Evangelist Bob Jones, Sr
Biographical Sketch

Robert Reynolds Jones 
by R.K. Johnson 

Robert Reynolds Jones:  October 30, 1883 Shipperville, Alabama; January 16, 1968 Greenville, South Carolina 

FUNDAMENTALISM'S GREATEST FORTRESS of the faith for years was Bob Jones University. "Preacher boys" trained there have fanned over the world with a zeal seldom matched anywhere. The fabulous growth has put it in the top spot as far as enrollment is concerned among Christian colleges. Some 5,000 take training there annually. What produces such a school? Many things, but the indefatigable work of the founder, Bob Jones, Sr., surely can be considered as the key ingredient. One of the great evangelists of all time--a man who preached in 30 countries--Dr. Bob's contribution to Bible Christianity has seldom been matched. By age 40 he had preached 12,000 sermons to some 15,000,000 people, with 300,000 converts. Jones was the son of William Alexander and Georgia (Cree) Jones. The parents were farmers of Calvinistic convictions. He was the eleventh of twelve children, having eight sisters and three brothers. The family moved to the Dothan, Alabama, area shortly after his birth. Christian convictions were instilled in him by his parents and hard work on the farm gave him a challenge early in life to work. He was converted at age eleven in a country Methodist church outside Dothan. The preacher was 80 years of age and the young lad was the first to go forward. Since age six he had desired to get this matter settled. From the time of his conversion he began preaching publicly and was known as "the boy preacher." He preached to anyone who would listen. He became a good debater. He developed strong convictions and undaunted courage. Like Billy Sunday, his preaching was to be received because it would be on the level of the people. He demonstrated unusual ability at memorizing Scripture and recitation. For months he had made speeches at the Sunday School, displaying great knowledge of the Bible. At age twelve he was appointed Sunday School superintendent at this Methodist church at Brannon's Stand. Being something of a child prodigy, he would gather children of the neighborhood and preach to them. One day he caught some older folk hiding behind the trees, listening to what was going on. From this point on his father began to take a deep interest in his oratorical powers, clipping significant pieces from newspapers and asking young Jones to commit them to memory. When he reached 13 years of age, he built a brush arbor (outside shelter of brush, lattice work, trees, etc.) and out of this meeting place, two miles from home, came a church of 54 members where he preached for about a year (age 14). His mother died that year also. By age 15 he was licensed and ordained by the Alabama Conference. At age 16 he headed a circuit of five churches, including the little church he had started. He would often walk miles just for the opportunity of having a chance to preach. He received $25 a month for this ministry. More than 400 came into the churches by profession of faith that first year. Bob was now preaching all over southeast Alabama. He finished his formal education, which was dis- jointed in his earlier years, at Kinsey (Alabama) High School, 13 miles away from home. He worked his way through school, living in the home of the principal, J.C. Hammett. Graduated in 1899, the year his father died, young Jones entered Southern University (later Birmingham Southern) at Greensboro, Alabama, in 1901 where he attended until 1904. He studied Latin, math and science, continued his preaching and was ordained by Methodists in 1903, from whom he withdrew in later years because of their drift from the fundamentals of the faith. While in college he kept on preaching, first every weekend somewhere, with good results, then campaigns, holding weekend revivals during school and full-time meetings in the summer. For three summers he held meetings in the State of Louisiana. Fearing a man they couldn't control, the Methodists passed a rule that no Methodist layman or preacher could preach or hold a religious service within the boundary of a Methodist pastor's circuit without that pastor's permission. This of course did not stop such as Bob Jones or his predecessor in those days, Sam Jones. Bob was stirring up the entire state of Alabama as a young man when he discovered his throat was bothering him more and more. It was diagnosed as "tuberculosis of the throat." He also had double pneumonia, was malaria prone, and was told he could not live ten years. He went west where he did recover, being healed by the Lord of this difficulty. This was when he was 21. The following year, on October 24, 1905, he married Bernice Sheffield, only to have her die ten months later in August, 1906, of tuberculosis. Somewhere around January, 1907, in Uniontown, Alabama, he met Mary Gaston Stollenwerck, who was con- verted in his meeting. On June 17, 1908, they were married. Their only child, Bob Jones, Jr., was born October 19, 1911. Marriage and family did not change his life style, as Mrs. Jones traveled with him, taking a maid along to care for the child until he was six years old, when he entered school in Montgomery. Following the death of Sam Jones and during the heyday of the Billy Sunday meetings, Bob Jones was raising a storm throughout the country himself. In 1908, now 25 years old, he held a crusade in his home town of Dothan, where some city officials, several of whom had been converted, called a meeting of the City Council and closed the dispensary, eliminating intoxicating liquor. It was also in 1908 that he witnessed two outstanding conversions: In Abbeyville, Alabama, a Robert Reynolds was converted. This was his father's buddy in battle, for whom Jones was named. Then, in Ozark, Alabama, he led a Dr. Dick Reynolds to the Lord. This was the doctor who attended his birth. Several states were utilizing his services in the next couple of years--Texas, California, Missouri, New York, Georgia. By age 30, he had preached in 25 states. In 1911 he was greatly used in Atlanta, Georgia, which had two notable services--a "Women Only" service at the Forsyth Theater on June 2 and a large gathering of "Men Only" at the city auditorium on his last Sunday afternoon. People were long talking about his sermon, The Secret Sins of Men. In 1915, great crusades were held in two small Indiana towns. Crawfordsville had merchants closing their stores during the hours of the services. They later commented that it was easier to collect for bills, and preachers found it easier to get people to come to church. Over 4,000 women gathered to hear his famous sermon for them, The Modern Woman. One of the most amazing stories of revival in history took place in Hartford City, Indiana, a town of 7,000. Before the meeting, the church membership was 1,500; after the meetings the churches had almost 4,000 members. On the last Sunday of the meetings, 1,600 joined the churches. Some 100 per night accepted Christ. Sunday movies were closed and the city voted dry and put out of business 16 saloons within two months of his campaign there. Some 4,000 had attended his last service--in a town of 7,000 population. In 1916 Jones had good meetings in Joplin, Missouri. Going east, he was in a small New York town, Gloversville, beginning April 8th. The headlines of the April 13th newspaper said, "Bob Jones Launches Savage Attack Against Saloons and Liquor Traffic." Jones had simply talked on the topic, Some Problems of Home, to some 3,500 who had gathered. The next night he preached to 4,500 on The Sins of Gloversville. The six-week crusade held at the Tabernacle on Temple Street was sponsored by 12 churches. The total attendance was 175,000 with 1,780 deciding for Christ. He closed the year out with a large tent crusade in New York City. He was front-page copy for the New York Herald for more than a week. The tent, located on West 12th Street, was the scene of many victories. Another outstanding revival that had been conducted earlier that year was at the City Auditorium in Lynchburg, Virginia. The following year, 1917, found him in Quincy, Illinois, then in a good Zanesville, Ohio, crusade from February 18 to April 1. Seventeen churches participated. Total attendance was 266,000 with 3,284 signed convert cards. His closing day attendance was 18,000. A large tabernacle had been erected which seated 5,000. Bob pounded the altar so hard while preaching that he broke it. Noon shop meetings, meet- ings with students and women's meetings were all a part of this crusade. One of his greatest crusades was the one that followed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Some 1,000 met him at the train, and some 10,000 gathered on the parade route while the procession went to the tabernacle, where such as Mayor Tilma officially welcomed him. Some 15,000 attended the opening service, and 568 walked the "sawdust trail" in response to the first invitation given the next day. Schools closed early so that children might attend special sessions for them at 3 p.m. A Sunday School parade had 2,500 participants. Over 5,000 converts were made during his ministry there. In July of 1919 a good crusade was held in Columbus, Ohio. Meetings were held under the Big Tent. In 1920 he was in Anniston, Alabama, at the Lyric Theater. On Sunday, August 29, 1920, Jones and William Jennings Bryan were featured in a great rally at Winona Lake (Indiana) Bible Conference. In 1921 Jones crusaded at Steubenville, Ohio. Seventeen preachers who sponsored the meeting early in the year attested to the good results at the large tabernacle erected near the business center of the city. The newspapers gave great coverage. More than 4,000 marched in the Sunday School parade. His greatest crusade in his own opinion was that of the Montgomery, Alabama, meeting in 1921. The meetings began on May 22; the headlines the next day tell the story: "More Than Five Thousand Held Spellbound by Eloquence of Splendid Evangelist: Hundreds Turned Away at Each Sunday Service; Sermons Not Sensational." His Sins of Men address to 5,000 men was perhaps his greatest individual meeting ever held, by his own assessment. At the close of the service over 2,000 men started a great rush to the front to shake hands with him so that he was forced to rush back to the platform and appeal to the men not to create a panic, but to respond to the proposition to live right by holding up their hands. Meetings were held at a large wooden tabernacle erected near the business center, which seated over 5,000. The building was crowded to capacity every night, and many times there were hundreds standing around the outside of the tabernacle. It is estimated some 12,000 heard him the closing Sunday night in June. Average crowds were 10,000 nightly, in a medium-sized town with a total population of 40,000. Bob Jones received an honorary D.D. degree by Muskingum College during this year. In the late fall of 1921 he held a large campaign in St. Petersburg, Florida. The tabernacle seated 5,000 and sometimes it was necessary to have two services in order to accommodate the crowds. In 1927 (the year the Bob Jones college was founded), Jones held two large crusades. One was in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and the other in Andalusia, Alabama. Jones' meetings continued with great success into the 1930s and 1940s. In 1947, he held good crusades in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Asheville, North Carolina. As many as 100 per night were saved in the former, with scores coming forward each night at the latter as well. In 1949, at Presque Isle, Maine, a town of 10,000, between 50 and 200 were saved each night. In June of that year he returned to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, for a 15-day crusade. The chairman of the sponsoring committee was his convert from a Pittsburgh revival 25 years earlier. Bob Jones' friendship with John R. Rice was a mutual help to both men, with Bob Jones often appearing at Sword of the Lord conferences and then making the Sword of the Lord required reading amonst the preacher boys at the college. Concerning evangelism, Jones once said: I never had a goal as most men set up goals. My only goal was to do the job at hand, and then to begin another. I never started out to be a big evangelist, a little evangelist, or any other kind of evangelist. I just started out to do the job the Lord had for me at the time. Some 30 nations of the world were to hear him preach as well. In 1952, at age 69, and 1959, at age 76, Bob Jones made round-the-world missionary tours. Then again, in 1964, in connection with his 80th birthday, the Joneses were sent on a goodwill tour around the world, visiting 14 countries. By this time 850 missionaries in 90 countries had received their education at the school he started. Perhaps he has been an evangelist longer than anyone in the history of the Christian Church. He was preaching at age 13 and continued well into his 80s, which would give him over 65 years in this chosen field. He averaged some 40,000 miles of travel per year. His decisions for Christ ran into the hundreds of thousands, with one report stating his greatest single service response being 6,000 decisions. As years went by Jones was beginning to get another burden--that of starting a Christian college for the common people with whom he worked every day. Many were the sad stories of sending children off to college and seeing them return with agnostic views. Sitting in a drug store in Kissimmee, Florida, in 1927, the idea hit him hard. "I'm going to start a school!" he told his wife. A site was picked, seven miles out of Panama City, Florida, on St. Andrews Bay. This site itself would have a name--College Point, Florida. On December 1, 1926, ground was broken. Jones described the naming of the school: I was averse to calling our school the Bob Jones College. My friends overcame my aversion with the argument that the school would be called by that name because of my connection with it, and to attempt to give it any other name would confuse the people. Jones from the beginning, like other noble evangelists, poured his own large income from evangelism right back into the work of the college, and for years the operating expenses of the school were always current because of this generosity. Whitefield and his orphanage, Moody and his schools, are notable examples of this kind of dedication. On September 12-14, 1927, the school opened with 88 students. The financial crash of 1929 hit Florida especially hard, and assets of $500,000.00 were wiped out. Enrollment was limited to 300 at this Florida campus. A site in Cleveland, Tennessee, appealed because of a better geographic position. Old Centenary College (Methodist Girls' School) had been closed for years, and the move was made to Cleveland, Tennessee, on June 1, 1933. Formal opening was September 1, and a new school year was to begin. In 1934 Jones took a prolonged absence to preach in such places as Ireland, Poland, and several engagements in Michigan. During this time Bob Jones, Jr., got some good experience in running the school. A great benefactor in those early days was John Sephus Mack, who died on September 27, 1940. He contributed much financial assistance in the development of the college. He was the head of the Murphy stores and first met Jones at a revival in his home town, McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Coming late to the meeting, he was seated on the platform. Here he witnessed Jones' lips moving, and he was able to read his lips: "Help me get ahold of this crowd." Being a conservative Presbyterian, this kind of praying seemed a bit informal to him, but since then Mack also talked to Jesus in this fashion. He also told the evangelist if he ever made any money, he would give it to Jones if he needed it. Approximately $150,000.00 for the building program subsequently followed. By 1946 the school had expanded as much as it could in Cleveland. Additional property needed to expand was next to impossible to obtain. The Church of God was greatly interested in the property, and so it was sold to them for $1,500,000.00. Much business needed to be done, and Jones was constantly traveling, tying up loose ends and preaching. He missed the Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta in 1946 by one night, having checked out of the ill-fated hotel one day earlier than anticipated. Some 120 died in that inferno. It was finally agreed to move the college campus to Greenville, South Carolina, where, on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1947, it was dedicated. At this point the school changed its name to Bob Jones University, and Bob Jones, Jr., assumed the presidency of the same, with Bob Jones, Sr., becoming chairman of the board. Some 2,900 students were now attending. Through the years, the school continued to grow, with Bob Jones, Sr., playing an active role until his resignation as chairman of the board of trustees in April, 1964. Currently the school handles 4,000 to 5,000 students annually-one-third of this number being ministerial students. Over 30 countries are represented in the student body. The school has excelled in film teaching and production. Shakespearean drama productions are held annually. The university has amassed one of the finest collections of religious paintings in North America. The $40 to $50 million assets with 180 some acres made the modern facilities and beautiful campus a legend among Christian schools. Refusing to compromise in any way, shape or form the Bible principles established in the very beginning, the school has been coerced and criticized. The discipline and dramatics program have been misunderstood and derided. Because of its refusal to become a part of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, some have felt it to be unscholarly. Because of the monitoring of dates and the "six-inch rule" between the opposite sexes, some have felt the school antiquated. Because of the school's refusal to back the Billy Graham New York Crusade in 1957, an attempt to discredit the school's leadership was made. The conclusion of all this is that Bob Jones the man and Bob Jones the school were just not going to change their stand. In the early days of Youth for Christ and the National Association of Evangelicals, Jones was a prime supporter. Once, at an alumni meeting of his school, he asked all present to sign a pledge that they would use their influence to have the school closed if it ever developed modernistic leanings. Both the man and the school he started continued to prosper, and history will likely show that a greater combination evangelisteducator never lived. When he was on campus, one of his main jobs was his "chapel talks," where students received character training and purpose. He left the Methodist Church in 1939. Jones will be remembered as the man who was one of the first to take the unpopular stand in those days of opposing the policies of Billy Graham. So much has been blown out of proportion, but the simple facts are these: When Graham began to insist upon the total support of a city, as he did in the famous 1957 New York crusade, Jones would not put aside convictions of a lifetime and ignore something he felt was harmful. Hence he, John R. Rice, and others decided the truths of II John 9-11 should be adhered to. It was not a personality clash as some would like to think. It was not a matter of jealousy, for Jones promoted and supported Billy Graham until the fraternization with liberals started. The ecumenicity of Graham's new sponsorship, resulting in the practice of returning converts to unscriptural churches and false teachers as well as sound churches and good teachers, clashed with Dr. Bob's philosophy. "It is not right to do wrong to get a chance to do right." So the polarization of new evangelicals and fundamentalists did start for the most part in 1957, as this policy developed. Of course, the right kind of fundamentalist will rejoice in souls won by Graham or anyone else, as the issue is not a man--but a Biblical principle. Bob Jones and John R. Rice sponsored a historic meeting in Chicago on December 26, 1958, where some 150 prominent evangelists gathered to form resolutions backing historic Christian premises in the field of evangelism. Muskingum College gave him a D.D. degree in 1921, and John Brown University granted Jones an LL.D. degree in 1941. A plaque in his honor was unveiled in Dothan, Alabama, on October 18, 1962, marking his birthplace. The Christian Hall of Fame at the Canton (Ohio) Baptist Temple honored him in 1966 as the only living entry in their portrait gallery of greats. The last two years of his life, he was in the school hospital. His last words, on January 16, 1968, were, "Mary Gaston, get my shoes; I must go to preach." He was buried on campus in a beautiful little island in a fountain of cascading pools, just across the street from the Rodeheaver Auditorium. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy: 'Builder of Bridges' Biography by R K Johnson, ling-time business mgr of Bob Jones University.