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Baptist leaders remember life, legacy of Criswell

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists from across the nation have responded to the news of W.A. Criswell’s death with memories of his faithfulness to God and his belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

Following are statements released in response to Criswell’s Jan. 10th passing.

— “It is almost impossible to evaluate the life and ministry of W.A. Criswell. He had a multiplicity of gifts. He had one of the most loving hearts I have ever known. His devotion to Scripture inspired thousands of young clergy from many denominations. His preaching was electric in its power. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit in an unusual way. His counsel and love to me meant more than he ever knew. I have many memories of our times together. In recent years I did not see him often, but the memory of years past had a spiritual impact on me. Dr. W.A. Criswell will be greatly missed. Our loss is heaven’s gain.” Evangelist Billy Graham.

— “W.A. Criswell was a giant in the land, and his passing is an event of singular significance. In every way, Dr. Criswell was a one-of-a-kind man of God. He was an unexcelled preacher, an unequalled visionary, an unswerving champion of the truth, and an unfailing leader of influence.

“In many ways, we stand upon the shoulders of those who have preceded us. This has never been more true than of our indebtedness to this remarkable man. From his conversion to Christ, to his call to preach as a youth, to the very end of his public ministry, Dr. Criswell has contributed to Southern Baptists and to the Kingdom of God as a wise and compassionate pastor, fervent evangelist, scholarly preacher, practiced theologian, farsighted educator, caring mentor, and steadfast denominationalist. This man of God will be remembered, and he will be missed.

“In spite of the honors and accolades paid him over more than seven decades of ministerial service, Dr. Criswell maintained a spirit of deep humility. And in spite of the hard knocks taken in defense of the truth, he radiated the joy and gladness of the Lord in His service. He magnified Jesus Christ as the Lord of the Church in his pulpit ministry, through the writing of fifty-four books, and as the encourager of ministers across our Convention.

“On a purely personal level, in the numerous meetings I’ve had with Dr. Criswell over the years, I became an admirer of his wisdom and his deep, pure heart for God. I recollect with gratitude that it was Dr. Criswell who kindly nominated me as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference in Dallas in 1985. I treasure the memory of his many heartening communications with me over the years. His encouragement to me was doubtless duplicated many times over to other pastors over the country.

“We express our heartfelt sympathy to Mrs. Criswell, to Ann, and to his many devoted friends upon our mutual loss, and we commend them to the grace of God.” Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee.

— “Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Criswell touched the lives of many — not only in Texas, not only Baptists, but millions around the world. He will be sincerely missed.” Rick Perry, governor of Texas.

— “Dr. Criswell loved God, the people of Dallas, and America without reservation.

“I hope everyone in America will take a moment to note the loss of a man who had great impact on our country, Dr. W.A. Criswell. For generations of Texans, he was the moral and ethical gauge by which the people measured their leaders and themselves.

“Dr. Criswell loved God, the people of Dallas and America without reservation. He was a man of powerful conviction and dogged determination to do good who made a mark on Texas history and instilled an indelible memory in every person he ever met. He befriended me, and I will never forget him.

“Dr. Criswell was a humble man of firm beliefs, and he believed that America would do well to foster a revitalization of the values that were the hallmark of our Founding Fathers. The freedom to worship God, each in our own way, is fundamental among the liberties that constitute our legacy from them, and Dr. Criswell knew it.” U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.

— “The family of First Baptist Church of Dallas is deeply saddened by the home going of one of God’s great saints. Dr. W.A. Criswell served our congregation for 50 years as pastor and was serving as pastor emeritus at his death. He will be greatly missed as a minister, preacher, but most especially as shepherd of the flock. While we are sad, yet we rejoice over the fact that he is with the Lord that he loved and that he served so faithfully all of these years. He was a prayer partner and an enormous encouragement to me as a young pastor, particularly since I was following in the footsteps of a legend.” Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas.

— “I’m personally very grateful for the friendship God allowed me to have with him. We had a very positive relationship. He was one of the easiest men to love I’ve ever been around. He had a brilliant mind and a unique and passionate way of preaching. He is a great testimony to the fact that God honors the preaching of his Word. He faithfully preached the Word as he understood it, and God honored that. Certainly he was one of the most dominant figures in the evangelical world in the last half of the 20th Century.” James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC.

— “This Thursday morning was Dr. Criswell’s coronation day as he slipped from the side of his longtime partner in ministry, Jack Pogue, to look upon the face of Christ in glory. We have all lost a mentor and icon of the faith and I have personally lost a loving prayer partner. It can be said of him what was said of good King Josiah, “Before him was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and might … nor after him did any arise like him” (2 Kings 23:25). We shall look forward to seeing him again “in the morning.” O.S. Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

— “Dr. W.A. Criswell was a giant in the land, and it is now hard to imagine Baptist life without him. He towered over our denominational life for a half-century, casting a shadow that shaped at least three generations of pastors and Baptist leaders. His robust pulpit ministry led to a recovery of biblical exposition among Baptist preachers and those of other evangelical denominations. He was a bold champion for biblical truth, and this great lion gave courage to thousands of others.

“He was larger than life, and his influence will continue long after his death. His pastorate at First Baptist Church in Dallas set the pace for the rise of great multi-thousand-member congregations all across the nation. His ‘Schools of the Prophets’ armed preachers with the tools to preach the Word with power.

“Beyond all this, his personality and charm were titanic in proportion to his person. The whole character of a room changed the minute W.A. Criswell entered. He loved people — and his warmth could charm the hardest heart. Even those with whom he disagreed could not help smiling when they talked about him. He was living, breathing, Baptist history — flawlessly dressed, Bible in hand, ready to preach. He had many friends, but no peers.

“He was a proud graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he was by any measure the most famous graduate of this school in the 20th century. Southern Seminary will be forever proud of this great graduate. He was a great encourager to me as president.

“When I saw him last, he asked that I take a blessing back to our students. ‘I will never get to meet you young preachers in this life,’ he said. “But preach the Word — and know that I will be waiting on heaven’s lowest step to greet you when we all get to heaven.’ His eyes sparkled as he envisioned the scene.

“I thank God for the life and ministry of W.A. Criswell, and for the opportunity to have known a giant of our times.” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

— “At 4:17 A.M. central time, January 10, 2002, Dr. W. A. Criswell sailed placidly from the earthly port where for 92 years he had been moored and instantly was received on the merits of our Savior’s blood into the presence of the ever-living God. Given the intense ‘boyish’ curiosity during the entire life of the pastor, one can only begin to imagine the delight of his eye and the elation of his spirit at this moment.

“Dr. Criswell loosed from port at the home of beloved and trusted friend and son in Christ, Jack Pogue, while Mr. Pogue held his hand and read to him the familiar words of Philippians 2 and John 14. The final words of the pastor were spoken to Mr. Pogue a few hours before his homegoing. Having been responsible for Mr. Pogue’s conversion to Christ more than 30 years earlier, Dr. Criswell said to Jack, ‘I love you, son.’

“We rejoice today for Dr. Criswell even as the Church of our Lord Jesus contemplates the loss of the greatest preacher of our generation.” Paige Patterson, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

— “My friend, Dr. Criswell, gave leadership, voice and inspiration to the restoration of the Southern Baptist Convention to its Biblical roots. I am so glad he was able to see the victories for which he so earnestly prayed.” Judge Paul Pressler.

— “W.A. Criswell’s significance to Texas Southern Baptists is hard to overstate. Although he was a national figure, he was also for decades the preeminent Texas Baptist. Through many changes he was senior statesman for our entire denomination. You could say he pastored the recent reformation of the Southern Baptist Convention. No one who met him doubted his convictions or his love for God’s Word. A giant has passed into glory. While we pray God’s comfort for his church and family in their loss, we rejoice in the life of one of God’s great servants.” Jim Richards, executive director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

— “W.A. Criswell was one of the most visible Baylor graduates in Southern Baptist life over the past half-century. His most important legacies are expository preaching and the commitment to spending a lifetime of ministry at one church. Those legacies represent commitments that are much needed in contemporary church life. We offer our condolences to family and friends who mourn the passing of W.A. Criswell.” Robert B. Sloan Jr., president, Baylor University.

— “The home-going of Dr. Criswell saddened my heart. From my seminary days to the present day, he has been an inspiring example of faithfulness, courage, and devotion to his calling. I treasured his friendship.” Charles Stanley, pastor, First Baptist Church Atlanta.

— “W.A. Criswell was a larger-than-life figure who left his indelible brand on Texas and on three generations of Baptists. His extraordinary gifts in the pulpit, his steadfast pastoral commitment to a great downtown city church, his leadership by example in church growth, his fervent dedication to missions and evangelism, and his unswerving commitment to proclaiming the truth of the Bible will long be remembered. We celebrate with First Baptist Church of Dallas all the good that he brought to our lives.” Charles Wade, executive director, Baptist General Convention of Texas.

— “In 1970, out of his deep concern over liberalism seeping into the pulpits of America, Dr. Criswell founded The Criswell College in Dallas to train a new generation of expository preachers who would stand confidently on the inerrancy and authority of the Bible as the Word of God. What Spurgeon was to the 19th century, W.A. Criswell was to the 20th. An expositor and orator without peer, he had a scholar’s mind, a pastor’s heart and a missionary’s zeal. He was devoted to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he longed to see preachers prepared to preach the Bible for the salvation of the lost and growth in grace of the saved.” Criswell College President Richard Wells.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes