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  • Writer's pictureDr. Roger D Duke

An Encomium for B. Gray Allison: Founder and President of Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary

That in All Things He Might Have the Preeminence: Essays in Honor of B. Gray Allison


(Readers Note: This is the "Preface" to an unpublished manuscript entitled: That in All Things He Might Have the Preeminence: Essays in Honor of B. Gray Allison. It is offered here as a testimony to his life, ministry, and influence.)


Dr. B. Gray Allison modeled evangelism; he practiced local church ministry; and he promoted global missions outreach; . . . B. Gray Allison, was a simple Baptist preacher. [1]

“Dr. Gray” saw his part of the ministry as the “Calling out the Called.” He began every academic year by reminding the students that seminary education should be restricted to those that God had called into His ministry. He politely invited everyone who was not sure of that calling to go home. Because the work of God demanded a clear call, a total commitment, and an unfettered work-ethic; only those called by God to the task of the Gospel ministry had any business preparing for the work. Over four decades later this is still sound wisdom.

In addition to “Calling out the Called,” “Dr. Gray” believed in thoroughly equipping every man of God for this Gospel ministry. Report Hour, the first chapel session of every week, was designated solely for testifying about evangelizing opportunities—for both faculty and students. “Dr. Gray” desired to inspire his “team” to do the work of the ministry. Students submitted (and still do submit) a weekly report of how many witnessing opportunities they had engaged in, along with the number of persons praying to receive Christ. Hearing those reports voluntarily verbalized was life changing. Whether depressed (for inadequacies) or exhilarated (by adding to that cloud of witnesses), report hour impressed upon all of us the personal duty of evangelism!

In addition to these two dynamics, “Dr. Gray” believed that each Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary (MABTS) student should be involved in ministry as well. Each term / semester, every student had to participate in some sort of outreach ministry; such as street preaching, prison Bible study, etc., in order to share the Gospel with lost people. Consequently, “Dr. Gray” coupled thorough academics with practical ministry skill. This was so that every graduate of the Seminary might experience the realities of ministry under the supervision of the faculty. This even included the doctoral candidates. Imagine the impact of spending every term going out to jails, state and federal prisons, juvenile lock-ups, busy street corners or plazas (for street preaching), canvassing neighborhoods and witnessing door-to-door, etc! Then, after the fact, gathering weekly to hear the stories of what God had done that previous week via the soul-winning efforts of the students. Since every student participated in these venues throughout his or her academic career, MABTS forever would impact both the givers and the receivers of the Gospel message.

Complementing “Dr. Gray’s” love of soul winning and evangelism is a life lived by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In the pages of this tribute, each contributor has reflected how B. Gray Allison and the MABTS educational experience impacted his life. One of the most powerful testimonies that “Dr. Gray” exhibited was his active faith in God. Some of us watched as he served without pay, asked others to do so to the degree that they could, then prayed fervently for both provisions of MABTS’s needs and wants. What reveling was enjoyed by the MABTS family when accreditation was achieved, when the two adjacent properties were acquired, when the debts were paid, and when the salaries were restored. Attending MABTS challenged us all: A faith worth having—was worth living and worth giving to others.

“Dr. Gray” tirelessly labored to make MABTS the right place to prepare God-called ministers for local or global service. For those focused on proclaiming the Gospel, MABTS excels. May we as the graduates of MABTS reflect the right kind of harvest, as the “return on this investment” that “Dr. Gray’s” MABTS has provided. Perhaps, when our day is done, we too can be remembered as focused, faithful, and innovative: As Baptist preachers, so that “in all things, HE might have the preeminence.”

Micro Considerations

I recently picked up a promotional brochure of my primary alma mater. In it were listed several vital statistics such as:

4 Levels of Degree Programs; Associate, Bachelor, Master, & Doctorate . . .

6 Seminary Distinctives; Practical Missions, Academic Excellence, Donor Support, Financial Freedom, Faculty Involvement, Alumni Connection[2] . . .

70 Percent Scholarship for Every Student . . .

90 Percent of Alumni Involved in Vocational Ministry . .

10,000 Hours of Student Participation in Practical Missions Each Year [3]. . .

163,000 Volumes in Library; 30,000 of which are online [4]. . .

150,000 People Who Have Made Professions of Faith as a Result of Student Practical Missions. . . .[5]

These are, no doubt, extraordinarily compelling figures for an institution that has only been in existence since 1972. [6] But like many other great accomplishments done in God’s name, they were accomplished by ordinary men with a God-given vision—a vision much larger than even they personally could understand. The man; with this vision, at this time, for MABTS; was B. Gray Allison. This vision was no doubt a “God Thing!” because from the beginning “Dr. Gray” [7] confessed: “We didn’t have any money; we didn’t have any land; we didn’t have any buildings; we didn’t have any books.” [8] All Allison possessed was his God-given dream—this vision!

No doubt the Holy Spirit was laying something quite unique upon the heart of “Dr. Gray.” He relates how early on several colleagues and friends who were like minded came together to pray over pressing issues within the broader SBC and particularly its seminaries. “Dr. Gray” has related so many times at Mid-America’s annual Founders’ Days [9] how this little band of the faithful longed and prayed that,

. . . God would give Southern Baptists a seminary where every professor would believe all the Bible all the way through without any question, where every professor would be a soul winner, every professor would hold an earned doctorate, every professor would be available for counseling with students, and every professor would be an active member of a local, cooperating, Southern Baptist Church. [10]

Even these prayer meetings were impromptu. “Dr. Gray” recalls: “We didn’t have a formal organization, we didn’t have called meetings but when we got together we just talked . . . and prayed [about starting another seminary].” [11]

“Dr. Gray” spent several years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), first as student and later as a professor. This experience would impact him on so many levels in the future. Positively, NOBTS would serve as the later model for the academics for MABTS. The relationships he forged there would also prove to be life-long and formative for “Dr. Gray.” But from a “negative perspective,” [12]

he became aware of theological division in the Southern Baptist Convention as early as the 1950s. His experiences both as student and faculty member alerted him that some professors at NOBTS held views concerning biblical authority and the Atonement that were closer to neo-orthodoxy or liberalism than the Southern Baptist mainstream. [13]

This great concern for the SBC and her seminaries demonstrates “THE CHARACTER OF THE MAN.”[14] From his earliest days at NOBTS until the vision for a new seminary, Allison was involved ministerially and personally in what would prove to be the three hallmarks of this new work: Personal witnessing and soul winning, missions and evangelism, and the inerrancy of the Scripture or “Bible preaching” as “Dr. Gray” prefers to call it. “His closest friends and colleagues . . . testif[y]” [15]

. . . to his faith, vision, integrity, perseverance, positive attitude, consistency, energy, compassion for people, commitment to truth, and passion for evangelism and missions. Adrian Rogers aptly described his concern to blend the life of the mind with the life of the heart as “scholarship on fire. . . .” [Allison] served effectively as a role model and mentor for many, even before he became a seminary president. The new responsibilities that he assumed in 1972 only magnified and enhanced what he had already been doing for many years (emphasis added). [16]

This “scholarship on fire,” to which Rogers referred, is where I had my first personal encounter with B. Gray Allison. It was the second Tuesday in January 1982.[17] It was the first day of classes. It was the third term of the 1981-1982 academic year. It was the 8:00AM class time slot. It was his Personal Evangelism class. (All MABTS alumni know that “Dr. Gray” nearly always reserved the 8:00AM time slot for the new incoming students). Contextually I was not an academic. I had not been to college. I had not even taken college entrance exams. I was a union Pipefitter / Welder tradesman by profession. I was thirty years old. I had one child and one on the way. I had no job. I had no money. I had no prospects! I certainly did not know what to expect? I had, at the very least, thought I knew what I was doing when I followed the Lord’s leading to MABTS. Without any expectation or assumption—in walks B. Gray Allison to our class!

I was stunned—to say the least! His very presence in the classroom was electrifying. This “Baptist preacher” possessed an aura and presence of his simple demeanor so impressing that I will carry it with me all of my life. He related to us account after account of his soul-winning experiences. He had us memorize many Old Testament and New Testament Scripture verses that would later equip us for personal work with folk who had not yet prayed to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. He gave us soul-winning pointers much like the master fisherman would train the young novice on the techniques of where to go, what bait to use, how to cast, how to read the signs of someone to whom we were witnessing. This was all wrapped up in the man’s passion for the lost. All of these dynamics of B. Gray Allison sprung from a heart of unceasing love and faith in his Lord Jesus Christ that produced an overwhelming desire to see men and women boys and girls give their hearts to Christ.

Allow me a personal assertion: All who were blest to sit under “Dr. Gray’s” 8:00 AM Personal Evangelism class stand forever changed. This was the stuff from which and for which Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary was founded. I can vouchsafe declare that all who went out from that place and that influence became evangelists whether they serve as; denominational workers, seminary professors, college teachers, church planters, missionaries, scholars, historians, pastor-teachers, theologians, writers, editors, agency heads, or church staff. All will have a heart for the lost around them since sitting at the feet of “Dr. Gray.”

Macro Considerations

So far the reason for this festschrift has lauded B. Gray Allison—the man and his influence. This is not what he would want! As previously mentioned he would only want to be known as the “simple Baptist preacher.” The time for this tribute has come and is probably long overdue. Even now if he knew it was in the works he would protest vehemently. Those of us who participated in this project, especially the editorial staff, believe there are at least two dynamics that need to be concretized in the memories of those who attended Mid America specifically and those of the Southern Baptist Convention generally.

The first major dynamic that needs to be considered is the fact “Dr. Gray” had a vision for a seminary since back in the 1960s. But the fulfillment for the vision did not come to fruition until 1972 when the seminary became a reality. All the while as “Dr. Gray” and friends were praying about starting a new seminary the clouds of a denominational war over inerrancy were on the horizon. It is the assertion of this editor that without “Dr. Gray’s” vision and commitment to the doctrine, the denominational war would have taken another direction entirely. This man, his message, and vision set in motion to some greater or lesser degree theological and Convention-wide dynamics that resulted in the eventual turnaround of the SBC.

On the heels of Mid America’s founding in the Fall of 1972 the “Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy” produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI)

. . . held a Summit Conference in Chicago with the express purpose of producing a statement defining the doctrine of inerrancy. This resulted in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which consists of a short statement, a preface and 19 articles of affirmation and denial. This statement was endorsed by nearly all the participants who represented many denominations and Christian organizations. [18]

One might ask, “What has this to do with Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary?” The answer could be given in two parts: First “Dr. Gray” was “ahead of the curve” if you please. He understood, before most that if the inerrancy of the Bible was lost—then the Gospel would invariably would be lost!!

Second, those who were Southern Baptist denominational leaders and took a major role in the so-called Conservative Resurgence signed the “Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy.” [19] Take note: L. Russ Bush, Richard R. Melick, Jr., Jimmy Millikin, Dorothy Patterson, Paige Patterson, and Paul Pressler. These all played a role—to a greater or lesser degree—in the Resurgence. L. Russ Bush co-wrote with Tom J. Nettles Baptists and the Bible. Richard R. Melick would teach New Testament and Greek at Mid America in the 1980s. Jimmy Millikin is the well-loved and long-time Professor of Theology and Bible at Mid America. And Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler are considered the “architects of the Conservative Resurgence” by many. All participated in the movement prior to Pastor Adrian Rogers of the Bellevue Baptist Church of Memphis, TN being elected to the Presidency of the SBC in 1979. He would be the first in a long line of conservative SBC presidents that would begin to turn the Convention around. In turn, this would set in motion dynamics that would change the course of the Convention towards her present trajectory and stand for inerrancy.

The second major dynamic that needs attention is “Dr. Gray’s” influence specifically and generally. This does not need to take up much space because the bulk of these essays do a very good job doing with that heavy lifting. But suffice it to say that B. Gray Allison the man and his plan for Mid America has forever, and on many levels, changed the complexion and tone of the Southern Baptist Convention. All one has to do is to look around at the present-day SBC and the influence of “Dr. Gray” and Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary can be seen and felt everywhere. Only eternity can herald what a great impact the man and the institution he envisioned actually had! We—the editors, the contributors, the alumni, the ministers of the Southern Baptist Convention—salute you B. Gray Allison! [20]

Editorial Acknowledgements

The editors would like to thank the following people without whom this labor of love and admiration would not have been possible:

The individual contributors: each has a special place in the heart of “Dr. Gray” and the seminary. Each has gone “to all the world for Jesus’ sake” and impacted the Kingdom of Christ for time and eternity. This is just exactly what the founder of Mid America Seminary would want done.

A special thank you goes to Ms. Cynthia (Bickers) Collins of CynthiaCollinsFineArt.com. She graciously furnished the portrait of “Dr. Gray” for this volume. It is a rendition of the one commissioned by Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary that hangs in the seminary entrance.

We would also like to thank Dr. Steve Lemke, Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has known “Dr. Gray” and Ms. Voncille personally for years. Dr. Lemke was pleased to join us on this project as a contributor and also supplying us with personal pictures of the Allisons from his archives.

An acknowledgment and thank you also belongs to Mr. Terry Brown, Director of Library Services at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary, for his personal help on this project. Mr. Brown and his library staff spend a great deal of time gleaning Allison family and seminary photographs from the seminary archive to be used in this collection of essays.

Dr. Michael Spradlin, second president of MABTS and into whose hands have been committed the vision and institution Dr. Allison founded, is to be thanked for his ministry and contribution to this work. May all who love the seminary remember you and pray for you when the Lord brings you to our mind (Phil 1:3).

A last minute thank you goes out to the Rev. Calston “Red” Berry of El Reno, OK. He was so kind as to reread this “Preface” on a short notice to look for any glaring errors made by this editor. “Bro. ‘Red’” has been a stalwart, confidant, encourager, and “sounding board” to me for nearly forty years. He is one of the few who set my feet on the path of love for the Scriptures that made me want to be a Bible teacher.

 Archie W. England

 New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

 Roger D. Duke

 Baptist College of Health Sciences

 Spring 2015


[1] Roger D. Duke, I have personally heard Dr. B. Gray Allison say he only wanted to be remembered as a “Baptist Preacher.”

[2]Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Brochure,”Mid America. Multiplying Your Ministry,” 2012, 6-20.

[3]Ibid., 4.

[4]Ibid., 20.

[5]Ibid.

[6]For a complete account of the founding of Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary see: James A. Patterson, To All the World: A History of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary 1972-1997, Chapter 2 “From Ruston to Little Rock: A New Seminary” (Memphis: Disciple Press / Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997).

[7] Most, if not all, Mid-America alumni refer to Dr. B. Gray Allison affectionately “Dr. Gray”.

[8] Quoted in: James A. Patterson, To All the World: A History of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary 1972-1997, (Memphis: Disciple Press / Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997), 27-28.

[9] Founders Days is MABTS’s annual Bible conference held at the beginning of each academic school year.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11]B. Gray Allison, “The Mid-America Story,” Mid-America Theological Journal 16 (Spring 1992):1; quoted in James A. Patterson, “Alternative Theological Education in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Case Study of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary,” The Journal of Baptist Studies I (2007): 5.

[12]Patterson, To All the World, 19.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Ibid., 21.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] This dating is from personal remembrance.

[18] Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, “What Has ICBI (International Congress on Biblical Inerrancy) Accomplished?” Retrieved from http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086_CHID750054_CIID2099796,00.html. Retrieved April 18, 2015.

[19] International Council of Biblical Inerrancy: Signers of the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” Retrieved from http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1_typed.pdf. Retrieved April 18, 2015.

[20] Readers note: James A. Patterson’s To All the World: A History of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary 1972-1997 and this volume of essays will probably be the seminal works concerning the life and work of Dr. B. Gray Allison.

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