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“A giant has fallen,” were the words that Ron Godwin, Executive Vice President of Liberty University, said to announce earlier this week that school founder Dr. Jerry Falwell had gone to be with the Lord.
For those of us who knew him personally, he really was not the controversial, divisive figure often portrayed by the national media. He was our chancellor, our pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church (next door to the university), our mentor, and our friend. The people who vilified him were primarily against him because of his unswerving commitment to Christ and his firm belief in the Bible as the infallible, inerrant Word of God beginning with the very first verse. He was not perfect—none of us are—but he obviously loved God, loved his family, and loved people—and this was evident to all (even for those who knew him but disagreed with him in many areas).
With 35 people, Dr. Falwell started the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1956. Then, in 1971, he founded what is now Liberty University. In 1985, Falwell established the Center for Creation Studies at the University. Today, all undergraduates of Liberty take “CRST 290 History of Life,” which is a course on the origins controversy from a young earth creation perspective. Currently, nearly 3,000 students a year take the course in both residential and distance-learning formats.
Dr. Falwell was a strong supporter of 6-day, young earth creation, often mentioning this as one of the key distinctives of Liberty University. He believed the entire Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 and proclaimed it often. He supported creation ministries like the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis. In 2004, he recognized AiG President Ken Ham with an honorary doctorate from Liberty,1 and gave Ken the pulpit at Thomas Road Baptist Church (once for his nationally televised TV program). Dr. Falwell also led devotions at AiG’s Creation MegaConference,2 which was held on the campus of Liberty University in 2005. Three years ago, he took a construction tour of AiG’s Creation Museum on a visit to northern Kentucky, and had very warm things to say about the evangelistic potential of the center. In fact, Dr. Falwell personally told Ken during his visit that he wanted to have every Liberty student visit the museum.
Interestingly, Dr. Falwell had not always been a young earth creationist. In fact, for a while after becoming a Christian, he believed in the gap theory.3 The reason was because he had studied the Scofield Bible and its study notes, which promoted this unnecessary compromise as a valid option for Christians.4 However, it was Dr. Henry Morris (a professor at nearby Virginia Tech at the time) who helped Dr. Falwell come to a better understanding of Genesis and the importance of a young earth creation perspective. Dr. Morris spoke several times at Thomas Road Baptist Church. Dr. Falwell once told me that when he invited Dr. Morris to the church, almost no one else semed to be promoting biblical creation at the time.
With the passing of Jerry Falwell and Dr. Morris in 2006, creationists have lost heroes in the cause for defending our Christian faith. We best honor the memory of these men by following their examples and holding fast to the truth of Scripture. It is up to Christians—including the many scientists who teach here at Liberty—to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and promote biblical creation. Dr. Jerry Falwell would have hoped that such a legacy could live on here on campus and in his church,