H. Ray Dunning: Memories from my student days

| History

H. Ray Dunning's is interviewed during a Trevecca chapel service.

Noted author and theologian H. Ray Dunning (’48) began his undergraduate studies at Trevecca in 1944. He would go on to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University before returning to spend much of his career as a professor and department chair in Trevecca’s Department of Religion. He retired in 1995.

Dunning’s teaching shaped a generation of Nazarene pastors. His books, particularly “Grace, Faith and Holiness,” are used to train Nazarene and Wesleyan clergy around the world. The following excerpts are from an interview at Founder’s Day Chapel during Homecoming 2023, when Dunning shared memories about his time as a student at Trevecca.

In the 1940s Trevecca was quite different from what it is today. It was during World War II, and there were probably only 200 students and four buildings on campus, including Hardy Hall, which stood to the east of the present administration building and was a co-educational dorm. McKay Hall, located where Jernigan now stands, included a basement cafeteria.

What I remember about the cafeteria is that we had applesauce with most every meal. I was not able to look applesauce in the face after that for many years. Occasionally we would also have meat, when some farmers nearby would go rabbit hunting and bring us their game. 

There were two events that set a pattern for my life during my time as a student. One involved a class on the prophets I took from a young part-time professor who was also a graduate student at Vanderbilt and the pastor of a local church. His name was Billy Greathouse. 

His course opened my eyes to real biblical study and revolutionized my understanding of what the Bible was about, how it was to be read and how it was to be interpreted.

It did something else, too. It gave me the opportunity to develop a mentor relationship with my teacher. Brother Greathouse, as we knew him, became pastor at my home church when I was away at seminary. He later performed my wedding ceremony. We became good friends, and he hired me at Trevecca in 1964.

The other event took place at my graduation. In those days, you had to sit before a committee of faculty members for an oral exam in order to graduate. During my exam, Dr. A.K. Bracken was one member of the committee. Another was L.P. Gresham, who became my mentor in completing my thesis for seminary.

Dr. Bracken asked me to name 10 influential persons in church history, and I was able to do so. He then looked me in the eye, shook his finger and said, “What I want you to know is that every one of those persons were university-trained people.” 

There was a lot of discussion in those days about whether a formal education was beneficial for someone who wanted to become a pastor. He wanted to make sure that I did not cut short my education, and it worked. I decided to continue into seminary.