Dr. William E. Woodson, Sr.

Last evening I attended the funeral of Dr. William E. Woodson, Sr.  I feel sad. I break my blog silence to remember this spiritual giant in my life.

Dr. Woodson was my first academic mentor. I had more classes under Woodson than any other teacher in my academic career.  I had my first and last Bible classes at Freed-Hardeman College (1974-1977) under Woodson.  The first was the Acts of the Apostles (I had a particular interest in Acts 8:37 and textual criticism, and he indulged me) and the last was a topical seminar on contemporary issues (I wrote on preterist eschatology). I had many between those, of course (including my first course in Church History).

Brother Woodson taught me to read the Bible for myself. He taught me to look carefully at the text, exegete its original meaning, and follow my convictions based on the text.  I learned from him, more than any other, to follow where the text leads me and to honor the text.

More than an academic mentor, he was a pastoral mentor to me.  For a year I travelled with brother Woodson every Sunday to preach at appointments.  I would lead singing and/or teach the Bible class and he would preach, or sometimes he would lead singing and/or teach the Bible class and I would preach.  That was an invaluable experience for a nineteen year old FHC student. The travel time was filled with humor, theological discussion and talk of family. Thank you for that special attention, my friend.

Throughout graduate school in PA and KY, Woodson followed my progress and was a constant encouragement to me. He would often remind about “the Lord’s church” and we would discuss the theology I was learning and taught.

When Sheila died in 1980, he was one of the first I went to see and he was one the first to communicate with me.

In the Spring of 1983, Woodson wanted me to come and teach at David Lipscomb College.  I interviewed and all was going well (as I remember), but I had also decided to marry Barbara.  Because she was a divorcee, that was a problem (an unwritten rule at Lipscomb at the time, I understand).  Woodson counseled me that sometimes, like King Edward of England, one chooses love over position.  He was kind, encouraging and honest with me.  I chose love rather than a position at Lipscomb.

As my theological orientation shifted–and I changed, he did not–we drifted apart as we were both consumed with our own interests and needs. I perceived this drift after the 1985 discussion William Woodson and Alan Highers had with Rubel Shelly and Monroe Hawley at Freed-Hardeman (published as The Restoration Movement and Unity in 1986).  That was a sad day for me as I watched two of my former professors at FHU, two wonderful friends from the 1970s, square off in a discussion which I thought was too personal and too negative.  I approached them both afterwards and expressed my sadness.

For some time after when I would travel to Nashville (which was fairly regular in the 1980s from Montgomery, AL) I would visit with both of them–sometimes back-to-back; first at Rubel’s office, then at William’s. It was a frustrating and sad time for me since I loved them both and honored both of them for what they had meant to me.

In 1992 I found myself on a panel with Woodson and Shelly at Harding University Graduate School of Religion. I had hoped for some reconciliation, and I wrote a paper which I hoped might tend toward that end (a book containing all the speeches and Q&A was published as Grace, Works, Faith: How Do They Relate?).  Ultimately, however, it did not facilitate reconciliation but polarized even further. I know I was never on the same platform with William and Rubel again or saw them on the same platform again (perhaps they were in another venue).

We drifted further apart and only remained in contact with each other a few times in the past decade. I regret that I did not make an effort to see him during that time. I am sorry, William, that we did not have another occasion to talk, laugh and remember together.

Whatever the meaning of the drift that separated us, William Woodson was a man of faith and was deeply convicted by what he believed Scripture to teach.  I honor that today and I honor how he impacted my life.  I am deeply grateful for his life of faith and the gift of teaching God gave him.

Thank you, brother Woodson.  I miss you and love you.   Enjoy your rest, my friend; one day I will join you around the throne of God.

Woodson’s obituary as well as opportunities to leave a message for the family is available here.

20 Responses to “Dr. William E. Woodson, Sr.”

  1.   Paul Burch Says:

    Well said my friend, well said.

  2.   John Kenneth King Says:

    I thought of you, John Mark, when I received notice of Brother Woodson’s death. These are times when the promise of the Holy Spirit being our Comforter is so precious. I pray blessings over you as you grieve, my friend.

  3.   Richard Corum Says:

    John Mark, you are a man full of grace. I have such mixed feelings about Dr. Woodson. I never had a close relationship with him, but he was a teacher who made you think. I loved his classes.

  4.   Terrell lee Says:

    Your tribute brought back some good memories. Thanks.

    I was present at the 1992 HUGSR presentation. While it was a very profitable day, the rift among giants was obvious and heartbreaking.

  5.   eirenetheou Says:

    Thank you for this testimony. It is a portrait of William Woodson quite different from the impression one might receive from his own writing or from most of what has been written about him.

    It is painful when those whom we love are at odds with one another. It is more difficult not to “choose sides” when it is a partisan struggle in which they are engaged, and we might tend to agree more with one “side” than with the other. It is good when we can “disagree” and yet continue to love one another and acknowledge one another as heavenly kindred. It is grand when love and thanksgiving transcend all disagreement.

    Your memory of your relationship with WEW is a model of love and compassion in teaching and learning. We may all hope to be as patient and caring and longsuffering, as guides and as disciples.

    God’s Peace to you.


  6.   Melissa Woodson Banks Says:

    I buried my Father yesterday. I feel the need to try and read every possible thing written about my amazing Dad and disappointingly googled this website. I know that my Dad was a gracious, kind, Christian man. Please do not make my Father’s painful death and his great memory a time for anyone to bring up past feelings that one might be wanting to regret (debate with R.Shelly). Although you might have disagreed with William Woodson’s staunch beliefs, please respect his great name. Thank you.

    •   Terrell Lee Says:

      It is good to see your name. While I haven’t seen you since FHU days in the late 70’s, your family has been on my heart during your dad’s unfortunate illness and death. Also, you were always kind toward me as was your dad; I’m grateful.

      Once your dad came to my rescue over a legal matter that I found myself in and indebted me to him. I didn’t spend as much time with your dad as other students but I always found him to be kind and helpful. I suspect that every participant on this blog who knew your dad feels the same way toward him. He certainly is one of those giants who helped shape many of us even as he continues to live on in our hearts.

      How privileged we all are since God’s kindness and compassion toward us is far richer than any of us can imagine, crossing even the differences among us.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      I am deeply grieved that my comments increased your pain. I apologize that I was insensitive to how family members might read the post. I was pouring out my feelings and heart but was careless in my timing in discussing some particulars. I ask for your forgiveness.

      Your father is my friend and mentor. I will always love him. I own that I did not make the efforts I should have to spend time together in the last decade. That is certainly one of my major regrets at this point in my life.

      Blessings in your healing.

      John Mark

      •   Richard Corum Says:

        Melissa: I do hope you will read John Marks words for their intended purpose, a tribute to a godly man. Your father was not a perfect man, but his influence continues to be felt to this day and beyond. I still have notes from his classes, but he was just a man, a special man, but just a man never the less. I would think that he would desire to be described in no other way. There are many of us who studied under him at Freed who over the years have had great difficulty knowing how to process issues that your father was deeply involved in, but I think we all, in spite of any real or perceived differences we might have felt between ourselves and your father we still viewed and will continue to view him as a giant in the faith. To loose a father that meant so much to you is difficult, but rest assured that your father is with the Lord and his former students know that we owe so much to him. To me, there was no other teacher like your father. God bless you and all of your family through this very difficult time.

      •   Mary Lee Cunningham Says:

        I just finished reading the comments you blogged today, and although I did not know Dr. Woodson I was impressed with your compassionate reply to Melissa. Knowing John Mark as well as you do, I believe you were accurate in explaining your point. He is not a man who would ever wish to bring pain to another by an uncaring thought. As I read all the posts, including John Mark’s, what I was left with was regret — regret that I had not had the opportunity to have sat at Dr. Woodson’s feet and learn from him. I believe that when I pass from this life there will be many varied opinions as to what kind of person I was and what legacy I left. For me, it would be an honor to know that I was remembered with honesty and such high regard. What I have read in this blog about Dr. Woodson told me that he was a man who made a difference in the lives of many whom I look up to and respect in the kingdom. I am thankful for his mind, his spirit and his ability to inspire others to know God.

  7.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    John Mark thank you for your tribute to brother Woodson. I first met Dr. Woodson in 1988 I recall at IBC when he gave a speech in chapel. I was present for the 1992 forum at Harding Grad and have some interesting memories of that as well. Whether or not we agree on every jot and tittle we remain, in the words of J.D. Thomas, We Be Brethren. One day Brother Woodson and I (and you and Rubel too) will have a cup of Java and have some more good theological discussions. My prayers are with his family … may the Shalom of our loving Abba descend upon them.

  8.   Robert Notgrass Says:

    I remember brother William Woodson, beginning as a small boy. My grandparents went to the Granny White Church of Christ in Nashville, TN. I remember back to what I thought of his preaching and his personality. He always had time to talk with me, which I never did forget. I recall meeting him later in life at lectureships and Gospel meetings and we often spoken of those older years. And then now, as a Gospel preacher, I remember speaking with him about my Greek and Hebrew studies and how wonderful his encouragements were. In fact, I spoke with him only a week or two before he was in the hospital. As always, this scholarly giant and friend spent a few hours with me on the phone encouraging me into deeper studies. It was surprising to hear of his illness at Polishing the Pulpit. It was a further shock to hear of his passing a couple of days later. I shall miss our great conversations for now and his friendship. But, we will see him again. My condolences goes out to his family. He was a faithful Christian till death (Rev. 2:10). Henceforth there is laid up for him a crown of righteousness, which the righteous judge shall give him on that day. But not to him only, but unto all those who love God enough to be faithful till death.

  9.   Bob Mize Says:

    I was a student at Freed-Hardeman College (then) from 1962-1965. Dr. Woodson was a fairly new professor, and a great influence in my formative spiritual journey. I am grieving today. I did not have the privilege of meeting his family. However, your comments, Melissa, touched me. I have a daughter Melissa, so your name jumped out. I send my love and prayers and underscore what you say about honoring your dad aside from the controversies that have marked our movement. Now I realize your dad was in his early 30s at the time he influenced me so greatly…and that seems so young to me now (I’m 67). I was at Freed-Hardeman during an era long gone (the great leaders have passed on), when Dr. Tom Warren was there…along w/ Claude Hall, CP Roland, H.A. Dixon, Claude Gardner, Robert Witt, J Walker Whittle, etc. I was president of my Sophomore Class and the Third Year class designed for Bible Majors before Freed-Hardeman became a University. Calvin Warpula was class president, and Rubel Shelly was a year behind us. John Mark, your comments are so well written…thanks for helping us remember a great light. Hebrews 13:20,21 is my prayer for us all. Bob Mize, Lubbock, TX

  10.   Melissa Woodson Banks Says:

    Thank you so very much gentlemen. I appreciate your kind and respectful remarks. Please forgive if I was harsh. There will always be a part of my Dad in my heart and I know you all are paying your respects. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. Melissa Woodson Banks

    •   Tom Treadway Says:

      You were not harsh and don’t you ever believe your father was “just a man.” My association with him was studying under him at the preacher’s classes (I am not a preacher, just a student) at the Winfield, Al. church of Christ. Bro. Woodson’s knowledge of God’s word was far superior to anyone else I have known and that includes a host of tremendous scholars. Not “just a man” but truly a modern day hero of faith loved and respected by all. Tom Treadway, Berry, Al.

  11.   Steve Puckett Says:

    I too was shocked by the death of William Woodson. He was a gifted teacher and mentor to so many of us at Freed. I talk to his son, Bill, the day of the funeral to express my care and concern for the family. I spent a good bit of time in the Woodson home during my days at Freed. His son, Bill, and I were friends and I often visited there and sometimes ate some of Mrs. Jeanne’s wonderful food. In the beginning I was as bit nervous about being in the home of my major professor, but he and the rest of the family made me feel very much at home.

    The reason I stayed at Freed was because of Dr. Woodson. He spent time with me during registration of my sophomore year when I was considering leaving Freed for another school. The line for registration stretched out his door, but he took thirty minutes to share insights on why I should stay the course at Freed and I did, meeting the wonderful woman who is my wife and also getting my degree in Bible

    Dr. Woodson’s class on Hebrews was one of the most inspiring classes I had in my time there. He taught all of us to think for ourselves and to never jump on the bandwagon when some debate came along in the churches. He was a careful researcher and taught his students the same skill.

    I am thankful that in the early days of my work in Florida that I wrote Dr. Woodson a couple of times to thank him for his influence in my life. His responses were always gracious.

    I would like to say God’s blessings on Jeanne, Melissa, Bill, and Allison and their families.

  12.   John Says:

    I had brother Woodson for three classes at FHU right before you were there, John Mark. I recall his dry sense of humor, which I found quite appealing. When something difficult was coming up in class, he would say, “Tough sledding ahead, men.” I still remember that.

  13.   Tom Treadway Says:

    Just now ran across this article.
    I met Bro. Woodson in1985 at the Freed-Hardeman “Restoration Movement & Unity” seminar and have sat at his feet often in Winfield, Al. on Thursday evening classes for preachers. I consider him the single greatest modern day “Hero of Faith” and the church has lost it’s greatest scholar. Many have commented on his sense of humor and I will also; no sub genius could touch the hem of his garment when it come to wit.
    The Cleveland coc in Bankston, Al. will be eternally greatful for his work in exposing those who would make nothing less of the Lord’s church than a denomination (many mentioned in this article) in his book “Change Agents and churches of Christ” and in much of his later teachings.
    RIP Bro. Woodson, you are sorely missed

  14.   Warren Baldwin Says:

    John Mark,
    This post stirred innumerable memories of F-HU. I had Rubel Shelly for my first Bible class; William Woodson for one of my last – the topical seminar. I learned several important things from him that semester. My paper was on Perspectives of Southern Christians on the War Between the States. I turned my paper in, he read it and kindly handed it back to me the next class. “Original sources. Our library is full of original sources written at the time. Go read them.” Turned out to be one of my favorite school papers. Another thing: he began each class with a thought, not necessarily related to the subject that day. More for character transformation, reflective thought, etc. Some of the quotes he read us and personal stories he told I still remember and draw from.

    Melissa (I was an underclassmen when you were there), Bill, and other family members … I’m reading this post rather late, so please accept my belated condolences.

  15.   Don Wade Says:

    I am very behind on following this site, but now I have it set to be one of the blogs I will follow. And it is sad that the time I start reading the blog I discover that William Woodson, Sr. had passed away last year. I never studied under him at any university or anything like that…but he was one of the first “learned” preachers that I had the privilege to listen to when he came to our church for a brief lecture. He made the bible make sense to me (I was young and needed some answers) and he was so well qualified to do so. His work as an expositor will always be a standard to follow, or at least I believe so. May he receive his eternal reward in Heaven.

    Also, you mentioned the Woodson -Highers vs Shelly and Hawley, and it caught my attention. I don’t always agree with what anyone else says, I try to take heed of what God says to me through His word. But in this case I would like to say that the book “Is Christ Divided?” by Monroe Hawley is one of the best books I have ever read. He clearly shows what Phariseeism looks like, and why many brethren with good intentions have become more like Pharisees than anything that resembles one who is trying to teach grace and faith. It’s more like “here is the brotherhood take on it” and of course anything that doesn’t fit that mold is treated as apostasy. While I know that Rubel Shelly and Monroe Hawley have said things that many disagree with, there is no reason to attack them with vengeance.

    I just wanted to throw that in. Peace!

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