B21 exists to be a voice for the next generation of pastors and leaders in the SBC, but we also began with a strong commitment of honoring the past. Many great men have come before us, and we want to take the next three posts to honor one.
W. A. Criswell may be the best preacher to come along in the past hundred years in any denomination. Criswell was the dynamic pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas for over forty-eight years (1944-1992). This simple country boy from Eldorado, Oklahoma grew to be a clarion voice in the Southern Baptist Convention. However, to many he will simply be known as “pastor.” Throughout a ministry spanning almost fifty years Criswell proved to be a leading voice not only for his own pulpit, but for the Southern Baptist Convention and evangelicalism as a whole.
Preacher of the Local Church
As a pastor, Dr. Criswell was devoted to the Scriptures. In fact, as highlighted in this Christianity Today article, he spent eighteen years preaching through the Bible verse by verse, week in and week out and, shocking to many, saw tremendous growth as a result.
Remarkably, almost all of these sermons are available online for free (video/audio, transcript). This database is an incredible tool no matter what passage you look to preach or study. If you are looking for a faithful expositor and powerful communicator, head over to Criswell’s Sermon Library.
Criswell described himself as a holy roller with a Ph.D. He was, at the core, a church preacher. His heart-felt desire to preach to the church came out of his motivation for being at First Baptist Church in Dallas. When George W. Truett died (1944), leaving a vacancy in the pulpit, Criswell had a dream. In that dream, Criswell was in the great auditorium of First Dallas. It was filled to the brim with people all looking at a casket just in front of the pulpit. The people were crying. Criswell asked, “Why are they all crying?” A man answered, “The great pastor Truett is dead.” Criswell just sat there staring at the casket. Finally, a man grabbed his knee and whispered to Criswell, “You must now go down and preach for my people.” As Criswell turned, he saw that George W. Truett was the man sitting next to him.1 Eventually, Criswell was called to the pulpit at Dallas and he kept Truett’s request central: preach to the people!
His desire to preach was grounded in the conviction that preaching is the primary responsibility of the pastor. Preaching is the pastor’s unique responsibility, oftentimes in competition with other avenues of information being fed to people everyday. The preacher may not be as good as a news reporter, economist, or analyst at delivering their information. However, it is the responsibility of the preacher to tell his people what God says. This can only be done by preaching the Word.
As mentioned earlier, Criswell placed unyielding confidence on God’s Word as our ultimate source of truth and the only authority to base your life on. He would often say that no man, on his deathbed, calls for a chemistry or a history book to be brought to him. However, “I have often heard of those God-sainted people, who facing the ultimate and final end, say, ‘Bring me that blessed, old Book filled with the promises of God, and read to me once again of that beautiful land that is fairer than day.’”2
There is no other message apart from the Word. Anything else is no gospel at all!
Criswell tells why this is true.
Religion is built upon authority, and without that authority faith is sheer speculation. If the faith is nothing but what a man may or may not think it to be, it is nothing. In God‘s infallible book, the Bible, upon this rock, the true preacher of Christ can take his stand, and stand there in strength and in power forever.3
It was on God’s Word that Criswell the preacher took his stand as he faithfully led and fed his congregation for almost fifty years.
Baptist21 is honored to highlight the Criswell Library each year at our panel at the SBC and this year is the same. Criswell Library offers 4100 sermons from over 50 years of Criswell’s ministry absolutely free! Click here for more information.
1 W. A. Criswell, Standing on the Promises: The Autobiography of W. A. Criswell (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), 167.
2 W. A. Criswell, Great Doctrines of The Bible, ed. Paige Patterson, Vol. 1, Bibliology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 40.
3 W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969), 181.