There is no way he could have known. As A.T. Robertson responded to a letter by a young student, he didn’t know that the recipient would go on to be as famous as he was. It would have been easy to dismiss the letter. After all, he was a highly respected professor who had written many books including the most rigorous Greek Grammar of its time. Using his time to entertain the young man could easily have been considered “beneath him.” However, Robertson did respond to the eager student. Although we do not know what Robertson wrote, we do have the young man’s reply. After thanking Robertson for his help in finding a resource he concludes,

“…I am 19; a junior at Lebanon College, Annville, Pa… I like Greek immensely- hope to be a N.T. Greek Prof.”

Respectfully,

Bruce M. Metzger[1]

Metzger would go on to make a legacy of his own, one that would be comparable to that of Robertson’s. The zealous student would later attend Princeton and become one of the most prestigious textual critics to date. It has been speculated that Metzger desired to study with Robertson, but unfortunately Robertson died before that could be a possibility. Would Robertson’s dismissal of the letter prevent Metzger’s future success? No, probably not. However, we should not be quick to dismiss its importance. A young man reaches out to someone he admires and is not disappointed. At the very least it was encouraging and encouragement is no small thing. This is the power of a response.

Fast forward to Pasadena, California in the late 1960’s. A young seminary student named John Piper is excited about a visiting professor from Princeton. That week Dr. Metzger visited Fuller Theological Seminary to teach and he had a great impact on the young Piper,

“I was so helped by his teaching and so impressed with him as a man, I applied to Princeton to do my graduate work with him when I was finished at Fuller in 1971. I was rejected. He wrote me a personal letter to ease my disappointment, saying that only four people were accepted. It helped (a little).”[2] (Emphasis mine)

John Piper received a rejection letter? Whatever happened to that guy, anyway? That is another blog post for another time. Here it is important to notice that much like Metzger looking to Robertson, Piper admired the professor so much that he was ready to move to New Jersey and learn at his feet. He was disappointed; of course, but did you notice what Metzger did? “He wrote me a personal letter to ease my disappointment.” This is the power of a response. As many know, Piper went on to get his PhD from the University of Munich, Germany and taught biblical studies before becoming the pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He would pastor Bethlehem for over thirty years.

As I reflect on these stories several thoughts come to mind. The first is how powerful a quick note of encouragement can be. The young Metzger was basically a “nobody,” but the prestigious Robertson did not treat him that way. Piper wasn’t one of the elite four chosen to study with Metzger, but the Princeton scholar didn’t consider it beneath him to write a personal letter of encouragement.

In the day of email and social media it might seem that a response has lost its power, but that would be a mistake. In fact, communication is now easy and having access to people you admire is even easier. They are just an email away. So, allow me to encourage professors and scholars out there who receive emails from people they will never know-don’t underestimate the power of a response. Perhaps as a visitor, you go to teach a class for a few days-don’t underestimate the power of passion for your field and kindness to your students. You simply never know who is reaching out, who is watching, and who you are inspiring. The amount of emails you receive is probably outrageous. The intended point here is not guilt. Nor is to say that every person deserves a response, all the time. No one can answer every email. However, the point is just to draw attention to the fact that someone may look your way for encouragement. Although a short note may be trivial to you-it may mean much to them.

As for students, it is important to learn that it is OK to look up to others. Don’t be afraid to seek them out. Sure, some will not respond. But if you desire to be good at something, find the one who has gone before you, mastered the craft, and reach out for advice. Maybe, just maybe- you’ll experience the power of a response.

[1] Charles Draper, Letters to A.T. Robertson in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 5 No. 3, 2001.

[2] Desiringgod.org, Personal Tribute to Bruce Manning Metzger, accessed 1/13/2016.

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