Lewis Sperry Chafer


Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952), educator, dispensational theologian, was born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife in Rock Creek, Ohio. He attended Oberlin College but did not finish a degree. Chafer spent time as a soloist and choir director for a Congregationalist evangelist until marrying in 1896 and forming an evangelistic team with his wife, Ella Case Chafer. After serving a year as the assistant pastor at First Congregational Church in Buffalo, New York in 1900, Chafer spent the next decade alternating between evangelistic tours, a stint teaching music at the Mount Hermon School for Boys, and leading music at the D.L. Moody-connected campgrounds in Massachusetts and Florida. While involved with the latter position Chafer came into contact with numerous advocates of the “Victorious Life” movement and was particularly influenced by the dispensational teachings of C.I. Scofield. Over the next decade Chafer assisted Scofield in his ministry, serving as the head of the extension division of his Scofield School of the Bible in New York, and helping create and teaching at the Philadelphia School of the Bible.

After Scofield’s death Chafer was selected as the pastor of his Congregational church in Dallas, Texas. Upon re-locating to Dallas, Chafer began to draw up plans for a seminary that would bring the Northern-style Bible conference’s non-denominational, dispensationalist ethos into the South. In 1924 he founded the Evangelical Theological College (renamed Dallas Theological Seminary in 1936), serving as its president and professor of theology until his death in 1952. Chafer did much to establish his school as a leading theological presence within the developing evangelical movement, acquiring the English theological journal Bibliotheca Sacra in 1933 and publishing his Systematic Theology (1948), the first, full-fledged premillennial dispensationalist theology. Chafer’s seminary and dispensationalism drew much fire from Southern Presbyterians and Southern Baptists that disagreed with his theology and resented an intrusion upon their “turf.” However, from the 1930s forward the impact of Chafer and his graduates was increasingly felt in the region, particularly among the Baptists, as more churches were attracted to the “Dallas style” of prophetic interpretation and pious spirituality.

For further reading see J.D. Hannah, “The Social and Intellectual History of the Evangelical Theological College,” (Ph.D., University of Texas-Dallas, 1988). 

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