Herbert W. Byrne
By Harold W. Burgess
Dr. Herbert Winston Byrne (b. 1917). An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, he has exercised his gift of preaching in almost all of the states and provinces of North America. A Christian Educator by profession, Dr. Byrne argues that the well-being of the church is dependent upon educating new generations of Christians within a foundational worldview in which a Personal, Creator God reveals Himself to humankind.
Early Life and Education
Herbert Winston Byrne was born to Peter Cornelius Byrne and Emma Cornelia Loving Byrne in Mobile, Alabama on September 7, 1917. The Byrnes shortly moved to Pine Hill in Wilcox County, Alabama where Herbert attended grade school and high school through grade eleven. It was in Pine Hill that he experienced an evangelical conversion at the age of fourteen. In 1934, Herbert's family returned to Mobile, Alabama where he graduated from Murphy High School in 1935. He spent the school year of 1935-1936 working with his father, Peter, in the broom business. During that year Herbert felt a call to the Christian ministry. During this same year he was exposed to the environment of higher education when he played first trumpet in the Spring Hill College Band in Spring Hill, Alabama, a suburb of Mobile.
In obedience to his call to the Christian ministry, Herbert enrolled in Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1940. He remained in Wilmore to attend the rapidly developing Asbury Theological Seminary and concluded his basic ministerial education with the Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1942. In 1939 he married Nelle Fern Taulbee, a public school teacher. From this union, twins, Bert and Betty, were born.
Herbert's ministerial experience began in 1941, when at the beginning of his senior year in Asbury Seminary he accepted an appointment to a four-point Methodist circuit in Preachersville, Kentucky. During his first year in ministry, he met the requirements for "being on trial" in the Kentucky Conference of the Methodist Church. In 1942 Herbert transferred his membership to the Alabama District of the West Florida Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was ordained Deacon in 1942 and Elder in 1944. During his years in Alabama (1942-1949) he served four successful charges: Coffeeville, Dumas, Loxley, and Millville. During 1949 Herbert transferred to the Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was appointed pastor of the South Park charge in Canton, Illinois where he served from 1949 through 1952.
Hungering for additional training, in 1946 Herbert began initial graduate work at Florida State University. Earlier in 1945 and 1946, he had taken a number of courses in biblical studies by mail from the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois. While serving the South Park charge, Herbert accelerated his graduate work; and in 1950 was granted the Master of Science Degree in educational administration from Western Illinois State College, Macomb, Illinois. The title of Byrne's master's thesis was "Student Government Organizations in High Schools." Immediately upon earning his master's degree, Byrne began doctoral studies at Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois. By 1952 he had earned an EdD degree in Educational Administration, Educational Philosophy, and Educational Psychology. His dissertation title was "A Study of Administration in Selected Bible Institutes and Colleges."
In 1952 Dr. Herbert Winston Byrne was appointed to head the Department of Christian Education at Western Evangelical Seminary, Portland, Oregon. He held this position until 1955 when he was called to become Academic Dean and Professor of Christian Education at Fort Wayne Bible College, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dr. Byrne served Fort Wayne Bible College as Dean from 1955 until 1962 when he accepted the position of Academic Dean at Huntington College, Huntington, Indiana where he served from 1962 to 1965. In 1965 Dr. Byrne was invited to become chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky. He served Asbury College as teacher and Departmental chair until 1967 when he accepted a call to become chair of the Department of Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary just across Lexington Avenue from Asbury College. For twenty years Dr. Byrne served in teaching and leadership positions at Asbury Theological Seminary. He was a tenured professor, chair of the Department of Christian Education, and, during a portion of the presidency of Dr. Frank Bateman Stanger, he served as Acting Dean at an important period in the Seminary's development. Dr. Byrne recalls Dr. Eileen Starr, current and past President of NAPCE, as his most outstanding student. A member of the faculty of Alaska Bible College, Dr. Starr has distinguished herself internationally as an effective trainer and mentor of teachers and ministers.
Students who took Dr. Byrne's courses in Christian education remember him as a zealous advocate of a biblical base for Christian education both in the local church and in institutions of higher education. Few class-periods in Byrne's courses passed without moments when Professor Byrne assumed the stance of an old-fashioned preacher urging his students to faithfulness in following their call whether to preaching or to teaching. Byrne's books, readings, lectures and classroom handouts were carefully planned to provide a substantial base for evaluating educational programs in local churches, together with reams of useful material rooted in his conservative philosophy of education. His philosophy was explicated in nearly a score of published books aimed at improving the practice of Christian education.
During his years of teaching and administration, Byrne was first and foremost a preacher. His call and gift for preaching was exercised in the classroom and in local churches. Indeed, even as Dean of Huntington College he was called to serve St. Paul's United Church of Christ as interim pastor. He ascended and served this important pulpit with distinction. At present he holds a retired relationship with the North Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.
In addition to his occasional preaching, Dr. Byrne was generous with his time both within and without the institutions he formally served. His administrative, analytical, and visionary gifts were utilized not only in positions such as Dean of Faculty, but on administrative committees, building committees, self-study committees, and especially on committees seeking improvement in curriculum. Outside of his institutional involvement, Byrne's gifts were deployed as:
- Treasurer of the Evangelical Teacher Placement Agency (1959-1961). Member of the Board of Directors, The Evangelical Teacher Training Association (1958-1961).
- Dean, Seminar of the Improvement of Instruction (1957-1961). Field Consultant for Gospel Light Publications, Scripture Press Publications, and David C. Cook Publishing Co. (at various periods during the 1960s and 1970s).
At the professional level, Dr. Byrne has held membership in a number of organizations:
- The National Association of Evangelicals
- The Kentucky Educational Association
- The National Education Association
- National Association of Professors of Christian Education
- Phi Delta Kappa
Beyond his work in higher education, Dr. Byrne has been active at several organizational levels. For example, he served as a member of the Indiana State Sunday School Convention and Association; as President of the Fort Wayne Sunday School Association; and as a member of the Fort Wayne District Committee on Higher Education. At the local church level, Byrne has made himself available to serve on local church boards and on local church commissions of education. He even served as a part-time Director of Christian Education during 1953 and 1954 on the staff of the First Evangelical United Brethren Church of Portland Oregon.
Byrne takes justifiable pride in having had broad experience as an evangelist, chapel speaker, and lecturer to pastor's conferences and conventions. Perhaps his most significant marks have been made in exercising his unique gifts as a consultant to improve local church education. These efforts to improve education in the church have taken Dr. Byrne to nearly every state in the United States and to nearly every province in Canada. In addition to his teaching, writing, and administrative pursuits, Herbert has had a lifelong interest in participatory sports. At the high school level, he played football, baseball, basketball, and golf. He lettered in tennis during his years as a student at Asbury College and won championship honors in both singles and doubles competition. He won campus championship honors as both singles and doubles competition in table tennis in seminary as well as in college. During adulthood he continued to play tennis at a competitive level, ranking as high as fourth in state doubles competition in Kentucky. Other hobbies included construction and flying radio-controlled aircraft.
Byrne names a number of individuals who have been particularly influential in establishing the course of his life: Dr. S. A. Witmer, President of Fort Wayne Bible College and a participating founder of the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges was, for Byrne, the prime example of a Christian leader whose philosophy consistently guided his actions. Dr. Jared Gerig, President of Fort Wayne Bible College, demonstrated how one might be both an effective expositor of the scriptures and at the same time an effective administrator. Drs. Edward and Frances Simpson confirmed Herbert in his vocation as both administrator and teacher.
Dr. Oswald Morley, Byrne's close friend and colleague on the faculty of Fort Wayne Bible College, was a personal model for Byrne as to how one might be a living witness to the transforming power of the gospel. Dr. Harold Carleton Mason, President of Huntington College and later Professor of Christian Education at Asbury Theological Seminary, showed Herbert how to employ intellectual tools to under gird his career as a teacher of Christian education
Herbert Winston Byrne resides in Wilmore, Kentucky with his wife Nelle and son Bert. Herbert and Nelle have been married for sixty-three years. A married daughter, Betty Jane Manion resides in Maryland. Herbert continues his research and writing in the field of Christian Education and is organizing his papers, class notes, and a body of research data for deposit in the Archives of the B. L. Fisher Library at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.
Byrne contributed a brief monograph as a key resource for this article. It is available with his papers in the Archives of the B. L. Fisher Library at Asbury Theological Seminary. A number of personal interviews, phone conversations and phone interviews during July of 2002 resulted in helpful details being added.
Contributions to Christian Education
From the time that he completed his earned doctorate in education in 1952, Herbert W. Byrne was a diligent contributor to the field of Christian Education until his retirement from Asbury Theological Seminary in 1987. Beyond his retirement, Byrne has continued his academic interests, especially pursuing research for his later books, including Education and Divine Revelation (1998). In some ways this work provided an appropriate capstone to a long career that was always informed by the consistent evangelical theory of revelation presented in this work. Indeed, one might wish that Byrne had published this book earlier in his career. This could have given his students, colleagues, and readers the advantage of a theological statement on revelation that, upon reflection, quite obviously informed his teaching, administrative, leadership, and writing ministries. Byrne states that "Evangelical Christians believe that we can find a secure base for living and operating our educational systems based on God's revelation and will." In the same passage he contrasts what he believes to be the current state where modern education, including education in much of the church, is characterized by relativism and lack of absolutes. This leads, Byrne argues, to "fragmentation and distortion of truth." In seeking to secure his point, he argues that the scriptures show us a revealing God who has "provided mankind with a basic philosophy of all life and truth by which basic life issues and questions are adequately answered (I Corinthians 1:30)." (20-ff.)
It is of interest that the only one of Byrne's books to have generated significant interest on the part of reviewers is A Christian Approach to Education: A Bibliocentric View. First published in 1961 and with slight revisions in text and title in 1977 and 1987, A Christian Approach employs many, perhaps most, of the concepts examined more closely in Divine Revelation. One conservative reviewer, Zuck, commends Byrne for his attempt to keep Christ at the center of the church's educational enterprise. Zuck finds a number of shortcomings but commends Byrne for nailing down the issue that is at the heart of his concern, namely that the "book spells out the relationship of the Bible to the curriculum in an excellent way." Zuck correctly predicted that A Christian Approach would find a place in the classrooms of colleges and seminaries as well as in the libraries of leaders interested in advancing the conservative understanding of Christian education (Zuck, 1962). A Christian Approach did, indeed, enjoy a long and wide use as a college and seminary text. Still, a number of those who used this work as a text believe that its later revisions could have been more thorough and that it would have profited from a more attentive interaction with the then current discussions of revelation, sociology, and educational theory. (Graendorf, 1977).
Byrne's other widely read book is Christian Education for the Local Church: An Evangelical and Functional Approach. This highly practical textbook was a standard in Christian Education courses at the college and seminary level for more than twenty-five years. Together, its original and revised versions sold more than twenty printings by the Zondervan Publishing House. Byrne recalls that it was also named to a list of the fifty most important religious titles of its time. Perhaps because of its practical and functional nature, this book generated almost no academic discussion in journals. But it is still a book that many turn to for answers to organizational, administrative, and pedagogical questions in operating the educational enterprise of a local church. While Byrne's choice of terminology is strictly evangelical, the practical nature of its treatment of organizational design and classroom planning makes it an appropriate resource in many church settings.
Beyond his two widely known books discussed above, Herbert Byrne has contributed two aptly titled works on themes of importance primarily to local church education. Motivating Church Workers, and Improving Church Education are informed by material developed for Byrne's seminary classes.
Finally, one of Herbert Byrne's labors of love was a lifelong interest in doing research upon the educational influence of John Wesley, the founder of Byrne's United Methodist denomination. Wesley was also the guiding light of at least four of the institutions of higher education that he served during his long career. John Wesley and Learning is an easily accessible, well organized, and readable treatment of the key themes that informed Wesley's educational endeavors. These endeavors appear to have consumed more of his personal time than any other of the burdens he bore in establishing Methodism as a shaping force in the modern world.
It seems fair to argue that Byrne made a significant contribution to the field of Christian education especially as a classroom teacher and as an author of two widely used texts. There was a theological and philosophical consistency in his writings that carried over into his classrooms and also to his workshops that were offered from time to time in local churches. Herbert Byrne was a careful practitioner of the conservative point of view that is so evident in his writings.
Books and Monographs
- (1998). Education and divine revelation. Fort Wayne, Indiana: ACTS Multi-Ministries.
- (1997). John Wesley and learning. Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishing Company.
- (1982). Motivating church workers. Birmingham, Alabama: Self published.
- (1979). Improving church education. Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press.
- (1985). Kyohoe chungsim ui kidokkyo kyoyuk. Seoul: Korea: Saengmyong ui Malssumsa. (Christian Education for the Local Church. (In Korean). Seoul: Word of Life Press).
- (1987). A Christian approach to education. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.
- (1977). A Christian approach to education: educational theory and application. Milford, Michigan: Mott Media.
- (1973). Christian education for the local church: an evangelical and functional Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
- (1973) Duties and responsibilities of church and Sunday school Workers. Mt. Cory, Ohio: The Son's Reflection Press.
- (1963). Christian education for the local church: an evangelical and functional approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
- (1961). A Christian approach to education: a bibliocentric view. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
- (1953). My Sunday school handbook for the teacher. Portland, Oregon: Western Evangelical Seminary.
- (2002). "Achieving academic integration in a Christian school setting." A focused application of the concepts in A Christian Approach to Education (Completed summer 2002).
- (2000). "The future: what the bible has to say." Currently being reviewed for possible publication
- (2000). "Portraits of John Wesley" Currently being reviewed for possible publication (2002).
- (1999). "Duties and responsibilities of church and Sunday school workers." A revision of a classroom manual, this manuscript is now being reviewed for possible publication (2002).
- (1998). "Challenging concepts for contemporary Christian education." Now being reviewed for possible publication (2002).
- (1985). "The pastor as church leader and educator." Byrne states, "It needs to be updated."
- (1980). "The gospel of the Canaan journey."
- Any of these manuscripts that remain unpublished will be placed in the Archives of the B. L. Fisher Library at Asbury Theological Seminary, 204 N. Lexington Avenue, Wilmore, Kentucky 40390.
Reviews of Books by Herbert W. Byrne
- Karl E. Soderstrom. (1978). A Christian approach to education [Review of the book, A Christian approach to education: educational theory and application]. Eternity, 29, 37.
- Werner C. Graendorf. (1977). A Christian approach to education [Review of the Book, A Christian approach to education: educational theory and application]. Moody, 78, 116.
- Robley J. Johnson. (1961). A Christian approach to education: A bibliocentric view [Review of the book, A Christian approach to education: a bibliocentric view]. Westminster Theological Journal, 24, 277 .
- Laurence E. Porter. (1961). "A Christian approach to education: a bibliocentric view" [Review of the book, A Christian Approach to Education: A Bibliocentric View]. Evangelical Quarterly, 34, 56.
- R. B. Zook. (1961). A Christian approach to education: A Christian approach to education: a bibliocentric view. [Review of the book, A Christian Approach to Education]. Bibliotheca Sacra, 119, 273.
Excerpts from Publications
Taken together the two excerpts below present a rather clear view of Herbert Byrne's worldview and vision for local church education.
(1961). A Christian approach to education: a bibliocentric view. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 56.
One direct implication of the Christian Theistic World View is to give us insight into the nature of education. Where God is central, the Creator of the universe, and has made Himself known through Revelation, it follows naturally that education must become a re-interpretation of God's interpretation. Education is seeing things as God sees them. It is thinking God's thoughts after Him. Christian education centers in Christ who is the Personal Self-Revelation of God. All other avenues of knowledge also stem from God and are interpreted in the light of Christ's nature and works.
(1973). Christian education in the local church: an evangelical and functional approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 22.
Christian education is a part of the program of the church. Christian teaching, we have said, is a ministry. Since the church is the divinely appointed agency for the proclamation of the Gospel to the world, it is to the church that we must look for genuine Christian education. God has made Himself known in His Word. The Word of God as recorded in the Bible becomes, therefore, the authority and source for the program of Christian education in the local church. The church of today must stick close to the Word of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit who is the Divine Superintendent in building God's program of Christian education in the local church. The leadership of the church should expect to find the principles, purposes, objectives, pattern, and program of Christian education in the Word.
(1987, 1973, 1961). A Christian approach to education: Baker, Zondervan.
For the philosopher, theologian, and historian of Christian education, this book is surely the most important of Byrne's writings. It is a crystal clear statement of the evangelical model of education as it was practiced during the 1940s, 1950s and with waning influence into the 1980s. This model still informs teaching practice in many churches, but, in the form in which Byrne casts his argument, it has lost its hold in academic circles. Even so, I believe that this title is a worthwhile addition to any library that seeks to contribute to a better understanding of evangelical education.
(1973, 1963). Christian education for the local church: an evangelical and functional approach: Zondervan
This book is a catalogue of classical evangelical educational aims; of organizational and staffing strategy; of teaching methods for the Sunday school classroom; and of a wider vision for Christian education as the functional mold for life within the local congregation. It is a book in which to find detailed knowledge answering most questions relating to how to run a meaningful educational program in the local church. Even if one thinks in more inclusive ways than Byrne, it is still a worthwhile source of genuinely useful information.
(1997). John Wesley and learning: Schmul Publishing Company.
As a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame in the 1970s, my study carrel was near the rather extensive collection of books by and about John Wesley. Upon inquiry about why so many books on Wesley, I learned that a number of scholars in the Roman Church hold John Wesley in high regard as an Eighteenth-Century educational innovator. For some years I considered doing a book on Wesley as educator. However, A number of years ago Dr. Byrne placed his only typescript of the original manuscript of this book in my hands. Byrne's manuscript made my effort at a similar project unnecessary. His work answers many of my questions. It is a good read.
Harold W. Burgess
Harold W. Burgess, Ph.D., Notre Dame, is Emeritus Professor of Christian Education and Pastoral Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is best known for his widely used textbook,Models of Religious Education. Burgess's most recent contribution to the field isThe Role of Teaching in Sustaining the Church(Bristol House, Ltd., 2004).