Founding Dean and Professor of Divinity Emeritus (1999-2018)

Leonard’s research focuses on Church History with particular attention to American religion, Baptist studies, and Appalachian religion. He is the author or editor of some 25 books including Christianity in Appalachia (1999); Baptist Ways: A History (2003); The Challenge of Being Baptist (2010); Can I Get a Witness?: Essays, Sermons and Reflections (2013); and  A Sense of the Heart: Christian Religious Experience in the U.S., (2014). In March 2015 he delivered the William James Lecture on Religious Experience at Harvard Divinity School and in February 2017 he gave the William Self Lectures on Preaching at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University. His newest book, The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Church History: Flaming Heretics and Heavy Drinkers, was  published by Fortress Press in July 2017. Leonard is on the board of the Journal of Disability and ReligionThe Baptist Quarterly (England), the Day1 Preaching Network, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and the Governing Board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. His sabbatical research focuses on a new book, tentatively entitled: “Security or Idolatry?: A History of Religion and Firearms in the U.S.”  Leonard writes a twice-monthly column for Baptist News Global, is an ordained Baptist minister, and a member of First Baptist Church, Highland Avenue (American Baptist Churches, USA) in Winston-Salem.

School of Divinity faculty member Bill Leonard



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BA, Texas Wesleyan University; 
MDiv, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; PhD, Boston University

Religious Affiliations

  • American Baptist Churches (USA)
  • Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
  • Alliance of Baptists

Courses Taught

  • Introduction to Christian History: Early Church to Reformation
  • Introduction to Christian History: The Church in the Modern World
  • Religious Experience in America
  • A History of the Baptists
  • God and the New York Times: Religion in Contemporary America
  • Fierce Landscapes: Listening to the People of Appalachia
  • Darwinism and the Scopes Trial


  • Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Church History: Flaming Heretics and Heavy Drinkers. Fortress Press, 2017.
  • Word of God Across the Ages: Using Church History in Preaching Third Edition Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishers, 2015.
  • “A Sense of the Heart”: A History of Christian Religious Experience in the United States. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014.
  • Can I Get a Witness? Essays, Sermons and Reflections, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2013.
  • Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States, 2ndedition, editor with Jill Y. Crainshaw, ABC-CLIO Press, 2012.
  • Baptist Confessions of Faith, Second Revised Edition, editors William L. Lumpkin and Bill J. Leonard. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2011.
  • Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Atheist: Surveying American Religion (Essays in honor of Edwin Scott Gaustad) EditorNational Association of Baptist Professors, 2011.
  • The Challenge of Being Baptist, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010.
  • Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
  • The Baptist Bible (co-editor). Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009.
  • Baptists in America. Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • Baptist Ways: A History, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2003.
  • Christianity in Appalachia: Profiles in Regional Pluralism, Editor, University of Tennessee Press, 1999.
  • Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States. Editor with George H. Shriver Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
  • Dictionary of Baptists in America. Editor. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
  • Risk the Journey. Birmingham, AL: Women’s Missionary Union, 1994.
  • Poverty and Ecclesiology: Nineteenth-Century Evangelicals in Light of Liberation Theology, with Justo L. Gonzalez, Anthony L. Dunnavant, William C. Kostlevy, and Donald W. Dayton. Collegeville, MI: The Liturgical Press, 1992.
  • Becoming Christian: Dimensions of Spiritual Formation, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.
  • God’s Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.
  • Community in Diversity: A History of Walnut Street Baptist Church, Editor. Louisville: Simons-Neely Press, 1990.
  • The Nature of the Church. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986.
  • Out of One, Many: American Religion and American Pluralism, DeLand, FL: Stetson University, 1984.
  • Foxfire 7, Contributing Editor. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Press, 1982.
  • Word of God Across the Ages: Using Church History in Preaching. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981.
  • Early American Christianity.  Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979.

Select Journal Articles, Book Chapters, Book Reviews

  • “Baptists in North America,” in The Oxford History of Protestant Dissenting Traditions, Volume III: The 19th Century, edited by Timothy Larsen & Michael Ledger-Lomas. Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • “Thomas Merton: The Stamp of Grace,” in Merton and the Protestant Tradition, edited by William O. Paulsell, Fons Vitae, 2017.
  • “Samuel Wait,” in A Noble Company: Biographical Essays on Notable Particular-Regular Baptists in America. Volume 9, Particular Baptist Press, 2017.
  • “Dull Habit or Acute Fever? William James and the Protestant Conversion Crisis,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Summer/Autumn, 2015.
  • “’Leave Your Medicine Outside’: Bioethics, Spirituality and the Rhetoric of Appalachian Serpent Handlers,” in After the Genome: A Language for Our Biotechnical Future.Michael J. Hyde and James A. Herrick, editors. Baylor University Press, 2012.
  • “The Post-War Religious World: 1945 and Following,” in The Cambridge History of Religions in America. Cambridge University, 2011.
  • “Evangelism and Contemporary American Life,” in The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church, edited by Paul W. Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.
  • “The Bible and Serpenthandling”. In Perspectives on American Religion and Culture. Edited by Peter W. Williams. London: Blackwell Press, 1999.
  • “’Wild and Romantic in the Extreme:’ Ann Hasseltine Judson, (Her Husband), and a Duty to Go to the ‘Distant and Benighted Heathen,’” American Baptist Quarterly, Spring 2013, 74-95. Thomas Merton, Spiritual Identity, and Religious Dialogue: The Walls of New Freedom,” Perspectives in Religious Studies (Summer 2011).
  • “Salvation and Sawdust: The Rise and Fall of a Baptist Conversion Liturgy,” Baptist History and Heritage Journal, (Summer/Fall 2010).
  • “They Have No Wine:” Wet/Dry Baptists and the Alcohol Issues,” Criswell Theological Review, (Spring 2008).

Select Academic Lectures

  • “A Shelter for Conscience: Preaching and the Voice of Dissent,” William Self Lectures, McAfee School of Theology, February 2017.
  • “As One Unknown: Preaching and the Elusive Jesus,” William Self Lectures, McAfee School of Theology, February 2017.
  • “Redeemer Nation and Lost Cause Religion: Making America Great Again (For the First Time),” Fall Convocation, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, August 2017.
  • “Dull Habit or Acute Fever? William James and the Protestant Conversion Crisis” William James Lectures on Religious Experience,” Harvard Divinity School, March 29, 2015.
  • Sex, Class and Religious Freedom: Daniel Featley vs. the Early Baptists, Religious Liberty Lecture, Baylor University, March 24, 2015.
  • “Joel Osteen and the Non-Denominationalizing of American Religion,” H.I. Hester Lectures, International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities, Charleston, SC June 1, 2014.
  • “A Hart Cheareing and Affecting Surmond”: Appalachian Preaching and Global Implications Craddock Center Lectures, Cherry Log, GA, October 6, 2014.
  • Losing Privilege, Regaining Voice: Southern Religion in a New Community, Beloved Community Lectures, Mercer University, February 9, 2012.

Select Sermons, Educational Series, and Church Presentations

  • “The River,” 65th Anniversary Celebration, Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, June 6, 2016
  • “What Do You Want Us to Do?” Memorial Church, Harvard University, December 12, 2015
  • “Retelling the Gospel Story,” Moore Lectures, First Baptist Church, Auburn, AL, February, 2015.
  • “Conversion: Once, Twice, Thrice-Born, Currin Lectures, First Presbyterian Church, Kerrville, TX, April 17-19, 2015.
  • “Living on Borrowed Grace,” Memorial Church, Harvard, March 30, 2015.
  • “Breathing the Spirit: A Hesitant Faith,” Boston University School of Theology Chapel, April 8, 2015.
  • “A Certain Kind of Eden,” Myers Park Baptist Church—June 7, 2015.
  • “An Audacious Identity,” First Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO, June 28, 2015.
  • “The Things that Make for Freedom,” First Baptist Church, Highland Avenue, March 18, 2014.

Select Honors and Awards

  • Judson-Rice Award, Baptists Today, April 17, 2015.
  • Historian of Baptists and American Religion: A Legacy of Conscience and Dissent, Essays in Honor of Bill J. Leonard, C. Douglas Weaver, Editor, National Association of Baptist Professors, May, 2015.
  • Religious Liberty Award, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, June 2014
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth, Texas, October 2013.
  • Lifetime Service Award, Community Service Awards, The Winston-Salem Chronicle, March 19, 2011.
  • Doctor of Divinity Degree, Franklin College, Franklin, Indiana, May 2010.

Professional Affiliations

  • American Society of Church History
  • American Academy of Religion
  • Southern Historical Association
  • Baptist History and Heritage Society
  • National Association of Baptist Professors
  • American Baptist Historical Society