President Bush lauds Criswell as important spiritual leader

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Bush joined Southern Baptists and religious leaders across the nation paying homage to the life and ministry of W.A. Criswell, pastor emeritus of the First Baptist Church of Dallas and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Dr. Criswell was an important spiritual leader for America," Bush said in a prepared statement to Baptist Press. "He was a man of deep and abiding faith who brought comfort to the thousands who heard his message of hope, love and compassion."

The president and First Lady Laura Bush sent their thoughts and prayers to the Criswell family and the congregation of First Baptist, Dallas.

Criswell, longtime pastor of the First Baptist, Dallas, and founder of Criswell College, died in the early morning hours of Jan. 10 in a private residence. He was 92.

He served as pastor of one of the nation's largest Southern Baptist congregations from 1944 until 1991 when he was given the title of senior pastor. He had held the title of pastor emeritus since 1994.

Criswell's memorial service will be held Jan. 16 at noon in the sanctuary of First Baptist, Dallas. His body will lie in state Monday, Jan. 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Criswell College and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at First Baptist.

He is survived by his wife, Betty; daughter Mabel Ann; and two grandsons.

Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press Criswell was a "towering inspirational figure for at least two generations of Southern Baptist preacher boys."

"He modeled before them how to be an exemplary expository preacher," Land said. And how to honor the absolute veracity of the Word of God in preaching.

"Many of us were being told by seminary professors in the 1960s and '70s that it wasn't possible to be intellectually credible and believe in the inerrancy of Scripture," Land said. "Dr. Criswell's incandescent refutation of that was both a comfort and an inspiration to thousands who now serve Southern Baptist churches in a preaching ministry.

"Dr. Criswell," he said, "was the greatest Southern Baptist preacher of the century and the greatest preacher of any kind since Spurgeon."

Criswell also was remembered in the national media.

In a Jan. 11 Dallas Morning News editorial, Criswell was remembered for his strong belief in mission work and evangelism.

"Dr. Criswell's sincerity and dedication to his beliefs endeared him to untold thousands of followers, including Billy Graham, who is still a member of the First Baptist Church," the editorial stated.

National Public Radio featured a five-minute tribute to Criswell on the Jan. 10 edition of All Things Considered.

Host Robert Siegel interviewed Gloria Cowan, director of the W.A. Criswell Foundation.

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