Sundoulos - Summer 2008

A Tribute to Dr. Clyde Cook, President Emeritus

by Michael J. Wilkins

Dr. Clyde Cook served as Biola University’s president for 25 years, from 1982 to 2007, with a unique background as an educator, administrator and fourth-generation missionary.

Both his great-grandparents and grandparents were missionaries to China, and his mother followed in their footsteps. While traveling there by ship, she met her future husband, an officer on the ship, and a year later was married to this Christian sea captain from Scotland.

Born in Hong Kong, the fourth of six children, Clyde was faced with adversity at an early age when the Cook family was imprisoned in three different concentration camps during World War II. In 1942, by God’s grace they were reunited in South Africa.

After five years in South Africa, the Cooks came to the United States and settled in Laguna Beach, California, where Clyde was named California Interscholastic Federation basketball player of the year in 1953. He was offered athletic scholarships to thirteen different major universities, but chose to attend—and become an outstanding player for—Biola.

Clyde received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Biola University (1957) and his Master of Divinity (1960) and Master of Theology (1962) from Talbot Theological Seminary. He earned his Doctor of Missiology (1974) at Fuller Theological Seminary.

After graduating from Biola, Clyde served as the school’s Athletic Director from 1957 to 1960. From 1963-1967 he and his wife, Anna Belle, were missionaries with Overseas Crusades (now OC Ministries) in Cebu City in the Philippines. During this time Clyde participated in pastors’ conferences, city-wide crusades, lay institute training, youth conferences and Bible school teaching. In 1971, he spent six months in the Philippines helping to set up theological extension education programs.

Returning to Biola in 1967 as an Assistant Professor of Missions, Clyde was then appointed Director of Intercultural Studies and Missions and helped to develop Biola’s nationally acclaimed program in cross-cultural education. Called to the presidency of OC Ministries in 1978, he ably guided the mission organization to an increased level of financial stability and multiplied foreign field effectiveness.

Clyde served on the Biola Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1982 when he was invited by a unanimous vote of the Board to assume the seventh presidency of Biola University on June 1, 1982. He became president emeritus on July 1, 2007.

Clyde traveled extensively, visiting more than 72 countries in athletic and drama evangelism and to represent Biola University.

On Friday, April 11, 2008, Dr. Cook passed away at his home in Fullerton, California. He is survived by his beloved wife Anna Belle, two children, and six grandchildren. His legacy lives on in the many faculty, staff, graduates and students of Biola.

“Take God’s calling upon your life with deadly seriousness, but don’t take yourself too seriously.” That piece of wisdom has been a beacon for me to try to follow for most of my Christian life.

But no one has modeled that to me more than Clyde Cook.

I first met Clyde when I came to Biola as a transfer student. I was 23 years old, but only one-and-a-half years old as a Christian. I came to Biola from U.C. Irvine as a psychology major in my junior year, hoping to get some Biblical training before I did graduate work in psychology.

One of the very first classes I took was a study of the book of Acts, taught by Dr. Clyde Cook. I sat in the front row, right on the aisle. I was so close to the podium that I could see Dr. Cook’s brilliant, blue eyes flash with passion as he taught about the expansion of the early church—and twinkle with delight as he told one of his infamous stories.

Dr. Cook didn’t just teach content; he taught to change lives. And my life was permanently changed through that class. I was a Viet Nam war veteran, and I came from a broken and dysfunctional family. But something happened through Dr. Cook’s class—I began to see the great needs of others. He brought in missionaries from around the world, but also guest speakers from the inner cities of the United States, and pastors who would tell of bringing healing to broken marriages and families as they spoke of the power of the gospel of the kingdom.

But he didn’t bring in guest speakers just to elevate heroes of the Christian faith; it was to show how God uses ordinary people to do God’s great work. One guest speaker I’ll never forget was Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the legendary pastor of Church of the Open Door and world-renowned radio Bible teacher. Before he came in, Dr. Cook advised us to listen carefully to this legendary man of God, because we may never get to sit under his teaching again. But then he said, with that wry smile on his face, as he looked at us sitting in the front row, “Be careful if you’re sitting up close, because he tends to spit a lot when he gets to preaching!”

“Take God’s calling upon your life with deadly seriousness, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Not long after that I sat in Dr. Cook’s office and poured my heart out to him, and he gave me advice that changed the entire direction of my life. I wanted to become a missions major, but he advised me to continue with psychology and perhaps even get some counseling that would help strengthen the soul of this very messed up young man—and also to add missions as a way of learning to care for others. But he knew that I was developing a real love for New Testament studies and Greek, and he advised me to give myself first to my academic study. Wise advice, because I had no clue what God would do.

At critical junctures in the next years, Dr. Cook gave me crucial advice. His advice on academic majors, his encouraging me to go on to Talbot, and then his advice on doing a Ph.D. in New Testament, were all used by God to change completely the direction of my life. And over ten years after I left as a student, he called me when he became President to encourage me to consider teaching at Biola.

I can say that the single most influential person in giving my wife and me guidance to the point where I am today is Dr. Clyde Cook.

I remember when I first came to campus at a fall faculty retreat, I kept calling him “Dr. Cook.” During that time he took me aside and said, “Mike, I know that I am your former professor, and that I’m the President of Biola; but I’m Clyde.” And then he made a comment to the effect, I don’t remember the exact wording: “You are now my colleague. And with a name like Clyde, you can’t be too serious about it.”

Clyde did not flaunt academic protocol. But all of that embodied for me what it meant to take God’s calling upon my life with deadly seriousness, but not to take myself too seriously. I’ve always said, “If God can talk through a donkey, he can talk through me.”

Over the last 35 years, Clyde has meant many things to me.

  • Although he was only fourteen years older than me, he was almost like a father to me at times, I think because he knew that I’d never had a father.
  • He was easily like a big brother to me, because I think that he took more pride than I did in whatever accomplishments I may have had.
  • And he was a loyal friend, because he always believed in me. I have been a bit unconventional at times, and at times I didn’t know if I really fit at Biola. But even though Clyde’s blue eyes could be piercing and questioning—and anyone who was ever in the grip of those eyes when he did not agree will understand! — I always knew that as long as I kept my commitment to Christ foremost, and my love for the students preeminent to my own agendas, Clyde’s loyalty and acceptance were unwavering. And it was that acceptance that allowed me to be who God had made me to be, regardless of how Clyde may have initially perceived it. It gave me freedom in my research and publishing, freedom in my teaching, and freedom to become the leader that God intended me to be. Clyde was not reticent to voice his opinion, but he trusted me to grow into God’s plan for me. That is an incredible gift of a friend.

Some of the fondest memories I have in the last twenty-five years on the faculty were when Lynne and I would get a phone call from Clyde. “Anna Belle and I are driving through San Clemente. Could we meet you for dinner at the Fisherman’s restaurant there on the pier?” We’d usually sit outside under the umbrellas. (He would quote a Chinese proverb that said, “Only dogs sit in the sun.”) I’d be in shorts and T-shirt, and Clyde would often have to take off his suit coat. Once they came to our little house so that Clyde could get changed first. We were remodeling a little bathroom, and when Clyde tried to come out after changing, the door knob fell off and he was stuck in there. Lynne and I still laugh with delight at this big tall man, the President of Biola University, stuck in our little bathroom for the longest time, him laughing his head off inside, making jokes.

Then during dinner he’d tell stories of growing up a beach kid in Laguna Beach, surfing with his buddies, and his eyes, as blue as the ocean, would dance with the delight of those memories. But then he would grow sober as he wondered at the eternal salvation of some of his friends.

Leading Biola to carry out its mission to be a truly Christian university did not mean for Clyde just “out there.”

  • It meant showing us what it meant to really love his spouse. And my, how he loved Anna Belle. At Talbot in the last fifteen years we have hired over thirty new faculty members, and of all of those whom we sent to Clyde for approval, he only turned down one. It was because he picked up in that candidate a demeaning attitude toward his wife. Clyde’s demonstration of his love for Anna Belle was no show; it was an example for all of us.
  • It meant praying for all of us on a regular and long-lasting basis.
  • It meant stopping me across campus to ask how my daughters were doing. And him 20 years ago in the pool teaching all of the little kids at the Faculty Retreat in Apple Valley how to squirt water with their hands.
  • It meant demanding an unwavering commitment of the faculty to love the students and to be involved in leading them to be faithful servants of Christ.

Biola has been the most wonderful place in my life to serve. Of the last 37 years that I have been a Christian, I have been involved for 35 years with Biola as a student, professor, and leader. It hasn’t always been easy, and there have been incredibly difficult times.

Yet this has also been an incredibly enriching and joyous time. And through it all we could always find great peace in knowing that the President and his wife were steadfastly seeking God’s will for us as a University, and praying for us personally.

Many years ago when I was a relatively new faculty member, Clyde invited Lynne and me to what he called a Round Table chapel, where he interviewed us on our personal lives and experiences. The final question that he asked us was, “What advice would you give to me as the President?”

That was a risky question! So my response was, “Give all the faculty a huge raise.”

But then seriously I thought and said, “My advice to you would be, Don’t commit yourself to making Biola into a great university. Someday this place also is going to burn. Rather, commit yourself to shape this university to be a place that develops true servants of Jesus Christ.”

That was many years ago, and I can say without any reservation that Clyde Cook indeed gave himself to that task, taking God’s calling upon his life with deadly seriousness, but not taking himself too seriously.

Clyde, I’m still in shock and disbelief for you leaving us so soon. But thank you for being such a dedicated and loving servant of our Lord.

And now you can probably take the suit off!

I love you, Clyde.

Tributes to Dr. Clyde Cook

Charles Swindoll

Chancellor, Dallas Theological Seminary; Renowned Speaker and Author

I do not know in my lifetime if I’ve met anyone more Christ like than Clyde Cook. He is a true servant of his Lord and of others. I think of Micah 6:8: here was a man who did what was right, loved kindness, and walked humbly with his God. That was Clyde Cook. He not only walked well, he finished well. He never lost his heart for those who were less fortunate and for those without Christ. Without a doubt he was the most encouraging friend I have ever had.

J. Richard Chase

Biola’s sixth president, 1970-1982

Clyde Cook was much more to us than a partner in higher education. He was a wonderful and longtime friend. From his first years as a student at Biola in Los Angeles until now, we have known Clyde to be a man of God, a faithful servant and friend, loving and compassionate, and a blessing always in our lives. We are so thankful for his life of service for the Lord-for his leadership in missions work, and his Godly leadership as President of Biola for so many years. We will miss him.

Josh McDowell

Author, Speaker and Founder of Josh McDowell ministry

His dedication, professionalism and spirituality impacted thousands of lives that are now impacting the world.

Chuck Colson

Chairman and Founder, Prison Fellowship Ministry

He was absolutely a pacesetter. Biola is where it is today because of Clyde’s leadership.

Dallas Willard

Professor, School of Philosophy, University of Southern California

I love Clyde Cook. I felt a kinship with him as I have for few people. He was a man of great heart and broad vision. The good he did for Christian higher education in a time of major transition cannot be overestimated. His soul did magnify the Lord. He left much good here on this earth, and heaven is a fairer prospect to me because he is there. God bless Clyde Cook, God bless his work, and may his joy be sweet.

John Thune

Biola alumnus, U.S. Senator from South Dakota

He had a profound impact on the individuals attending Biola. He always had a great passion for students and he had a tremendous intensity towards having an impact on young people.

Duane Liftin

President, Wheaton College

Clyde was a man of vision; he envisioned the future and teamed people up to get them there. What a marvelous run he had and a great influence he had on Christian higher education that goes beyond Biola. A word of thanks for his modeling and willingness to put himself on the line in leadership. He set a model for us all.

Lloyd John Ogilvie

Former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate

I thank Clyde for all that he meant to Christendom throughout the world and for the dynamic leadership he gave not only to students but to faculty and his officers at the university. He gave courageous leadership and the image of what it means to love Christ with your mind.

Michael J. Wilkins (MDiv, Talbot; PhD, Fuller Seminary) is Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Faculty at Talbot. Mike is the author of a number of scholarly and popular books and articles, including an award-winning commentary on Matthew in the NIV Application Commentary series (Zondervan, 2004). Mike and his wife Lynne live in San Clemente, where Mike tries to surf responsibly.

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