Apr 28, 2009

Dr. Elmer Towns 'a living legend'

by Brooke McDowell

Journalism started it all. Without the love of writing and desire to reach others for God with his talent, Dr. Elmer Towns would not have become the co-founder of Liberty University with Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr.

“As co-founder of Liberty University, Dr. Towns offers a special connection to Liberty history. His unique ability to communicate to masses, along with his partnership with Dr. Falwell Sr., enriches the Liberty impact upon all of us,” Dr. Jim Stevens, associate dean of religion, said.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said that Dr. Towns is the first person he calls for advice on anything related to Liberty University’s historic Christian mission.

“Dr. Towns has an excellent memory and he probably understands the original mission of Liberty University better than anyone else alive. Over the last two years, I have relied on him to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding of Liberty University’s past and purpose. I hope our students understand and appreciate how privileged they are to study under such a seasoned scholar, statesman and true hero of the faith.”

An elderly man of 76 years, Towns has silver hair that recedes to the middle of his head, and his mischievous smile makes him seem like he is always up to something.

Towns, a grandfather-like figure, sits back in his chair with one leg resting on the other. His glasses, which usually sit upon his nose, twirl back and forth between his thumb and index finger.

The clock ticks in the background as Towns recalls his first memories of Dr. Falwell.

“I was doing research for a book called ‘The 10 Largest Sunday Schools’ in 1968. In 1967, I had written a magazine article on the 10 largest Sunday Schools in America … and Dr. Falwell was number nine on that list,” Towns said.

Of the 10 Sunday schools he covered, Towns said that Falwell’s was the most impressive. “He was by far the youngest of the 10. He was by far the most spiritual of the 10. He really had faith in soul-winning. He believed in God and his church was still growing,” Towns said.

Towns then explained that the other pastors were in their 60s and 70s. The churches had reached their peak and were no longer growing. “But [Falwell’s church] was a church for the future,” Towns said, grinning. “Because of the future, I wanted to be a part and build a school there.”

Towns’ published works came off the press one right after the other. Towns himself does not know the exact number, but he guesses it to be around 140.

“Nobody can deal with the amount of books I’ve published and give it any type of understanding of what I’ve done,” he said.

It all started when he was doing youth work. Since there were no books on the topic published at the time, others told him he should make his notes into a book.

“One night [at Midwest Bible College], we got a couple typewriters and two or three of the girls in the class started typing out my notes … I bought 10,000 sheets of paper in boxes, we put them on the stencil, we ran off 100 sheets and we put together an 86-page book.”

Not only does Towns have dozens of books to his name, but he also was a poet who had a secret pen name, Remle Noel Snwot — Elmer Leon Towns spelled backwards.

“I was writing poetry and didn’t think people were interested in someone in Sunday school writing poetry,” Towns said.
Over the two-and-a-half years he dated his wife, Towns wrote about 200 poems to her. He recited his most famous one.

“Sure as the ivy grows ’round the stump, Ruth is my own sweet sugar lump. Roses are red, violets are blue, the angels in heaven know I surely love you.”

In addition to the poems under the name Remle Snwot, Towns had another pen name that he never shared with anyone — not even his wife. “Sometimes you write poems just because you think they need to be written,” Towns said.
Of all the books he has written, Towns said he is most proud of “The Gospel of John: Believe and Live.” He said, “It’s a book on the Greek text for the English reader … I feel very good about that one.”

He chose another book which he believes to be the most powerful. “My most influential book would be my fasting book (Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough). It sold about 360,000 copies. I run across that book all over the world. It’s in a lot of different languages.”

Campus Pastor Johnnie Moore says Towns’ books are making an impact for Christianity.

“Dr. Towns is a living legend through his books and teaching on the theology of the church. His landmark books and innovative ideas have paved the way for the modern explosion of mega churches in the world’s metropolitan cities,” he said.

Towns’ personal life has impacted those around him as profoundly as his books and articles. Dean of LU Online and Chairman of the Department of Pastoral Leadership Dr. Ben Gutierrez said, “Dr. Towns is one of the top five most influential people in my professional and personal life. He has both impressed me professionally and provoked me to be a more sensitive believer spiritually. Professionally, he has demonstrated a level of excellence in his teaching, research and mentoring that I attempt to emulate and build upon in my ministry. I believe many are intrigued with his teaching because he continues to be a leader in his field, continues to be well-versed in the scriptures and remains current in his own personal devotions and communion with the Lord.”

His colleagues praise the works he has done and what he has accomplished.

“I’ve loved all the genres of Dr. Towns’ works. He is an author of technical theologies as well as many dozens of books that translate theology into the mind of mainstream believers,” Moore said. “He has authored works of fiction, church history and books filled with strategies to reach the world. I think he is one of the great Christian authors of our times, and his books have made a historic contribution in the modern church.”

Though his books have impacted thousands, Towns had a piece of advice for his fellow writers.

“You don’t write for communication, you don’t write for anybody else’s benefit but your own. That’s a good author, when you write for yourself. Sometimes you sit down and you write a sentence or you write a paragraph and you may never use it anywhere but you know it’s good. Why is it good? Because it expresses exactly what you thought and felt,” he said.


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