Spencer, William David 1947-

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Spencer, William David 1947-


Born November 13, 1947, in Plainfield, NJ; son of William Day Jr. (a contractor, realtor, and mineralogist) and Helen Catherine Collis (a sales executive) Spencer; married Aida Dina Besancon (a professor), September 12, 1972; children: Stephen William. Ethnicity: "Greek and Czech, Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indian), French, English, German." Education: Rutgers University, B.A., 1969; Princeton Theological Seminary, M.Div., 1972, Th.M., 1975; Boston University, Th.D., 1986; attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1969-70. Politics: "Independent split, but registered Democrat." Religion: "Evangelical Christian."


Home—South Hamilton, MA. Office—Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA, 01982; fax: 978-468-6691. E-mail—[email protected].


Ordained Presbyterian minister, 1973; Cross-counter, Inc., codirector of music team and group leader, Newark, NJ, 1970; Rider College, Trenton, NJ, Protestant chaplain and lecturer, 1971-74; Salvation Army, Newark, master in residence and codirector of Alaythia House, 1974-78; teacher of adult creative writing classes at public schools in Louisville, KY, 1978-79, then teaching coordinator of a literacy program and center supervisor, 1978-82; Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA, adjunct associate professor of theology and the arts, 1983—; Pilgrim Church of Beverly and Salem, MA, pastor of encouragement, 1987—. Adjunct professor at New York Theological Seminary and King's College, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1974-78; curriculum designer for schools, including Rider College.


Evangelical Theological Society, Christians for Biblical Equality (member of advisory board), Popular Culture Association, American Academy of Religion.


Earl F. Bargainier Award, Popular Culture Association, 1993; first prize, Philadelphia Book Show, 1998, for Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafarian Reader; lifetime achievement award, Christians for Biblical Equality, 2005.


Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1989.

(With wife Aida Besancon Spencer) 2 Corinthians, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1989.

(With Aida Besancon Spencer) The Prayer Life of Jesus: Shout of Agony, Revelation of Love: A Commentary, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1990.

(With Aida Besancon Spencer) Joy through the Night: Biblical Resources for Suffering People, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 1994.

(With Aida Besancon Spencer, D.F.G. Hailson, and C.C. Kroeger) The Goddess Revival, Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995.

(Editor, with Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, Adrian Anthony McFarlane, and Clinton Chisholm) Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1998.

(Editor, with Aida Besancon Spencer) God through the Looking Glass: Glimpses from the Arts, Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1998.

(Editor, with Aida Besancon Spencer) The Global God: Multicultural Evangelical Views of God, Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1998.

Dread Jesus, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London, England), 1999.

Contributor to books, including The Guide to United States Popular Culture, Popular Press; The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, Oxford University Press (New York, NY); and Mystery and Suspense Writers, Scribner (New York, NY). Contributor to religious journals in the United States and abroad, including Christianity Today, Christianity and Literature, Wittenburg Door, Journal of Pastoral Practice, and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and to secular journals, including Clue: Journal of Detection. Member of editorial team, Princeton Seminary Viewpoint, 1971-72; editor, Priscilla Papers, 2004—.


Reverend William David Spencer's book, Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, is a study of novels that use members of the Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic clergy as detectives and principle investigators. In his study of the clerical sleuths, Spencer finds that in general they are kind and compassionate, possessing great inner strength. They take their responsibilities as rabbis, priests, and nuns very seriously and try to act as reflections of God.

The first few chapters of Mysterium and Mystery take a scholarly approach as an overview of the clerical crime novel. Spencer explores the history and evolution of the mystery novel as it relates theologically. Spencer details how the mystery play, which was a medieval drama based on events in the scriptures, such as the great flood or the creation of the world, evolved into the clerical crime novel. Spencer also sees the modern mystery novel as a secular form of the ancient mysterium, which was a revelation of God's mercy and wisdom. The author also claims that, by its very nature, a clerical mystery novel reflects the enigma of God; the mystery stands in the way of truth, love, justice, and mercy.

Before delving into his critique of individual authors and their characters, Spencer first looks at stories from the Apocrypha. Spencer feels that the Apocrypha—a series of early Christian writings not included in either the Old or New Testament in the Bible—is one of the first clerical puzzles. The protagonist in the two stories presented is a man named Daniel, whom Spencer feels is the pattern and model for later fictional detectives and investigators.

Spencer also studies different authors and their primary characters from a theological viewpoint. He examines how each sleuth uses his or her particular religious background and training in order to arrive at the answer to the mystery. Spencer critiques such steadfast authors as Harry Kemelman and his character of Rabbi Small, Charles Merrill Smith and Reverend Randolph, Ellis Peters and Brother Cadfael, and G.K. Chesterson and Father Brown. Spencer also analyzes other bestselling authors such as Andrew Greeley, William X. Kienzle, Sister Carol Anne O'Marie, and Ralph McInerny.

Mysterium and Mystery includes an extensive bibliography and an index of fictional characters. In Choice, J.R. Cox commented that "Spencer certainly knows his material and writes clearly." Jon Libreen in Armchair Detective called Mysterium and Mystery "one of the best volumes extant of specialized detective story criticism," while Lois Sibley of the Christian Century wrote that Mysterium and Mystery "is astute, careful and probing. Spencer is like a coroner, who dissects the body inch by inch to see exactly what ‘done her in.’"

God through the Looking Glass: Glimpses from the Arts, which Spencer wrote with his wife, Aida Besancon Spencer and the support of several artists, is an exploration of the relationship between art and God. The authors look at how music, fiction, painting, and drama can be used as a window through which to see and understand God. God through the Looking Glass sees the gift of art as a reflection of God's mercy and intentions for us.

Spencer once told CA: "I cannot remember when I was not in love with books and writing. As a child, I loved everything about books—their smell, their compact size, their dust jackets and frontispiece art—everything. Having childhood asthma did not permit this to remain a costless venture and I was sick constantly with the books and their dust always coming under the lineup lights for tough questioning. But my parents let me have them and, as many sickly youth, I read incessantly. I was writing fiction from early grammar school with one yellowed fantasy tale still extant (somewhere in my garage, I think) and by junior high I was collecting a first class Edgar Rice Burroughs and (subsidiary) Leslie Charteris collection. I may have been too sickly physically for high adventure, but mentally I was armed and on the ramparts every day. To ease the strain on the family budget, my dad helped me set up my own mail order book business, and soon I was running advertisements in collectors newspapers, picking up pulp fiction by Zane Grey, Charles Alden Seltzer, Eugene Cunningham, et cetera for a dime or a quarter at the well-stocked Salvation Army and Mount Carmel Guild and selling them by mail for a dollar.

"Sometimes I would handle Burroughs duplicates at considerably higher prices, wheeling and dealing and spending my profits on more and more expensive Burroughs's titles. Occasionally a customer would express surprise when learning he was dealing with a twelve-year-old boy. Meanwhile, I was also cutting and pasting together my own little mystery novels (with illustrations provided by the Saturday Evening Post). By ninth grade I could type, and the novels were getting longer. Soon I was adding poetry and composing songs. As my health was strengthening, I embarked on a venture to create a persona out of my self, running, lifting weights, learning wrestling moves, I guess, to emulate those quintessential Burroughs heroes. That campaign reached its pinnacle when I was elected wrestling captain and was third-highest scorer on my team. For me, life and fiction had merged.

"I think my interest in nonfiction stems from that realization—that life is as fascinating as fiction and the same tools we use to interpret fiction are useful in interpreting life. This balance of reflection/action found meaningful content when I experienced a life-directing encounter with Jesus Christ in my freshman year in college. Jesus is the epitome of all the best of fiction's heroes—strong, gentle, loving, fierce, pure, noble, sacrificial, triumphant. And, best of all, he affects real life positively. Everything I have done over the subsequent years of my life is predicated upon these bases. In college I blended a major in English and American fiction with education. Deflected into ministry by my reaction to a late 1960s riot in my home town, I have balanced a succession of urban ministries with a steady publication of short stories, poems, and eventually an extended study on the mystery novel, which became my doctoral thesis. Today I maintain avocations in co-pastoring a small store-front mission church and teaching in an urban center for training ministers with a vocation writing books about fascinating developments in popular culture.

"I also wrote one major book and coedited a second on the Rastafarian movement, an offshoot of Christianity as fascinating in its history and belief system as any fictional people with which Burroughs ever peopled a planet, and triply fascinating to me because Rastafarians key off my own faith, express themselves best in art and music, and, despite their often violent, apocalyptic rhetoric, are among the most gracious and gentle people I know. While I write prolifically, I actually publish lightly (nine books in a lifetime is not much) because I revise incessantly. Every book and every article goes through numerous versions before I will let it out. I want each of my books to be as accurate as it can be, to edify readers, and convey the significance and the delight I found in its topic when I was writing it. My life is full and blessed."



Armchair Detective, spring, 1990, Jon Libreen, review of Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, p. 215.

Choice, June, 1989, J.R. Cox, review of Mysterium and Mystery, p. 1678.

Christian Century, April 5, 1989, Lois Sibley, review of Mysterium and Mystery, p. 360.

Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1998, review of God through the Looking Glass: Glimpses from the Arts.

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