W. B. West, Jr.
1966 Biographical Sketch On Dr. W. B. West, Jr.
He is married to the former Velma Ruth Williams of Sparta, Tennessee, a classmate at David Lipscomb College from which he was graduated in 1927. He received the B.A. degree from Abilene Christian College with a major in Bible and Greek. Dr. West studied in five graduate schools of religion and received the Master of Arts and the Doctor of Theology degrees from the University of California. In 1961, Dr. West lectured in Japan and Korea, and in the summer of 1962 he studied in Bible lands on a fellowship. Dr. West has appeared on many college lectureships and some of his lectures appear in book form. He plans to begin writing soon a commentary on the Book of Revelation.
Dr. West has served as minister for both the Central and the York Boulevard churches in Los Angeles; the Northwest congregation in Chicago; the church in Van Nuys, and Culver City, California; and is now minister for the Park Avenue congregation in Memphis.
A noted educator, Dr. West holds membership in the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, the National Association of Biblical Instructors, is an associate member in the American Schools of Oriental Research, and serves as secretary of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew.
For ten years Dr. West was head of the Department of Religion at George Pepperdine College where he started the first graduate Department of Bible and Religion in a college operated by members of the churches of Christ. In 1951, he became head of the Bible Department at Harding College and there helped to establish a graduate department of Bible and Religion. In 1958, he, with Dr. George S. Benson, established the Harding College Graduate School of Bible and Religion in Memphis, Tennessee, where he presently serves as Dean and Professor of New Testament.
-J. Cliett Goodpasture, Minister's Monthly, September, 1966, page 1
Restoration Leader: W. B. West, Jr.
Dr. W. B. West, Jr., founding Dean of the Harding University Graduate School of Religion, was born January 24, 1907. He went home to be with the Lord March 9, 1994. His funeral was conducted at the Quince Road Church of Christ in Memphis on March 11. Long-time friends and colleagues, Lott Tucker, Earl West and I spoke. Dr. Cliff Ganus made comments and read scripture at Memorial Park Mausoleum where his body is interred. He was indeed a Restoration leader. He lived his life trying to restore New Testament Christianity.
Dr. Earl West makes these reflections on W. B. West:
That Dr. W. B. West, Jr. was a strong believer in restoring New Testament Christianity is something that nobody close to him could ever doubt . . . . He was fascinated by the courageous Christian heroes who took the lead in bringing the religious world back to he divine foundation it had in the beginning. Dr. West emphasized that he thought this was very important for the future safety of the church, if this great brotherhood was to be kept close to the divine word on which it was founded.
. . . Dr. West saw dark clouds on the horizon for the church. He realized that many were abandoning the Word of God as the source of their faith and were taking current cultural thought as their criterion. This, he believed, was to abandon God and his will as the basic guideline to follow.
Let me give you a brief description of W. B. West as I knew him. I first met Dr. West in 1959 at David Lipscomb University. He recruited me for graduate studies at HUGSR. I studied at Harding University Graduate School and then served as his assistant and registrar for some seven years while he was dean.
Our lives had been closely intertwined for some thirty-five years, often on a daily basis. So, what kind of man was he from my perspective?
A wonderful Christian man, Dr. West obeyed the gospel in 1921 in Deckerd, Tennessee. He matured as a Christian until all who knew him could clearly see Christ living in him. Brother Lott Tucker said that if someone asked him to define what a Christian is, he would just point to Dr. West and say, "That's a good picture of what a Christian is." I readily agree. Brother West was the epitome of a southern Christian gentleman. He was always gracious, expressing appreciation profusely to everyone. I used to joke that he and I could not go through an open door together because he always wanted to hold the door open for me, and I for him. In an August 10, 1985 letter from Dr. West, he stated: "I thank you again and again for your love, kindness and hospitality last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The food was delicious, the room and bed very comfortable, the fellowship and conversations superb. You two did not leave a stone unturned for my comfort and happiness." That was vintage W. B. West.
Dr. West was a loving family man. He loved Velma, his first wife; Patty, their daughter; her husband, Chuck; and their three granddaughters; and they loved him. He also loved his second wife, Gladys, who loved him and stayed with him during many long days and nights in hospitals and the Memphis Health Care nursing home.
An excellent gospel preacher, Dr. West began preaching in 1923 and conducted his first meeting in 1924 in Deckerd, Tennessee during which there were thirty-nine baptisms. He extended the eight-day meeting to ten days at their request, but refused to extend it further. He told them he could not. When they asked why, he responded, "I've run out of sermons." Maybe that is why he saw such a need for quality education for ministers.
He held a meeting in Anderson, Tennessee with fifty-five responses in 1925. He did local work in Charleston. Mississippi, 1928-30; in Los Angeles with the Central Church of Christ, 1930-36, 1938-40; in Chicago with the Northwest Church of Christ, 1936-38: in Memphis with the Kimball Avenue Church of Christ (now Quince Road), 1958-64; and with Park Avenue, 1964-68. He also served other churches in the Mid-South at various times. From 1923- 1994, he preached, taught, and lectured, especially on the book of Revelation. I especially remember his sermons on John 3:16: "If I Were The Devil," "The New Testament Church: Its Identity," "The Rattle of Armageddon," and "Heaven: Shall We Know Each Other There? He was eloquent and kind, yet biblical and truthful. He loved to preach and to hear other gospel preachers preach.
Not long before his death, Dr. West expressed regret to me of not having completed his commentary on the book of Revelation. I assured him that he had written his commentary on the hearts of preachers and others who preach its message to additional thousands. He responded, "That's one way of looking at it" He was a people person, a motivator. Yet, he left three manuscripts that we are in the process of publishing: "A Commentary on the Book of Revelation," "Lectures on the Book of Revelation," and "Favorite Sermons."
Dr. West was a uniting force in the church peacemaker and a healing influence. He had good friends in every segment of the churches of Christ. He tried to bring people together, not separate them. He emphasized things we have in common, not minor differences. He wanted us to follow the Bible, to respect each others' convictions, to avoid extremes, and to stay united. It is easy to divide, hard to unite. His good friend, Dr. George Benson, once wrote to me that "Dr. West is the fmt man I have ever known who was able to ride two horses at the same time and especially when the horses were not friendly toward one another. He was able to do it and get away without getting smeared."
During the last years of his life, Dr. West feared that "extremes among us are going to split us and take over the church." He was very concerned about real liberalism because it undermines the Bible and the church. He was also concerned about rigid, ultra conservatives because they sometimes build fences that God did not build and are likely to divide conservatives, as well as the entire church, into even more splinters. We both spoke often of how it is so easy to be misunderstood. He voiced these and other such concerns almost every time we were together during the last twenty years. He often emphasized how much we have in common with every segment of "our great brotherhood." He was equally concerned about the right wing that sometimes "makes a mountain out of a molehill" and the left wing that is accepting a view of Scripture and a hermeneutic that "I am afraid will destroy the church as we know it" I share his concerns.
Another friend and colleague, Dr. Jack P. Lewis, said:
West had the ability to advise both sides of a dispute and to remain fiends with both. Always the gentleman and extremely cool under fire, when people have criticized his actions, West has gone out of his way to make clear what his position was and let better understanding solve the problem. Personal attacks have brought no reply.
Once when Harding University Graduate School of Religion was being unjustly criticized, brother West said to me, "Brother Flatt, like Nehemiah of old, we are too busy to stop our work to come down and Fuss. We must put our shoulder to the wheel and push forward: we have a great work to do and cannot come down." And that is what we did. He worked for unity and biblical restoration of New Testament Christianity continually, and with the Lord's help, we will continue this work and this emphasis.
Dr. West was best known as a great pioneer Christian educator--the father of graduate education in churches of Christ. He was a man of great vision and a hard worker. His motto was "Work is glory." He was highly educated with an A.A. degree from David Lipscomb University, 1927; a B.A. from Abilene Christian University, 1934; an M.A. and a Th.D. from the University of Southern California, 1936, 1943. He also studied at the University of Chicago as well as Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England.
He began teaching at Pepperdine University in 1938, became head of the religion department in 1941, and began the first graduate program in schools associated with churches of Christ with an M.A. at Pepperdine in 1944. He became head of the Bible department at Harding University in 1952, and along with Dr. George Benson, began an M.A. program in Bible at Harding in 1953. They began an extension program in the Union Avenue church building in Memphis in 1955 and moved the graduate program to Memphis in 1958 where it became known as the Harding University Graduate School of Religion. A three-year graduate program (B.S.L., M.th., M.Div.) was begun immediately, the first such program in schools associated with churches of Christ. He was appointed as dean of the school and remained in that position until he retired as dean in 1972. He remained with the school as professor of New Testament until 1978, then moved to Montgomery, Alabama where he served as administrator and professor of Bible at both Alabama Christian College (Faulkner University) and Alabama Christian School of Religion (Southern Christian University). He moved back to Memphis in 1985 where he taught part-time until 1989.
Dr. West lived and breathed graduate education for preachers and teachers of the gospel. He evidently was the first person among churches of Christ to earn a doctorate in religion and to attend scholarly biblical society meetings. He wanted to "stay abreast" of what was going on in biblical studies. Doctors and lawyers received advanced education and ministers should as well, he reasoned. Wasn't their work more important than any other work in the world? Wasn't there a lot to know in Bible and Bible related studies? He knew the answer to those questions, and he pressed forward. He talked preachers out of buying new cars and into enrolling at the Harding University Graduate School of Religion. Like the farmer cutting weeds with a sling-blade, he thought it foolish for the minister to not stop and sharpen his blade. I have known Dr. West to call preachers at midnight to encourage them to enroll at Harding. "Prepare," he would say, "and your time will come."
Dr. Jack Lewis reflected upon Dr. W. B. West as a Restoration leader as follows:
. . . the division over instrumental music and missionary societies not only left the church with few preachers with advanced Bible training but also with a lack of trust in advanced education. The preachers had two or four years of college or were self-trained, many of them quite knowledgeable in the content of the English Bible. A few disappointments with men who had been to the universities added to the mistrust.
Against this picture, W. B. West, Jr., saw the need of advanced training for Christian workers. He was much opposed to promoting professionalism in the pulpit, but he had a gift for persuading younger men that they could serve the Lord better with better training. He was not belligerent, either with those who were critical because they did not understand what he was trying to do, or with those who mistrusted the entire undertaking.
Starting at a time when few Bible teachers in the colleges had doctor's degrees in Bible and religious studies, he and his associates in one generation trained teachers (many of whom acquired doctor's degrees) for all the colleges, men for the pulpits of the churches, and missionaries for service around the world. His years saw enthusiasm for training catch on with most of the senior colleges beginning at least master's programs. He did not live to see the realization of his dream of offering a Ph.D. degree, but it will come.
W. B. West, who loved books, searched for and purchased books everywhere he went This culminated in an excellent biblical library of some 25,000 books which he has left to Harding. When students would say they could not afford to buy extra books, he would reply, "Sell your shirt and buy good books."
A dear friend and encourager, Dr. West believed in me more than I believe in myself. He was like that with many others as well. Dr. David Burks, president of Harding University, recently told me that he had never been with Dr. West when he did not say a word of encouragement to him before he left. He loved people, and they loved and appreciated him. He was honored with at least three appreciation dinners at HUGSR, and our W. B. West Lectures were established in his honor in 1977. He was Alumnus of the Year at David Lipscomb University in 1983. He was also honored by Freed-Hardeman University, Brown Trail School of Preaching, Abilene Christian University, Pepperdine University, and perhaps others.
Dr. John C. Stevens wrote these words to Dr. West in 1978: "I think you have used your scholarship always to the glory of God." What a great tribute! Dr. Cliff Ganus wrote: "We love and appreciate you and all that you have done for Harding and God's kingdom." A note on a Christmas card from his granddaughters he once shared with me sums it up well. They wrote: "Dear Dan Daddy. We can't wait to see you. You're special." And they spoke for us all. He was special.
A wonderful Christian man, a loving family man, an excellent preacher, a unifying force in churches of Christ, a great pioneer Christian educator, a lover of books, and a dear friend and encourager are terms to describe W. B. West, Jr. One of the great honors of my life is that Dr. West called me his "dear friend." He wanted to live, but he was ready to die. During my visit with him shortly before his death, he continued to repeat this sentence: "Heaven holds all for me." I think he repeated it at least ten times within our thirty minute visit. I repeated Revelation 21:4 over and over to him-no pain, no tears, no death, no sorrow.
I try to imagine what it was like as our friend, Dr. West, went on to be with the Lord. I'd like to think that as he approached paradise, the doors automatically swung open wide, and that as he entered a host of angels and the redeemed of all the ages stood in respect for a life well lived. Had 1 been there, I would have been the first one out of my seat.
That was the man I knew. And what a man! He was special. He was a great leader of the Restoration Movement. God worked on us profoundly through him, and we are better because of it. He being dead, yet speaketh. As he so often admonished students to do, he hoed his row to the end!
-Bill Flatt, 1995 Freed-Hardeman Lectures, page 191-196
Velma Ruth Williams West
W. B. West Portrait
Hanging In Chapel Hall Of Harding Graduate School of Religion
Directions To The Grave of W. B. West, Jr.
W. B. and Velma West were interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. Take I-240 to Poplar Ave exit. Go west and the cemetery will be on your right. Enter the cemetery and take the first right toward the offices. You will come to a point where you turn right to go to the office, but stay straight. Take the second left and head down toward the mausoleums. Go to the entrance on your right and park in front of the first glass door you see on the right. Enter that door, and just before the first left hall, look up to your right. The West drawer will be on the corner, near the top. Location: Main cloister, Aisle 5 (E-37: Look for "E-37" at bottom of wall.)
GPS Location of the Mausoleum Location
or D.d. 35.107169, -89.873420
Main Entrance To Mausoleum - Enter to right, NOT CENTER - See Below
Enter Mausoleum Here
Velma Ruth - 1908-1981
WB Jr. - 1907-1994
Photos Taken 11.2010
Courtesy of Scott Harp