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J Scott Horrell

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J Scott Horrell

Dr. Scott Horrell’s spiritual journey took him on a physical trek from farm life in rural Washington to the Caribbean, Switzerland, Brazil, and finally back to Dallas, where he now trains students in the theological issues that challenged him along the way.

His father, who was director of the health department in Ephrata, Washington, felt it was important for his kids to know the healthy life of working outdoors. So, they lived in town but worked on their farm just a few miles away.

Dr. Horrell became a Christian under his boyhood pastor, Dr. William Wrighton, a bible scholar who was retiring in Ephrata. He had gotten his Ph.D. in philosophy in Edinburgh, Scotland, and taught men like Billy Graham at Wheaton College. His explanation of the Gospel of John spoke to young Dr. Horrell’s heart, and when the boy went forward, Dr. Wrighton had tears running down his cheeks. He said, “Scottie, I’ve been praying for you.”

The summer after his first semester at Seattle Pacific University, Dr. Horrell went with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. (He and a friend were the first 2 non-Pentecostal students to join YWAM’s ranks.) The team took very little money and trusted God for their food and transportation. They went door-to-door sharing the gospel and preaching wherever they had the opportunity at night.

“The Lord did amazing things while we were there. I remember as I was preaching one night, a communist leader with a crowd of 30 or so people came up and started challenging  me. He wanted to fight. I talked with him but we were fairly helpless. Surprisingly, the crowd turned on him, and we were able to get out of the situation unharmed.”

Dr. Horrell described evangelism in the Caribbean as a “new experience at every door.” The population was about 20 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim and the rest was a mixture of Shango (their version of voodoo) with about every form of Christianity. When the team moved to the smaller island of Tobago, he said he increasingly sensed the joy of witnessing, instead of fear.

“As you share your faith door-to-door you learn your faith, and you see the power of God at work as people begin to respond by the Holy Spirit—I’d return at night elated.”

After the summer in the Caribbean, Dr. Horrell went back to school and studied English literature, which raised many philosophical questions for him. He wondered if this faith was all just positive thinking—“an illusion by which we persuade ourselves.” Modern European literature was especially challenging to his faith, as he wrestled with questions for which he did not have answers. One of his most significant struggles was with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Upon graduation from college, he served as an interim pastor at a church in Bellevue, Washington. As a single, 21-year-old English major, he taught a church made up of executives and other white-collared professionals. After two and a half months, Dr. Horrell was fairly discouraged by the experience and even wondered if he would be involved in a church in the years to come.

“It took less time for them than it did for me, but I soon figured out that I had very little to offer these people.”

His next plan was to go to L’Abri, an evangelical community led by Francis Schaeffer in the Swiss Alps. He was accepted and had already bought his ticket, but because of the military draft he couldn’t leave the country. He made calls to the local chairman of the draft committee and even sent letters to the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the U.S. Senate.

Two days before his plane ticket would have expired, the local draft board chairman came bursting through his door to tell him that the draft number for the whole country had dropped and he could go to Switzerland. The next morning, he received his induction papers to go to Vietnam. He called the chairman, who said, “You go … I’ll deal with that.” So, he boarded a plane for Switzerland and arrived the same day as the letter he had sent to tell the L’Abri center he would not be coming.

His experience at L’Abri solidified his faith as he participated in this intellectual, evangelical community that exercised trust in God. During this time, he became convinced of the doctrine of the Trinity, but he said he still needed to know for sure if the claims of the gospel were true.

He sensed God calling him to go back to the Caribbean, so he bought a ticket to Trinidad and Tobago from Luxembourg. This time he was alone, but he did the same things he had as a college student, trusting God’s provision as he witnessed and preached.

“The Lord really proved His Word to me. Seek first His kingdom and He’ll take care of the rest—that was a transforming reality in my life.”

He said he believes that many of the decisions that were made to trust Christ were true. One of the young men discipled even came to Dallas Seminary later to further his training.

After a few months back in Washington, he came to DTS for his Th.M. degree and led the student missions fellowship on campus. In the summer of 1974 he took a team back to Tobago. “One woman there had formed a prayer group that had been praying and fasting for us to come back.”

Upon his return to Dallas, he married Ruth, whom he had met at Scofield Memorial Church. Her parents had been missionaries in Brazil and she was interested in returning to the mission field.

“It all seemed to fit together—we didn’t know the how and where of our future ministry, but it seemed to be the logic of the gospel: If others are lost and we have the answer, how can we not go?”

The Horrells began their language training in São Paulo, Brazil, and then moved to Porto Alegre to plant a church. Because Sunday morning services don’t work in the Brazilian culture, the church met late Sunday afternoons in the neutral environment of a hotel. As non-Christians came and believed in the Savior, people began to grow and get excited about their faith. The church soon became self-sustaining.

“It was the happiest ministry experience of my life, and a real lesson in ecclesiology.”

Ruth was having some medical problems that required them to come back to Dallas, where Dr. Horrell entered the doctoral program at DTS. But as soon as it was feasible, they returned to Brazil, where Dr. Horrell taught at the Baptist Theological Seminary in São Paulo, and also at Word of Life Biblical Seminary. They even got involved in another church plant.

“I think that there is fruitfulness in just hanging in there. When you stay in one place and are relatively faithful, often you find that the Lord uses you.”

Over their many years in Brazil, the Horrells took in four abandoned babies, one at a time. Two of them were eventually adopted by Americans, and the Horrells keep in touch with them to this day. The other two were eventually returned to their families in Brazil.

Dr. Horrell now teaches in Dallas Seminary’s in Systematic Theology department on topics near to his heart—salvation, the Trinity, and world religions.