In new Criswell book, Hawkins examines the life of a man who impacted millions

A man for many seasons

O.S. Hawkins is chancellor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and president emeritus of GuideStone Financial Resources. He has authored more than 50 books, including the latest, Criswell: His Life and Times. Hawkins recently spoke with Southern Baptist Texan magazine about why he chose to write about the legendary W.A. Criswell and how others can benefit from learning about his life.

You’ve described W.A. Criswell as a friend and mentor. Can you talk about the impact he had on you personally and why you decided to write a book about his life? 

O.S. Hawkins: I first met him back when I was a kid. In my generation he was legendary, and for some reason early on, he took a liking to me and we developed a warm friendship. I just considered him a great mentor and, in many ways, he was like a father to me. … Really the reason I wrote the book was he was a polarizing figure in many ways, and there has been so much written about him from people who were adversarial to him, whether it was because of theological or philosophical reasons, and then there were other things written that [portrayed him as being] sort of almost without sin. So, what I tried to do was bring balance to his life and also to introduce him to a new generation of preachers who may not have known him in his greatness.

How might pastors who don’t know as much about Criswell’s life be encouraged or even equipped by some of the things you included in this book?

Hawkins: They will see that education is important. They will see that in the first 10 years of his pastorate, he pastored little bitty churches in far-away places. It gave him a love for pastors. There are a lot of stories in the book about that. He ended up leading the largest church in the world for years at First Baptist Dallas, and he had no peer in his prime—I mean, no peer. But he never got away from loving pastors.

I also believe the title of the book, Criswell: His Life and Times, is important because this book is not just for pastors. It’s for everyone who’s interested in leadership or interested in history. It’s about his times. Dr. Criswell lived in every decade of the 20th century, and there’s a chapter on each of these decades throughout the whole book that really describes the times in which he lived. So many things were swirling around the culture in America through World War I, through World War II, through all of these decades that unfolded. So, it’s really a book about Baptist history, Texas history, American history. It’s not just about Criswell. It’s about the times in which he lived and loved and ministered.

What kinds of insights about Criswell will readers walk away with that might inspire them or even change the way they look at the world? 

Hawkins: Well, I would say one thing that gets lost in the midst of all of his notoriety was how much he loved people. He’s known as a great preacher and theologian, but what many people don’t know is what an incredible pastor he was and how much he loved his people—and they loved him back. He’d often weep when he preached and the people would weep with him. It was amazing.

He was an eternal optimist in many ways, which we need in Baptist life today. He was naive in the sense that, even in the midst of the great Baptist battles of his life, it never dawned on him that [certain] people didn’t like him or didn’t love him. He was above the fray in the fact that he didn’t hold any personal animosity. He had a unique ability to realize that things are going to get better and that nothing lasts forever. Whatever he was going through, he moved forward knowing this too will pass, and he would hunker down and move on.

He owned his mistakes, which a lot of people don’t do, and he was open about them and he sought to recover from them. And then, of course, you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die, and I didn’t see anyone ever die like he died. I mean, he died with such a sweet spirit. He would wake up his caretaker in the middle of the night preaching the gospel in his sleep.

He was such a unique individual. Had he gone into law, I think he probably would’ve been on the Supreme Court. Had he gone into business, he’d have built a Fortune 500 company. If he’d gone into politics, he’d have been a senator, maybe president of the United States. He was just a unique individual, greatly gifted by God. And yet he never lost the childlike wonder of it and the work of it. He never lost the wonder of God’s creation. I’ve never known anyone that loved the Lord and depended upon Him and consistently lived for Him and served Him like W.A. Criswell. All he ever wanted to do was pastor a local congregation of baptized believers.

Most Read

Barber exhorts Southwestern graduates to go to the harvest

FORT WORTH—Get to work in the harvest, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber challenged the 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College during spring commencement held May 3 on the Fort Worth …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.