Monday, 19 October 2015

A Pastor Historian: Arnold Dallimore

        Having just attended a conference by The Gospel Coalition over the weekend, one of the talks which stood out to me the most was the story of the biographer of George Whitfield. As a man who lived through hard times yet stood fast to the Gospel, and as one who loved the history of the church, this is his story.

        On September 6th, 1911, a man who would grow up during one of the most tumultuous times in Canadian history, who during his lifetime would see many changes occur in the church, and most importantly, write one of the definitive biographies on the great Revivalist preacher George Whitfield, was born in the city of London, Ontario, Canada. His name was Arnold Dallimore.

        He grew up during the troubled era of the Depression in the 1930’s, and no doubt saw troubled times come to the Baptist church as well with the arrival of the modernist vs. fundamentalist debate which caused division among many churches. However, at the age of twenty, Dallimore began to study at the Toronto Baptist Seminary which had been founded by T. T. Shields, an evangelical Baptist, in the wake of the splits caused by the fundamentalist/modernist controversy a little while earlier. After graduation in 1935, Dallimore successively pastored six churches over the course of eleven years. At one of these churches he also met and married his wife, May. However, at the last church he fell into a time of depression and left the church. But after a three years break from the ministry, in 1950 he helped plant a new church in a small town nearby to London named Cottam. Here he ministered for over twenty years. It was here also where he began his writing.

        Even from the early days at Cottam Baptist Church, Dallimore began collecting information on George Whitfield, and very soon had produced a 300 page manuscript. Not satisfied with it, he destroyed it and began another. This one was not satisfactory to him either and, in his words, he realized that “like most previous biographers of Whitfield, I had failed to grasp much of the true significance of his accomplishments and much of the greatness of his person”. So, in 1959, he traveled to England to do some more research on Whitfield. Whilst there, he met and talked with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who, as he expressed to Dallimore, had long been desirous of seeing something published on Whitfield. Having gathered much more material on Whitfield, including letters to and from friends, he returned home to begin again work on what he now planned to be a two volume biography.

        After working for over twenty years on the manuscript, with much encouragement from his publishers and Lloyd-Jones, the first volume was finally released in 1970. A period of some eight years followed before the next volume was published, during which time, Dallimore realized that he could not pastor and write at the same time. Therefore, in 1973, he left Cottam Baptist Church to spend his time in writing. Volume Two was published in 1980 and both volumes were received to great acclaim. J. I. Packer said that “for Dallimore’s treatment of Whitfield…there can be nothing but praise. Please hurry up with Volume 2.” Even persons who were not of the church commended the book. Roger Martin, Associate Dean of History at Harvard wrote mentioning “how much I enjoyed reading it… …it is helpful to have a fairly concise examination of [George Whitfield’s] life.”

        Arnold Dallimore died in 1998, leaving behind him a legacy of the importance of studying history, and, perhaps most importantly, one of the best biographies written on George Whitfield. While both men were not perfect, insofar as they sought to exemplify Christian character and godly living we should follow their example and remember their contributions to the church.

        I am indebted to Mr. Ian Hugh Clary for allowing me to use his essay on Arnold Dallimore as reference material when I wrote this post. To read a much more in-depth look at Arnold Dallimore and thoughts upon his work, I would encourage you to click here.

Written and Posted by William A Moore

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