Timothy George is probably the only person ever to ask the late great Baptist pulpiteers W. A. Criswell and Herschel Hobbs to speak for only 15 minutes each. "And they did!" he recalled with some amazement shortly after Criswell's passing in January. The occasion was the dedication of the new Beeson Divinity School chapel in 1995. The schedule was full, so brevity was the order of the day. There is still a note of wonder in his voice as he tells the story.
Timothy says that Criswell, "like everyone else in Southern Baptist life, was larger than life and spoke with a deeper voice than God." But Criswell had a human side, and as he spearheaded the much needed (but sometimes bloody) conservative redirection of the Southern Baptist Convention, he felt deeply the pain that the redirection caused. Like Criswell, the theologically conservative Timothy says he "regrets the harshness of the controversy." He tells us he thinks "we're moving past that in most arenas," but there needed to be a "conservative redirection."
Because Timothy George knew W. A. Criswell personally and also edited some of his works for Broadman & Holman's Library of Baptist Classics series, he now helps us remember both the public accomplishments and the personal passions of the man some call "The 'Baptist Pope.' " His memorial begins on page 54.
In our last issue, Timothy compared Christian teaching with Islamic ideas about God ("Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?"). That article originated as an address to the Prison Fellowship board following the September 11 atrocities. Timothy now holds the "theologian's chair" on that board, vacated a few years ago by theologian Carl F. H. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today and a founding member of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
But Timothy's interest in Islam long preceded September 11. "It was one of the areas I did work in as a doctoral student at Harvard," he tells us. "I've followed the Christian-Muslim dialogue which has gone on since Vatican II. Evangelicals have gotten into that in a significant way in the last 10 or 12 years. And at Beeson we've started offering a course on Islam in the last four or five years, simply because of its urgency today for our students."
Timothy's concern for equipping theology students for the pastoral demands of the times stems from his years of graduate study. During his seven years at Harvard, Timothy says, he "studied theology in stereo." Every day he was "studying in lofty, sophisticated tones" and every evening he "came home to a world much more in touch with reality"—an inner-city congregation in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
On his first Sunday as pastor of First Baptist Church of Chelsea, there were six people in the congregation—including Timothy and his wife. They began a Bible study and started to reach out in social ministry in order to work with inner-city young people. "I had one foot in the academy and one foot on the corner of Bellingham Avenue, where drugs were being passed out," he says. "It was a very difficult but extremely formative thing for me." And a very good thing, we think, for the students and faculty he leads at Beeson Divinity School.
In our next issue: The church of O(prah), Easter in an age of terror, and the revival of expository preaching.
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Also appearing on our site today:
The 'Baptist Pope'W.A. Criswell showed remarkable openness and flexibility when these traits were rare among evangelicals.
Previous Christianity Today articles on W.A. Criswell:
SBC Leader W.A. Criswell Dies at 92Dallas pastor considered the father of modern conservatism in the Southern Baptist Convention. (Jan. 15, 2002)
CT Classic: Preaching Through the BibleHow W.A. Criswell grew his church through 18 years of exploring the scriptures cover-to-cover. (Dec. 9, 1966)
Christianity Today articles by Timothy George include:
Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?The answer to this question reveals the heart of our faith. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Does God Hear Muslims' Prayers?We must remember that God does not deal with theologies; he deals with persons. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Has God Played Fair?Why did an omniscient God create humankind knowing that people, in every generation, would reject him? (Nov. 20, 2001)
Big Picture FaithFrom the first nanosecond to the final cry of victory, and every divine moment between—all is charged with meaning. (Oct. 19, 2000)
Why We Still Need MoodyThe man who invented modern evangelicalism. (Dec. 6, 1999)
A Theology to Die ForTheologians are not freelance scholars of religion, but trustees of the deposit of faith. (Feb. 9, 1998)
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A New Initiative"The Gift of Salvation" A remarkable statement on what we mean by the gospel. (Dec. 7, 1998)
Why We Still Need LutherFour hundred fifty years after his death, Martin Luther can still inspire and guide us. (Oct. 28, 1996)
Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy?A forum on free-will theism, a new paradigm for understanding God. (May 11, 2001)
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