Question: "Who was Warren Wiersbe?"
Answer: Dr. Warren Wendel Wiersbe (1929—2019) was an American pastor, Bible teacher, conference speaker, radio minister, and prolific author. He is best known for his extensive “Be” Bible commentary series and numerous other theological works.
Wiersbe was born and raised in East Chicago, Indiana, an industrialized steel mill town twenty-five miles southeast of Chicago. He was the third and youngest child of Fred and Gladys Anna Wiersbe, faithful members of Indiana Harbor Mission Covenant Church. Even though he was raised in the church, Weirsbe later wrote, “Most of the people in the church would have pointed me out as a ‘good Christian boy,’ but I had never really been born again. . . . I had never made that life-changing decision to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” (https://vancechristie.com/2019/07/11/a-good-christian-boy-meets-the-savior-warren-wiersbe/, accessed 4/6/23).
In May 1945, just before his sixteenth birthday, Wiersbe volunteered as an usher at a Youth for Christ rally. Standing transfixed at the back of his high school auditorium, Wiersbe recalled his heart being captivated as he listened to the message of salvation preached by 26-year-old evangelist Billy Graham. That night, Wiersbe responded to God’s call, committing his life to Jesus Christ. Many years later, Billy Graham would call Weirsbe “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation” (www.moodybible.org/news/global/2019/warren-wiersbe/, accessed 4/6/23).
Not long after accepting Christ as Savior, young Wiersbe said he “had developed an insatiable appetite for the Word of God” and “wanted to study and understand the Bible more than anything else in all the world.” When asked what he wanted to do with his life, Wiersbe responded, “I wanted to go to school and get some Bible training and then preach the gospel.” (www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/warren-wiersbe-1929-2019/, accessed 4/6/23).
In 1947, Wiersbe graduated valedictorian of his high school and attended Indiana University in Indianapolis and then Roosevelt University in Chicago. After a year, he transferred to Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in a northwest suburb of Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree. While at seminary, Weirsbe met his future wife, Betty. She worked in the school library, and he went there often to study.
Before completing seminary, Wiersbe was ordained in 1951 and began pastoring at Central Baptist Church in East Chicago. In June 1953, he and Betty were married. The couple raised four children—David, Robert, Carolyn, and Judy. While serving at his first church, Wiersbe frequently spoke at Youth for Christ rallies. Eventually, he accepted a full-time position as Director of the Literature Division at Youth for Christ International in Wheaton, Illinois. During this time, Wiersbe was invited to work on several book projects for Moody Publishers, beginning with the devotional Byways of Blessing (1961). He would eventually publish 14 titles with Moody and more than 150 books in total throughout his life.
From 1961 to 1971, Wiersbe led Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky. Here, his radio ministry began when a local Cincinnati station began broadcasting his Sunday morning messages as The Calvary Hour. Under his teaching, church membership more than doubled, drawing people from the Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky tri-state area.
In 1971, Wiersbe was invited to take over the famed pulpit of The Moody Church (named after the evangelist Dwight L. Moody) in Chicago. The church’s current pastor, Dr. George Sweeting, had resigned from his position to become Moody Bible Institute’s (MBI) president.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, once said that Warren Wiersbe “was one of evangelicalism’s giants, but to the people of The Moody Church, he was their beloved pastor” (www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/warren-wiersbe-one-of-evangelicalisms-giants-dies/, accessed 4/10/23). During his tenure at The Moody Church, Wiersbe wrote a monthly MBI column called “Insight for the Pastor,” along with hundreds of other articles in years to come. He also started working on his “Be” series of expositional commentaries covering the entire New Testament and nearly all of the Old Testament.
Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, Wiersbe taught theology and preaching courses at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan. Later, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and hosted the Back to the Bible radio program.
Wiersbe continued to speak at conferences and minister until 2004. He called himself a “bridge builder,” referring to his practical preaching method of taking people “from the world of the Bible to the world of today so that we could get to the other side of glory in Jesus” (www.moodybible.org/news/global/2019/warren-wiersbe/, accessed 4/6/23). According to Kentucky Today reporter David Roach, Wiersbe was known as “‘the pastor’s pastor’ because his Bible commentaries and study aides were used so widely around the world” (www.kentuckytoday.com/downloads/warren-wiersbe-the-pastor-s-pastor-dies-at-89/article_22acc61e-4063-5af6-afb1-ef4ec992250f.html, accessed 4/6/23).
More than four million copies of Wiersbe’s books and commentaries have sold worldwide. He wrote so many books that he said he couldn’t remember them all. In 2002, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association awarded him the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement Award.
Not only did Wiersbe write and publish books, but he also collected them. When searching for a home in Lincoln, Nebraska, Betty told their real estate agent, “We are looking for a library with a house attached” (https://christianhof.org/dr-warren-wiersbe/, accessed 4/6/23). Wiersbe compiled a personal library that was said to contain more than 14,000 books. In 2018, he gifted the collection to Cedarville University, where they are now housed in the Warren and Betty Wiersbe Library and Reading Room (www.cedarville.edu/news/2019/the-pastor-s-pastor-leaves-a-legacy-of-pointing-people-to-jesus, accessed 4/6/23).
In an interview with The Gospel Coalition, Wiersbe reflected on growing up with athletic brothers and a mechanically skilled father. Compared to them, he felt like a “weakling,” but he knew that God was preparing him for his life’s purpose: “Writing to me is a ministry. I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic. I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God. All I’m doing is using what he’s given to me to teach people, and to give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ” (www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/warren-wiersbe-1929-2019/, accessed 4/6/23).
On May 2, 2019, Dr. Warren Wiersbe died in Lincoln, Nebraska, two weeks shy of his ninetieth birthday. Six weeks later, his wife, Betty, passed away. They were married for nearly 66 years.
Here are some quotes from Warren Wiersbe:
“We do not understand and then obey: that is instruction. We obey by faith, and then we understand: that is illumination.”
(Live Like a King, Kregel Publications, 1995, p. 131)
“Christ is more concerned about what we do with Him than for Him. Labor is no substitute for love.”
“Christians have a dual citizenship—on earth and in heaven—and our citizenship in heaven ought to make us better people here on earth.”
“You do not move ahead by constantly looking in a rear view mirror. The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you. We must learn from the past but not live in the past.”
“God has ordained that His people live by promises and not by explanations.”