Donald Barnhouse

First name: 
Donald
Last name: 
Barnhouse
Long Bio: 

Donald Grey Barnhouse was, for half a century, one of the most widely acclaimed American preachers. Scholarly exposition and a popular approach marked his teaching. An unyielding faith, devotion to Christ, innovation, and great energy marked his ministry.

Although some found him overly abrupt and sometimes controversial, his zeal for the Kingdom of God made him an exciting and captivating speaker. His elocutionary ability sprung from his careful speech, friendly manner, vivid analogies and most of all from his faithful exposition of the Scriptures. He was able to make the Bible relevant to the modern man. In fact his sermons have grown no less relevant to those who hear or read them today.

Dr. Barnhouse was one of the pioneers of radio preaching in the 1920s. Eventually he launched his own network program, The Bible Study Hour. In 1949 he began his famous study of Romans which continued each week for nearly 12 years until his death. This radio program continues to air as Dr. Barnhouse & the Bible.

The written word was also part of Barnhouse’s ministry. He wrote many articles and authored more than a dozen books. He was founder and editor-in-chief of Eternity Magazine. He displayed remarkable insight in his evaluation of the meaning of events for church and nation.

For over 30 years Dr. Barnhouse conducted a weekly Bible study class in New York City. More than 500 people attended. The demand for his services as a speaker and a conference leader was international.

His ministry was a varied one. For 33 years until his death he served as the pastor of Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church. There his influence was realized in many young lives that were directed into the ministry and the foreign mission field.

Short Bio: 

Dr. Barnhouse, regarded by many as the outstanding popular Bible expositor of his generation, was both a product of the evangelical culture of his day and latterly one of its most forceful leaders.

He was a tall, handsome man with a shock of curly hair that turned from chestnut to white in the long years of his ministry. Always a commanding figure in the pulpit, his teaching often came across as authoritarian. Yet to brand him only as an authoritarian fundamentalist preacher would do him despite.

True, he was dogmatic and often anything but politic in his public utterances, but beyond all this, he was an unparalleled communicator of Bible truth. His real authority as a teacher stemmed from his passionate commitment to the Word of God. Beneath his brusque exterior was a childlike faith in the living God and the Holy Scriptures. He always blew the trumpet of the Lord with a certain sound.

What were the forces in his life that developed his great gifts?

The youngest child and only boy in a devout Watsonville, California, family, young Donald was beloved and perhaps "spoiled" by his loving parents and four doting sisters. The eldest sister was Mabel Jean became a student at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. It was her example that influenced Donald to enter the same school when he was eighteen. Only three years before, he had confessed his faith in Jesus Christ at a Christian Endeavor convention in San Jose.

It was at Biola, however, that young Barnhouse met the man who shaped his theological thinking more than any other individual -- Reuben Archer Torrey, one of the giants of early fundamentalism. Torrey, a graduate of Yale College and Divinity School and schooled in German universities, was ordained to the Congregational ministry. He was attracted to the dispensationalist teaching that was centered at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and ultimately became superintendent, later dean, of that school. Torrey liked Donald and, in an unprecedented move, lent his teaching notes to his alert young disciple.

Later Barnhouse studied at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Princeton Theological Seminary, but his grounding in the Word of God under Torrey never departed from him. Thus he became a Bible teacher, not a theologian.

While still a student at Biola, he had heard most of the great fundamentalists of his day lecture - A. C. Gaebelein, James M. Gray, C. I. Scofield, W. B. Riley, and F. W. Farr, to mention a few. These were valiant men who passionately and brilliantly defended the historic Christian faith against the onslaught of humanistic liberalism then known as modernism. These men, and particularly Torrey, molded the thinking of the bright and often cocky young man who one day would sway audiences with his own God–given charisma.

At Princeton Seminary, young Barnhouse came under the tutelage of four giants of the "Princeton school" who confirmed his faith in the infallible Word of God. These proponents of the Reformed faith were Benjamin B. Warfield, regarded by many as the greatest American theologian of all time; Robert Dick Wilson, the eminent Hebrew scholar; John D. Davis, Old Testament expert and editor of the Bible dictionary bearing his name; and William B. Green, apologist. His ministry was forever enhanced by the impact of these conservative scholars.

Later Dr. Barnhouse eschewed the term "dispensationalist," the prevailing school of theology at Moody and Biola, yet the mark of this school of interpretation of Scripture never left him. It is evident in these messages on both Thessalonian Epistles, which deal with the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although he spurned the separatism of many fundamentalists and was thereby misunderstood for his views on the church, Dr. Barnhouse never departed from what is known as "the pretribulation, premillennial position." Thus, he taught that Christ could return at any moment to take out His redeemed people from the world -- that event known as the rapture. He also believed that following the rapture, there would be a period of time called the great tribulation, which would precede the millennium, the time when Christ would return to earth "with his saints" to establish His thousand-year kingdom.

Dr. Barnhouse argued that this position most satisfactorily harmonized with the biblical passages relating to a revived nation of Israel. Yet this prince of expositors in his later years did not emphasize Bible prophecy in his ministry, because he felt many Bible conference adherents were more interested in future events surrounding the return of Christ than they were in Christ himself.

In his teaching of the Thessalonian Epistles, Dr. Barnhouse warns against abstract doctrine that does not have an effect on a believer's life. His comments on 1 Thessalonians 5 illustrate this: "My chief interest in the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ is what it does for you now," he declared. "And if you don’t know 1 John 3:3, I am not interested in your theory of prophecy, for 1 John 3:3 says, 'Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.'" Thus, he stressed the need for personal holiness as well as doctrinal orthodoxy.

There are many theories as to why Barnhouse influenced so many pastors, missionaries, and Christian workers both in North America and around the world. Some will stress Dr. Barnhouse's great gift of employing apt illustrations to drive biblical truth home to his listeners. This is certainly a valid observation, for, like our Lord, Barnhouse used illustrations from the common life of his culture to make spiritual truths glow in one's memory. But was not the greatest reason for his influence his application of God-given truth in such a way that those who heard recognized that God's truth must change their lives? The Word had to become flesh in their experience.

There is nothing in Barnhouse's messages that cannot easily be understood by a willing heart. May God grant that this colorful teacher of the Word will continue to be used in the lives of many Christians.

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