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ROBERT L. SUMNER –
PASTOR, EVANGELIST, AUTHOR, EDITOR

by Doug Kutilek

Baptist Bible Tribune, May-June 2018


I worked with and for Dr. Robert L. Sumner (1922-2016) for a year and a half in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in the mid-1980s. Though I was designated “assistant to the editor” my duties included advertising manager, proof-reader, inventory taker (during the winter in an unheated garage), shipping clerk, book reviewer, researcher, writer, copy rewriter and even lawn maintenance engineer. I soon discovered that Sumner was what is sometimes called a “type-A” personality: highly organized, highly task-oriented, and highly demanding of himself. I half-jokingly (but only half!) say that just before he finished his work for the day, he’d write up a list of things to do the next day – and then he would stay and do them before going home! He commonly was in the office a couple of hours and more before the other employees arrived at 8:00 AM, and usually stayed after all others went home.

I had been familiar from the early 1970s with the name Robert Sumner from his long-time column in John R. Rice’s Sword of the Lord, but my first direct contact with him came in the early 1980s when I wrote to him to favorably commend an article he published about extreme views regarding English Bible translations that had come into vogue back then. He wrote back, and our friendship and professional association covering more than a third of a century began. Many of my earliest published writings appeared in The Biblical Evangelist, which I count a singular personal honor, and I learned a great deal from Sumner about writing and editing that has served me well in subsequent years.

Robert Sumner was born into a Christian home, his father was a personal friend of Clarence Larkin, in 1922 in upstate New York. He was saved when he was 17 at a Christian summer camp. Shortly afterward, he felt impressed to surrender to the Gospel ministry, and entered and graduated from Bible Baptist Seminary, then in Johnson City, New York. He pastored four churches in his younger days, one each in Illinois, California, Texas and Ohio, in the latter of which his church regularly led the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) in reported conversions and baptisms. He served many years as a trustee of Cedarville College (now University).

Led by God into full-time evangelism, Sumner was long-associated with John R. Rice (Sumner wrote the standard biography of Rice, Man Sent from God), and soon began his very prolific work as a Christian writer. In 1966, he launched his own periodical, known for nearly all its history as The Biblical Evangelist. It was published more or less continuously for 50 years. The final issue was completed in December, 2016, less than a month before Sumner’s death at 94.

I always thought The Biblical Evangelist was easily the highest quality Christian publication of its kind. Its pages were filled to overflowing with worthwhile material – sermons, book reviews (Sumner read and reviewed over 200 books annually), topical articles, columns by various authors, and a prodigious quantity of news from the world of religion, politics, and more. Almost my only “complaint” about it was that it had too much content, and I would often spend 4-6 hours or even more reading it through the day it came in the mail, but always with great profit.

Sumner was a diligent student of the Bible, regularly reading the Bible through four times in the year, and nearly always in the Scofield edition. He was a self-defined and unashamed Fundamentalist. This perspective permeated his magazine and all his many books. Among these were commentaries on Ephesians, Hebrews, and James, as well as books and pamphlets on various cults (Mormonism, Armstrongism, the Way International, Adventism).

In his last decade, Sumner published several compilations, the gleanings from decades of writing: Editorials from over 60 Years as an Editor (2015), Fights I Didn’t Start and Some I Did (2009), and Fights I Didn’t Start, Round 2 (2011). These give a broad cross section of Sumner’s writings, on topics that are perpetually “relevant.” He also wrote The Honor Was All Mine (2015) in which he gives brief biographical accounts of some 100 notable Christians whose paths he crossed in his long ministry – the galaxy of names is just remarkable. This volume also serves as an “autobiography.”

Sumner’s longevity as writer was remarkable, still writing with energy and clarity into his mid-90s. He believed that what he was doing was important, and thereby made a real contribution to conservative, fundamental Christianity.


WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.

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