REO Pays Tribute: Dr. Robert Picirilli
There are probably very few in the Free Will Baptist denomination who have never heard about Robert Eugene Picirilli. And if you haven’t, well, why haven’t you? Have you been paying attention at all? You need to get to know about this living legend pronto. In my mind, he and Leroy Forlines are the very epitome of today’s Free Will Baptist theology. One of my great regrets is only managing to have Picirilli for one class in college (and Forlines not at all). The one Dr. Pic course I had was Fundamentals of Philosophy and unfortunately, my immature college self didn’t fully appreciate this great man and did not pay enough attention in that one course. But since then, I have grown to truly recognize his theological genius and denominational significance.
Picirilli was born in North Carolina in 1932. In 1949 he left his home state to become a student at Free Will Baptist Bible College where he received his B.A. in 1953. But he was only getting started. During those first years at FWBBC, he had made a commitment to God to dedicate his life to the school. So in order to be qualified for a college professorship position, he determined to pursue his higher education. To this end, he earned an M.A. in theology from Bob Jones University in 1955 and a Ph.D. in New Testament Text from the same institution in 1963. In 1967, Bob Jones University awarded him the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
While still at Bob Jones, he made his move to return to FWBBC as a member of its faculty. As he recalled it in an interview by The Helwys Society Forum, after attaining his M.A. he felt a pressure to apply for teacher status a little sooner than expected in order to support his growing family. (At the time he and his wife had three daughters and would later have two more.) So just after attaining his M.A. in 1955, he approached Dr. L.C. Johnson about it. It is very fortunate for the entire denomination that this other great Free Will Baptist man wisely decided to give Picirilli the position in 1955.
He has been involved with the workings of FWBBC (now Welch College) ever since. Before retiring, he had various roles including professor, registrar, academic dean, and many other crucial school-related positions. But the college is not Picirilli’s only area of impact. He has also had a profound influence on the denomination and the Christian world as a whole. He is today considered one of the most respected and influential writers, teachers, and thinkers in Free Will Baptist history. Among his best literary works are Book of Galatians; Romans; Paul the Apostle; Grace, Faith, Free Will; and Discipleship. He has also been involved with the Southeastern Section [formerly Southern Section] of the Evangelical Theological Society to which he has presented numerous papers and serving twice as the society’s chairman. He has been a fellow of the Institute for Biblical Research and a member of the Research Commission of the American Association of Bible Colleges. He also frequently contributes to denominational works of discipleship, biblical instruction, and scholarship.
Picirilli retired a number of years ago and continues to reside in Nashville. In his retirement he continues to be extremely active in various ministries. He attends Cofer’s Chapel Free Will Baptist church where he frequently teaches classes on various topics and regularly teaches a Sunday school class. He also remains involved with Welch, frequently engages in various scholarly studies, is a much sought after revival preacher at churches all over the country, and currently serves as chairman and treasurer of the Free Will Baptist Historical Commission.1
- He even contributed to an article for Rambling Ever On. ↩
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17 thoughts on “REO Pays Tribute: Dr. Robert Picirilli”
Dr. Pic is probably my favorite preacher/teacher. He is a brilliant man but he grounds his teaching with humility and application.
I’ve heard Dr. Pic tell stories for 30 years now at Horse Branch revivals (where his fellow Gospelier James Earl Raper pastored for a long time while I was there) and at FWBBC so I can’t recall as well as if I were reading something. But didn’t he make a deal to go to FWBBC for one year even though he had a scholarship to Georgia Tech and a dream to become an architectural engineer? And then stayed due to a call of God? I hope I’m remembering that right. If so it shows his willingness to sacrifice from a very young age. Although I know Dr. Pic just well enough to know that he’d explain it with more humility.
Yes, that was Picirilli. He talks about that in the HSF interview I referenced.
I didn’t see that was linked. I can see it now. I’ll read it! Thanks.
Dad always wanted to go to Georgia Tech and be an architect. His mom made a deal with him that if he would go to FWBBC for one year, she would pay for his entire education after that. He answered the call to the ministry in that year, and the rest is history.
He did design and draw up the plans for the house they had built near the school, so he did get to be an architect for a bit!
The other Gospeliers were Bobby Jackson and Eugene Waddell and so I always felt like Mr. Raper was the Ringo of that group. Still, hard to believe those four guys did ministry together so many times.
I always thought Dr. Pic was raised in SC. But I may be confusing this with Dr. Thigpen. I have always thought he was a Pee Dee Region boy like me. But I could have made that up. Maybe his wife was from there?
The HSF interview broaches that as well. He was raised in SC, but I assume he was born in NC. That happens with a lot of people.
Dad was born in NC, moved to SC with his mom when he was about 4 or 5. They also spent some time in Delaware during the war, but moved back to SC where he spent the remainder of his school years.
Yes! Answers from a Picirilli! I was hoping for that but I was not about to assume or expect.
I appreciate the attention and comments, but please correct one thing: I was never chairman of (or read papers at) “the Evangelical Theological Society,” only of the Southern Section (now Southeastern Section) of the Evangelical Theological Society–which is a huge difference!
Thank you for pointing that out. The correction has been made. Let us know if it is off or anything else is mistaken or needs changing.
Another note worth making concerning the Picirilli-ETS connection is that he did publish several notable articles in the Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society. “Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future,” JETS 43/2 (June 2000) is one that stands out in my mind.
One of the good guys, as they say. I don’t really know how to express appropriately the respect and appreciation I have for him. I feel privileged to know him.
I remember my days at FWBBC from 1976 to 1980. A married student, the only way to go, but that’s another story. I remember with great fondness classes with Dr. Picirilli, Mr. Forlines, Dr. Outlaw and others. My spiritual growth for me was far greater than it could have ever been. Thanks to all at FWBBC/Welch for great memories.
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