Calvin Miller: Righteous Provocateur

August 19, 2012, 0 Comments

Along with so many others, I am grieving the passing of Calvin Miller.

I would ask that you take a moment to pray for his family and, especially, for his sweet wife Barbara Joyce.

Over the last few years, I crossed paths with Calvin on a few occasions. All of them were like visiting with an old friend whom you had known since childhood. Calvin had an easy smile, a quick wit, and a fun disposition. He was godly, pastoral, and exceedingly joyful. After moving to Birmingham in 1999 to teach at Beeson Divinity School, he joined my home church NorthPark Baptist Church. On one occasion, I was there to preach and looked up to see Calvin seated among those worshiping. My first thought was, “Why in the world would they ask me to preach when Calvin Miller is sitting right there?” But, as always, he had nothing but kind words to share with me afterwards. It goes to show what an incredibly gracious man he was.

I could give you the rundown of the many books he wrote, places he taught, and churches he led but many others will offer those in obituary form. Instead, this week I will post two separate writings from Calvin. Later in the week, I’ll post the essay he wrote for “The Mission of God Study Bible.” In all honesty, it is so profound and beautifully written, I cried the first time I read it.

For now, I will point to a poem he wrote in 1986. It is found in his short collection of works entitled “An Owner’s Manual for the Unfinished Soul.” Among all of my library, it is one of my favorite books. It is a short collection of  stories and poems of beautiful provocation. One of my favorites of his short stories is “A Certain Priest,” included in this book. Some of the longer stories build tension that force you to think throughout. Others simply build a picture that you cannot but be drawn into and then end with a final detail that simply takes your breath away.

The church will miss Calvin. I pray that God will raise up more creatives and leaders like him. We need more righteous provocateurs for our souls.

With that, I give you Calvin Miller’s “The Form of a Servant.”


Hands. Broken, leathery, big and tough,

And weathered, hammer-gripping, sweating fists,

Quite used to driving nails into the rough

And bronze, blue-bruised where once the iron missed.


A hand’s a thing of beauty, in the eye

Of those who, vision-trained, can pierce the skin

To see the steel of sturdy bones laid white,

And fragile tendons, filament and thin.

The riddle of the nails I understand—

How leathered calluses breed tougher skin,

Hiding tiny porcelain machines within

The flesh of your strong, injured, suff’ring hands.


Your hammer-wielding fists at last grew frail

And beckoned to each palm a killing nail.


from “An Owner’s Manual for the Unfinished Soul” (Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1997), p 86

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