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Several years ago a teenager struggling with the call to ministry came to Dallas and boldly made an appointment to see W. A. Criswell. The great pastor listened with empathy and interest as the young man recounted the difficulties he was facing. When their conference was ended, Criswell knelt beside the young preacher with his arm around his shoulder and invoked the presence of Christ on his life's work. When he returned home, the young man told his pastor what he had done.

"What?" he exclaimed, "you really prayed with Dr. Criswell? Man, you have seen the Pope!"

Wallie Amos Criswell was born in 1909 in the dust-bowl town of Eldorado, Oklahoma, to a cowboy-barber and his beautiful wife. Born in obscurity and raised in poverty, this wind-swept lad of the plains would become in time the most famous Baptist pastor in the world. When he died earlier this year at age 92, he was extolled as a passionate preacher, a powerful evangelist, and a redoubtable defender of the faith. He was all of that and more.

Holy Roller with a Ph.D.


Criswell began his pastoral labors during his student days at Baylor University. He served small congregations in such places of renown as Devil's Bend and Pulltight, Texas. Even then he was known for his pulpit exuberance. On a clear night, it was said, you could hear Criswell preaching five miles away. After graduation from Baylor, Criswell moved to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he studied the Greek New Testament under the great A. T. Robertson. On Valentine's Day in 1935 he married Betty Mae Harris, the pianist at the church he served part time.

Following two pastoral charges in his native Oklahoma, Criswell was the surprise choice to succeed the venerable George ...

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The 'Baptist Pope'
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March 11, 2002

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