News Articles

Legacy of Old Testament scholar given Founder’s Day spotlight

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated Founder’s Day by remembering one of its most accomplished former faculty members and honoring two couples whose commitment make it possible for seminarians to aspire to even greater heights.

E. Leslie Carlson was one of the most renowned scholars of biblical archaeology during his 40-year teaching career in the Old Testament department at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary, William Tolar, distinguished professor of biblical backgrounds and special assistant to the seminary’s president, said in his Founder’s Day chapel address March 20.

“During my very first semester at the seminary, I had Dr. Carlson for a required course entitled Biblical Introduction,” Tolar recounted. “I quickly learned that that title had a different meaning from what I had learned in my university Bible courses … Carlson showed us slides he had taken while in the Holy Land and lectured on the geography, history and especially archaeology of the Bible.”

Tolar said he was fascinated with Carlson’s subject but felt called to pastoral ministry, so he did little — at the time — to seek further studies in the area of what is now called biblical backgrounds.

His experience should serve to remind professors of how deeply they can influence students who may not even be majoring in a professor’s field, said Tolar, who later earned a doctorate in biblical backgrounds and has taught at Southwestern for more than 40 years.

“Those who study under you may be touched and enriched for a lifetime, though they may major, preach or work in a field different than your own,” Tolar said.

Carlson was born Oct. 14, 1893, to Swedish Baptist immigrant parents in Chicago. He became a Christian at an early age and was baptized in 1903. After graduating from high school, he earned degrees from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in religious education and religious music before arriving in Fort Worth in 1917.

He earned two degrees each from Southwestern and Texas Christian University, culminating in a doctor of theology degree from Southwestern in 1936.

Carlson joined the Southwestern’s faculty as a professor of Old Testament at the request of seminary President L.R. Scarborough in 1921. In later years, Carlson only half-jokingly commented that he had taught every class offered in the Old Testament department at Southwestern.

“He was a scholar with broad interests and unusual gifts and linguistics skills,” Tolar said. “In addition to being fluent in English and Swedish, Dr. Carlson spoke Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Assyro-Babylonian. And he laughingly told us he could speak Texan as well.”

In demand as a speaker all over the world because of his expertise in biblical archaeology, he also met with missionaries in the field whenever his travels allowed.

“He spoke in England, Scotland, Denmark, his ancestral home of Sweden, Norway, Canada and Mexico, and everywhere he went he met and worshiped with Baptists, visiting missionaries whenever possible,” Tolar said. “He had a heart for missions and everyone knew it.”

Carlson and his wife, Edna, raised four children before she preceded him in death in 1956; he later married the former Marjorie Smith.

Tolar remembered Carlson as a kind, energetic and committed man who left an impression on everyone he came into contact with.

“I remember him for the deep love he had for the Bible, for his students, for winning people to Christ, and yes, for biblical archaeology. … He was big in body, bigger in voice and big in heart,” Tolar said.

“With all that he did, you would think he had no time for hobbies, but you would be wrong. He raised cattle out on a ranch outside Fort Worth for 11 years, worked part-time and he loved to pick a guitar and sing.”

Founder’s Day activities also included the honoring of two couples — Larry and Annetta Brown of Morristown, N.J., and Terry and Sammie Horton of Southlake, Texas — with the B.H. Carroll Award named for Southwestern’s founder and president from 1908-14. The seminary began giving the award in 1982 to recognize people whose service and commitment to Southwestern set them apart for special notice.

Larry Brown served on Southwestern’s board of trustees from 1990-2000 and was a member of the business affairs committee from 1991-2000. He served as chairman of that committee from 1996-2000.

Brown retired from Exxon in 1992 after serving as senior financial manager for the corporate offices. The Browns are active in their local Baptist church and he is a former president of the Baptist Convention of New York.

“I can’t think of a better place in the world to invest your life and any resources you might have than here, where people are being trained for ministry,” Brown said. “We’re delighted to be a part of Southwestern.”

Terry Horton and his brother own and operate a homebuilding company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Horton and his wife have been instrumental in the ongoing effort to complete the Ralph Smith Leadership Development Complex. They are active members of First Baptist Church in Euless.

“Any award or any commendation we could ever receive is only because of the grace of Jesus Christ,” Horton said. “He sought me when I wasn’t worthy.”

    About the Author

  • Samuel Smith