Rebecca West: Words & Music

A Near-Death Experience

by Bob West

In his editorial on February 5, 1967, Jere E. Frost wrote: "One year ago a new teaching feature, unique in its approach to setting forth the truth, began to appear in the Pine Hills Exhorter -- Theophilus. And now as its second year begins, it is fitting to reaffirm the initial concept and purpose of pungently pointing the way to truth. Theophilus is an illustration of life, and the cross-currents of religious attitudes, contrasted with the simple truth of the Bible. It is our desire that it be instructive, illustrative, and illuminating."

Later when the book, Theophilus Number One, containing a collection of the strips, was published, Connie W. Adams wrote the Foreword and had this to say: "Among the teaching methods employed by Christians in recent times, none has been more widely discussed than the religious cartoon character, Theophilus, created and drawn by my good friend, Bob West.

"When this feature first began appearing in the Pine Hills Exhorter, I doubted the wisdom of such a method of teaching in a church bulletin. My feeling was that such an approach detracted from the dignity which befits the gospel. As time passed, and the feature continued, I began to change my mind about it. Theophilus was getting across vital lessons, sometimes hard-hitting lessons, in very little space and with good humor. The apparent honesty of purpose of this little character with his Bible under his arm, began to clearly show through, and his terse, penetrating comments drove the truth home...

"Behind the wit and pungent spiritual truth expressed by Theophilus is the attitude toward truth maintained by Bob West. His artistic pen could not draw the characters and put the proper words in their mouths without his being well informed as to the modern religious scene, deeply committed to truth as opposed to error, and possessed of a natural wit to reduce the whole situation to three or four scenes and a few words."

Book cover: Theophilus Number One

One of the most encouraging responses to the book was the following note: "I have just finished reading Theophilus for the third time and have been both humored and sobered by its message. I really appreciate the way truth is related and driven home. Some brethren may think you're being too entertaining and weakening the power of the gospel, but I think the opposite is true because where most people have trouble is not in seeing what the Bible says, but what should my response to it be? To avoid application of the Word, I have seen people deny all rules of logic, reason, and common sense. The purpose I see that Theophilus serves is that he enables people to go outside of themselves, helping them to realize their illogical behavior."

The strip continued as a weekly feature of the newsletter from February 6, 1966 until December 17, 1967. In the Pine Hills Church of Christ monthly business meeting in which I was asked to leave while the discussion took place, a decision was made by the men to discontinue Theophilus. I was told that some had said, "Theophilus hurts people's feelings."

To others Theophilus may have been just a cartoon, but I had put so much of myself into this character that he and I were one. When my brethren rejected Theophilus, they rejected me. A part of me was no longer welcome in this church. This news broke my heart. I wanted to cry, but that would not have been manly. And who could understand anyway? "Why are you taking this so personal, Bob?" one might ask. I tried to smile and go on as if nothing had happened. My friend, Jere, broke the news to me after the meeting as gently as anyone could. And his comments in the next issue of the newsletter one week later softened some of my pain.

At the time I was focusing so much on my own feelings that it did not occur to me how Jere must have felt. After all, as co-editors, Jere and I had worked very closely together to write, illustrate, organize, edit, and publish weekly editions of the Pine Hills Exhorter and Theophilus for two years. All of this time Jere had been very involved with Theophilus, offering his ideas for episodes and helping me polish some of my own. His contribution to the early success of Theophilus was significant, and it is past time after all these years to give him credit.

Jere, I want to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge and thank you for letting the Lord use you to help me give Theophilus life so many years ago. I apologize for waiting so long to do this, and ask your forgiveness.

From that point on the Pine Hills Exhorter would no longer be a weekly. It would be published monthly.

H. E. Phillips, editor of a monthly journal with nationwide circulation immediately requested that Theophilus appear in his paper. So, in January 1968, Theophilus became a regular feature of Searching the Scriptures. Below is a scanned copy of the episode from that publication.

Theophilus cartoon Jan. 1968

Just a few months later I stopped writing and drawing the strip.
My heart was no longer in it.

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