According to the posted biography on Dr. Craddock on Cherry Log Christian Church’s website…
Much sought after as a lecturer, he has delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale, the Scott Lectures at Claremont School of Theology, the Adams Lectures at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, The Schaff Lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Cole Lectures at Vanderbilt, the Westervelt Lectures at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, the Mullins Lectures at Southern Seminary and Earl Lectures at Pacific School of Religion. Dr. Craddock has traveled the World giving lectures in many Countries. Dr. Craddock has written a number of books and contributed articles to various journals.
Once, while delivering a lecture at Yale University, he told of an experience he had while having gone back one summer to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to take a short vacation with his wife. In the book edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward and titled Craddock Stories (Copyright: ChalicePress.com, 2001, pp. 156-157), Craddock’s own firsthand account is given.
Nettie and I had returned from Oklahoma to one of our favorite vacation spots, The Great Smoky Mountains. We were at dinner in a restaurant out from Gatlinburg near the small community of Cosby. We were in a rather new restaurant called the Black Bear Inn. It was very attractive and had an excellent view of the mountains.
Early in the meal, an elderly man approached our table and said, "Good evening.” I said, "Good evening." He said, "Are you on vacation?" I said, "Yes," but under my breath I was saying, “It's really none of your business.” "Where are you from?" he asked. "We're from Oklahoma." "What do you do in Oklahoma?"
Under my breath, but almost audible, I was saying, “Leave us alone. Were on vacation, and we don't know who you are.” I said, "I am a Christian minister." He said, "What church?" I said, "The Christian Church."
He paused a moment and said, "I owe a great deal to a minister of the Christian church," and he pulled out a chair and sat down. I said, "Yes, have a seat." I tried to make it seem like I sincerely meant it, but I didn't. Who is this person?
He said, "I grew up in these mountains. My mother was not married, and the whole community knew it. I was what was called an illegitimate child. In those days that was a shame, and I was ashamed. The reproach that fell on her, of course, fell also on me. When I went into town with her, I could see people staring at me, making guesses as to who was my father. At school, the children said ugly things to me, and so I stayed to myself during recess, and I ate my lunch alone.
"In my early teens I began to attend a little church back in the mountains called Laurel Springs Christian Church. It had a minister who was both attractive and frightening. He had a chiseled face and a heavy beard and a deep voice. I went to hear him preach. I don't know exactly why, but it did something for me. However, I was afraid that I was not welcome since I was, as they put it, a bastard (sic). So I would go just in time for the sermon, and when it was over I would move out because I was afraid that someone would say, 'What’s a boy like you doing in a church?'
"One Sunday some people queued up in the aisle before I could get out, and I was stopped. Before I could make my way through the group, I felt a hand on my shoulder, a heavy hand. It was that minister. I cut my eyes around and caught a glimpse of his beard and his chin, and I knew who it was. I trembled in fear. He turned his face around so he could see mine and seemed to be staring for a little while. I knew what he was doing. He was going to make a guess as to who my father was.
A moment later he said, 'Well, boy, you're a child of…' and he paused there. And I knew it was coming. I knew I would have my feelings hurt. I knew I would not go back again. He said, 'Boy, you're a child of God. l see a striking resemblance, boy. Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Now, you go claim your inheritance.’ I left the building a different person. In fact, that was really the beginning of my life."
I was so moved by the story I had to ask him, "What's your name?" He said, ‘Ben Hooper.’ I recalled, though vaguely, my own father talking when I was just a child about how the people of Tennessee had twice elected as governor a bastard (sic). Ben Hooper.
Now, I recognize that it has become somewhat fashionable in today’s world to question the validity of any such “preacher” story. Because Governor Hooper’s official biography does not specifically mention the account, the veracity of Dr. Craddock’s experience is often called into question.
For my part, I will choose to accept the personal testimony of such a learned, accomplished, and respected individual as Dr. Fred Craddock over the conclusions of the many self-appointed pundits who presume to have the final word on such matters.
More to the point: isn’t it just like God to do such a thing?! Isn’t it just like God to surprise us all by first sending an obscure preacher across the path of an as yet unheard of, would-be Governor?! And then to have that same Governor, years later, cross paths with a young professor - so the story could be shared and the world would hear?!
Besides, as I read this story, I thought about another young man born into a quite similar context. The New Testament begins with the account of a young man who grew up in a small town and who was almost certainly chided and excluded by others because of his parents’ questionable relationship. And yet, that very young man, Jesus Christ, went on to change history - not just of a single province or of a region, but of the entire world!
As follower of Jesus Christ, I have heard His story. And I am now compelled to tell it. Because it is essentially the same one told to young Ben Hooper. We do all have worth. For we have all been created in the image of Almighty God. And we have also been redeemed by that same God through His Son, Jesus Christ!
As the Bible says (in the Gospel of John, 3:16-18a), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…”
And again (John 1:12-13), “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
And that makes any one of us who believes exactly what that old preacher said to young Ben Hooper: a child of the King, complete with one impressive inheritance!
NOTE: The much ballyhooed trek of this story via e-mail and social media is discussed extensively across the internet. Cf.: http://www.snopes.com/glurge/hooper.asp.