W. (Wallie) A. (Amos) Criswell
Criswell was born in Eldorado, Oklahoma to Wallie Amos Criswell and Anna Currie Criswell in 1909. He was registered at birth as just "W. A.," but some years later through problems with his name from government officials, W. A. would officially take the name after his father, Wallie Amos. He grew up in poverty, his family barely able to make a living. After learning to read, books and ideas came to interest and excite him. He maintained a life-long interest in reading and studying. His family life was built around church activities.
Young W. A. was converted at the age of ten, becoming an evangelical and a Baptist. Two years after his conversion he was "called to the ministry" and set his mind on preparing himself for that work. He studied at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. After finishing Baylor Criswell continued his ministerial training at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky under the renowned Southern Baptists John R. Sampey and A. T. Robertson. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate in theology.
After finishing seminary Criswell began his first pastorate in Chickasha, Oklahoma. He became a popular and experienced preacher. Some described him as a "holy roller preacher with a Ph.D." Criswell moved from Chickasha to First Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma. It was while in this church that the pulpit committee of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, where the renowned minister George W. Truett had served for almost fifty years. In 1944 Criswell became the pastor of this famous congregation. In this prominent pulpit he would become the leader of the fundamentalist wing of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Under Criswell's leadership and expository preaching the Dallas Church grew rapidly, becoming a congregation of over twenty-five thousand members by the 1990s. The church remained downtown and worked diligently to reach people, seeking to draw them with a variety of programs and resources, gymnasiums, bowling, roller skating, a day school for children, a Christian school, a Bible college (later to be expanded to a college and a graduate school of Bible training).
As a Southern Baptist Criswell was an opponent of Roman Catholicism, vigorously opposing the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency due to the possibility that the Pope might have undue influence on him. Later in his ministry he would somewhat moderate his opposition to the Catholic faith. Until the late sixties Criswell would maintain a strong sense of racism in regards to African-Americans and integration. He contended that integration was idiocy and foolish. By the late sixties he had begun to reject such racist views and would lead his church to emphasize openness regarding the races.
Criswell wholeheartedly embraced the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and would maintain a strong leadership role in what he and other conservatives would claim was the reclamation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Criswell maintained a strong and opinionated role in the leadership of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, the Texas convention and the Southern Baptist Convention until his death in 2003.
W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True (1969)
____________, The Criswell Study Bible (1975)
____________, Great Doctrines of the Bible, 5 vols. (1982-1985)
Timothy George, "The 'Baptist Pope,'" Christianity Today, March 11, 2002
Billy Keith, W. A. Criswell: The Authorized Biography (1973)
H. Leon McBeth, The First Baptist Church of Dallas: Centennial History (1868-1968) (1968)
C. Allyn Russell, "W. A. Criswell: A Case Study in Fundamentalism." Review and Expositor 81 (Winter 1984): 107-31
Mark G. Toulouse, "W. A. Criswell," in Charles H. Lippy, ed., Twentieth-Century Shapers of American Popular Religion (1989)
[Document provided by Jerry Hopkins, East Texas Baptist University.]
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