News November 2021 Perspective Online

In Memory:  William J. Abraham, December 19, 1947 – October 7, 2021

Tributes have poured in after the Perkins community received word that Dr. William J. “Billy” Abraham, 73, died suddenly on Thursday, Oct. 7.

A Professor Emeritus of Wesley Studies at Perkins, Abraham was the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies from 1995 until his retirement in May 2021. He joined the Perkins faculty in 1985 as the McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism and the Philosophy of Religion under the leadership of then-Dean James Kirby and Provost Hans Hillerbrand.

“For almost four decades, Billy Abraham’s scholarship and commitment to excellence impacted the lives of countless Perkins students, colleagues, and others across the globe,” said Perkins Dean Craig C. Hill.  “He was a Christ-bearer, both in the academy and in the local church—to which he was profoundly committed—and his death is a tremendous loss to Perkins and to the wider community. Our heartfelt prayers are with his family at this time.”

“Billy Abraham was a scholar known for his academic rigor, a professor known for his energy and his brilliance, and an intellectual known for his ability to hold a thoughtful conversation with those of opposite opinions,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His legacy of kind graciousness will live on in his students and his many friends.”

Abraham was active early in The Confessing Movement, which challenged The United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations to maintain traditional positions on theology, including the understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman. An early critic of what he viewed as the doctrinal drift of The United Methodist Church, he articulated his concerns in an influential book “Waking from Doctrinal Amnesia: The Healing of Doctrine in The United Methodist Church.”

“He made us think hard, he inspired us, and filled our hearts with joy and holy laughter,” said Keith Boyette, president of the Wesley Covenant Association (WCA), recalling a presentation by Abraham at the WCA’s 2019 Global Gathering. “His impact on thousands of students, pastors, and lay people will live on for years to come.”

Abraham was a prolific author and sought-after lecturer. He earned an undergraduate degree from The Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland; a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary; and a doctorate from Oxford University, Regent’s Park College. He taught at Seattle Pacific University and Harvard Divinity School, as well as SMU. An ordained elder in the Southwest Texas Conference (now Rio Texas) of the United Methodist Church, he served on the General Commission on Unity and Interreligious Concerns of the United Methodist Church (1992-present). He was the recipient of a Pew Evangelical Scholars Program Grant, Pew Charitable Trusts (1993-1996) and Joint Book of the Year Award from the Institute of Christian Studies for Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology (1999). In 2018, he was the recipient of the SMU Faculty Career Achievement Award for his extensive work and dedication to Perkins and Southern Methodist University. Shortly before his death, Abraham was named the inaugural director of the new Wesley House of Studies at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

“He was a theologian who was deeply engaged in the life of the church, not least its political struggles,” said Robert A. Hunt, director of Global Theological Education at Perkins. “He was a teacher of pastors who was deeply engaged in the worship and teaching life of the church. His constant engagement with the church, as worshipper, ordained pastor and missionary meant that he lived with the consequences of both his theology and his teaching and sought in both to manifest the love of Christ rather than just intellectual acuity. Thus conversations with him were real, even if they were fraught with disagreement at the deepest level. Because at an even deeper level was a commitment to the work of Christ in the Body of Christ.”

He is survived by his wife, Muriel;  a daughter, Siobhan;  and a son, Shaun. Another son, Timothy, died in 2012.

A Memorial Fund has been created to perpetuate Abraham’s missionary, intellectual, and spiritual legacy. Donations may be sent to Billy Abraham Memorial Fund care of Siobhan Abraham, 6214 East Lovers Lane, Dallas, Texas 75214. A memorial service took place on Oct. 30 at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, where Abraham was a Sunday School teacher for many years.


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