The Early Years of Lewis Sperry Chafer -- By: John D. Hannah

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 144:573 (Jan 1987)
Article: The Early Years of Lewis Sperry Chafer
Author: John D. Hannah

The Early Years of Lewis Sperry Chafer

John D. Hannah

[Chairman and Professor of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary]

[Editor’s Note: This article commemorates the 116th anniversary of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s birthday, February 27, 1871 {Ed. note: Errata, Apr 87, p. 223}. The more than 5,000 alumni and former and present faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary are eternally grateful to the Lord for His grace in leading Lewis Sperry Chafer to found this school, whose ministry after 62 years continues to have an immeasurable impact for the gospel and the Word of God around the world.]

Charles Dickens’s initial line of A Tale of Two Cities aptly describes the status of scholarly interest in American evangelicalism: “Those were the best of times; those were the worst of times.” Major studies recently published suggest a more balanced perception of a movement maligned in the past by religious antagonism and sociological misinterpretation.1 However, there is still a need for careful study and dialogue in this area.2

One of several areas of late 19th-century emergent nondenominational evangelicalism which has received little attention, though C. Allyn Russell’s work is a partial corrective, is that of the lives and formative influences of the leaders of the movement (regrettably, original sources are not readily available for such men as C. I. Scofield or George Needham). An example is the life of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary (first known as the Evangelical Theological College). Published materials covering his years before the beginning of the school in 1924 are meager, undocumented, and at times confusing.3 The lack of much scholarly study on Chafer’s life can be credited to at least two factors: (a) he seemed reluctant to disclose information, thus suggesting that a biography was unwanted,4 and (b) with the possible exception of Renfer’s work, the archival materials have not been used. The knowledge of Chafer’s early years suggests a reliance on an ever-developing oral tradition.

The general purpose of this article is to take a fresh look at Lewis Chafer’s life from his birth in 1871 {Ed. note: Errata, Apr 87, p 223} to the founding of Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924. This seems appropriate since the month of February marks his birthday and because a new president causes many to think of past ones. (Donald K. Campbell became the Seminary’s third president on April l, l986.) A

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