A Good Man, a Good Christian, a Good Fundamentalist
When I was in Bible college, seminary training was considered a luxury—perhaps useful, but not at all necessary for pastoral ministry. Consequently, the idea of going to seminary didn’t enter my mind until the end of my junior year. At that point, two events led me to seminary. First, a professor liked a paper I wrote and encouraged me in that direction. Second, Bryce Augsburger came to preach in the church where I was a youth leader. He encouraged me to come take a look at Denver Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was the president. He suggested that I consider a one-year Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.
Augsburger probably had the wisdom to guess that once I had a taste of seminary education I’d want all I could get—and that’s how it worked out. Before I matriculated, however, he resigned the presidency at Denver. In his place the board appointed William Fusco. I knew that Fusco had been a missionary in Italy and that he had been forced to return to the States because of his wife’s medical condition. The two of them endured considerable hardship. Fusco even preached a sermon at the GARBC national conference on “The Fellowship of Suffering,” and it was a convicting address.
What concerned me was whether Fusco would understand the importance of academic excellence. Augsburger had built a pretty good faculty. Fusco was obviously a nice guy and a committed Christian, but I hoped he would not fill his faculty with non-thinkers, even if they were devotionally sound.
Fusco and I arrived on campus at about the same time. His wife was bedridden and would die a few years into his presidency. Students had the opportunity to observe the tender affection and care that our president showered upon her. He was the model of an uxorious husband.
We also knew that Fusco had a fairly serious heart condition. In fact, we wouldn’t have been surprised if he had collapsed from a coronary at any moment. This cardiac trouble compounded the afflictions of the Fuscos. We knew that they were enduring severe testing. Again, however, Fusco was a model of Christian grace, accepting the severe Providences of life with faith and equanimity.
The man was amazing. There was nothing—nothing—bitter or harsh about him. Indeed, he was one of the best-humored people I’ve ever known. He was Italian by birth and had ministered for years in that country, but when asked to say something in Italian, he would respond, “Chef Boyardee!” Mostly his humor was situational: he could see the funny side of life, even under circumstances that would crush most men.
For Fusco, life was filled with joy because he found his joy in his Savior. Walking with Christ was a daily, personal, and very subjective experience. While he fully recognized the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, he also believed that these same Scriptures led him into daily communion with the Lord Jesus. Perhaps the best way to describe him is to say that his theology was not Keswick, but his attitude was.
As students, we knew that Bill Fusco cared about us. We had no idea of the demands that pressed upon his schedule or the institutional issues with which he had to deal. He always had time to visit with us, to listen to us, and to pray with us. In a sense, we became family to him as he drew us into his affection.
His care also reached out to the unsaved. He had been an evangelist and church planter on the mission field, and he was still an evangelist as a college and seminary president. Every person he met was sure to hear the gospel presented in warm, caring words.
Fusco especially loved to share the gospel with Roman Catholics. He understood Catholicism from the inside. He knew well the fears that Catholicism evoked in its adherents. He believed that the Bible had the answers to those fears, and he was eager to share them.
If Fusco loved Catholics as people, he hated Catholicism as a system. He believed that it was a denial of the biblical gospel and that it sent people to hell. In Italy, his eager presentation of the gospel had even landed him in jail. There was no convincing Fusco that Catholics were brothers in Christ or that Catholicism was another form of Christianity. For all his gentle good humor, he could show outrage at a gospel-denying system.
His commitment to keeping the gospel pure was the very thing that made him a fundamentalist. Even in debates among fundamentalists he would usually take a more separatistic position. At different times he held positions of leadership within the Regular Baptist movement. The more conservative voices in that movement could almost always count on his vote.
Still, Fusco sometimes had to oppose the far Right of fundamentalism. Those were the years when many fundamentalist institutions, including some Regular Baptist schools, forbade interracial dating. Some constituents of Denver wanted Fusco to take a similar stand. Supported by student and faculty voices he refused, and his refusal was underlined by his active recruiting of minority students.
As for academic credibility, I need not have worried. At the end of his first year, the dean of the seminary resigned. Fusco replaced him with the most thoughtful fundamentalist I have ever known. Subsequent faculty hires continued to display a concern for responsible and thoughtful scholarship.
They also reflected other concerns. The faculty at Denver was characterized not only by the life of the mind, but by a heart commitment to a devotional walk with Christ, the exposition of the text of Scripture, the importance of personal relationships and influence, and sacrificial living. During those days Denver was an amazing place to be, and Fusco’s influence was part of what made it so.
William Fusco gave me my first teaching job as an instructor at Denver Baptist Bible College. He left at the end of my first year, and we seldom saw each other afterward. He traveled as an evangelist and then settled into a pastorate, finally retiring to the Cleveland area. On a couple of occasions I invited him to preach for me, and a few times we had the chance to sit and visit. The last of those was just over a year ago, and he was the same Bill Fusco.
On Saint Valentine’s Day, Dr. William Fusco was summoned out of his worn out body and into the presence of the Lord. It was a day for which he had longed. He was 91.
If you want to know why I am still a fundamentalist, I can tell you a part of the reason. It’s because of people like Bill Fusco—people with strong convictions, great integrity, and warm hearts who manifested the unfeigned fruit of the Spirit. Fusco made it look easy. I know that it wasn’t, but I am grateful for the example.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Children of the Heavenly King
John Cennick (1718–1755)
Children of the heavenly King,
As ye journey, sweetly sing;
Sing your Savior’s worthy praise,
Glorious in His works and ways
We are traveling home to God,
In the way the fathers trod;
They are happy now, and we
Soon their happiness shall see.
Glory be to Jesus’ name,
Glory be to Christ the Lamb;
Through Thy blood were we redeemed,
When we justly were condemned.
O, ye banished seed, be glad!
Christ our advocate is made;
Us to save, our flesh assumes—
Brother to our souls becomes.
Shout, ye little flock, and blest,
You on Jesus’ throne shall rest:
There your seat is now prepared—
There your kingdom and reward.
Lift your eyes, ye sons of light,
Zion’s city is in sight:
There our endless home shall be,
There our Lord we soon shall see.
Fear not, brethren; joyful stand
On the borders of your land;
Jesus Christ, your Father’s Son,
Bids you undismayed go on.
Lord, obedient we would go,
Gladly leaving all below;
Only Thou our leader be;
And we will still follow Thee.
For Thee all things we forsake,
We in better would partake;
We to greater blessings soar,
Unto joys for evermore.
Thither, Lord, us quickly bring,
There we with Thy host will sing;
Safely havened once in bliss,
We will praise Thy righteousness.
Daily us prepare and fit,
On Thy holy throne to sit!
More and more adorn Thy seed,
Meet to triumph with our head.
Seal our love, our labors end,
Let us to Thy bliss ascend;
Let us to Thy kingdom come;
Lord, we long to be at home.
About Kevin Bauder
Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.