Enduring Legacy: William Wright Barnes and Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist Institutions Possess a Rich Heritage of Individuals Who Have Attained Legendary or near Legendary Status

Article excerpt

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is no exception to this observation. Baptist titans such as B. H. Carroll and Lee Rutland Scarborough especially stand out in Southwestern lore. Likewise, theologian W. T. Conner and ethicist T. B. Maston continue to cast giant shadows long after their retirement.

In church history, the lengthy silhouette of William Wright Barnes endures to influence the study of his discipline as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the study of church history continue to study, teach, and write in seminaries, universities, and churches. Teaching church history at Southwestern from 1913 to 1953, Barnes left an unmistakable legacy in Baptist life and on the study of church history. This article will provide a brief biographical sketch of Barnes's life and a discussion of his legacy as a Baptist and as a teacher and writer.

William Wright Barnes was born in Elm City, North Carolina, on February 28, 1883. He was the youngest of six children, and both his parents placed a high priority on education. His father was a local physician, and his mother had been class valedictorian at Chowan College. One of Barnes's brothers became a physician, but apparently very early in life, William Wright Barnes's gifts in teaching were recognized.

He made a profession of faith in Christ at the age of fifteen and was baptized as a member of the Elm City Baptist Church. He attended Wake Forest College [now University] and completed both the B.A. and M.A. degrees with honors.

Upon graduation, Barnes was appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board to serve in Santiago, Cuba. He served as tutor to children of American families residing there. After a brief tenure, he returned to his home county in North Carolina to serve temporarily in public schools. There, he was ordained to the ministry by his home church before moving to Louisville, Kentucky, to study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon completion of his Th.M. degree, he returned to Havana, Cuba, where he served as principal of El Colegio Cubano-American for more than three years. During this time, he married Ethel Dalrymple, a union that would last more than forty years and produce two sons, William Wright Jr. and Arch Dalrymple.

The Barneses returned to the United States in 1912 where Barnes once again enrolled at Southern Seminary to pursue a Th.D. in church history under W. J. McGlothlin, the outstanding historian and later president of Furman University. (1)

Upon completion of his Th.D., Barnes accepted an invitation to join the faculty of the relatively new Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He came to the seminary at a critical juncture in the institution's young history. Originally formed as a part of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Southwestern had been chartered as a separate institution in 1908 with the goal of being moved to another location once a suitable site was found. The relocation occurred in 1910 when the seminary was moved to its present location.

The first few years of the school's life in Fort Worth were tenuous ones. Many financial and logistical challenges had to be met, and the founding president, Baptist giant B. H. Carroll, was suffering from failing health. Furthermore, there was simmering conflict between Carroll and some of the original faculty members of the seminary. Robert Baker records that one source of the conflict was the desire of some of the faculty, notably Professor J. J. Reeve and Dean of the Faculty A. H. Newman, to revise the curriculum. Baker also suggested that Newman's viewpoints regarding Baptist history and his rejection of Baptist successionism were probably another source of conflict between the two men. Newman accepted positions that William H. Whitsitt had espoused some years before that had led to his resignation from Southern Seminary. Whitsitt's resignation had been due, in large part, to Carroll's unrelenting efforts. …