Tribute to Dr. B. Gray Allison: Now He Belongs to the Ages
Born in small-town America to a family of simple means, Beverly Gray Allison survived the depression and a world war to found and lead as president a theological seminary with graduates serving all over the world. While great is often overused of those who have gone on, Gray’s legacy will be as multicultural as it is multifaceted. His passion for missions and evangelism touched the world. Called Boo by his family (because that was the way his brother, Phil, pronounced Beverly), Gray grew up in a loving home where faith in the Lord was a centerpiece of family life. When Gray was 18, the death of his father was a tragic introduction to manhood and came at the brink of his entrance into the maelstrom of World War II. He soon found himself as the 19-year-old crew commander of a B-24 bomber and headed to war in the Pacific where he flew 16 combat missions. Among other recognitions, Gray was awarded the Air Medal for bravery in combat. Returning home after the war, Gray married his sweetheart, Voncille. Their love for each other was obvious to all who met them. Gray’s love for his children knew no bounds. Throughout his ministry, his family remained his rock.
During the war, Gray had a growing sense of urgency that the Lord was calling him into the ministry. Finally surrendering to the call to preach, he enrolled in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in his home state of Louisiana because of his belief in training for ministry. As he would tell his own students later, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for a trained mind.”
One of the great influences on his life was the school’s president, Dr. Roland Q. Leavell. Dr. Leavell was not only the president of the seminary but also a professor of evangelism. Dr. Leavell’s passion for personal soul-winning became Gray’s passion and practice the rest of his life. Gray embraced the life of a scholar, but he never let that dull his focus on evangelism. In a busy time of life due to his preaching schedule and leading the school’s evangelism training program, Gray wrote his doctoral dissertation in one week. Asked about this amazing feat later, he stated that he knew what he wanted to say and had already done the research; he just needed time to write it down. One of the professors who commended the excellence of his dissertation was Dr. Roy Beaman, later one of Gray’s founding professors at Mid-America Seminary. Now officially Dr. B. Gray Allison, he would be known as “Dr. Gray” by friends and associates because several of his siblings earned doctorates through the years. He served on faculty at his alma mater and later left to join the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, promoting and teaching evangelism. Ultimately, he followed his passion and became a full-time vocational evangelist.
Dr. Gray loved his denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, but he became increasingly concerned about the theological liberalism in the seminaries. In the 1960s, he began to meet with friends praying the Lord would raise up the right kind of seminary where the truthfulness of the Bible was taught and where the priorities of missions and evangelism were practiced. In 1972, Dr. Gray started Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and became the school’s founding president and first professor of evangelism. For over 40 years, students would sit in class under the spell of his steel blue eyes and hear one heart-gripping word—“lost.” Dr. Gray lived by the mantra that evangelism was more caught than taught, and he passed on the fire to share the Gospel to all people. He inspired all who sat in his classes to go because a lost and dying world desperately needed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a leader of a conservative, Bible-believing seminary, Dr. Gray experienced the distancing of friends who wanted no part of controversy and the rejection by many in the leadership of the denomination he so loved. He always wanted to be known by what he was for more than what he was against, so he persevered and stayed positive.
To have preached all over the world, Dr. Gray was a humble and surprisingly introverted man. He was amazed that God would call an introvert like him into the ministry. He counseled with many, taught thousands in the classroom, and witnessed to all who would listen. Dr. Gray never cared about titles and awards. He once said that all he wanted on his tombstone were the words “Baptist preacher” and “U.S. Air Force pilot.” Perhaps the best summary of his life comes from an observation on a hot, Southern, summer day. It was at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, and the morning session ended. Thousands of preachers and denominational leaders streamed out of the convention center, rushing to get something to eat before the afternoon session began. On the street corner, amidst the rushing crowd, was a man in a nice suit sitting on the curb by the street. My eyes were drawn to him, and I saw that he was talking with a man who had obviously fallen on hard times. I recognized the man in the suit as a seminary president, Dr. Gray B. Allison. He had taken out a pocket New Testament and was witnessing to the man, ignoring the crush of the bystanders. Dr. Gray was more interested in sharing the Gospel with this poor, lost soul than whatever comfort the noon meal could provide. Dr. Gray’s life mirrored the words of Jesus in John 4:32, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
Dr. Gray’s heart is the heart of Mid-America. He blazed the trail and cast the vision. Mid-America will stay the course on our core beliefs: the inerrancy of the Bible, the importance of missions, and the necessity of personal evangelism. Our passion will be to live out the words of Mid-America’s Alma Mater in the twenty-first century: “To all the world for Jesus’ sake/where bodies hurt and sad hearts ache/lift high the Cross/His love proclaim/Mid-America bear His name!”