A Review of Keith E. Durso’s ‘Thy Will Be Done: A Biography of George W. Truett’


Thy Will Be Done: A Biography of George W. Truett* by Keith E. Durso. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2009. 377 pp., hardback.

From early in the 20th century until his death, George Washington Truett (1867-1944) was the most famous Baptist pastor in America and perhaps the most highly acclaimed preacher of any denomination. He pastored First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas for a remarkable 47 years, taking it from a moderate-sized congregation, to a megachurch with nearly 8,000 members, hundreds of annual baptisms, a Sunday School enrollment for a time exceeding 6,000, and extensive local, national and international ministries and influence.

Truett was a native son of the Appalachian Mountains in southwest North Carolina, just north of the Georgia state line. His parents and grandparents were committed Baptists; the large extended family could boast of more than one preacher among them.

Long exposed to the Bible and the claims of the Gospel in his childhood and though under deep conviction of sin on more than one occasion, George did not respond to the Gospel until age 19 during an evangelistic meeting.

Young Truett started an academy to educate the local children; it grew quickly under his leadership. As a result, Truett, barely in his twenties, was asked to give a report on the importance of education to a Georgia Baptist preachers’ meeting, and so impressed was a Baptist businessman in attendance that he offered to pay Truett’s tuition at Mercer College (Truett had ambitions of becoming a lawyer). However, the Truett family soon re-located to Whitewright in northern Texas, and the offer had to be declined.

Though still desiring a law career, Truett often spoke in church, teaching and occasionally filling the pulpit, but with no thought of becoming a preacher. But when he was 23, the church voted unanimously to ordain him to the ministry, without his prior knowledge or consent! He accepted their action as God’s directive will for his life.

Truett re-directed his educational ambitions toward Baylor College in Waco, Texas, but before he could begin classes, he was “drafted” by B. H. Carroll to lead a debt-retirement effort for the college. In 23 months, all $92,000 needed was raised, and Truett’s name became well-known throughout Texas. He finally enrolled in 1893, married a local girl, pastored a Waco church for four years, and was then called to First Baptist Church of Dallas. At the time, Dallas had just over 40,000 residents; by 1940, that would grow to nearly 300,000.

Shortly after becoming pastor in Dallas, Truett and some men from the church, including the Dallas police chief, were quail hunting. Truett’s gun accidentally discharged, striking the chief in the leg; he died the next day. This tragedy had a profound effect on Truett, and probably accounted for his great solemnity in public and his total avoidance of humor in the pulpit.

George was an avid reader, especially of history and literature, from his youth. As an adult, on his many travels, he always took a satchel of books along. His personal library included thousands of volumes; half the ground floor of the family home was converted to a study to accommodate them. Truett authored fourteen books, all sermons and addresses. These printed sermons are said to be a feeble representation of Truett’s preaching.

Truett was known for his excellent speaking voice and preaching abilities. He had a bit of the Appalachian sing-song in his delivery, and spoke slowly and distinctly, a practice shaped in youth by learning to communicate with his deaf brother, who could lip read. After his name became known, Truett was much in demand for revivals, commencements, dedications, conferences, and lectures. At President Wilson’s request, Truett spent six months ministering to American troops in 1918-1919.

In the last two decades of his pastorate, Truett, who was President of the Southern Baptist Convention three times (1927-1929) and of the Baptist World Alliance (1934-1939) was gone so frequently from his own church that it inevitably had a negative impact on the church’s vitality and growth.

While thoroughly conservative in theology (one must not assume that the seminary begun in Waco by SBC “moderates” reflects Truett’s theological views), Truett did not like controversy. His nemesis in Fort Worth, Frank Norris, in contrast practically wallowed in it. Norris criticized, and justifiably so, on theological grounds, Truett’s association with, among others, the BWA, though Norris’ manner was often inexcusable.

Truett’s legacy was in the church he built and the lives he touched with the Gospel.

Keith E. Durso’s Thy Will Be Done: a biography of George W. Truett is a thorough, scholarly account, with extensive bibliography and very full documentation, a vast improvement over the biography of Truett by son-in-law Powhatan James, George W. Truett: a Biography (Broadman, 1939; 277pp.; revised edition 1945) which was written for popular consumption, avoided all criticism, and lacked historical perspective. Leon McBeth’s The First Baptist Church of Dallas: Centennial History (Zondervan, 1968) has a detailed account of the Truett’s pastorate at FBC.

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Douglas K. Kutilek Bio

Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.