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Roy Fish called worthy choice for new school’s name at SWBTS

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary named its new school of evangelism and missions for Roy Fish, the seminary chose to honor a man whose name is virtually synonymous with a passion for lost souls, seminary officials and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention said.

Trustee Ted Stone, citing Fish’s contributions and effect in his own life and ministry, made the motion to name the school in honor of the SWBTS faculty member during the board of trustees’ April 5 meeting.

Stone described Fish as representing “what I read about Jesus in the Bible and what I experienced about Jesus in my own personal life.”

“The fire of evangelism and missions burns forever in the heart of Roy Fish. And because we have known it, because he is such a great part of this seminary, it burns alive here at Southwestern,” Stone, of Durham, N.C., said, adding that Fish is one of the most respected names in evangelism training not just at Fort Worth, Texas, campus but across America.

Born and raised in Arkansas, Fish was saved while pursuing his undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He came to Southwestern Seminary first as a student and received a bachelor of divinity degree — then the equivalent of a master of divinity degree — in 1957. It was in Fort Worth that he met his wife, Jean Holley, another divinity student. They have been married since 1960.

He completed his doctoral degree in church history at Southwestern in 1963 with a thesis titled, “The Awakening of 1858 and Its Effects on Baptists in the United States.”

During his doctoral studies, Fish pastored the First Baptist Church of Fairborn, Ohio. Always active in denominational life, Fish served on the executive board and became president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. In later years, Fish also served on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Committee on Committees and on the Strategic Planning Task Force of the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) of the SBC.

Fish accepted the call to teach evangelism at Southwestern and occupy the seminary’s legendary “Chair of Fire” in 1965. B.H. Carroll, Southwestern Seminary’s founder and first president, designated the professorship of evangelism the Chair of Fire during the seminary’s earliest days. L.R. Scarborough was the first person to occupy the chair in 1908.

Shortly before Scarborough’s death in 1945, gifts were secured to endow the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism, thus ensuring that the Chair of Fire would be an integral component of the seminary’s training.

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources (Annuity Board) in Dallas, and Jack Graham, immediate past president of the SBC and senior pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, were students in Fish’s classes.

“Thirty-five years ago this fall I sat down in my first class of my first day of seminary; within two minutes of hearing Roy Fish speak I knew the Lord was going to use him as an extraordinary mentor in my life,” Hawkins recounted.

“His passion for God and his fire for evangelism have been contagious for thousands of us who sat under his teaching…. Roy Fish will find his way into the history books and hearts of Southern Baptists right alongside his forerunner, L.R. Scarborough,” Hawkins said.

Graham echoed that sentiment.

“In the long and glorious history of Southwestern Seminary there are a few professors whose shadow of influence reaches around the world,” Graham said. “Roy Fish is one of those men whose life and ministry has advanced the Kingdom of God. He demonstrated truth on fire and the heart of an evangelist that he so passionately shared with thousands of students who are now serving Christ on mission fields and in churches around the world.”

Fish characteristically deflected praise when asked to comment on the naming of the school of evangelism and missions in his honor:

“There are many deserving people at Southwestern who have contributed a great deal to evangelism,” Fish said. “I am glad to be counted among them. To have my name on the school of evangelism and missions is more than I ever deserved or dreamed. Let me just say I am deeply grateful.”

His focus on the simple Gospel message and plan of salvation through colorful illustrations and memorable turns of phrases was evident even in his earliest days of teaching. During the spring semester in 1967, he had been on the seminary faculty less than two years when he preached a message in chapel decrying the “new evangelism” that seemed to be so popular.

“In the coming years, there is going to be pressure on us to emphasize the redemption of the structures of society rather than the individual in society,” Fish predicted during the message.

“But never lose sight of the fact that soup, salve and sewing classes are not salvation…. Too many preachers are calling for a gospel that does little more than put a new suit of clothes on a man; we must preach a Gospel that puts a new man in a suit of clothes,” he said.

He went on to criticize preachers who “preached theories of men rather than the Word of God.”

“Sermons have become doses of psychological uplift, but when Christ is mentioned things get real vague,” Fish said. “The last place in the world for stammering and indefiniteness is in the pulpit…. If we show our people Calvary towering over the wrecks of time, our preaching will not be in vain.”

David Allen, dean of Southwestern’s theology school, said Fish not only practices what he preaches but always makes sure that solid theology underscores everything he teaches.

“Dr. Fish does not divorce evangelism from its theological base in Scripture,” Allen said. “It is very appropriate for his name to be put on the new school of evangelism and missions because he has a solid, theological foundation for the practical aspects of evangelism and missions. It is not just the longevity of his tenure here, but it is that combination of solid theological grounding with practical heart methodology for getting it done.”

Seminary President Paige Patterson spoke in support of Stone’s motion. Patterson noted that it is unusual to name a school after someone who is not only living but is actively teaching and ministering. In this case, Patterson said, naming the school after Fish is appropriate for at least two reasons.

“First of all, there is no one who has given themselves more unselfishly, unrelentingly, unobtrusively and humbly to the task of evangelism than has Roy Fish,” Patterson said. “Secondly, by putting his name on the new school of evangelism and missions, it forever establishes what we are going to be about at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We are going to have foremost in what we do the reaching of the world for Christ.”

In addition to teaching evangelism at the seminary, Fish has been interim pastor in more than 50 churches throughout the United States. He is the author of many books on evangelism, including “Dare to Share” and “Every Member Evangelism Today.” His latest book, “Preaching Evangelistically,” is due out this fall.

This past spring, Fish was presented with the W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award in Evangelism by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC also announced the creation of the new Roy Fish Evangelism Award, the first recipient of which will be named in 2006. In 2003, he received the Distinguished Service Award in Evangelism from the North American Mission Board.

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  • Brent Thompson