Commemorating Dr. Bruce Fong and Dr. Willie J. Bolden.
In a mere couple of months, Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston campus (DTS-Houston) underwent the loss of two great leaders—Dr. Bruce Fong, former Dean of DTS-Houston and Professor of Pastoral Ministries, and Dr. Willie J. Bolden, former Executive Director of Community and Church Relations at DTS-Houston. We trust that their joy abounds in the presence of the Lord Jesus they loved so much, yet for us, the loss is extensive.
Stan Newton, Director of Community Relations and Formation Ministries at DTS-Houston, reminisces the mark both Dr. Fong and Dr. Bolden had on the seminary—and in his life.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 English Standard Version)
Having one godly person is a blessing; having two on your team is straight-up manna from heaven. For years DTS-Houston campus fed on the goodness of God through the individual and combined ministries of Dr. Bruce Fong and Dr. Willie Bolden.
There is a phrase: they are the same kind of different. Bruce and Willie were the same kind of different. One was an introvert, the other extrovert. One was a huntsman and enjoyed the outdoors; the other enjoyed restoring old furniture inside. In short, the two were very different in their distinct personalities and interests; yet, the two men shared common ground in Christ. In their fellowship in Christ, they forged a beautiful friendship and excellent working relationship that enabled them to influence a larger audience together than either could have alone.
Everyone who knew the men immediately spoke of their talents as dynamic pulpiteers. They both were meticulous students of God’s Word and sought out by students for their mastery in the classroom. They were deeply spiritual men, men of prayer and thoughtful meditation. As leaders, they were humble servants, never to seek personal credit for their achievements. They were family men who deeply loved their children and wives. They both preferred lifting up, pouring into, and launching those around them as a higher priority than pursuing any personal goals. And they did it with wonderfully different styles.
Dr. Willie Bolden was a go-getter. He would get you and bring you into his office for conversation, counseling, and questions. My first remembrance of such an encounter came shortly after joining the DTS Houston staff as the part-time leader of the campus’s internship program. As I quietly strolled past Dr. Bolden’s office, heading to retrieve a document from the printer, he abruptly called out, “Stan! Get in here. I have a question.” After a few quick get-to-know-you ice breaker inquiries, he engaged me over the most recent political hot topic. I have no recollection of the exact conversations, but I remember that he cared to know me and what I thought. He told me what he thought and why—never as an attempt to change my mind, but as an invitation to get to know him better. He let me see who he was and offered himself to me as a companion, confidant, and friend. It was a gift and honor I treasure to this day.
That never happened with Dr. Bruce Fong, at least in my experience. His manner was quiet. He labored tirelessly and soundlessly in his office. Occasionally he would quietly walk around the campus, taking note of things, and inaudibly slip back into his seat to re-engage his many tasks. If you crossed his path on such a tour, you got a smile, a friendly wave, and possibly a soft, “Hi.” If he caught your eye walking past your office, it was always his patented wave and a smile.
In the years I worked with Dr. Fong, I can count on one hand the number of times he leaned into my office to ask a question. I always got the impression he felt like he was interrupting, which was quite odd because he was my boss. To get any meaningful facetime with Dr. Fong, I had to pop into his office—in other words, interrupt him! When I did, his response was always the same. He would look up, smile, fold his hands, and say, “Hi Stan.” Then he’d wait. He never asked, “Is this going to be quick, difficult, or can it wait?” He sat patiently in his chair, willing to serve any need I had, and quietly would say, “Thanks for coming in,” when I left. He made people feel important.
Bruce drew you in; Willie invited you in. They both genuinely wanted to let you in to build you up. They lent themselves freely as servants to fill your needs. Their styles were different. The love, respect, and genuine care they liberally offered were the same. That was their power, as individuals and as co-laborers in Christ. They seriously took Jesus’s command to make disciples and allowed the Holy Spirit to use them according to God’s wise design—gloriously, the same kind of different.
The Scripture says, “Two are better than one” (Eccl 4:9), and in the case of Bruce and Willie, their two were magnificent. Their sum was much greater together. With them at the helm, mountainous problems became molehills, and all bases always seemed covered.
Most will remember Dr. Fong and Dr. Bolden for their excellent and highly impactful public ministries. The merits of either man’s accomplishments would require reams more space than this short remembrance allows. Bruce and Willie inspired, led, cared for, built up, and sent out an incalculable number of men and women for excellent service to the Lord Jesus Christ. The impact of their service will continue for many generations to come.
The loss of Willie, then Bruce, has been deeply felt across the body of Christ and the Dallas Theological Seminary family, especially at the DTS-Houston campus. The students, staff, and faculty who knew them intimately have experienced inestimable sorrow. Bruce and Willie will be proud to see how the team they forged together continues to perform brilliantly even during this season of grief. Their legacy lives on because those two made everyone around them better.
They were the same kind of different, and gloriously so in Christ.
Dr. Bruce Fong went to be with the Lord on January 8, 2022
Dr. Willie J. Bolden went to be with the Lord on November 14, 2021
About the Contributors
Stan Newton currently serves as the Director of Community Relations and Formation Ministries at the DTS-Houston Campus. A graduate of DTS in 1996, Stan brings more than 20 years of pastoral experience to the field education side of the Educational and Leadership Department, where he has served since 2013. He also serves as the Senior Pastor at Greenhouse Community Church in West Houston. In addition to his role at the seminary, Stan is seeking to pursue a DMin in Cross Cultural Ministry. His academic interests include discipleship and mentoring, spiritual formation, Old Testament studies, and cross-cultural engagement. Stan and his wife have three adult children.