Donald Grey Barnhouse

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Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960), Presbyterian minister, broadcaster, author, was born in Watsonville, California into the home of a Methodist carpenter and his wife. Sensing a call to the ministry he enrolled at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) and came under the influence of its president, Reuben A. Torrey, where he adopted a premillennial dispensationalist view of the Bible. After an unsatisfactory year at the University of Chicago’s liberal Divinity School, he transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary but left to join the Army in World War I, where he attained the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

After the war Barnhouse spent two years as a missionary in Belgium and another two years pastoring small Reformed churches in the French Alps. Returning to the United States in 1925 he settled in Philadelphia where he took the pastorate of a small Presbyterian Church. In 1927 Barnhouse completed a master of theology degree at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and was called to be the pastor at Philadelphia’s prestigious Tenth Presbyterian Church. At Tenth Presbyterian he established a reputation as a fiery preacher and uncompromising Bible teacher not afraid to contend with–and name–those he counted as liberals or heretics inside or outside his Presbyterian denomination. In 1930 Barnhouse began local radio broadcasts of the church’s vesper service, a program which was for a short time broadcast on the CBS network. Barnhouse’s broadcasting, along with frequent guest speaking engagements, summer Bible conference tours, and a series of popular Bible commentaries on individual books of the Bible made him a popular national figure in evangelical circles. In 1949 Barnhouse began a new radio program, the “Bible Study Hour,” that aired on over one hundred stations on the NBC radio network. The next year he launched a new national magazine, Eternity.

In 1953 he shocked both friend and foe alike when he announced that after many hours of prayer and self-reflection he had come to the conclusion that he had been too harsh and that he was going to attempt to moderate his doctrinal zeal in an attempt to reach out to other Christians with whom he largely agreed on most issues. In the following years he used the pages of Eternity to publicize more tolerant stances toward Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, and even the World Council of Churches–revised opinions which cost him as many friends as reclaimed former enemies.

For further reading see C. Allyn Russell, “Donald Grey Barnhouse: Fundamentalist Who Changed,” Journal of Presbyterian History (1981); Margaret N. Barnhouse, That Man Barnhouse (Tyndale House, 1983). 

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