One of my heros and college mentors, Dr. Lyle W. Dorsett, is leaving Wheaton College after twenty-five years to take a new teaching position at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. Lyle ("Doc" to me) has shaped the lives of countless students in his time at the college, and the lives of countless others lives in his ministry at Church of the Great Shepherd which he planted when I was a student at Wheaton. The college and the church will greatly miss him.
Dr. Dorsett is a fanatic lover of Airedale Terriers, which for those who know him becomes even funnier when you read a description of them:
The Airedale can also be used as a working dog and also as a hunter and retriever. However, it is typically an independent (stubborn), strong-minded dog with a great sense of humour (wikipedia).
Doc refers to his students as "Airedale People", and uses the moniker as a motivator (though, I don't think anyone knew what an airedale was before they met Dr. Dorsett). His last airedale, "Luke the Evangelist" died when I was an undergrad at Wheaton.
In addition to his busy schedule teaching and pastoring, Doc has also written a number of books, his most recent being a spiritual biography of C.S. Lewis, entitled Seeking the Secret Place (I just picked it up, but haven't read it yet). His original academic discipline was history, and he has written a number of excellent biographies.
The Christian Formation Department at Wheaton is collecting letters from Dorsett's former students to present to him on his last day. I just finished writing mine and wanted to post some extended portions from it as a tribute to the influence Lyle has had in my life.
I know that you have worn many hats for many people, but for me you have essentially worn four: Professor, Pastor, Father, Friend.
I remember Josh Banner telling me to take your classes during the first week of my freshman year. Then, I remember hearing you speak in chapel during my freshman year—I didn’t have the language to identify it yet, but I had found my “Great God Man”. And, so you donned your first hat. I took every class you offered at the college, and wound up with the major I did because that is the department you taught in. I have told many that I would have been a chemistry major if you were a chemistry professor—and I mean it.
I treasure every minute I got to spend in your office with you. Whether it was asking for an extension on a paper, or fleshing out some other problem—you never hesitated to ask the penetrating question that so many have heard, “How’s your soul?” Those words were always so timely and so fresh. Pearson and I talked on several occasions that we thought it strange that we would often find ourselves singing hymns after spending time in your office. It’s a no-brainer really. You had pointed all our attention and affections toward the glory of God, and our souls were responding accordingly. I suspect that this experience is not limited to Pearson and I.
Thank God my encounters with you were not limited to the classroom or your office. Soon after I got to know you, you planted Church of the Great Shepherd, and I had the joy of sitting under your authority as my Pastor. You were a faithful minister of the word and the sacraments, and you instilled in so many of us a love for the liturgy and the church calendar. But, as I told you in your house one afternoon, people didn’t pack the church because they loved the liturgy—they came in droves because they were attracted to the work of the Spirit of God in your life and in the family you shepherded. Again, they had found a “Great God Man”.
I have told countless people that you have been a spiritual father to me. You have loved me like your own son, and you have chosen to pour your life in to me at no small inconvenience to yourself. In doing this, you have consistently pointed my eyes upward—giving me a greater picture of the person of God, and deeper affections for His glory. You have spoken encouraging words, hard words, life-shaping words—all drawn from a heart of wisdom that has long been shaped by the voice of God.
As a spiritual father, you have also given me the best portrait of discipleship that I could have ever asked for. I have tried over the years to explain to people how you “discipled” me—and all I can come up with is that you welcomed me in to your life. You let me watch you follow
Jesus. You shared stories of faith with me, let me watch you love and serve your beautiful wife, love your children and grandchildren, love your students, and pastor your church. You let me in on your dreams; you let me dream dreams with you; and you never made me feel foolish for dreaming out loud with you (though, undoubtedly, I said some extremely foolish things). You let me grow. You nurtured growth. You challenged me.
Though you’re too humble to admit it Doc, you know why people love you, look to you, and follow you. You consistently challenge everyone to find “Great God Men.” Your admonition to find men and women whose overwhelming passion for Jesus drives their lives has lead most of us to follow you. This challenge has been one of many that I have passed on to many others. The world cries out for leaders who worship a Great God. Thank you for consistently directing my attention to this Great God, and being a man who follows him unashamedly.
You may well be the most oft quoted man I know, perhaps because many of my dearest friends share with me the blessing of having your thumbprint on their lives. But, for others, you are known only as “my mentor”. And, though your patent phrases, “Mt. Dew Time!”; “Pray it through bro” (often referring to whether or not I should grow a beard!); “Airedale People”; “Spiritual Marines”; & “Put a finer point on that for me brother” will no doubt bring smiles to many at Beeson just as it has to all of us at Wheaton, the quote that I hear people attributing to you most often is: “Don’t spend your life protecting the center of things, let Jesus take you to the cutting edge”.
Finally, Doc, I want to thank you for your friendship. All things considered, this is the hat you have worn for me that means the most. I have never been afraid to come to you with any problem. I have such a great memory of a long phone conversation we had when I lived in Minneapolis, and the lunch you and I shared after Katie and I broke up several years ago is perhaps my fondest memory with you. Moreover, the depth of the friendship I have with you is evidenced by the fact that I always came to you to share joys. Frustrations can be shared with many people; only a true friend can share in your joy.
I love your smile. I love your heart. I love the prayers you have prayed over me and with me.
May our Great God continue to grant faithfulness and courage to you—that you might minister in the strength He provides.
May He continue to give you wisdom and favor according to His great mercies.
May He cause you to be firmly planted in Birmingham as He planted you in Wheaton.
May you continue to find pleasure in His presence, and direct people to Him as the all-satisfying spring of living water.
May the Lord Jesus continue to use you to minister as He did: Announcing the Kingdom, Liberating the Oppressed, and “Kicking in the Gates”!
I love you and Mary immensely. Blessings in this new season of life and ministry!
I'm excited for his new students in Alabama, though I believe Wheaton made an error of epic proportions in letting him get away.