by Becky Hobbs
"Dr. Belcher is to seminary students what a 'player's coach' is to his athletes," says RTS/Charlotte student Scott Mosley. "He cares about his students and develops relationships with many of them. They respect him because they feel respected by him. He is comfortable with who he is, and that makes those around him comfortable. He is one of the easiest people to talk with that I have ever known. He meets people where they are and relies on the Lord to move them along in their walk of faith. He truly sees himself as an instrument in the hands of a great and powerful God rather than an instrument in and of himself to impact lives for the kingdom of God."
Students especially love Dick's constant availability. "Dr. Belcher has an open-door policy whenever he's in the office," says RTS/Charlotte student Brian Lowe. "Even when he was working under a punishing dissertation deadline, he did not turn me away when I needed to talk. He is not just a professor but also a cherished friend. We have played golf and gone to lunch numerous times. He is committed to theological integrity as well as bonding with students outside of class. We both grew up Baptist, so many times I have discussed troublesome issues with him to see how he dealt with them. Not only has he influenced me theologically, but his wife, Lou, has also helped my wife, Dell, tremendously through the Mrs. In Ministry Program.
Dick makes himself so available to students because he realizes that many today might not come from the most stable families. "Being a mentor or a role model is perhaps even more important today that in the past because of the breakdown of the family," says Dick. "Today's parents are busy and stretched, often leading to a lack of communication with children."
Fellow professors are also glad Dick's door is always open. "When Dick and I met in 1995, we became instant friends," reveals Dr. Robert Cara, Professor of New Testament at RTS/Charlotte. "We are both Bible professors, pastors' sons, very involved in our presbyteries, sports-oriented, and like Dunkin Donuts coffee. Dick is a well-rounded professor, interested in scholarship but also heavily involved at the local church and presbytery level, in addition to interacting often with students outside of class. I often seek Dick's input on my classes, various presbytery issues, theological questions, and personal issues. He is very wise and approachable and truly has a servant's heart."
"I DON'T WANT TO BE A PREACHER!"
Born near Chicago, Dick spent most of his childhood in East St. Louis, where his father was a Southern Baptist pastor. He remembers a very stable Christian home that was enjoyable, even if his family did live in the proverbial "fishbowl." His father's faith had a tremendous impact on him, especially when the elder Belcher came to embrace Reformed theology in Dick's early teens. St. Louis had no Southern Baptist seminary so Dick's father obtained a master of divinity degree from Covenant Seminary. Reading and struggling with the Scriptures brought him to an acceptance of the Reformed faith.
"I saw a distinct difference in his approach to ministry after the switch," says Dick. "Before, his style was more human-centered -- salvation is all up to the person; after changing to a more Calvinistic view, he became more God-centered. He began to preach the Word and let God do His work in people's lives."
Dick himself made a commitment to Christ when he was six and had a distinct understanding of his sin and what Christ had done for him. But as he grew older he was sure of one thing -- he didn't want to be a pastor like his father. He wanted to find his own individual ministry before the Lord.
Since one of his interests in high school was biology, he decided on that for his major upon entering Covenant College in 1973. But God had other plans. When he encountered trigonometry his first semester, he discovered that he really enjoyed studying the Bible much more and gladly changed his major to philosophy and Bible. He also began to realize that, like it or not, God was calling him to the ministry. Slowly he made peace with the idea.
Upon graduation in 1977, he returned to St. Louis to attend Covenant Seminary. He didn't know whether God was calling him to the pastorate or to a teaching ministry. As he struggled to embrace Reformed theology, God made it clear to him that He wanted Dick to pastor in the Presbyterian denomination.
During his senior year in seminary, he and Lou became involved in an inner city church in St. Louis called Grace and Peace Fellowship. Part of their focus was reaching out to the Afro-American community, so they began working with black children from disadvantaged homes. Both began to feel a tangible pull toward some kind of cross-cultural ministry after seminary.
After graduating from Covenant, they remained in St. Louis waiting for God to open a door to inner city work; Dick redeemed the time there by finishing his class work for the Th.M. at Concordia Seminary. God then granted them their desire when Community Bible Church, an inner city work in Rochester, New York, called him as pastor.
So in 1981 the two unpacked their bags on the wintry shores of Lake Ontario an hour east of Buffalo and stayed for ten years. It was an interracial, predominantly black church of fifty or sixty, meeting in downtown Rochester. With sound preaching and teaching, Dick and Lou saw it slowly begin to grow. When they left, membership had risen to eighty.
"We were a very diverse congregation," says Dick. "At one point we had five or six white medical student couples meeting with a roomful of Afro-Americans. While that helped us financially, it did bring some struggles with those on the lower end of the economic scale. Still, the mix was good and we were very pleased with what God did there. We didn't see tremendous growth, but the people were quite loving and accepting, a very friendly congregation. We came to feel that we were a very real part of their lives."
In 1991, as hard as it was to leave, Dick and Lou felt that he should begin his Ph.D. work in order to finish and move to a place of ministry before their oldest child began high school. Dick entered Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and in 1995 he finished his coursework for a doctorate in Old Testament. While there he preached periodically in area churches, and in 1996 he joined the faculty at RTS/Charlotte.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE OLD TESTAMENT!
One of Dick's main goals for his students is to take away their fear of studying the Old Testament. Students enter seminary and have no idea how to approach the Old Testament. It is written from a foreign mindset, not at all how we think today. Also, people are generally less familiar with the Old Testament. "What do I do with this large narrative section?" they ask. Or, "How do I handle all these different types of literature?" Watching them learn how to do that always gives him a thrill.
Part of Dick's goal is to give students a good grasp of the contents of the Old Testament to prepare for licensure exams. But he also stresses how the Old Testament relates to modern culture. How does it impact our lives? He hopes students will come to a deeper realization of who God is and what He's done and catch the vision for communicating Scripture to the culture in which we live.
Another important goal is to show students the foundational necessity of the Old Testament for interpreting the New Testament. What is the relationship between the two? Many pastors focus so much on the New Testament that they neglect the Old. Numerous students come to seminary having heard very few sermons from the Old Testament.
"I want them to appreciate the Old Testament and to see that it 'can preach,'" explains Dick. "They need to see that it is relevant for our contemporary culture. When I preach, I jump back and forth between the Old and New, bringing balance to my teaching and giving my congregation a good dose of the Old Testament. It's fun to see students begin to see the relevance of the Old Testament to their Christian faith."
Dick puts his theories into practice regularly in addition to his teaching responsibilities, since he is the supply pastor for Christ Cornerstone Church in nearby Ft. Mill, South Carolina. Quietly and diligently he moves from the scholarly realm to the practical realm, trying in every way to make the Word of God come alive to those around him.
Perhaps one of his students describes him best. "He is extremely bright and gifted as a teacher but his most notable characteristic is his humility," says Scott Mosley. "He doesn't lord his knowledge over others. Dick never draws attention to himself, but he doesn't try to "be humble." Day to day he is simply himself; a man of faith, a man of character, and a man called of God to minister with compassion to the Lord's people both in the classroom and in the pew --and that is very special indeed."
Photos by Cobb Photography.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 4, Winter 2000