Long-term SBTS professor Wayne Ward dies at 90

Communications Staff — May 24, 2012

Long-term Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Wayne Ward passed away, May 23, 2012, at the age of 90. Ward served as a professor at Southern Seminary from 1951 till 1991.

From 1953 until 1991, Ward was professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, and in 1983, he became Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, the same professorial chair that Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. presently holds. Upon his retirement, he was appointed senior professor of Christian theology.

“Wayne Ward was born to be a teacher,” Mohler said. “He brought incredible energy and commitment to the classroom. Through his classroom teaching and doctoral supervision, he touched and influenced thousands of lives. He had one of the longest tenures of any professor in the history of this institution, and it is a matter of academic legend that he served on more doctoral committees than any other member of Southern Seminary’s faculty.

“Wayne Ward was the very first Southern Seminary professor I ever met. He was a powerful preacher and he came regularly to my home church to preach January Bible studies. He befriended me and my family and later became a member of my own Ph.D. committee. Ward had an infectious love for students. He cared deeply for people. He was a peacemaker on the faculty, and he was a man whose life represented so many of the most historic events of the 20th century – events he not only witnessed, but helped shape,” he said.

Mohler continued: “The power of a teacher is incalculable, but few lives make that point so clearly as Wayne Ward. He lived long enough that many of those whom he taught in his ministry have already served and gone to glory, but there remain countless gospel ministers and missionaries who would point to Wayne Ward as a great influence in their lives.

“When Wayne Ward would teach theology in the classroom, his teaching lectern would become a pulpit. He would literally pound the pulpit and raise his voice to a high preaching tone, due to the fact that he not only loved to teach theology, he loved to preach and the two came together in him in an incredible way. Those of us who knew Wayne Ward as teacher were perhaps most touched by Wayne Ward as husband. His devoted care for Mary Ann through the many years of her illness and infirmity was one of the greatest testimonies I have ever seen of a husband’s devotion to his wife. That, among so many other things, will be long remembered by the Southern Seminary family.”

Duke K. McCall, Southern’s seventh president (1951-1982) remembered: “Wayne Ward began teaching at Southern Seminary the very year I became president (1951). He was both a colleague and a friend. We served many, many years at Southern Seminary together. He was an energetic teacher and a preacher popular in the churches.”

Ward earned a bachelor of arts from Ouachita Baptist University, a bachelor of divinity (now master of divinity) and doctor of theology (now doctor of philosophy) from Southern Seminary. He did post-doctoral studies at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City, as well as at the Universities of Zurich and Basel, Switzerland, where he studied with widely known theologians Karl Barth, Edward Schweitzer and Oscar Cullmann.

Born July 28, 1921, in Piggott, Ark., his father working as a prosecutor and later as a judge, Ward seemed bound for a career in law. As early as high school, he took shorthand notes in the courtroom, and during his time at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., he became chief reading clerk for the Arkansas legislature. However, in 1941, while serving as state Baptist Student Union president, Ward surrendered to the call to preach and served at three Arkansas churches before graduating college magna cum laude in 1943.

One of Wayne Ward’s earliest memories was of meeting E. Y. Mullins, Southern’s fourth president, when Ward was a small boy in the early 1920s. Mullins, a titanic Baptist personality, made a huge impression on the youngster. Years later, Ward would occupy the very professorial chair held by Mullins.

Ward was closely connected to a vast Baptist network. As a boy, he spent much time in the home of the Kelley family in Piggott, Ark., where Ward grew up with Charles S. Kelley, bonding as brothers. Later, Kelley’s children would include Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Dorothy (Kelley) Patterson, wife of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

After World War II, Ward began studies at Southern, and following the completion of his doctoral studies, he was elected to the faculty as professor of Christian theology in 1951. He wrote several books and contributed many articles and chapters to reference volumes and other titles. Among Ward’s works are his The Drama of Redemption, The Word Comes Alive and Is the Bible a Human Book? (each published with Broadman Press, which is now B&H Publishing).

Ward was a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, the American Schools of Oriental Research and the American Association of University Professors. Ward’s tenure as a teacher also afforded him the opportunity to teach overseas on many occasions, including locations in Europe, the Middle East and South America. For 47 years, he served as interim pastor for more than 30 churches in the American South.

During his more-than-four-decade career in teaching and ministry, Ward became acquainted with several famous personalities, including Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King Jr. First meeting Clinton when he was eight years old, Ward later encountered him while serving as interim pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock when Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, attended the church at the time and traveled with Ward on a tour of the Middle East. As a result, Ward and his wife, Mary Ann, developed something of a friendship with the Clintons.

Ward met King while he was teaching at Union Theological Seminary. King was in town for a World Council of Churches meeting, and he asked Ward for assistance with formatting and citation in his doctoral dissertation.

Ward was also a pilot, earning his license at age 15. By the time of World War II, he had logged in hundreds of hours in a single-engine aircraft and also became a lieutenant in the Naval Air Rescue Service. During the war, Ward flew air-rescue and hospital planes for four years, including spending several months retrieving survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. He survived three crashes as result of enemy fire or storms, and during the World War II era, he experienced an additional crash as a passenger aboard a commercial plane headed to Los Angeles.

Ward became a widower in 2007, when Mary Ann, passed away on Nov. 18 of that year. The two were married June 15, 1943. He leaves behind three children: Larry Wayne Ward, Rebecca Ann Fulgham (James) and David Heath Ward; four grandchildren: Jason Ward Fulgham, Ashley Ann Fulgham Phillips, Jacqueline Marie Ward and Thomas Lee Ward; and a great-grandson: Holden West Phillips.

The family will hold visitation services at Shannon Funeral Service in Shelbyville, Ky., from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., Friday, May 25. A funeral service will begin at 6 p.m.

On Saturday, May 26, an additional visitation will take place at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., from 10 a.m. – noon, with a funeral service beginning at noon. Public burial will follow immediately at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Ky.

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