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08
Aug
17
BTS Remembers Bill Harding

BTS Remembers Bill Harding

Remembering Bill Harding - Bob Vannoy (BTS professor emeritus)

It was upon enrolling as a student at Faith Theological Seminary sixty years ago this fall that I first met William Harding. My desire was to further my theological education by enrolling in Faith Seminary in the fall of 1957. In the previous school year many of its faculty members had left the school to establish Covenant Seminary located in St. Louis, Mo. This meant that Dr. Allan A. MacRae, the President of Faith Seminary, needed to hire a number of new faculty members for the 1957-1958 school year. Three of those new faculty members were Bill Harding, Bob Dunzweiler and Thomas Taylor.

My first contact with Bill was in the student/teacher relationship. He taught beginning Hebrew and other Old Testament subjects as well as a number of courses in pastoral theology. He was a dedicated and well-organized teacher. One of his courses was homiletics. Although Bill gave much helpful material, I don’t think I ever was able to achieve his desire for me to use what he called “volume four” at certain key points in the delivery of my sermons. Upon completing my MDiv in 1960 and ThM in 1962 I went to the Free University in Amsterdam to work on a doctor’s degree in Old Testament. In the spring of 1965 I was invited by Dr. Allan MacRae to join the faculty at Faith Seminary in the fall of 1965. My wife, Kathe, and I came to Elkins Park to begin my teaching career at Faith Theological Seminary. This was the beginning of a new and long lasting relationship with Bill.

Now I came to know Bill as a colleague and a friend. Faith Seminary was located on the former Weidner Estate in Elkins Park, PA. There were two major buildings on this thirty some acre campus. “Lynwood Hall” had been the very large “Versailles style” home of Peter Weidner. This luxurious building now contained the classrooms, cafeteria, library, dining hall, chapel and dormitories of the Seminary. The other major building, “The Carriage House” had been converted by the Seminary into four apartments for faculty members. When I came to Faith in 1965 my wife and I were given one of these apartments on the second floor. Bill and Betty Harding had the apartment on the other side of the second floor. We lived in close proximity and we came to know Bill and Betty as neighbors. During our six years at Faith our young children began to connect with Bill and Betty’s two daughters.

After six years at Faith Seminary Dr. Allan MacRae along with Dr. Jack Murray decided to establish a new Seminary in Hatfield, PA to continue the kind of theological education that Dr. MacRae had developed at Faith. This new school came to be called Biblical Theological Seminary. This meant that faculty members at Faith had to decide whether to stay at Faith or to join the new venture in Hatfield. The core of the faculty including Bill Harding, Tom Taylor, Bob Dunzweiler and myself along with a few others chose to join the faculty at the new school. For me this began a long and closer relationship with Bill. Over the years I came to know and respect Bill for his friendship, and for his encouragement and kindness as a person. Bill would go out of his way to speak words of encouragement after a chapel message or after having read something that I had written. Above all, I came to understand that for Bill preaching and evangelism were at the core of his identity. He just loved to preach. He preached in a wide variety of churches almost every weekend, as well as during the summers through his many years at the Seminary. His sermons were well exegeted, well organized and well delivered. 2 Timothy 4:2 captures what Bill did so effectively: “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (NLT). Bill did all of these things with distinction.


Remembering Bill Harding - Dave Dunbar (BTS president emeritus)

Bill was one of my teachers years ago at Faith Theological Seminary and subsequently at Biblical Seminary after most of the faculty and many of the students came to Hatfield in 1971. Bill stands out in my mind as the teacher of the “one right way.” For him there was one right way to do exegesis, one right way to preach, and one right theology to get you where you needed to go. I found, however, that Bill was always gracious and encouraging, even to those who took a slightly different path.

More recently I have been serving as pastor at Bill’s home church. He would join us on Sundays if he was not speaking elsewhere, and I found him always thankful for God’s blessings in his life and enthusiastic for what the Lord was doing in the congregation. Even after his health deteriorated and he was largely confined to his home, he was generally joyful and always appreciative of a visit. Bill’s ability to “in everything give thanks” is the most powerful influence that his friendship has had on me.


Remembering Bill Harding - Todd Mangum (Director of ThM program)

No one who ever heard it could ever forget Bill Harding's booming voice. When people commented on it, Mr. Harding would just sort of shrug and admit, "Yes, the Lord did give me a gift of a built-in amplification system." In fact, he preferred preaching without a microphone, insisting he did not need it (no matter the size of the auditorium). He was right.

That booming voice was one of the distinguishing features of one of Biblical Seminary's original founding faculty, kind of emblematic of the emphasis on good preaching that characterized Biblical Seminary's original curriculum. Of course, not every student--not even every student trained by Mr. Harding himself--could emulate his thunderous style no matter how hard they tried. Some of those early homiletics classes could be comical, watching the most quiet, studious, mild-mannered classmates try to morph into the Bill-Harding-style "evangelistic exhorter." One of the consistent features of Biblical graduates trained by the original faculty was that "they could preach." That was the imprint of Bill Harding.

Yes, he was loud; but not attention-seeking. A genuine servant of the Lord, when he was not in the pulpit, he could be quiet, deferential, and always so kind--and generous, and encouraging, and supportive. His strength of character, in combination with his strength of voice, made him a force to be reckoned with as an agent of the Kingdom. He loved camp meetings, revivals, and conferences, and led and preached at such around the country and around the world (Singapore was a favorite) throughout his life including well after "retirement" (which is not a word Bill really believed in anyway). No one knows just how many people came to know the Lord, or returned to the Lord, as a result of Bill Harding's preaching ministry.

And, man, he could preach. He was not fancy, fanciful, or at all complicated. He drew practical principles from God's Word and drove those points home with force, with bluntness, and with punctuated emphasis that you just could not miss. Or forget. I still remember half a dozen Bill-Harding sermons, some of the segments literally word-for-word.

All he needed was his Bible to preach. This was truly inimitable (As many a homiletics student found out the hard way!), but Bill made a basic outline of his points the first time he preached a passage, and then filled in the full message with explanation, illustrations, and applications . . . from memory. He did not need notes. So, because he also did not need a microphone, when it happened--as it did on at least one occasion that I witnessed--if a storm blew in while he was preaching and knocked out the electricity, there was a startled pause of silence and then . . . Mr. Harding's extremely recognizable voice piercing through the darkness. "You know, folks, I don't use notes anyway, and we've read the passage I'm preaching on already. So, if you all don't mind, how about I just keep on going?" And he did!

Mr. Harding aged gracefully. There was no avoiding the heartbreak, though, of when his health issues kept him from preaching. I remember, after an episode of palsy that affected the nerves in his face, he still told me with a crooked smile, "But, God is so good, I can still preach." . . . When he no longer could, we all knew he must be near the end.

By the grace of God, he went to be with the Lord smoothly and with relative peace. His voice is now booming the praise and proclamation of the glory of the Lord and the wonder of His gospel in heaven--and will ring now, undeterred, for eternity. I look forward to hearing again that booming voice prclaiming the glory of God someday. Meanwhile, the impact of Bill Harding's preaching echoes on.

Praise the Lord. Yes, praise the Lord, indeed.

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