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Miller, Calvin



  • Existence: 1936-2012

Biographical Statement

Calvin Miller, poet, preacher, author and teacher, was born in Enid, OK in 1936, the seventh of nine children. He accepted Christ in 1945 in a lively Pentecostal tent meeting. “There, in the smell of new sawdust,” he recalls, “I met the Christ who shortly became the pier of my new faith.”

Years earlier, Miller’s father abandoned the family. His mother raised the children, relying on desperately meager resources and abundant creativity. To provide, she worked as a laundress, and often ventured to the train tracks to gather grain shaken from railcars; carefully stored, it kept for the winter.

Graduating from Enid High School, Miller perceived a calling to preach, and went on to Oklahoma Baptist University, departing with a B.S. degree in 1958. He then attended Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1961, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in 1975.

In 1956, he accepted a part-time pastorate at a rural church in Oklahoma where he met his wife, Barbara. Their courtship is chronicled in A Covenant for All Seasons. They have one daughter and one son.

His first full-time pastorate was Plattsmouth Baptist Church, Plattsmouth, NE, 1961-66. There he and Barbara enjoyed their “wealthy poverty,” as he recalls. His next and longest pastorate was Westside Church in Omaha, NE, arriving in 1966, serving for 25 years. During his tenure, the assembly swelled from 10 members to 3,000.

His first book, Once Upon a Tree (1967), chosen by Norman Vincent Peale’s Foundation for Christian Living, enjoyed modest success. Soon after, he produced his most famous work, The Singer trilogy, a three-volume poetic narrative portraying the life, death and resurrection of its Christlike hero.

In The Symphony trilogy, released in the late 1980s, he similarly retells the epic tale of mankind’s fall from grace in Genesis, borrowing additional themes of struggle, suffering and redemption from John Milton and J.R.R. Tolkien. Miller often draws from his extensive pastoral experience. In A View From the Fields, he examines evangelism and church expansion patterns. “In understanding both your field and yourself,” he observes, “you have laid the foundation for church growth.” A lasting influence on Miller’s pulpit ministry is Ray Stedman (1917-92), prolific author and pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA. Although Miller and Stedman were not well acquainted, Stedman’s consistent witness provides a template of integrity and pastoral transparency.

Miller’s brilliant storytelling imagination, an extension of his pulpit ministry, is colored by yet another “Ray” – fantasist Ray Bradbury, whose novels, essays and short stories Miller voraciously read in seminary, relieving tedious theological studies. “Optimism is not only Bradbury’s gift to a despairing culture,” writes Miller, “but his great gift to me personally.”

According to Miller, humor and laughter reflect our comfort with a holy God. Many believers, he says, flagellate themselves into a “worm” theology, never quite happy or productive. “People of prayer do laugh easily,” he says. “Church members are often dead about what they ought to be passionate about.” God is properly seen in the force of His person rather than an enumeration of neat theological equations. Adrift from a healthy assessment of His characteristics, God is perceived as flat, parochial, didactic. In logical terms, He is containable; up close, apprehended in His reality, God is a raging fire.

A persistent emphasis in Miller’s writing is spiritual formation; fears, victories and defeats must be perceived as incisive tools for God’s craftsmanship. In Walking with the Saints, he focuses on classic Christian devotional authors, examining the work of St. Augustine, Madam Guyon, Teresa of Avila, John Bunyan and others.

As demonstrated in these lives, diverse but dedicated, God’s loving attention is precise, relentless. In Becoming: Yourself in the Making, Miller observes: “The Holy Grail is holiest not when we have it but while we pursue it. It is the ‘getting there’ not the ‘being there’ that fills life with meaning; the way not the goal is the glory.”

He further explores spiritual development in An Owner’s Manual for the Unfinished Soul, a collection of short stories, poems and essays. “I have always believed that life is a never-finished finishing school,” he states in the introduction. “Don’t read this book to see how to do anything…Just sit with me and wonder at how closely our pilgrimages have passed.”

Miller’s numerous books: fiction, non-fiction and poetry, include Transcendental Hesitation; The Valiant Papers; The Taste of Joy; Spirit, Word & Story; That Elusive Thing Called Joy; Fred ‘n’ Erma; A Hunger for Meaning; Snow; Disarming the Darkness: A Guide to Spiritual Warfare; Guardians of the Singreale; and Jesus Loves Me: Celebrating the Profound Truths of a Simple Hymn. Titles for children include, My Friend & My King; Where the Aardvark Parked the Ark; My Lord and My God; and My Son, My Savior.

Dr. Miller was professor in preaching and pastoral ministry at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. When not teaching or writing, he spoke at conferences. Delivering the 1997 Spring Staley Lectures at Wheaton College, he emphasized servanthood, skillfully interspersing his message with verse and storytelling. In 2004, he joined poet/pastor Eugene Peterson and radio commentator Frederica Mathews-Green at Beeson’s Christfest, addressing the topic of ministry and the arts. Calvin Miller died on August 19, 2012.

In addition to his academic and publishing careers, Miller is a member of the Chrysostom Society, an exclusive circle of Christian writers including Luci Shaw, Robert Siegel, Virginia Stem Owens, Richard Foster, Walter Wangerin, Karen Burton Mains, Larry Woiwode and several others. They convene once a year, celebrating faith and creativity.

The Chrysostom Society has published a handful of books, including a murder mystery, Carnage at Christhaven, each member writing a chapter. Miller also contributed an essay, “In Favor of God,” to The Swiftly Tilting Worlds of Madeleine L’Engle, a commemorative anthology honoring L’Engle, fellow Chrysostom member and celebrated novelist.


Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections staff

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Calvin Miller Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SC-024
Scope and Contents The manuscripts and papers of popular writer and pastor Calvin Miller are arranged into five series. The material arrived in several accessions beginning in 1990. The largest series is book manuscripts, with other categories of articles, correspondence, artwork, and biographical. Miller periodically adds items to the collection and it can be assumed that the papers have not reached their final arrangement. The largest portion of the Calvin Miller Collection is composed of manuscripts, both of...
Dates: Created: 1967-2004; Other: Majority of material found in 1975-1989; Other: Date acquired: 1986