SNAPSHOTS OF DISCIPLESHIP
by Jack Williams
Read more about Free Will Baptist Bible College at www.fwbbc.edu.
HE WAS WAITING WITH 22 PAGES of typed and hand-written material when I walked into the conference room 20 minutes early for our interview. His driver’s license says he turned 80 last month, but his hungry eyes tell another story. Bushy silver hair, a razor-edged voice, the disciplined mind of a man who has read much and thought more—F. Leroy Forlines is in a hurry and on a mission.
Never mind that he retired in 1992 as theology professor at Free Will Baptist Bible College. He forgot to turn in his office key, and still teaches on a part-time basis. He is now Professor Emeritus at FWBBC with a worldwide classroom. When the Soviet Union disintegrated toward the end of the 20th century, Forlines began lecturing in the Ukraine and Russia. Since 1996, he has made seven trips behind what was the Iron Curtain teaching an emerging generation of Russian Baptist pastors.
His hard-earned academic credentials (three graduate degrees in theology), coupled with sterling character and a 58-year ministry, mark Leroy Forlines as a complex statesman-theologian, oft-published author, entertaining party guest, personal counselor, and international lecturer.
Winterville Grease Monkey
But if you listen closely, an eastern North Carolina accent slips through as he explains the effects of postmodernism and barbarism on American culture. He is still John and Leta Forlines’ oldest son, one of five children raised to work long, hot hours on a tobacco farm outside Winterville during the Great Depression.
“I also worked as a grease monkey at Elbert Smith’s Esso Station,” says the elder statesman of Free Will Baptist theologians. Those early years sweating in tobacco barns and that greasy business at the Esso Station launched Leroy’s six-decade ministry as a preacher, professor, and author.
Now or Never
Franklin Leroy Forlines was converted in October 1944, six weeks before his 18th birthday, as Revivalist R.N. Hinnant preached at Winterville FWB Church.
“I got 100% saved,” he says, “because I did not want to spend eternity in Hell. I sat on the end of the pew that night, so I would not have to crawl over people when the invitation was given.”
Some months later, the Lord began dealing with Leroy about the call to preach.
“I was as sure that the Holy Spirit was calling me (to preach) as a person would be that the wind is blowing when he is marching against a strong wind,” he declares. “The only problem was that I resisted strongly at first. On the last night of a revival in the fall of 1946, the Holy Spirit spoke to me as never before. He said this would be the last call for me. It was now or never. I said Yes to God’s call.”
Bus Ride to Tennessee
Two years later (1948) when he was almost 22, Leroy rode a Trailways bus 24 hours from Greenville (NC) to Nashville (TN) to attend Free Will Baptist Bible College—the place where he would serve 50 years. Earlier that summer, he had an attack of appendicitis, went to the hospital, and was ready for surgery when a doctor came in and talked with him. The penicillin he had been given had done its work, and he was given the option to proceed with surgery or wait.
“I knew that if I had surgery it would wipe out the small amount of money I had been saving to go to college,” he says. “I decided not to have surgery. It has been 58 years, and I have not had another attack of appendicitis.”
Leroy arrived in Music City with “$173, a body that was able to work, and a mind and heart that wanted to be trained for God’s service, and if necessary a willingness to suffer in order to make it through.”
He was president of his 1952 graduating class, the second class to receive bachelor’s degrees. While at FWBBC, he preached his first sermon—it was on a downtown Nashville street corner at Capitol Boulevard and Church Street.
Decisions That Matter
Forlines says, “The experience at Free Will Baptist Bible College changed my life forever. The most important thing that happened to me during those years was my decision that I would believe what the Bible says, regardless of what I thought before or what others might say.”
His favorite course in college, Arminian Theology, was taught by President L.C. Johnson. It was a discussion type class, and Leroy did more than his share of discussing. That class fueled his already strong interest in theology.
After graduating, he pastored First FWB Church in Newport News, Virginia (June 1952-August 1953). It would be the only church he pastored. He returned to teach at FWBBC in 1953, and (except for two years away at graduate school) has served continuously at the college.
He met a pretty Alabama girl named Carolyn Le Fay Gilbert, who was a faculty member at FWBBC. They were introduced by President L.C. Johnson, and married on August 4, 1956. Fifty years later, their two sons are casting long shadows across the denominational landscape.
Older son, Dr. Jon Forlines, serves as vice president for student services and dean of students at FWBBC. Younger son, Rev. James Forlines, is general director of the International Missions Department with the National Association of Free Will Baptists. Both sons graduated from FWBBC in 1980.
The Hard Stuff
Leroy taught his favorite course, Systematic Theology, for the first time in 1954. This fall he taught it for the 51st time. He says the hardest class he ever taught was Minor Prophets, a course thrust upon him after the college Dean had heart surgery.
Forlines rarely took time off in those early years. He went to graduate school full-time for two years, and then went to summer school for 15 years. Maybe that’s why he would like to change two things about his life.
“I wish I had been a faster reader,” he says, “and I wish I had been able to get by with less sleep.”
Leroy began serious writing in the 1960s—not the easy kind that’s more fluff than content, but the hard stuff focusing on doctrine, theology, and ethics. He was never able to simply tell a publisher he would produce 12 or 15 chapters on this or that subject. Rather, as he says, “I had to let the writing come to me.”
He has written five books, including Romans, the first volume in the Randall House Bible Commentary (1987), and his 544-page signature work, The Quest for Truth: Answering Life’s Inescapable Questions (2001). Other publications range from pamphlets to more than 130 magazine articles.
“I’m just getting into overdrive,” he says. “I’m working on three books now. A volume on secularism, another about the pathway of destruction brought on by sexual immorality in our society, and what will be my final book—a volume on eschatology. That last book will deal with the unfolding plan of redemption through the covenants.”
Two Clear Facts
Two facts are clear for Forlines—the most influential person in his life and his best moment. His father, a man of impeccable character and integrity, is the most influential person.
“My father was a very fair man,” Leroy says. “He did not take advantage of people. He always paid his debts, even as he was dying. He didn’t have to do a lot of whipping with us children—his words and example were enough.”
He is just as positive about life’s best moment. “No doubt about it. When I proposed to Fay, and she said Yes!”
Reality and Humor
When asked how he came to terms with life’s disappointments, Forlines said, “I always try to find what reality is in every situation. Once I understand what the reality is about people and events, then I adjust to fit reality.”
For 44 years the man whose name is synonymous with sound doctrine has chaired the Commission for Theological Integrity. The college where he taught 50 years named its premiere theological emphasis the “Forlines Lecture Series” to honor the man whose passion has been to bring truth and life together.
During 2006 commencement activities, FWBBC honored Forlines for his 100 semesters at the college, presenting him with a medal citing his five-decade teaching career, and a plaque of appreciation from the Board of Trustees.
“I also have a sense of humor,” he grins, “but I try to be careful in using it.” One of the regular Forlines funny moments at FWBBC special events features Leroy drinking a glass of water while standing on his head. Then there is his patented barking-dog imitation that confuses the canine community.
Two hours after the interview began, he answered this final question: “Who is Leroy Forlines?”
Unexpectedly, his voice grew hoarse, and tears shimmered in his eyes. He said, “Who is Leroy Forlines? He is the person who, when he has left this world, would like for this statement to be said of him—‘A man of God walked among us.’”
ABOUT THE WRITER: Jack Williams is director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
the forlines files
B.A., Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1952
M.A., Winona Lake School of Theology, 1959
B.D., Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1962
Th.M., Chicago Graduate school of Theology, 1970
Pastor, First FWB Church, Newport News (VA), 1952-1953
Faculty, Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1953-
Member, Evangelical Theological Society, 1955-
Chairman, Commission for Theological Integrity, 1962-
Chairman, Bible Department, Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1965-1993
Dean of Men/Dean of Students, Free Will Baptist Bible College, 17 years
Professor Emeritus, Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1992-
Adjunct Professor of Theology, Russian Baptist Theological Institute
Biblical Ethics (1973)
Biblical Systematics (1975)
A Survey of the Minor Prophets (1977)
Romans, The Randall House Bible Commentary (1987)
The Quest for Truth: Answering Life’s Inescapable Questions (2001)
“What Must I Do to Be Saved?” (1953)
“The Bible College Approach to Education” (1965)
“Issues Among Evangelicals” (1968)
“Morals and Orthodoxy” (1974)
“Cheap-Easy Believism” (1975)
“Inerrancy and Scriptures” (1978)
“Christian Standards and Convictions Without Legalism” (1981)
“The Prophets of Prosperity” (1982)
“The Doctrine of Perseverance” (1986)
“A Plea for Unabridged Christianity” (2003)
“Christian Doctrine” (1970-1981, Contact), approximately 130 columns
Curriculum Writer (Randall House Publications)
Numerous papers presented at theological conferences.