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The Rev. Dr. Bill J. Leonard The Rev. Dr. Bill J. Leonard is the founding dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, NC, and professor of church history and religion. He is an ordained Baptist minister.

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Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

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Wake Forest University School of Divinity

The Rev. Dr. Bill Leonard

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Wake Forest University School of Divinity

Bill J. Leonard is the founding dean and professor of Church History at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He holds the B.A. from Texas Wesleyan College (1968), the Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1971), and the PhD from Boston University (1975). He served as pastor of First Community Church, Southboro, Massachusetts, 1971-1975.

Leonard served as Professor of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, 1975-1992. While there he was for a time Associate Dean, President of the Faculty Association, editor of the Review and Expositor, and W. W. Brooks Professor of American Religion. From 1992 to 1996 he was Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1996 he joined the faculty of Wake Forest University with joint appointments in the School of Divinity and the Department of Religion. He was the founding dean of the School of Divinity which began in 1999. He retired from that role in the spring of 2010.

Leonard also served as visiting lecturer at Yale Divinity School (1981) and at the Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan (1988-89). From 1988 to 1995 he was a member of the summer faculty of the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center based in Berea, Kentucky. He serves on the board of the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center and the editorial board of the Journal of Religion, Disability and Health. An ordained Baptist minister, Leonard has served as interim pastor of over 25 congregations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina.

Leonard is the author or editor of some 15 books including The Nature of the Church; Word of God Across the Ages: Using Church History in Preaching; God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention; Appalachian Christianity: Profiles in Regional Pluralism; Baptist Ways: A History; and Baptists in America. His most recent books are Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers, and The Baptist Bible (co-editor), both published in 2009. Leonard is also the author of over 400 articles published in a variety of journals, periodicals and books.

He is a frequent lecturer on college and university campuses including Baylor University, Mercer University, Samford University, East Carolina University, the University of Richmond, Berea College, Columbia College, Oklahoma Baptist College, Eastern College, Carson Newman College, and Texas Wesleyan College as well as theological seminaries and divinity schools in the United States, Canada, England, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Romania, Hong Kong and Japan. He has received or participated in grants from the Lilly Endowment, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, the Mellon Foundation, the Luce Foundation, the Carpenter Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, the Wabash Center, and the Louisville Institute. His specialization in American and Southern studies makes him a frequent commentator on popular religion in the U.S., with frequent interviews in newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

His spouse, Dr. Candyce Crew Leonard, is professor of Humanities at Wake Forest University with specialization in Spanish literature. They have one daughter, Stephanie. The Leonards are members of First Baptist Church, Highland Avenue, the oldest African American Baptist congregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Latest Content by The Rev. Dr. Bill J. Leonard

The Rev. Dr. Bill J. Leonard

Pursuing the Prophetic

John 1:29-42

2nd Sunday after Epiphany - Year A

January 16, 2011

The Rev. Dr. Bill Leonard (CBF)

John the Baptizer scares me, always has.  He is so prophetic, a formidable presence from the beginning, kicking to high heaven in his mama's belly when the pregnant virgin Mary comes to visit, celebrating the embryonic presence of cousin Jesus before either of them entered the world.  Indeed, John's mother, Elizabeth, says to Jesus' mother, Mary: "For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy." (Luke 1:44). John was prophetic even in utero.  

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The Rev. Dr. Bill J. Leonard

The River

Matthew 3:13-17

Baptism of the Lord - Year A

January 09, 2011

The Rev. Dr. Bill Leonard (CBF)

In the story called "the River," Southern novelist Flannery O'Connor tells of the day that Bevel, a child of alcoholic and abusive parents, is taken to a baptizing by his sitter, Mrs. Connin.

I quote: 

"Have you ever been baptized?" the preacher asked.  "What's that?" he murmured.  "If I baptize you," the preacher said, "you'll be able to go to the kingdom of Christ.  You'll be washed in the river of suffering, son.  You'll go by the deep river of life.  Do you want that?"  "Yes," the child said, and thought, "I won't have to go back to the apartment then.  I'll go on to the river." "You won't be the same again," the preacher said.  "You'll count. . . ."  And without more warning he tightened his hold and swung him upside down, and plunged his head into the water.  He held him under while he said the words of baptism.  Then he jerked him up again and looked sternly at the gasping child.  Bevel's eyes were dark and dilated.  "You count now," the preacher said.  "You didn't even count before."  The little boy was too shocked to cry.  He spit out the muddy water and rubbed his wet sleeve into his eyes and over his face.  "Don't forget his mama," Mrs. Connin called.  "She's sick."  "Lord," said the preacher, "we pray for somebody in affliction who isn't here to testify."  "Is your mother sick in the hospital?" he asked.  "Is she in pain?"  The child stared at him.  "She hasn't got up yet," he said, in a high dazed voice.  "She has a hangover."  The air was so quiet he could hear the broken pieces of the sun knocking on the water.[i]

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