WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–L. Russ Bush III, noted philosopher, apologist, author, professor, pastor and friend of Southern Baptists, died Jan. 22 following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 63.
Bush spent his life serving the church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the greater evangelical community in a number of capacities. He served most recently at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., as the director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and as distinguished professor of philosophy of religion.
From 1989-2006 he served as academic vice president and dean of the faculty, as well as a philosophy of religion professor. Prior to that, from 1973-1989, he was a professor of philosophy of religion of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
His 1980 book “Baptists and the Bible,” co-authored with Tom Nettles, — at the time both men were professors at Southwestern — played a key role in the Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence, calling for the return to Biblical inerrancy as a core belief of the denomination.
Bush’s time at Southeastern marked a turning point in the leadership of the institution. When he first began at Southeastern, during the presidency of Lewis A. Drummond, Bush was one of the few conservative voices at the institution. Due in large part to his direction of the faculty, the seminary was able to band together for the cause of reclaiming a sound theological heritage.
“Russ Bush was a champion and faithful warrior for the cause of Christ and the Gospel,” Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin said. “His work ‘Baptists and the Bible’ … was a landmark in the battle for the Bible that engulfed our denomination. Its impact is still being felt today.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Bush-Nettles book was essential.
“Southern Baptists had lacked a book that would document the fact that biblical inerrancy was not a new idea at all, but the explicit affirmation of faithful Baptists throughout the Baptist experience,” Mohler wrote in his weblog. “… Bush, a philosopher and apologist, and Nettles, a historian, documented their case and set the record straight. Their book was timely, urgent, controversial, and filled with ample documentation. It changed history — quite literally.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said Southern Baptists have “lost one of their finest biblical apologists and philosophers.” Chapman said Bush’s impact can be seen in the people he influenced.
“Perhaps the greatest hallmark of a person’s life is to see those he has taught take up the mantle and emulate his ministry,” Chapman said. “He was a professor to thousands of students. Many of these now serve as pastors, professors, administrators, apologists and authors. The reach of his ministry truly extends across generations. He leaves behind an enduring legacy of faith and a lasting imprint on the conscience of our convention. We extend our deepest sympathy to his dear wife Cindy, their two children, and the Southeastern Seminary family.”
At the time of Bush’s appointment in 1989 as academic vice president and dean of the faculty at Southeastern, Southeastern “was undergoing a metamorphosis as it returned to the faith of its fathers,” said Paige Patterson, current president of Southwestern Seminary.
“Bush accepted the responsibility … even though the entire faculty voted against the appointment,” Patterson said. “It was one of the most incredibly difficult times anyone could have ever gone through. He was cursed … and accosted. By the time I arrived at Southeastern some years later, I discovered that he had won over the hearts even of those who were his bitterest enemies.”
In more recent times, Bush’s guidance was instrumental in developing Southeastern’s Center for Faith and Culture, an initiative to connect culture and the church by being an example of a redeemed community. The center was named for Bush during its creation in 2006.
In October 2007, the center hosted a conference on “C.S. Lewis: The Man and His Works.” This spring, the center will host the Carver-Barnes lectures featuring John Lennox, a world-renowned mathematician and philosopher, chaplain at Green College Oxford, member of the Trinity Forum and senior fellow of the Whitefield Institute in Oxford.
“He was a giant among Southern Baptists in this generation, as he trained literally thousands of students through his teaching and writing to think well about the Gospel and its implications for all of life,” said David Nelson, who succeeded Bush as dean of the faculty at Southeastern. “Russ Bush gave his life to the service of his Lord and the kingdom of Christ…. We are truly grieved at his passing, because he was a kind, gracious friend and leader, but of course, because of his faith in Christ, ours is a hopeful grief as we know he is in the presence of the Lord he loved.”
Said Akin, “Russ Bush was my teacher, colleague and friend. He was a man of absolute integrity and a consistent witness to the Christ he loved so dearly. My love and respect for him goes beyond words. I will miss him, but I rejoice knowing I will see him again in glory.”
Bush’s attitude toward his battle with cancer inspired many. After learning he had cancer in 2005, he affirmed God’s sovereignty.
“Open theism is not true,” he was quoted as saying regarding the contemporary heresy that limits God’s foreknowledge. “God knew about this. My job is to learn what God wants to teach me from this as fast as possible. God already knew about this cancer. God has obviously chosen me to endure this. It’s a surprise to me. It’s not a surprise to God.”
Bush received two degrees from Southwestern: a master of divinity degree in 1970 and a Ph.D. in 1975. He received his bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College in 1967. Over the years Bush served as interim pastor at churches in Washington, D.C., and Wichita Falls, Texas, and as assistant minister of adults at First Baptist Church of Dallas. Additionally, he led group tours to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Greece and Italy.
Bush is survived by his wife of 39 years, Cynthia Ellen McGraw Bush, and two children, Joshua Russell and Bethany Charis.
Services for Bush will be held at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Binkley Chapel on Southeastern’s campus. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in memory of L. Russ Bush to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture. Please mail any gifts to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Attn: Financial Development, PO Box 1889, Wake Forest, NC 27588.
Lauren Crane is a writer for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. With reporting by Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.