A brief interview with Fred Sanders (professor, Torrey Honors College), author of How God Used R.A. Torrey: A Short Biography as Told Through His Sermons, Moody Publishers, April 2015.
Q: R.A. Torrey is familiar name to most Biolans — we’ve got an honors institute and annual Bible conference named for him. But for the uninitiated, who was he?
A: Torrey (1856-1928) was a Yale-educated evangelist who served as Dwight Moody's right-hand man and then preached revivals on four continents. In 1912 he became the dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) and the founding pastor of the Church of the Open Door in downtown L.A. As the first chief academic officer, Torrey set the tone of the school’s teaching more than any of our other founders.
Q: Your book’s subtitle is “A Short Biography as Told Through His Sermons.” What did you learn from reading a life- time of his sermons?
A: One of Torrey’s favorite words was “definite.” After some serious uncertainty (he was an adult convert to Christ, after having attempted suicide in college), he made a few major decisions about his future. He then organized his life around carrying out those plans, with enormous focus and productivity. It’s very hard to get a sense of his personal side, because he didn't share it publicly. He was definitely on the job.
Q: How do Torrey’s sermons stand up today? What can modern preachers learn from him?
A: These sermons were famously effective in their day, and continue to have real power. If you read his revival sermons, you’ll see he focuses on bringing people’s consciences before the presence of God. But in his sermons to his own congregation, he turns to more detailed teaching the doctrines of the Bible. I think modern preachers could learn from Torrey how to choose one main objective for a sermon, based on the occasion. A lot of preachers try to do a little bit of everything. Not Torrey: He was definite, focused and effective.