Leonard, Bill J. 1946–

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Leonard, Bill J. 1946–


Born March 20, 1946, in Decatur, TX; son of Marvin R. (in sales) and Lavelle (a secretary) Leonard; married Candyce Crew (a college professor), 1969; children: Stephanie. Ethnicity: "Anglo." Education: Texas Wesleyan College, B.A., 1968; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div., 1971; Boston University, Ph.D., 1975. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist. Hobbies and other interests: Running, movies, travel.


Home—Winston-Salem, NC. Office—Wake Forest University Divinity School, P.O. Box 7719 Reynolda Station, Winston-Salem, NC 27109-7719. E-mail—[email protected]


Northridge Baptist Church, Mesquite, TX, youth minister, 1965-72; Federal War on Poverty program, Dallas, TX, coordinator, 1968-69; First Community Church, Southborough, MA, pastor, 1971-75; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, professor of religion, 1975-92, William Walker Brookes Professor of American Christianity, 1990-91; Samford University, Birmingham, AL, professor of religion and chair of department, 1992-96; Wake Forest University Divinity School, Winston-Salem, NC, founding dean and professor of church history, 1996—. Visiting lecturer, Yale University, 1980-81; visiting professor, Seinan Gakuin University in Japan, 1988-89; summer program of the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea College, faculty member, 1989-95, dean, 1991-92, vice chair of executive board, 2001-06. Interim pastor at many churches in Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, and Connecticut.


American Academy of Religion, American Society of Church History, American Catholic Historical Society, National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, Southern Historical Association, Baptist History and Heritage Society.


Luce Foundation grant, 1987; Louisville Institute for the Study of American Protestantism grants, 1992, 2004; Wabash Center grant, 2003; W.O. Carver Distinguished Service Award, Baptist History and Heritage Society, 2007; Cousins Foundation grant, 2008.


(Editor) Early American Christianity, Broadman Press (Nashville, TN), 1979.

Word of God across the Ages: Using Christian History in Preaching, Broadman Press (Nashville, TN), 1981, revised edition, Smyth & Helwys (Greenville, SC), 1991.

Out of One, Many: American Religion and American Pluralism, Stetson University (DeLand, FL), 1984.

The Nature of the Church, Broadman Press (Nashville, TN), 1986.

God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1990.

(Editor) Community in Diversity: A History of Walnut Street Baptist Church, Simons-Neely Press (Louisville, KY), 1990.

(Editor) Becoming Christian: Dimensions of Spiritual Formation, Westminster/J. Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 1990.

(Editor) Dictionary of Baptists in America, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 1994.

Risk the Journey: Answering God's Call to Proclaim His Word, Woman's Missionary Union (Birmingham, AL), 1995.

(Editor, with George H. Shriver) Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.

(Editor) Christianity in Appalachia: Profiles in Regional Pluralism, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1999.

Baptist Ways: A History, Judson Press (Valley Forge, PA), 2003.

An Introduction to Baptist Principles, Baptist History and Heritage Society (Brentwood, TN), 2005.

Baptists in America, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to books, including Into a New Day, Exploring a Baptist Journey, Judson Press (Valley Forge, PA), 1997; History and the Christian Historian, edited by Ronald Wells, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1998; Perspectives on American Religion and Culture, edited by Peter W. Williams, Blackwell Press (London, England), 1999; Religion and Public Life in the Southern Crossroads: Showdown States, edited by William Lindsey and Mark Silk, Altamira Press (New York, NY), 2005; and The Future of Baptist Higher Education, Baylor University Press (Waco, TX), 2006. Author of articles for scholarly journals, including Perspectives in Religious Studies, Baptist History and Heritage, American Baptist Quarterly, and Christian Century. Columnist for the Dallas Morning News, 1995—. Contributing editor, Foxfire 7, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1982. Member of advisory board, Smyth and Helwys Publishers, 1990—; managing editor, Review and Expositor, 1991; member of editorial board, Perspectives in Religious Studies, 1995-97, 2000-03.


Bill J. Leonard is a Baptist minister, scholar, and founding dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina, who has published many books and articles on Baptist history and other religious topics. His most popular book, Baptists in America, is a panoramic look at the diverse beliefs among the millions of Americans who consider themselves Baptists, from the most conservative to those who view the Bible more liberally. Leonard traces the origins of the Baptist tradition, the development of Baptist practices, and the ethnic diversity among the church's many large variations, from Southern Baptists and American Baptists to Appalachian and African American Baptist churches. The resulting account, according to Glenn T. Miller in Church History, "is a mosaic depicting a complex religious movement that is rich in disagreements, diversities, and divisions." The book "will no doubt be a reassuring read to theological liberals who have much to gain by asserting diversity as the key to Baptist identity," wrote Greg D. Gilbert in the Weekly Standard. Wesley I. Mills, reviewing the book for Library Journal especially appreciated Leonard's efforts to distinguish between the various sects of Baptists, in terms of their beliefs, practices, and history. This fact alone, Mills stated, is "what truly makes this book exceptional."

Leonard has also edited several reference works on religion. The Dictionary of Baptists in America presents 650 articles on all aspects of the religion, along with copious bibliographies and cross references. It was called "a convenient, well-organized, and thorough reference tool" by a reviewer from Booklist. In The Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States, Leonard and his coeditor George Shriver present 350 signed articles on topics ranging from Wicca, Malcolm X, Mary Baker Eddy, hyper-Calvinism, and homosexuality, to the doomed Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. Linda V. Carlisle praised the work in a review for Library Journal, stating that "considering its theme, the volume is remarkably unbiased."



Baptist History and Heritage, winter, 2004, Walter B. Shurden, review of Baptist Ways: A History, p. 117.

Booklist, February 15, 1995, review of Baptists in America, p. 1109; January 1, 1998, review of Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States, p. 852.

Choice, December, 1995, D. Bourquin, review of Dictionary of Baptists in America, p. 591; October, 2003, G. Jonas, review of Baptist Ways, pp. 1094-1095.

Christian Century, August 22, 1990, Victoria A. Rebeck, review of God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention, p. 775.

Christianity Today, November 14, 1994, review of Dictionary of Baptists in America, p. 97.

Church History, June, 1993, Edward L. Queen II, review of God's Last and Only Hope, p. 309; December, 2000, Nancy A. Hardesty, review of Christianity in Appalachia: Profiles in Regional Pluralism, p. 942; September, 2006, Glenn T. Miller, review of Baptists in America, p. 694.

Journal of American History, March, 1996, review of Dictionary of Baptists in America, p. 1688.

Journal of Religion, April, 2006, Thomas S. Kidd, review of Baptists in America, p. 325.

Journal of Southern History, May, 1992, J. Wayne Flynt, review of God's Last and Only Hope, p. 393; November, 2000, review of Christianity in Appalachia, p. 909; August,2006, John Crowley, review of Baptists in America, p. 728.

Library Journal, December, 1997, Linda V. Carlisle, review of Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States, p. 90; May 15, 2005, Wesley A. Mills, review of Baptists in America, p. 124.

Theology Today, April, 1991, Alan Neely, review of God's Last and Only Hope, p. 85.

Weekly Standard, July 18, 2005, Greg D. Gilbert, review of Baptists in America, p. 43.

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