Robert G. Delnay arrived at Denver Baptist Theological Seminary when I was beginning my Middler year during the late summer of 1980. He came to the school both as dean and as a professor. In the latter capacity he taught Greek, homiletics, and church history. The Greek class met at 7:00 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. After about two class sessions he told us, “During the years that I was a missionary in Haiti I never saw a zombie—but we need to do something to wake you men up.” For the rest of the semester he furnished coffee and hot chocolate for the entire class. Only later did I learn that he paid for it out of his own pocket.
That course dealt with the Greek text of Philippians. Delnay thought that we needed to be challenged with harder Greek, so he spent the first several class sessions having us translate the relevant portions of Acts. This was my first immersion in the thought and language of Luke. I loved it. Delnay’s mastery of the Greek was flawless, and he had a gift for bringing the text to life. More than that, he taught us to love the Savior who is revealed in the text. He may have imbibed this devotional focus during the time he attended A. W. Tozer’s church in Chicago—Tozer’s attitudes certainly permeated his teaching.
His history classes were equally rigorous and equally fascinating. Delnay did not lecture about history. Instead, he told the story, and he told it in a way that made the characters come to life. If you were an attentive student, you began appreciating the complications and perplexities that led up to historical turning points. Besides knowing what happened, you understood why it happened.
Delnay was unusually generous with his time. His office door stood open and he always welcomed a conversation with a student. Years passed before I understood how hard he must have worked to make himself so accessible to us. Some of his best teaching occurred during those times. For example, it was during those sessions that he first introduced me to conservative authors like Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk.
As an educator, Delnay once summarized his philosophy as, “Feed a man when he’s hungry.” If a student wanted to pursue a specialized area of study, Delnay was always ready to offer him an independent study course. He guided me through the translation and exegesis of the Greek text of 2 Corinthians (that was his idea) and Hebrews (that was mine). He also guided me through independent courses in philosophy of history, Patristic church history, Medieval church history, Reformation church history, and Regular Baptist history. In these courses his assignment was usually the same: “Bring me a syllabus and outline that you would use to teach this course.” I had no idea then how valuable those outlines would someday prove to be.
Robert Delnay received his spiritual upbringing at the old Wealthy Street Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His pastors were Oliver W. Van Osdel and then David Otis Fuller. Wealthy Street also featured the preaching of female evangelist Amy Lee Stockton, and Delnay once remarked, “She had a voice like a gravel crusher.” He received a liberal education (in the best sense of that term) at Michigan State University. He attended seminary at Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago, where he studied Greek with Julius R. Mantey, preaching with Charles W. Koller, and history with Peder Stiansen. He later secured his Th.M. from Grace Theological Seminary and his Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he wrote his dissertation for George Dollar.
Besides serving as a missionary in Haiti, Delnay pastored at least three churches, one of which he planted. His greatest contributions, however, were in education. He taught at Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in South Carolina, Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Denver Baptist Bible College and Seminary (twice), Piedmont Bible College (twice, also serving as academic vice-president), Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania, Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary (twice; he was the founding dean of the seminary), and Clearwater Christian College. He taught into his 80s, after which he retired to Maranatha Village in Sebring, Florida.
Throughout his ministry he was accompanied by his wife, June, to whom he was deeply devoted. She was more than a wife to him: they were really partners in ministry. Among her other activities, she served as librarian and taught English in some of the institutions where he worked. Together the two of them modeled a life of faithful commitment to the Lord and to each other, becoming an object lesson in delightful fidelity to their students.
In the classroom Delnay was noted for his frequent quips, often delivered with a measure of irony that bordered on sarcasm. In context these one-liners served as powerful teaching tools, but he never liked to hear them repeated outside the classroom. He seemed to fear that the lack of context could twist their significance.
His publications included a history of the Baptist Bible Union that remains the standard work after fifty years. He authored a book on preaching (Fire In Your Pulpit) and a volume on teaching methods (Teach As He Taught). Delnay also published One In Hope and Doctrine, a history of Baptist fundamentalism from its beginnings through 1950. Besides these books, he wrote dozens—perhaps hundreds—of pamphlets, papers, and articles.
If Robert Delnay was pronounced in his opinions, it was because he held high ideals on which he rarely compromised. He had a keen sense of how people should be treated, and he showed little patience for those who took advantage of the powerless. He had no use for theater, particularly religious theater. If you were his friend, he was fiercely loyal—willing to forbear your faults and forgive your sins and unwilling to let evil be spoken against you. He earnestly expected the Rapture at any moment, and he hoped and prayed that he and June might be taken together. This was not God’s will, however, and Delnay was summoned into glory last Sunday evening.
His was a strong personality that rubbed some people the wrong way. For my part, I loved him. I never stopped looking up to him. I could see that he was trying to imitate Christ, and I wanted to learn that from him. I rejoice that he is now with the Savior whom he loved. Of course, I miss him, too—fiercely. Above all, I salute him for a life well spent. He finished well.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
For All the Saints
William Walsham How (1823–1897)
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warrior cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,