Let me tell you a story. I am one of many who grew up under the ministry of Leroy Forlines, long-time theologian and professor at Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College). There are few people who have had as great an influence in shaping me than Mr. Forlines; my mother, my pastor, and a handful of others.
Mr. Forlines was a teacher, mentor, example whose personal integrity and godly life touched many of us. Now in his 90s, Mr. Forlines is a national treasure to our denomination, and to the entire body of Christ. A few months ago, an REO contributor wrote a tribute to him. My thoughts here are somewhat a tribute as well, obviously, but I want to be more personal and talk of how he influenced me in several ways, both big and small. I hope to follow this article with another that will focus on one of his sayings or approaches to finding the truth: his well-known “poles of tension” that I first heard articulated in the 1970s.
- Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.
- Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.
- Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.
- Mr. Forlines was important in our movement as a theologian.
- Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years – bearing fruit even unto old age.
1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.
It was my first or second year at Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1969 or 1970. I asked a young lady (not Judy; it was before we started dating) for an on-campus date. These consisted of either sitting in the student lounge, outside in certain designated areas or walking around one of the approved blocks on or near the campus. This particular day the young lady and I were walking, probably around Richland-Bowling, and met Mr. and Mrs. Forlines who were approaching from the opposite direction. He greeted us, and then pulled me aside and said: “a gentleman walks on the outside of a lady on the sidewalk.” I hadn’t even thought about it. I learned a lesson in etiquette I remember to this day.
2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.
Every week, usually on Wednesdays, we men students had an on-campus meeting. Usually, Mr. Forlines met with us. Some guys found the meetings boring and a waste of time, but my friend Seldon Buck and I had a ball, listening and laughing (not out loud) as Bro. Forlines shared with the guys. There was always Scripture, some sort of devotional thought, but so much more, especially as it related to living responsibly in a campus dormitory situation. Things like flushing the toilet, knocking on a fellow students’ door before entering, keeping your room neat; things of that nature that some of the guys didn’t do too well. Occasionally, Mr. Forlines would do some entertainment, such as his famous trick of standing on his head and drinking water. Amazing! I don’t know if we realized it at the time, but he was helping us grow up as young men, and even when it was emphasizing rules, it had its value. I personally am grateful for those “Boy Scout” meetings, as they were known.
3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.
I don’t recall the first time I heard him utter the phrase “a passion for holiness,” if it was during my student years or shortly after graduation when I heard him speak at a National Convention or Bible Conference, but I do know that it became a passion of his to stress the importance of striving after personal holiness. It came up frequently and reminded us of how far we often fell short, and how our hearts needed to be focused on holiness. He drove it home every time he could, and I am thankful.
4. Mr. Forlines was importantisimo in our movement as a theologian.
That’s a Spanish word which conveys a little more than any English word could: he was of the greatest importance as the theological voice in our movement. After Bible College, he spent nearly a decade in institutions of higher education, earning multiple degrees, and studying under some of the finest minds in the world. Not only did he shape our movement by training hundreds of pastors and missionaries, he was able to influence others who came to the college who weren’t Free Will Baptist. Additionally, his articles in CONTACT magazine provided theological insight to many more who did not study at the college. His years of service on the Commission on Theological Liberalism was a voice of warning about dangerous trends that threatened the evangelical faith once delivered to the saints. His works such as Systematics, and later The Quest for Truth, showed how he remained current and relevant in theological debate, and did so with grace, kindness, and an irenic spirit, even while standing for the truth boldly.
5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years, bearing fruit even in old age.
Amazingly, while still teaching at Free Will Baptist Bible College, Leroy Forlines and his wife Fay were able to travel to Russia and spend considerable time there teaching Russian pastors. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it immediately became possible to travel to Russia, and the Western evangelical world began to do just that. Russian Baptists have always been historically Arminian in theology, but most of those going from the West were Calvinist and brought a strong Calvinist emphasis. Our brothers there were so thankful to learn of Arminianian theologians from the West who were virtually identical in their viewpoints with them, and Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, Garnett Reid, Thomas Marberry, and Ron Callaway were able to spend much time with them. The Forlines stayed for several months, and covered the entire country. Mr. Forlines also spent time in India with veteran missionary and former college classmate, Carlisle Hanna. I well remember him sharing with me, with tears, the impact the India trip made on his life. I think it was tremendous to see someone his age expand his horizons, and no doubt at great personal discomfort serve His Lord in that way.
I suppose someone might ask, “feeling as you do about F. Leroy Forlines, he must have been your favorite teacher.” Actually, I never had one class under Mr. Forlines! The reason is, I had not determined my area of study my first two years, and when I was called into missions I had to cram a number of missions courses into three semesters, and I was not able to include Systematic Theology or Biblical Ethics.
However…in subsequent years I devoured everything Mr. Forlines wrote. I taught Systematic Theology no less than five times in Spanish in Panama, and Ethics at least four times. Mr. Forlines’ works and thought are so embedded in mine, that I think it’s safe to say no other theologian or thinker has influenced me more. I am truly thankful for his life.
*Image courtesy of ONE Magazine.