Bill J. Leonard

Billy Jim Leonard (born 20 March 1946) is an American historian of religion.

Bill Leonard was born on 20 March 1946 in Decatur, Texas to a salesman, Marvin R. Leonard, and his wife Lavelle, who worked as a secretary.[1][2] After he turned ten, Leonard moved with his family to Fort Worth, Texas.[3] Leonard earned a bachelor of arts degree from Texas Wesleyan College in 1968, followed by a Master of Divinity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1971. He then obtained a doctorate at Boston University in 1975.[1][4] Leonard completed postdoctoral research at Yale University.[4]

He was raised a Baptist,[5] and became an ordained minister.[6] Between 1965 and 1972, Leonard was a youth minister at Northridge Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas. He then led the First Community Church in Southborough, Massachusetts from 1971 to 1975.[1] He began teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1975, was appointed William Walker Brookes Professor of American Christianity for 1990 and 1991, then left for Samford University in 1992.[1][4] Concurrently, Leonard was on the faculty of Berea College between 1989 and 1995, including a stint as dean from 1991 to 1992.[1] In May 1996, Leonard was appointed the founding dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.[4] As dean, Leonard expressed support for LGBT students, and the schools inaugural class admitted in 1999 included a lesbian student.[7] He retired as dean effect 30 June 2010,[2] and was succeeded by Gail R. O'Day.

In September 2011, Wake Forest University announced the creation of the James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies.[8][9] On 24 January 2012, Leonard formally assumed the named professorship.[10] Since assuming the role, he has spoken at several educational institutions.[11] He delivered Samford University's 2012 Ray Frank Robbins Lecture,[12] the 2015 William James Lecture at Harvard University,[13] as well as the 2017 William L. Self Preaching Lectures hosted by Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology.[14] Leonard retired from teaching in May 2018 and was named Professor of Divinity Emeritus.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Leonard, Bill J. 1946–". Contemporary Authors. Gale. 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Bill Leonard stepping down as dean of Wake Forest divinity school". Baptist News. 5 March 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  3. ^ "Q & A with Bill Leonard". Baptists Today. 28 June 2015. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Cox, Kevin (21 May 1996). "Leonard named dean of new Divinity School". Wake Forest University. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  5. ^ Leonard, Bill (14 February 2017). "Bill Leonard: Splitting churches right and left". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  6. ^ a b Dunn, Karen Richardson (10 April 2018). "A Legacy of Light". Wake Forest Magazine. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  7. ^ Starnes, Todd (9 May 2000). "Leonard reiterates homosexual admissions to CBF-related Wake Forest divinity school". Baptist Press. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  8. ^ "Endowed chair honors Baptist leaders". Wake Forest University. 13 September 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  9. ^ White, Jim (27 September 2011). "Leonard named to Wake's new chair of Baptist studies named for Dunns". Baptist News. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Leonard installed as Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies at Wake Forest". Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. 6 February 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  11. ^ Moore, Vince (1 April 2018). "Church historian Bill Leonard to speak April 3". Furman University. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Bill Leonard to Deliver Robbins Lecture at Samford". Samford University. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  13. ^ "Video: William James and the Protestant Conversion Crisis". Harvard Divinity School. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  14. ^ Sears, Kyle (31 January 2017). "Wake Forest Professor Dr. Bill J. Leonard to Deliver 2017 William L. Self Preaching Lectures at McAfee School of Theology". Mercer University. Retrieved 1 September 2019.