Monday, February 14, 2011

Earl Irvin West (1920-2011)

A week ago last Friday, on February 4th, I received word that Earl Irvin West had died that morning. He was 90 years old.

For those who don't recognize his name, Earl West was the grandfather of contemporary historians among the Churches of Christ. His 4-volume survey entitled Search for the Ancient Order has long been a standard reference work. In addition, he published several other books and many dozens of articles. I just bought a copy of his brief autobiography called Searcher for the Ancient Order: The Golden Odyssey of Earl I. West. I look forward to reading it.

For many years, West served as a professor of religious history at Harding University's Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. From 1987 to 1997, I was a part-time, commuter student at Harding. During those years, I took three courses with Dr. West:

The Early Church
American Restoration Movement A
American Restoration Movement B

I won't say that the class on the early church was a bad one. It wasn't. But it was when he was teaching Restoration History that West was really "in his element." As he lectured about people like Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Jacob Creath, Jr., you sometimes got the feeling that West actually knew those people. And I was always impressed that anytime a student asked him to elaborate, it was clear that he had at his fingertips much more information than he had planned to present. As a historian, he didn't just know the big rivers on the landscape. He also knew every creek and stream. A few other things I especially remember about my teacher:
  • When he came to class, he always wore a coat and tie, and always had a neat appearance. It was clear that he took his role as a teacher seriously.
  • He had sort of a lumbering way about him. In the race between the turtle and the rabbit, he would definitely be the turtle, slow and steady. Of course, this is how he was able to produce so much work.
  • West was a big man with a deep, resonant voice. I always thought that if he hadn't become a scholar and a teacher, he might have been a great radio announcer.
  • When lecturing, two of his favorite words were "Furthermore" and "Moreover." He used them as connectors in a list of items he was discussing. It was sometimes amusing for us students to notice how often he used those two terms.
Most of all, though, what impressed me about Earl West was that he believed it was much more important for a person to be a real follower of Jesus than it was for him to be a scholar. He loved his subject, not merely because he was a historian, but mainly because he was a Christian. And though I didn't know him well, I'll always love him for who he was and what he stood for.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labor, and their works will follow them. --Revelation 14:13


Wade Tannehill said...

I only knew West through his writings and he was probably the first author I read on the Restoration Movement, which I have loved to study ever since. It seems that I taught a class based on a New Testament Survey workbook that West did. He gave so much to the church. I for one am sorry to hear of his passing, but then, another soldier has gone home.

Alan Gill said...

I was surprised Earl West was still alive for some reason I had not heard much about him for many years. I was friends with his sons when I was very young and their neighbor. Earl would walk each day down Payton Street turn on tenth and arrive at Franklin Road Church of Christ. I have lost touch with his sons many years ago but noticed Earl had 5 grandchildren so things must be well with the boys. Many times I wished I could have talked with Earl as my life progressed, just talk to him about the restoration movement, something I have written about from time to time. I consider his books the best on this subject - very helpful. I recall those days when I spent time in the West household as pleasant and memorable....... maybe a little hectic.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Alan, if you haven't read it already, you would especially enjoy SEARCHER for the Ancient Order, West's short autobiography. It "sounds" just like him, and he tells a lot of stories that you would immediately relate to. Thanks for your comment here and best wishes.