Who is L.R. Scarborough?
The second president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of its founding faculty, L.R. Scarborough was the institution’s architect and steward from 1914-1942. His zeal and influence ignited a passion for evangelism among faculty and students and sustained the infant seminary through difficult times such as the Great Depression and World War I. This fiery West Texas cowboy possessed the ability to round up just about anything, whether it was new converts, funds or ministry recruits.
Born Lee Rutland Scarborough on July 4, 1870, to George and Martha Scarborough, his birthday foreshadowed his future career of championing freedom from sin through Jesus Christ. Scarborough’s father was a cattle rancher, itinerant evangelist and Baptist preacher. Growing up on a West Texas ranch, Lee quickly honed his skills at horseback riding, roping and handling a six-shooter. He learned tenacity and a strong work ethic on the open range but received only snippets of education until he was 16. But once he entered school full-time, he learned the material as quickly as he had developed his cowboy skills.
As Scarborough prepared to go off to college, his father made him promise to attend First Baptist Church of Waco, where B.H. Carroll, the future founder of Southwestern Seminary, was the pastor. He was required to write home weekly and recount Carroll’s sermons. In later years, Scarborough would claim that under the preaching of Carroll he received his best theological and ministerial training. Although he had made a profession of faith at a revival meeting prior to going to college, he was baptized by Carroll in 1889.
Following his surrender to God’s call to ministry, Scarborough was invited to preach his first sermon at First Baptist Church of Abilene. He later accepted a call to become a pastor in Cameron, Texas. During that time, he married “Neppie” Warren. Throughout the next three years, due to his emblazoned evangelistic emphasis and faithful preaching of the Word of God, the membership of the church increased from 200 to almost 500.
Feeling the need to improve his ministerial skills, Scarborough moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1899 to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He cut his studies short and returned home after the death of his brother in 1900. Upon his return, he became pastor of First Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas, where he experienced incredible growth in his ministry, increasing the size of the church from 400 to more than 1,000 members. During his pastorate, he also became prominent in denominational work and was instrumental in raising the necessary funds to save Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University) from financial failure.
Recognized for his burning heart for evangelism and incredible ability to rally individuals around worthy causes, Scarborough was approached by his former pastor, B.H. Carroll, and was asked to join the infant Southwestern Seminary in Waco. Carroll created the first chair of evangelism in a seminary, and he believed Scarborough was God’s chosen man to fill the position.
Scarborough initially refused the offer, but Carroll’s persistence over the next two years finally persuaded him to leave Abilene and become professor of evangelism and the school’s field secretary in 1908. As field secretary, he was able to use all of his God-given talents and passions. He was responsible for conducting evangelistic meetings, raising financial support and awareness for the seminary, and recruiting the next generation of preachers, evangelists, and missionaries.
Commissioned with the task of securing a permanent home for the seminary, Scarborough’s unparalleled ingenuity made Carroll’s grand vision a reality in 1910 when he helped the city of Fort Worth raise $100,000 to relocate the seminary and supervised the construction of the seminary’s first building, Fort Worth Hall.
In 1913, Carroll, who was incapacitated due to poor health, had the seminary’s board of trustees name Scarborough the assistant to the president, which, in effect, made him acting president and spokesperson for the seminary until Carroll’s death in November 1914. He was unanimously elected as the second president of the seminary in February 1915.
Scarborough’s inaugural address, titled “The Primal Test of Theological Education,” outlined the seminary’s fundamentals, including its doctrinal and denominational commitments. He said,
“Our great aim is to meet the needs of a suffering world in high places and low, with adaptable, efficient, evangelistic, and Spirit-filled men. We confess that our aim is found in the subject of this address—kingdom efficiency through culture, scholarship, training, consecration, and the power of God.”
Baptist Statesman, Fiery Evangelist
Scarborough was also strategically involved in directing the “75 Million Campaign” of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was an ambitious, convention-wide fundraising effort and served as the precursor to the Cooperative Program. Scarborough not only focused on gathering financial support during the campaign, but he also passionately recruited individuals to serve in ministry. He organized “calling out the called” services in churches and schools, and more than 20,000 men and women volunteered for the ministry, missions, and other forms of service during this effort.
From Scarborough’s early days as an unknown West Texas preacher to his years as a prominent Baptist figurehead, the flames of evangelism burned deep within Scarborough’s soul. He authored 14 books throughout his lifetime, nine of them on evangelism. He believed that evangelism coupled with education would preserve the seminary.
“It is found that so long as the heart of an institution burns hot with the fires of soul-winning, it is not likely to drift in its theology from the fundamentals of New Testament faith,” he said.
Scarborough resigned his position as president of Southwestern Seminary in 1942. His administration faced the steep challenge of stabilizing the fledgling seminary; and despite opposition and unforeseeable obstacles, he was able to accomplish his goals. For 34 years, his fiery passion for evangelism and training preachers, evangelists and missionaries fueled the heartbeat of the institution, securing its foundation and its future.