Eldred Douglas Head was elected by trustees to succeed
L. R. Scarborough as president of Southwestern Seminary in 1942. This new president took office only months after the United States was drawn into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, Head’s deep voice could be heard on the Southern Baptist Convention’s radio program, The Baptist Hour, proclaiming Christ as the only hope for freedom in an age when tyrants such as Adolf Hitler threatened it.
Head served in a different world than B. H. Carroll and L. R. Scarborough had known. The war renewed the nation’s sense of economic security, bringing to the seminary a surge of both finances and enrollment. Additionally, Head himself was a different sort of man than Carroll and Scarborough had been. While his predecessors had the aggressive spirit of entrepreneurs, he had a gentle personality and tended to shy from controversy. However, he held deep convictions and with Carroll and Scarborough shared a passion for preaching, evangelism, and Christ-centered scholarship.
Born in 1892, Head was reared by devoted Christian parents. He reminisced about the evening hours that the family spent reading the Bible and praying together. “This season of Scripture reading and prayer,” he observed, “made an indelible impression on me.” Having been reared in such an environment, Head naturally looked to Christ for salvation as an 11-year-old boy. Even at that age, he felt the heaviness of guilt and a deep need for repentance, and he described the relief of salvation to his mother: “It felt like a bale of cotton had been lifted off my heart.”
Only a few years after his conversion, Head followed a call to ministry and showed a passion for preaching and evangelism. At the age of 14 on the streets of his hometown, this passion was aimed at an unbeliever, who always mingled and joked with passersby. With the man’s permission, Head began preaching to him each Sunday in the loft of a cotton gin with a box for his pulpit. His pulpit later became a treestump in nearby woods, and Head continued to preach to this man until the man was saved and joined the local church.
Head moved to Waco, Texas, to attend Baylor University in 1911. He had been licensed to preach before leaving, and three years after arriving at Baylor, the First Baptist Church of Waco ordained him. Once ordained, he began serving as pastor in area churches, at times traveling to his preaching post by train and serving for a salary of $60 per year. In 1932, he became pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, a position he held until he became the president of Southwestern Seminary 10 years later. While at First Baptist, Houston, he led the church to pay off its debt of $400,000, a feat that foreshadowed similar work, which he would later accomplish at the seminary.
Head, like his predecessors, greatly honored the pastorate and understood the significance of Christ-centered scholarship. He earned both B.A. and M.A. degrees at Baylor University, the former in 1916 and the latter in 1927. He also studied at Southwestern Seminary during the presidency of
L. R. Scarborough, receiving his Th.M. in 1920 and his Th.D. in 1930. His doctoral dissertation was published as New Testament Life and Literature as Reflected in the Papyri in 1952, and it was hailed by the journal Interpretation, to be the year’s most significant work on the New Testament.
Nearly 5,000 students came under Head’s tutelage during his teaching career at Baylor Academy, Baylor University, and Southwestern Seminary between 1914 and 1950. He taught a wide variety of subjects, including Old Testament and New Testament survey courses, the Life and Literature of Paul, Comparative Religion, Missions, Church History, and Evangelism.
When Head became the third president of Southwestern Seminary in 1942, he continued his emphasis on scholarship, but it was scholarship with a flare for worldwide evangelism. In his inaugural address, titled “Scholarship in Leadership,” he called students and faculty to a high standard of scholarship characterized by reverence, vision, compassion, and Christ-centeredness.
“Let me summon every one of you,” Head said, “redeemed by the blood of Christ, impassioned with a holy urge, to evangelistic conquest, committed wholly to the infallible and unimpeachable Word of God, devoted to the patronage of the highest scholarship, to his riven side, his cross of atoning sacrifice.”
According to Head, seminary training coincided with Kingdom work, and “balanced scholarship” always came with a “soul.” “It comes to us,” he said, “not with the iciness of arrogance or with dust of mustiness upon it.”
Head lifted up Scarborough, who occupied the seminary’s “Chair of Fire,” as exemplifying compassionate, soul-filled scholarship. As president, he succeeded Scarborough in filling the “Chair of Fire.” The chair suited him because he had demonstrated a long-standing passion for evangelism. His books on evangelism, such as Evangelism in Acts and Revivals in the Bible, testify to this fact. He was also one of the first to teach a college course in evangelism during his career at Baylor University.
Head revised Scarborough’s book, With Christ After the Lost, which he often used for his evangelism classes at both Baylor and Southwestern Seminary. In his preface, he recorded his hopes for the new edition of this book: “It is our earnest prayer that as this book goes forth in its present form, it may continue to kindle fires on heart altars, to the end that multitudes may be won from sin to salvation, from darkness to light, from futile gnawing on the bread that perishes to accepting him who is the Bread of life.”
Southwestern Seminary prospered under Head’s leadership. The year following his inauguration, the seminary paid off its long-held debt. Additionally, the faculty nearly doubled in size during his presidency, and the student body practically tripled in size, increasing from 734 students in 1942 to 2,160 students when Head retired in 1953. During this time, Head improved the seminary campus by revamping existing buildings and constructing the Memorial Building and J. M. Price Hall without going into debt.
The Memorial Building, completed in the fall of 1949, consisted at that time of the George W. Truett auditorium and rotunda, the L. R. Scarborough administrative hall in the west wing of the building, and a library in its east wing. The building was originally inspired by the death of George W. Truett in 1944. This renowned pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, had been a longtime trustee and friend of the seminary, even serving as chairman of the board of trustees from 1931 until his death. During Truett’s funeral service, G. Kernie Keegan, president of the seminary’s alumni association, envisioned a building on the campus erected in Truett’s memory. Encouraged by Herschel H. Hobbs, who sat nearby, Keegan led in the proposal and construction of this new building.
During the same period, J. M. Price, director of the School of Religious Education, pushed forward the construction of a building for religious education. The ground was broken for this new building in late 1948, and the project was completed in the spring of 1950. In 1949, seminary trustees approved the proposal that the building be named J. M. Price Hall.
In the fall of 1951, Head once again demonstrated his passion for evangelism and preaching by traveling to Japan to conduct a preaching mission for the Foreign Mission Board. The intensity of this endeavor greatly tried his strength; and soon after returning to the seminary the following spring, he experienced a heart attack. A few months later, Head returned to his post, where he remained for little more than a year. On
March 11, 1953, he submitted his letter of resignation.
In 1956, Head was invited back to the seminary to speak at the Founder’s Day chapel service, where he showed the same passion he had throughout his earlier presidency. “We need today great believers,” Head proclaimed. “We need today a recommitment to doctrines of the eternal book and of the faith. Yes, the doctrines of the authenticity of this book, and the doctrine of the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the efficacy of His precious blood, the certainty of His resurrection, the onward marching power of His Kingdom, and His glorious and victorious return when He brings to consummation His purpose of grace and life for all His redeemed.”