Remembering Dr. Russ Bush: A Tribute to a Mentor, Friend and Man of God
By Daniel L. Akin
It was one year ago that my colleague and friend Russ Bush left this world and stepped into the presence of his Lord and King. The date was January 22. Though time has lessened the pain of his absence, he still is greatly missed by those who knew him, studied under him and worked beside him. Fortunately the “L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture” will perpetuate his memory and legacy. I consider myself to have been greatly blessed in that: 1) he was my teacher (1981), 2) my dean (1992-1996), and 3) my trusted fellow administrator (2004-2008). Let me take a moment and reflect on each of these areas where he impacted my life as I seek to pay tribute to a wonderful man of God.
Russ was my philosophy professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His classes were known to be rigorous and difficult, but also rewarding. If you wanted an easier class you took someone else. If you wanted to be challenged and stretched to the breaking point, you took Dr. Bush. I will also have an element of pride knowing I made an “A” in his class. That was no minor accomplishment! Russ taught me to think like a Christian. He showed all of us that you did not have to check your brain at the door when it came to following Christ, but that you actually had to engage your mind if you were going to love Him as you ought. In an amazing combination for a philosopher, he had an equal love for both the Great Commandment (Matt 23:37) and the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). It was Dr. Bush who gave me my baptism into the writings of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, and who made us read the writings of an atheist philosopher who once had studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in preparation for ministry, but had his faith destroyed by the disease of theological liberalism that had crept into our seminaries prior to the Conservative Resurgence.
Dr. Bush would also co-author with Dr. Tom Nettles the groundbreaking work Baptists and the Bible. This book would serve as the definitive treatment demonstrating that the “Conservative Resurgence” was not the new kid on the block, but was a return to Southern Baptists’ historical roots and heritage. From our beginning we were a people of the Book who affirmed its inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency. An inestimable debt of gratitude is owed to both of these men. Russ Bush, the teacher, had a major impact on how I think as I seek to live out a consistent and coherent Christian worldview.
Dr. Bush was also my dean for four years. Upon his arrival at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary he was met with major opposition and criticism. The Southeastern Faculty in the late 1980’s was virtually unanimous in their rejection of their new dean. Russ responded as he always did, with grace and kindness, firmness and compassion. His consistent Christian deportment won a number over. However, even those who never accepted him could not speak ill of the way they were treated by this Christian gentleman. Serving as dean for almost 20 years, Dr. Bush built one of the premier faculties in the evangelical world. He served admirably and faithfully under three different presidents. As my dean he was always an encouragement and fan. You might not always agree with his every decision, but you never doubted that he was in your corner pulling for you to excel for the glory of God and cheering you on when you did.
Russ was also a trusted fellow administrator for over three years. Never did I fear that as he guarded my back in the foxhole of ministry, he might let his guard down. I knew he would take a bullet for me and that I did not have to worry about him accidently shooting me himself! I could trust him plain and simple.
When I returned to Southeastern in 2004 as president, I was wonderfully surprised and delighted to find a dean with a love for the nations. Russ delighted in going overseas several times a year, along with his wife Cindy, teaching and ministering to our 2+2/3 mission students. When the cancer that assaulted his body made it impossible for him to continue this labor of love, he relented with the greatest reluctance. In fact, it required the order of his doctor. I’m still not sure Russ agreed with his physician’s counsel!
When Russ transitioned from being dean to the director of the Faith and Culture Center he did so with some hesitation. Dr. Bush was never a big fan of change! However, once the decision was made, he embraced his new assignment with the same enthusiasm and dedication that always characterized his work. He laid a great foundation for the Center. One of my great regrets and sorrows is Russ never walked through Patterson Hall which houses the beautiful Bush Center on the 2nd floor.
Sometimes you have to lose someone before you realize how much you loved and appreciated them. That is certainly true when it comes to the death of Russ Bush. Today he lives in full health with Jesus. Like the men and women catalogued in Hebrews 11, he rightly bears the distinction: “hero of the faith.”