I have said many times if you mention the name "Jerry Falwell" you better duck (because someone will want to punch you) or pucker (because they might want to kiss you). Falwell had a love'em/hate'em persona in the US.
I attended Liberty University as an undergraduate from 1989-1993, a university he founded in Lynchburg, VA. Furthermore, as a Youth Ministry Major at Liberty, I was involved in the high school and college ministries of Thomas Road Baptist church all four of my university years and in the last was on staff as a ministry assistant.
To be honest, in recent years I have wished to distance myself from this early influence. Not only have I had to explain how a guy goes from Liberty to Cambridge University, I have had to assure questioners that I share neither the fundamentalism nor the right-wing republicanism of Falwell and the University.
But on the day of Dr. Falwell's death at 73, I would like list some of the things I have most appreciated about him:
1) If it were not for Falwell I would have missed out on many of the most significant experiences and relationships in my life. Just a case in point, had it not been for Liberty I would not have met and married Karla; this is to say nothing of the many lifelong friends and ministry skills I acquired while a student.
2) Falwell instilled in students a belief that they could make a great difference in this world for God. He called his students "Champions for Christ". Although this seems a bit corny to me now and certainly idealistic, I drank up the cool aid he poured and believed that my life could be used by God, even in a small way, to change the world. I hope that at least in a small way, I still do believe that.
3) Dr. Falwell was a man of great integrity and discipline. It is a tribute to him that in an era when many prominent Christian evangelical leaders lived a duplicitous life, he never compromised on his moral integrity or his theological consistency.
4) Falwell was a man of pioneering visionary faith. While I can remember at a Wednesday chapel (he spoke to the student body on Wednesdays) cringing over his exposition of Romans 10:9: "if you confess with your mouth . . .", --by all accounts he was not a good expositor, which formed the basis of a message on confessing the vision the Lord has given you, the idea of visionary faith was one he indeed embodied.