Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hardeman: Preacher, Professor, President, by E. Claude Gardner

Hardeman:  Preacher, Professor, President, E. Claude Gardner

Sometimes people whom we never met can influence the trajectory of our lives.  When I had graduated from Centralia High School, my father spoke to the President of Freed-Hardeman College about my needing to attend the college there but not having the money.  The President told him to send me and they would find a way to enable me to attend.  The school song has the line “A debt we owe to thee” which some sang with punctuated emphasis, but the truth points to the spiritual balance sheet of my life.  That President was E. Claude Gardner who has written a book about a man who greatly influenced the trajectory of his life and mine too, Nicholas Brodie Hardeman or N. B. Hardeman. 

One of the objectives I have in mind when I prepare to teach or preach restoration history is how to make rather mundane details such as dates and places “come off the page” and take on renewed meaning.  One of the ways to do that is to have anecdotal stories about the person or timeframe that help an audience connect with the subject.  Ironically, I became “connected” to the life of N. B. Hardeman through an article E. Claude Gardner had written about Hardman in the paper The Messenger.  It sparked an interest in the life of two men who created an institution that would lead to Gardner being President and my being a student, A. G. Freed and N. B. Hardeman.  N. B. Hardeman hired E. Claude Gardner through a letter.  There was no interview in the traditional manner common today.  In the offer letter to Gardner on March 31, 1949, Hardeman wrote “I believe this will be a fine opportunity for you and that you would never have occasion to regret accepting this position.” (p. 85)  At the writing of this review, brother Gardner is still a walking testament to the truth of that assessment by Hardeman; although N. B. Hardeman would leave the school never to return a few short months later.  In fact, Gardner is the last surviving person N. B. Hardeman hired for the school. 

Brother Gardner’s latest work Hardeman:  Preacher, Professor, President is unique in that it is written about a power preacher of the gospel, a popular professor and president of one of the finest Christian colleges in the brotherhood by one who has shared in those roles as well.  Brother Gardner kept a regular correspondence with N. B. Hardeman through the years, so this work contains several remembrances that are uniquely told by one “who was there.”  N. B. Hardeman was considered by many to be “The Prince of Preachers” so it is fitting that one of his sermons is included in this biography too.  There are also biographical articles written by brother Gardner over the years and family relations over the years included in the book.

In my possession is among the last diplomas that N. B. Hardeman signed as President.  It bears a distinctive blue ink signature that matches the letters reproduced in the book.  Freed-Hardeman College became Freed-Hardeman University while I was a student.  It still bears the names of its two founders.  E. Claude Gardner served this institution for six decades.  He came to the school as teacher but also served in several positions before being appointed President.  Other works about the life of N. B. Hardeman are available and are excellent reading, but you will not want to miss this fine work by one who walked in Hardeman’s shoes.  Also, all proceeds from the sale of Hardeman:  Preacher, Professor, President will be used for the E. Claude Gardner Bible Scholarship Fund at the Freed-Hardeman University School of Biblical Studies.

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