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Cal Guy, beloved & influential missions professor, dies at 88

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Cal Guy, one of Southern Baptists’ most influential missions professors and a longtime faculty member at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died Monday morning, July 25, from natural causes. He was 88.

Last year, Southwestern President Paige Patterson led the seminary community in honoring Guy during a special “Cal Guy Day.” “This is Dr. Cal Guy,” Patterson said as he introduced Guy at the chapel service, “the greatest missions professor in the world.”

Patterson presented Guy with gifts in recognition of the retired professor’s service to Southern Baptists and his contributions to missiology during his 1946-82 tenure at Southwestern. The gifts included a book containing dozens of letters written to Guy expressing thanksgiving and a quilt composed of pictures of Guy and his wife, Terrye, who died in 1994.

When it came to missionary methodology, Guy’s thinking was often controversial. He often challenged the mission techniques that were popular during the mid-20th century. Guy believed that missionaries were too “westernized, institutionalized, building-ized, and subsidized” in their approach to missions. He did not favor missionaries building Western-looking church buildings and pulling new converts out of their own cultural circles of influence. Instead, Guy advocated an approach to mission endeavors that encouraged missionaries to learn the culture and uncover ways to present the Gospel so that new converts would take it to their own people and thus stimulate indigenous church planting movements.

Although Guy’s ideas cut against the grain of mission philosophy that prevailed during his teaching tenure, in the past 10 years his methods and teachings have gained a preeminent place in the missionary outreach of the International Mission Board under the leadership of one of his former students from the early 1970s, Jerry Rankin.

“Cal Guy became my mentor,” Rankin recently said, reflecting on his seminary training at Southwestern, “He planted within me the heart of a mission strategy that has shaped my ministry and leadership ever since.”

In 1948, Guy was named to the George and Ida Bottoms endowed chair of missions. During this time, Southwestern Seminary strengthened its reputation for being a training ground for missionaries. In the fall semester of 1949, for example, when 1,435 students were enrolled at the seminary, Guy noted during a chapel service focused on missions that more than 300 of those students had declared their intention to go into missions service overseas.

Due in no small part to Guy’s tireless efforts, it soon became common for more than half of all missionaries appointed by the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention to have ties to Southwestern Seminary.

Robert Calvin “Cal” Guy was born April 22, 1917, in Jackson, Tenn. He received a bachelor’s degree from Union University in 1940. He then moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and enrolled at Southwestern Seminary, obtaining a master of theology degree in 1943 and a Ph.D. degree in 1948. His doctoral thesis was titled, “Paul’s Philosophy of History Reflected in Ephesians.” He served as pastor to several churches in Tennessee and Texas while in college and seminary.

Guy was appointed to the faculty of Southwestern’s missions department in 1946. Throughout his tenure at Southwestern, he served as pastor to churches on an interim basis, serving local congregations in Texas and Oklahoma and international churches in Jurbise, Belgium and Paris.

In 1953, Guy was elected chairman of the Missionary Education Council of Southern Baptist Agencies. This council was composed of representatives of all SBC entities and was charged with promoting missions throughout the denomination.

Guy was instrumental in recruiting the late L. Jack Gray to the missions faculty in 1956. Together they taught some of the most popular courses offered in the 1960s and 1970s. Guy and Gray also worked together to promote, organize and lead annual missions conferences that attracted many hundreds of college students to the seminary campus each spring. These conferences were instrumental in not only increasing enrollment at the seminary, but in leading many young people into international mission work.

During a sabbatical year in 1976, Guy and his wife took time to meet with and encourage missionaries in India, Jordan, Yugoslavia, Kenya, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Germany, Spain, France and Italy. He spent 10 months as pastor of the English-speaking International Baptist Church in Jurbise, Belgium — a congregation that served the military personnel attached to the NATO base for the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe.

In 1975, Guy was invited to visit Bangladesh and consult with Baptists there on how to reinvigorate the work that had been started there by William Carey 182 years before. He discovered that of 15 churches that had been started in the area since Carey’s time, only one still survived. This led Guy into a three-decade relationship with Bangladesh Baptists during which time he put many of his teachings into practice.

For example, he arranged to have a booklet containing a Gospel presentation translated into the native language. Then he taught local Baptists how to introduce the book into villages by asking the village leaders to allow their children to read it to them. The result was an explosion of churches in the area.

“Just based on using the Gospels, it went from 15 dead churches to 600 infinitely reproducible ones,” Guy said. A 2003 trip to Bangladesh included a pastor’s conference with 454 “home-grown” pastors, evidence of the growth of Christianity among the Bengali.

After several years of planning, in 1980 Southwestern Seminary launched its World Mission/Church Growth Center, now called the World Mission Center. Guy was named the Center’s founding director during its first year of operation.

Guy retired from the seminary faculty in 1982. After his retirement, he continued to teach at Southwestern Seminary, Criswell College in Dallas and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Guy was a prolific writer. His articles and columns appeared regularly in many SBC periodicals such as The Commission and Home Missions Magazine. He contributed a regular column to the Baptist Standard during the 1960s. He was co-author of a book titled, “Church Growth and Christian Mission,” published by Harper and Row in 1965.

In a statement issued from Southwestern Seminary on July 25, Patterson said the passing of Guy “marks the end of an era of unprecedented missionary statesmanship and training at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and beyond that for all Southern Baptists.”

“Cal Guy loved lost people around the world, was a champion of innovative methodology without watering down the content of the Gospel message, and invested himself in the missionary enterprise to the extent that at one time half the missionaries under appointment as Southern Baptists had studied under Dr. Guy. While his shoes will be filled by those upon whom Dr. Guy left his mark, it is nonetheless the case that his unique style, ready sense of humor, insight into missions theory and strategy simply cannot be replaced. We mourn his loss from the perspective of Southwestern Seminary but at the same time rejoice in his transfer to his heavenly home,” Patterson said.

Keith Eitel, who was elected dean of Southwestern Seminary’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions in April, said he valued Guy’s friendship and the example he set for future missionaries. Eitel previously served at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., where Guy taught courses for several years.

“I never had him as a student, but he was my friend,” Eitel said. “We are experiencing the passing of a giant. He was a giant influence on missions and helped expand the Kingdom of God and world evangelization. A whole era of Southern Baptist missions history has just closed.”

Eitel said Guy’s instruction is still bearing fruit in the lives of missionaries around the world and would continue to do so as long as he is remembered.

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  • Brent Thompson