Reading about the history of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International
by Doug Kutilek
It is tragic when a people, a nation, a civilization, a church, or a religious movement neglects the study of its own history. Such neglect is inevitable when there is a complete or nearly complete failure to record and conserve accounts of that history, with the result that history cannot be studied.
I believe those associated with the BBFI have only been moderately conscientious in recording its collective history, the history of its institutions, and the lives and labors of its principle figures. However, so that those interested in that history might be aware of available resources, I have cataloged some in this article. While few of these titles are available in print new, many can be readily located through Internet book services. Most can also be consulted in the library of Baptist Bible College, Springfield, MO.
The collective history of the BBFI has been reported, but incompletely. There are a couple of books on the events that led to the founding of the BBF in 1950 — A History of Baptist Separatism by Billy Vick Bartlett (1972; 79 pp.) and The Birth Pangs of the Baptist Bible Fellowship, International by W. E. Dowell (1977; 57 pp.). Bartlett also penned the well-illustrated A Pictorial History of the Baptist Bible Fellowship (1975; 145 pp.) which covered the first 25 years (1950-1975) of the BBFI’s now 65-year-long history. Though identified as “volume I,” no subsequent volumes have appeared. In Roots and Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism, edited by J. O. Combs (1984; 146 pp.) chapters 12 (Combs) and 13 (by Bartlett), survey the beginnings of the BBFI and its first quarter century. One theme in BBFI history was traced in J. Frank Norris and His Heirs: the Bible Translation Controversy (1999; 165 pp.) by Doug Kutilek.
The day-to-day events in the BBFI have been recorded in the official organ, the Baptist Bible Tribune, as well as in the official minutes of committees, business meetings, the records of the mission office and such over the years, but these are merely the “raw materials” of history, and wait to be mined for information that can then be systematically arranged. The first crucial decade of the then-weekly issues of the Tribune have been scanned and are available on CD for purchase from the Tribune. Another untapped and disappearing resource is the collective memories of those who participated in events over the decades. Unless these oral histories are recorded, they will be irrecoverably lost.
In any movement, there are always prominent leaders who set the pace and tone. A series of well-done and documented biographical accounts of 32 different Baptists was published in the Baptist Bible Tribune in the late 1990s. These were reprinted in a magazine-format book, Our Baptist Heritage, edited by Mike Randall (2000, 95 pp.). Of the 31 men and one woman profiled, half have a BBF connection. This publication is perhaps the first place to begin reading about BBFI history. (Editor’s note: more Fellowship biographies were published in the Tribune in 2000-2002, but they were not compiled in a separate volume.)
Because the BBFI had its roots in that segment of Baptist fundamentalism led by J. Frank Norris, it is proper that we note a selection of the voluminous writings about his life. Norris penned The Inside History of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, and Temple Baptist Church, Detroit (circa 1938; 331 pp.), which has the telling by-line “The life story of Dr. J. Frank Norris.” His longtime cohort Louis Entzminger wrote The J. Frank Norris I have Known for 34 Years (1948). Among the many other published writings about Norris, are Barry Hankin’s, God’s Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (1996); E. Ray Tatum’s, Conquest of Failure? A Biography of J. Frank Norris (1966); Homer G. Ritchie’s, The Life and Legend of J. Frank Norris, the Fighting Parson (1991; 323 pp.); and most recently, Pastor David Stokes’s, Apparent Danger (2010; 391 pp.); later re-issued as The Shooting Salvationist (2011; 350 pp.).
BBC professor J. H. Melton compiled the first account of the life of BBC president and pastor G. Beauchamp Vick, The Clergyman of the Century (1976; 309 pp., quarto). It consists largely of reproduced newspaper clippings and other documents relevant to the life of Mr. Vick, really the raw materials of a biography. Though identified as “volume 1” (of a projected three), no further volumes appeared. Two brief but informative and readable Vick biographies are From Victory to Victory: a Biography of Dr. G. B. Vick by Joyce Vick (n.d.; 170 pp.); and G. B. Vick (1987; 122 pp); and the second retitled edition, G. B. Vick: His Life and Legacy (1998; 144 pp.) by Mike Randall, who was a pastor, BBC professor, Tribune editor, and BBC vice president and president. Following Mr. Vick’s death in September 1975, an issue of the Baptist Bible Tribune, vol. 26, no. 18, October 1975, gave an account of his life and death.
No biography of W. E. Dowell, pastor, executive vice president, and second BBC president has been published, though I understand the Dowell family is preparing such a volume, with a projected appearance in a couple of years.
Noel Smith, founding editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune and BBC professor, had his life written, or, rather, mostly compiled from his own writings, by BBC professor and pastor’s wife Norma Gillming, The Best of Noel Smith (1985; 482 pp.). Smith’s death was given full coverage in Baptist Bible Tribune, vol. 24, no. 29, January 25, 1974; a complete transcript of his funeral service occupied most of the Baptist Bible Tribune, vol. 24, no. 30, February 1, 1974.
Great-granddaughter of John Rawlings, Kaitlyn O. Rawlings, wrote an oral history, The Lord is not through with Me Yet: the Story of Dr. John Rawlings (2013; 235 pp.)
I would venture a guess that no man knows how many different men have pastored churches associated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (and association with the Fellowship requires nothing more than supporting financially one of the BBFI colleges, approved missionaries, or other of the Fellowship entities). But surely that number, over the past 65 years, must be in the thousands, likely over 10,000. But whatever that number is, a surprisingly few biographies or autobiographies have been written.
Dallas Billington, pastor of Akron Baptist Temple (at one time having 16,000 members and the largest Sunday school in the world), gave an account of his own life in God is Real: A Testament in the Form of an Autobiography (1962; 292 pp.).
The life of Clifford Clark, long-time pastor of Tulsa Baptist Temple and a strong influence for missions, was recorded in And God Did It: Dr. Clifford Eugene Clark. A Biography by Terry Smith (n.d.; 159 pp.).
Jerry Falwell is probably the most recognizable individual ever associated with the BBFI. There are several accounts of his life: Jerry Falwell: Aflame for God (1979; 188 pp.); Jerry Falwell: Man of Vision by Patricia Pingry (1980; 80 pp., quarto); Strength for the Journey an Autobiography (1987; 456 pp.); and what is essentially a second edition of the preceding, Falwell: an Autobiography (1997; 485 pp.).
J. Curtis Goldman, one of the longest-serving BBFI pastors, wrote, among several other accounts, 50 Goldman Years Pastoring Temple Baptist Church (n.d.; 360 pp.).
Art Wilson, pastor, evangelist, and thrice BBF president in the 1950s, wrote, with Jonathan J. Stewart, Duty, Not Preference: the Life Story of Arthur “Art” Wilson (1996; 301 pp.).
BBFI-approved missionaries over the years, all told, number 2,012. Though many fewer than the BBFI pastors, they have proportionately received greater attention in written accounts, though it is still rather limited.
Clifford Clark’s Drama in the Real Lives of Missionaries volumes I & II (n.d.; 163 pp. each) present 20 short missionary biographical sketches; about half of these are about BBFI missionaries.
Fred Donnelson wrote a brief account of the life of Josephine Sweet, Mother Sweet: Fifty-one Years a Missionary to China! (n.d.; 78 pp.). He also wrote about his World War II experiences in Finding Freedom in a Japanese Prison Camp (1940s; 120 pp.).
Effie Donnelson wrote two accounts of the Donnelsons life and ministry in China and the States, They Called Him “Mr. Missions” (1974; 154 pp.); and Moongate Glimpses of Missionary Life and Work (1976; 94 pp.).
Lois Donnelson Logan penned It’s Miraculous When God Makes a Way (1996; 228 pp.), which includes an account of her youth as a missionary kid in pre-WWII China, her months’ long incarceration in a Japanese prison camp, and her later ministry with husband Bill Logan as missionaries in the Orient.
The long and remarkable ministry of Elmer and Mary Deal was written by Elmer Deal with Mike Randall in Out of the Mouth of the Lion, volumes I and II, bound in one volume (2010; 495 pp.).
Cherie Espinosa wrote the account of her husband Don Espinosa’s life and ministry in The Man Who Wouldn’t Quit (2014; 272 pp.).
Frank Hooge, missionary in the Philippines, wrote or edited accounts of both his own life and that of his wife Elsie Hooge: Kept in Perfect Peace: Memories of the Life of Mrs. Elsie Hooge (n.d.; 67 pp.); and, God’s Grace Manifested to Me: the Life Story of Dr. Frank Hooge (1977; 97 pp.).
The life of Bob Hughes, missionary in the Philippines, was reported by Monroe Roark in An Extraordinary Life (2010; 111 pp.).
Pat Moseley wrote Under His Wings: the Life of Charles Moseley, Missionary (1963; 123 pp.), who served in Papua New Guinea.
Winene Nimmo authored Agaayun Asirtuq (2011; 113 pp.) about the ministry of Fred Nimmo in Alaska.
Longtime missionary to Mexico Lonnie Smith, Sr. wrote several accounts of life and ministry there: The History of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International in Mexico (1987; 68 pp.); Ten Years South o’ Border (1967; 70 pp.), updated as 31 Years South o’ Border (1987; 70 pp.); and Anecdotes of a Missionary (1987; 204 pp.).
Georgia Webb wrote her autobiography, More than a Dozen: Fifty Years of Ministry in Mexico (1998; 192 pp.).
Note: I wish to acknowledge the great assistance provided to me by Director of Library Services at Baptist Bible College, Jon Jones, in locating and gaining access to most of the items included in these articles, Tribune editor Keith Bassham for information that I would otherwise have overlooked, and Carole Miller in the BBFI Mission Office for providing the precise number of BBFI missionaries.
Though I have aimed at completeness, I recognize it is almost inevitable that some relevant author or book has been overlooked. I would request that any such oversight be brought to my attention at email@example.com.