Gray Allison, theology leader in SBC resurgence, dies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP) -- B. Gray Allison, who gave theological strength to the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention as the founder of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, died Feb. 12 in Memphis, Tenn. He was 94.

Gray Allison
 
Through the seminary, Allison also buttressed Southern Baptists' evangelistic commitment.

Allison founded the seminary after 20-plus years as a pastor, professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, evangelism staff member at the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and full-time evangelist.

In founding Mid-America Seminary in 1972 with four professors and 28 students, Allison established a conservative alternative to the SBC's six seminaries -- seven years before the Conservative Resurgence began to take root with the 1979 election of the late Adrian Rogers as SBC president.

MABTS received no SBC funding and was heavily supported by donors and individual churches -- including one widow's gift of $50,000.

"Dr. Gray Allison was a wonderful man of God," said Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, where Allison was a member and which has been a key Mid-America supporter over the years.

"He loved the Lord Jesus, his family and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He was a brilliant visionary and a diligent worker. He was a soul-winner and a friend to all who share the Gospel. I counted it a privilege to be his friend and to serve as his pastor. He will be missed, but never forgotten," said Gaines, the SBC's immediate past president.

MABTS' current president, Michael Spradlin, said Allison's "passion for missions and evangelism touched the world."

"The Lord led Dr. B. Gray Allison to create an institution committed to teaching the Bible's truthfulness and prioritizing practical missions and theology. These distinctives are as true of Mid-America today as they were in 1972," Spradlin said.

Allison led the seminary until 1997, then continued as professor and chair of the evangelism department.

The seminary, with an enrollment of nearly 600, has awarded more than 2,800 degrees in its master's and doctoral programs and, more recently, its College at Mid-America.

Over the years, Mid-America graduates have held numerous leadership posts in the SBC, including state convention executives Jim Richards of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Sonny Tucker of Arkansas, Thomas Hammond of Georgia and Jack Kwok of Ohio; SBC Executive Committee Vice President for Convention Communications and Relations Roger S. (Sing) Oldham; Hershael York, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's school of theology; Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press; and Georgia pastor David McKinley and Kentucky pastor Daryl Cornett, both periodic Baptist Press columnists.

The funeral service for Allison will be at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, in the chapel at Mid-America's Memphis-area campus in Cordova. A celebration service there will be at 6 p.m. the following Monday, Feb. 25.

Evangelistic passion

"Our day demands young men whose hearts are hot, whose commitment to our Lord is unquestioned, and who know how to share the Word in the world," Allison said at his inauguration as MABTS president at Olivet Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., the seminary's first home.

"The Bible is, we believe, the verbally inspired Word of God, wholly without error as originally given of God," Allison said. "Through the centuries, as it has been proclaimed, men have been brought to God through Christ and made new creatures in Him." Allison said it is perplexing "how a person can claim allegiance to Christ Jesus and doubt His Word. Authority must be objective."

In 1966, he wrote in the Royal Service magazine of Woman's Missionary Union, "How easy it is in our day to look at people, to preach to people, to think in terms of people. Perhaps we need instead to look at a person, to witness to a person, to think in terms of a person. We need to come out of the abstract into the particular and see people as individuals.... Until the lostness of people is real to us, we will never really try to bring them to Christ so they can be saved."

Allison credited his mother, Ora, as a key influence in his life, saying, "She really believed the Bible, taught us to believe it.... I remember very well what my mother said to me when I left for college: 'Son, remember Whose you are and who you are; you belong to Jesus -- you're an Allison.'" The seminary's library is named in her honor. Allison was one of nine children reared by Ora and her husband John.

He also credited the late Roland Q. Leavell, who was president of New Orleans Seminary when he joined the faculty in 1954, as "a tremendous influence on my life. He's the greatest soul-winner I've ever known. Boy, he witnessed everywhere and led people to Christ everywhere, up in airplanes and at service stations. You couldn't be around him without hearing about souls."

Allison made a profession of faith at age 11 at First Baptist Church in Ida, La., his hometown. He sensed a call to preach at age 18, recounting that "though I was slow to say yes to Him" -- seven years later -- "this is the greatest experience of my life after my personal salvation."

A bomber pilot in World War II's Pacific campaigns, Allison was permitted to fly his B-24 back to Louisiana after the war ended.

He married his wife Voncille in 1946, earned an undergraduate degree at Louisiana Tech and initially was an insurance salesman until entering New Orleans Seminary, where he earned a divinity degree in 1952 and a doctorate in theology in 1954.

After three-plus years in church ministry, serving congregations in Hilly, Sharon and Ruston, La., he joined the NOBTS faculty, where he taught until 1966 when he was named associate director of the Home Mission Board's evangelism division, with a special focus on reaching college students.

He had an evangelistic ministry from 1960-1966 and 1967-1972, leading evangelistic meetings in Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, until he began Mid-America Seminary.

The seminary relocated to Memphis in the mid-1970s, purchasing the Reformed Jewish Temple and Hebrew School; in 1966 it moved debt-free to a facility that was renovated on an eight-acre campus in Germantown in the Memphis area; and in 2006 moved a new campus debt-free on 35 acres donated by Bellevue.

In 1989, the seminary also opened a 15,000-square-foot Northeast Branch on a 10-acre campus in Albany, N.Y.

Adrian Rogers, Bellevue's longtime pastor, said in a 2001 tribute, "I have known this man for almost fifty years. I have seen him walk through scorn and abuse, fire and water for the Word of God. I have never known him to compromise or to back away. Southern Baptists may never know the price that Gray Allison has paid to bring this denomination back to its biblical roots."

Allison is survived by his wife Voncille in a marriage spanning 72 years; three children, Suzanne, Charlotte and Gray; six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers the family requests memorial donations to Mid-America Baptist Seminary Northeast Branch; MABTS Gray Allison Chair of Evangelism; Shepherds' Haven of Rest Ministries in Arlington, Tenn.; or Helping Hurting Hearts in Maumelle, Ark.

Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press.
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