FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When a physical education teacher challenged her students to read the Bible, she had no idea the worldwide impact that challenge would have.
Thirteen-year-old Bill Tolar liked a challenge. So when his teacher said “99 percent of the people around the world” had never completed reading the best-selling book in history, he began to read.
“I began to realize that if this book was right, then basically my life was wrong, because I was living without any serious regard for the God that the Scriptures were telling me about,” Tolar said.
Sixty years later, he’s still reading that book. In retiring this summer from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after 36 years as a professor and administrator, he understands the impact the Bible and teachers have had on his life.
That first through-the-Bible reading and study caused Scripture to begin “to make claims upon my life and I realized I was going to have to dismiss them some way, discredit them or stop reading, or have to deal with it in a meaningful way,” he said. “God seemed to have worked through that Scripture reading to bring me to himself.”
Under conviction of his sins, he realized he needed a relationship with God. He visited a Baptist church where for the first time he “heard a pastor take the Scriptures and apply them in an intelligent and meaningful way,” he recalled.
Tolar made his profession of faith on Easter Sunday 1942. A year later, he accepted the call to vocational ministry.
“I had a very profound sense that I wanted my life to really count for God,” Tolar said. “If you were a minister, you would be helping people all the time.”
After his salvation, a teacher helped him take his studies seriously.
“I didn’t know that I had a pretty good mind until my conversion and a high school history teacher, a very good Christian and a good teacher, came to me and challenged me to really give the best of my mind to Christ,” Tolar said.
In 1945, Louisiana State University offered him a scholarship for placing second in an academic competition and for being the state’s top high school running back. Louisiana Tech also offered a scholarship, but Tolar wanted to prepare for the ministry at a Baptist school.
Baptist-related Louisiana College lacked the resources to offer Tolar a full scholarship. Once again, two educators helped out. His principal and football coach told Baylor University in Waco, Texas, about Tolar.
“When Baylor learned that I had these full scholarships to LSU, that I wanted to be a Baptist minister, they gave me a scholarship,” he recalled.
At Baylor, he excelled, especially in science classes. He graduated from Baylor in 1950 and Southwestern in 1955. He was pastoring a church near Baylor, when an educator would again influence his life.
While visiting a friend at Baylor, Tolar saw the religion department chairman, who asked him if he would teach part-time. After receiving permission from his church, he accepted the offer.
“I fell in love with teaching,” Tolar said. And his students fell in love with him.
The chairman told him, “Your students are coming by telling me how much they enjoy your teaching,” Tolar recalled. A year later, he was offered a full-time position, which meant resigning as pastor. After praying about it, he accepted the chairman’s offer.
Later on, Tolar realized that “coincidental meeting” was directed by God’s providence.
“Teaching just kind of opened in a way that I never dreamed or foresaw, and had I not met that chairman in that hallway that day, chances are I would never have become a teacher,” he said.
After teaching at Baylor for 10 years, Tolar and his wife, Floye, came to Southwestern in 1965 to teach and complete his doctor of theology. Thirty-six years later, Tolar has done what educators have done for him throughout his life — equip thousands of students for ministry around the world.
At Southwestern, the distinguished professor of biblical backgrounds has served as dean of the school of theology, vice president for academic affairs, provost and acting president.
Tolar is “unique and gifted” and a man of integrity, said his former student, Thomas Brisco, who has taught biblical backgrounds at Southwestern.
Tolar has been an interim pastor at almost 50 churches, including Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas when it was going through a difficult transition.
“Dr. Bill Tolar from the seminary should receive a great deal of credit for preparing the church for a new pastor [and] for helping in the healing process of a church that was wounded,” said Jack Graham, Prestonwood’s pastor.
Despite all his accomplishments, nothing compared to the moment when “I was able to lead my own father to Christ,” Tolar said.
Tolar said he is grateful to God for his wife “who is a loving, supporting [and] devout Christian.” The William B. and Floye Tolar Faculty Assistance Endowment Fund provides financial assistance to Southwestern faculty and staff.
Although retirement gives Tolar more time with his family, he will not stop teaching because “the thing that I have enjoyed the most, of course, is the classroom and the students.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BILL TOLAR.