By Aaron Hanbury
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Professor and pastor Thomas Vaughn Walker, who was the first African-American elected to any Southern Baptist Convention seminary faculty and who taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary beginning in 1986, died Sunday (Jan. 28) in Louisville, Kentucky. He was 68.
“T. Vaughn Walker will go down in history as one of the most important seminary professors of the last century in the Southern Baptist Convention,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., who is president of Southern Seminary, said in a statement. “He became the first African-American full professor at any seminary in the Southern Baptist Convention. He came to Southern Seminary first as a student, having already completed graduate work all the way to his doctorate. He was quickly recognized for his scholarship and heart for ministry and he became a member of the faculty of the Carver School of Church Social Work, and he later served in two other graduate schools of Southern Seminary. He pioneered in scholarship and leadership through the development of the Black Church Leadership program.”
A full professor, as distinguished from an assistant or associate professor, the seminary noted, is a member of a faculty who received the highest academic rank.
In 2016, Walker retired from teaching full-time as WMU Professor of Christian ministry and the director of programs in Black Church Leadership. He then became senior professor of Black Church Studies, which allowed him to teach and supervise doctoral students on a part-time basis.
“Through Vaughn Walker’s teaching, thousands and thousands of Christians have been edified through his commitment,” Mohler said. “He was always a Christian gentleman and he exemplified graciousness and collegiality and kindness. He leaves a legacy at Southern Seminary through our students, and he will always be cherished as a professor of this school.”
Walker, who earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary in 1987, pastored First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville for nearly 35 years, beginning in 1984.
A native of Heathsville, Virginia, Walker was an active leader within local church, educational, and denominational ministries. He served terms as a board member or officer of Georgetown College, Simmons College of Kentucky, the Academy of Preachers, and the Louisville Christian Foundation. He held several positions in Baptist associations throughout Kentucky and Missouri.
In Missouri, Walker was a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and senior pastor of the Log Providence Baptist Church in Columbia.
In 2000, Walker received Black SBC Heritage Award as a part of Black Church Leadership Week, an effort sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in cooperation with the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and the Woman’s Missionary Union.
Provost Randy Stinson said Walker’s ministry at the seminary demonstrated to students a model of commitment.
“For three decades T. Vaughn Walker gave himself to the training of future Gospel servants at Southern Seminary who would go all over the world fulfilling the Great Commission,” Randy Stinson, who is the provost of Southern Seminary, told SBTS News. “He modeled godliness, the centrality of God’s Word, and an impeccable pastoral commitment to his students. Even as [fellow seminary administrator] Adam Greenway and I were with him in his last days, his concern was for the doctoral students still under his care. He was a treasured colleague and will be greatly missed.”
Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, the school that houses the seminary’s Black Church Ministry programs, Adam W. Greenway highlighted the significance of Walker’s tenure at Southern Seminary.
“Dr. Walker’s passing is a significant loss for Southern Seminary, specifically because he was history-making in so many ways,” he said. “The passion he had for training people in ministry, as someone who was not just a professor but a pastor himself, is part of what made his contribution so outstanding. I was proud to have him for so long as a cherished colleague.”
Walker’s numerous professional writings including chapters and articles in journals and books such as the Journal of African American Southern Baptist History, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Challenge of the Great Commission, Faith and Family Values, Human Services and Social Change: An African American Church Perspective, and The Ministers Manual.
“Vaughn Walker made history, but he was even more effective at making friends and teaching ministers,” Mohler added. “It was my personal privilege to know Vaughn Walker for over 30 years. And his loss to Southern Seminary and to his beloved congregation is eclipsed only by the magnitude of his loss as experienced by his faithful wife Cheryl and his children.”
Like Mohler, Hershael W. York emphasized Walker’s character as his defining characteristic. York, now the dean of the Southern Seminary School of Theology, was a colleague of Walker’s for more than 20 years.
“From my first day on the faculty, Vaughn Walker welcomed, embraced, encouraged, and befriended me,” said York, who is also Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at the seminary. “He was the perfect blend of professor and pastor, of head and heart, of truth and spirit. Though his place on Southern Seminary’s faculty was uniquely historic, he had a marvelous way of making everyone around him feel as special as he was. His love for students, for his colleagues, and for Christ will never be forgotten.”
In addition to the M.Div. from Southern Seminary, Walker earned degrees from Oregon State University (doctor of philosophy), Eastern Illinois University (master’s) and Hampton University (bachelor’s), where, as a student, he lettered in football and baseball.
Walker is survived by his wife, Cheryl D. (Jackson) Walker, as well as by their three children (David, Mary, and Eryn) and six grandchildren.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.