For much of the past five decades, Dr. Ron Horton has awed BJU English students with his knowledge of the English language. I should know; I was one of them.
To a junior English Education major studying literary criticism, Horton seemed larger than life. Though he had moved to the philosophy department by the time I took the class, he introduced the course novel as a guest lecturer. It wasn’t until I returned as editor of BJUtoday, however, that I had the opportunity to get to know Horton. As he said, “I’m finding my voice, rather late in life, for the reflective personal essay springing from a narrative of Scripture drawing on imaginative association.” He loved to use BJUtoday to publish those essays.
See Also: BJUtoday Articles by Ron Horton
And that was when I discovered that Horton was just as brilliant as everyone had always said yet with subtle humor and quiet humility.
Ron Horton grew up in Glendale, California, dreaming of playing football at UCLA. His father had other plans for him, though, and asked him to attend a Christian liberal arts university. Horton wrote, “It was not a good livelihood but a good life that Dad wanted for his son, and a good life flows from intangibles that a broad-based liberal arts education is designed to enhance.” Horton henceforth graduated from Bob Jones University with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1958.
“Early in life as I thought about what life might offer in the will of God, I decided I wanted it all—yes, every bit of what God had in mind for me. That has remained a key to my personality. How close I have come to getting ‘it all’ only He can tell. It may be of interest though that, after graduation from (BJU), I completed a graduate degree at UCLA in my undergraduate major and again made my father proud.”
After graduating from UCLA with a Master of Arts degree in English in 1961, Horton returned to BJU to teach in the English department. That fall, he worked with Phil Smith to develop the English tutorial program. He also became the English advisor for PhD dissertations and the advisor to two campus publications (Biblical Viewpoint and Pegasus) in addition to regular faculty advising. In 1965, he became the coordinator of the Freshman English program.
In 1966, Horton left BJU temporarily to work on his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When he returned, he became the chair of the English department. He also wrote the English placement test and the remedial English test.
Leading and Writing
Horton also played a role in the establishment of BJU Press in 1977. Not only was he a member of the philosophy committee guiding the development of curriculum, but he was the committee’s writer. One of his most well-known works, “Objectionable Elements: The Biblical Approach,” came from this time. He also wrote textbooks for the Press, the British Literature book being his major contribution.
During the 1981–82 school year, BJU created the Professional Writing and Publication division. Horton passed the headship of the English department to Dr. Ray St. John and took the mantle of head of this new division. As an outflowing, in 1987 Horton was a member of the inaugural advisory committee for the Collegian, BJU’s then bi-weekly (now weekly) student newspaper.
In the early 2000s, Horton took over the position of chair of the philosophy department from Dr. Guenter Salter, again handing his previous responsibilities to St. John. While in this position, Horton built a list of readings on philosophy. This list would become the base of the course Themes in Western Thought. Horton also mentored the two men who now teach this course: Brent Cook and Ted Miller.
Horton has published a wide variety of writings over his lifetime. From BJUtoday posts to poems to textbooks, his talent with the written word is astounding. He has written many books (one to be published posthumously), among which are Companion to College English (the textbook for freshman English classes at BJU) and Mood Tides (an examination of the scriptural perspective of emotion).
In a tribute written honoring Horton’s 50th year of service at BJU, former registrar Philip Smith said, “Dr. Ron Horton was not only a mentor to other faculty, but also to many students and many alumni. He took his responsibilities as department head and division head very seriously, and he kept up with his students and with MA graduates. … I consider Dr. Horton to be one of the pillars of the BJU faculty, one who loves his students and is humble, but truly a scholar. He is one whose voice I listened to for insight and suggestions. He understands the mission of BJU and knows the Word of God as the foundation for his philosophical beliefs. He is a master of words, a craftsman who is never satisfied. He is committed to producing the best product possible.”
BJU’s president Steve Pettit commented that he is “most grateful for the influence of Dr. Ron Horton at Bob Jones University. In particular, I have referred to his document on the Founders principles in establishing BJU as a crucial guidepost for my presidency. I will also never forget my last conversation with him just a few days before he entered into glory. His mind was sharp though his body was depleted. He expounded the difference between “world-ness” that enjoys all that God has given in creation and “worldliness” which is a sinful use of what God has created to the destruction of one’s own soul. Ron Horton was a gift from God to BJU for over 58 years.”
St. John—Horton’s long-time office mate, pastor and friend—said: “Ron spoke of the fact that he was ready to go, but like writers of bygone days he still was planning, envisioning for the future what he had yet to say. But God had other plans. And Ron accepted God’s plans without hesitation or quibble.”
When he closed his tribute to Horton, Smith spoke for all of us now: “Thank you, Ron, for being willing to carry a heavy load, to invest your life in and for others. May God raise many more like you to carry on this ministry. You have not only been a wonderful colleague but indeed a wonderful friend.”
Dr. Ron Horton passed away June 2 at his home on the BJU campus. He was 82.
A BJU faculty member for more than 58 years, Horton served in both the English and philosophy departments and headed each of these departments during his tenure.
With a formidable reputation for expertise in handling the English language and literature, Horton was also known for his ability to blend scriptural devotion and scholastic ability. In addition to textbooks on literature and grammar, he is the author of smaller books and pamphlets describing and defending the values that underlie and shape the philosophy of BJU. His last book, Mind the Story: The Readerly Reading of Scripture, is presently in progress and JourneyForth expects to publish it posthumously.
See Also: BJUtoday Articles by Ron Horton
Horton is survived by three daughters: Jennifer (Ted) Miller, 1992 graduate, of Greenville; Jocelyn (Dennis) Rafaill, certificate, 1993, Grosse Pointe, Michigan; and Jessica (Bevan) Elliott, 2001 graduate, Greenville; and eight grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Martha Dillard Horton; his parents, Rev. and Mrs. Wallace Horton; a sister, Mrs. Jean Brenneman; a twin brother, Donald Horton; and a granddaughter, Catherine Miller.
Watch the video of the funeral service: