Deeply Rooted: Biola Celebrates 104th Birthday

Rediscovering Biola's First Dean: William E. Blackstone

Feb. 24, 2012 By Jenna Bartlo

Biola University’s 104th birthday arrives on Feb. 25 — a day the campus marks each year with events to celebrate the biblical heritage passed down by the university’s founders.

Many students, staff and faculty can readily name Biola’s founders: oilman Lyman Stewart, pastor T.C. Horton and academic dean R.A. Torrey. However, there’s one name that doesn’t roll off the tongue: William E. Blackstone.

Biola professor and historian Paul Rood has recently been rediscovering Blackstone, the man who served in the capacity as dean before Torrey. As a founding and long-serving trustee, Blackstone has been described as among the most illustrious and revered of Biola’s founders in his day. Somehow, along the way, his contributions have been underrepresented in the history books.

“Over the century his memory has largely been forgotten, but his life accomplishments and service to Biola deserve remembrance and honor today,” said Rood.

Rood recently took some time to answer questions about the forgotten leader and why Blackstone should be remembered.

Who was William E. Blackstone?

William E. Blackstone (1841-1935) was a member of a prayer group of Chicago Christian businessmen who financially supported the start of Moody's Bible Institute. WEB, as he referred to himself, was a lay Bible teacher who held to the orthodox evangelical faith with strong convictions concerning global evangelism and the personal Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He wrote a book called Jesus is Coming in 1878, which became a phenomenal bestseller — 2 million copies in 14 languages.

A.B. Simpson related that WEB's impassioned call for the completion of the Great Commission at a 1891 Bible conference in Maine was the “spiritual founding event” of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. WEB also had a profound love and compassion for the Jewish people. He founded the first mission for Jewish evangelism in America, the Chicago Hebrew Mission, and is perhaps best known to historians as the founder of “Christian Zionism.” WEB became closely associated with Lyman and Milton Stewart in 1902, when he was appointed by them as trustee of the Milton Stewart Trust for World Evangelism. The Stewart trust enabled WEB to spend the remaining 30 years of his life as a global statesman on behalf of a wide array of Bible translation, distribution and missionary enterprises.

What was Blackstone's connection with Biola?

From 1904 to his death in 1935, WEB was based in Southern California. He was a prominent Bible teacher and conference speaker for many of the evangelical churches and denominations in Los Angeles and throughout the country. In 1908, WEB was one of the nine founding trustees of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and served in the capacity as Biola's first dean. Although from 1910–14 WEB lived in China administering the many missionary and Bible translation activities of the Stewart World Evangelization Trust, WEB continued to serve as "honorary dean" until R.A. Torrey arrived in 1912. When WEB returned from overseas he continued to serve as an active trustee, helping Biola through many of its early challenges.

How did you first become aware of the Blackstone connection with the early days of Biola?

During the time of the Biola centennial events in 2008 I began doing some intensive research in the Biola archives, which house the personal papers of Lyman Stewart. While reading through the more than 150,000 items in these papers, I noticed hundreds of letters to and from “William E. Blackstone.” I was aware of WEB as an important early premillennial fundamentalist and Zionist, but was not aware of his close relationship with Biola. Official Biola historical publications had made no more than a passing reference to WEB. As I came to appreciate the importance of WEB's role, I devoted considerable time to researching WEB's amazing life and contributions.

What are some of the interesting things about WEB that you can share with the Biola community?

His 1891 Blackstone Memorial  (“A Proclamation for a Homeland for Persecuted Russian Jews in Palestine”) was signed by over 500 of America’s leading politicians and religious leaders and presented to U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and other heads of state. In 1916, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis asked WEB to reissue his Blackstone Memorial to President Wilson because it was the best expression of humanitarian compassion toward the persecuted Jewish refugees and their human rights claims for a secure national homeland. Brandeis called WEB “the father of Zionism.” WEB also had a love and compassion for the Arabs of the Middle East and advocated a brand of Zionism that was fully aware of the potential conflicts over homeland and rights, and wisely advocated their peaceful and respectful resolution between Arabs and Jews in the land.

WEB travelled widely on behalf of the Stewart Evangelization Trust to survey needs and provide financial support for gospel work in the remotest parts of the world: Korea, Japan, China, Burma, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey and Eastern Europe. He identified and paid for many young Christian leaders from these nationalities to come to Biola for training and to help them establish their gospel work back in their home countries.

WEB has always been considered significant by historians, cited in nearly every major work on religious fundamentalism and Zionism. While in Jerusalem last month, I visited the Israeli National Cemetery and Shrine to the founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl.  A Hebrew Bible given by WEB to Herzl is in the museum, with passages marked by WEB concerning the future restoration of Israel. Nearby in the Jerusalem National Forest is the “Blackstone Grove” honoring WEB for his contributions and compassion for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Learn more about Biola’s heritage and Spirit Week.

Paul W. Rood is a retired corporate executive and part-time lecturer in politics and economics at Biola, as well as a historian who is currently writing a comprehensive critical biography of Lyman Stewart, founding president of Biola and the Union Oil Company. Rood's grandfather, Paul W. Rood, served as Biola's third president from 1935–38. In the course of his research he has presented papers and published articles on other figures who have played a prominent role in the founding era of Biola.

Introduction written by Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. For more information, contact Jenna at 562.777.4061 or jenna.l.bartlo@biola.edu.

 

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