith discusses the changing trends in preaching that have happened during his long career as a preacher.

Keywords: Dr Calvin Miller

Subjects: Christian preaching Pastors Preaching

47:07 - Influence of Heritage on Teaching and Preaching

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: What I'd learned to do, I dipped all my education - theological education - and Bible training education in [dark] chocolate, all of it, because I know that I have to go back to the black church. But I say to white brothers and sisters, whenever you are in a situation and you are receiving lectures from an African American who is emphasizing black preaching, you dip that in white chocolate." Because chocolate is not only black (dark), it's also white.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith talks about how his heritage in the African-American preaching tradition has influenced his teaching and preaching style.

Keywords: Cincinnati Bible College; God's Bible College

Subjects: Christian preaching Pastors Preaching Preaching--United States


GPS: Cincinnati Christian University, formerly Cincinnati Bible College
Map Coordinates: 39.112930, -84.554379

50:35 - Strengths and Weaknesses of Preaching Traditions

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: Whites don't have the best preaching tradition. Blacks don't have the best preaching tradition. Asians. Hispanics. Native... No one! No best preaching tradition. We all need each other. Evan is white. Robert is black. Evan needs Robert. Robert needs Evan. So that we can take the best out of our traditions and be more effective. I want to draw out of... I want to draw the best out of every preaching tradition. And I don't mean imitating, I mean assimilating. The very best out of every... because every preaching tradition has something to offer.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith gives his opinions on the strengths and weaknesses on the various preaching traditions.

Keywords: Candler School of Theology; Emory University; The Witness of Preaching; Tom Long

Subjects: African American preaching Christian preaching Pastors Preaching Preaching--United States Preaching--United States--History

56:41 - Experiences with Civil Rights

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: I didn't graduate formerly in terms of a graduation exercise in June 1967 because the racial riots broke out on the very day of our graduation, which was to be in downtown Cincinnati in Music Hall. People were dragging white people out of cars in Avondale [a black community] in Cincinnati. Tempers flared. A great deal of anger. It was too dangerous to have graduation - all the graduations were canceled!

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith talks about his experiences with civil rights growing up in Cincinnati.

Keywords: Birmingham, Alabama; Cincinnati, Ohio; Montgomery, Alabama

Subjects: Civil rights Pastors Preaching

59:06 - Final Thoughts and Stories

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: That there's a table where blacks and whites have come together and sat down to talk. And often... Too often, whites have had the power but no conscience. Blacks have had the conscience but no power. So that no real negotiation could take place because it's not conscience that provides the moves and decides what's going to be done. It's power. And what I've said is what needs to happen is that we no longer have powerless conscience or conscienceless power but we have people - we have both conscience and power. And I'm seeing some of that happening.

Segment Synopsis: Dr Smith gives some final thoughts about his philosophy on preaching and racial reconciliation.

Keywords: Riverside Church; William Sloane Coffin

Subjects: Pastors Preaching Preaching--United States

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