Dr. Glenn Jonas: Raleigh’s go-to church historian

July 2, 2014 | 1 Comment

Dr. Glenn Jonas: Raleigh’s go-to church historian

Dr. Glenn Jonas’ book commemorating the bicentennial of Raleigh’s oldest Baptist church was so well received and appreciated, the church just down the street wanted Jonas to write one for them as well.

“Nurturing the Vision: First Baptist Church, Raleigh, 1812-2012,” chronicled the 200-year-old church decade by decade from North Carolina’s growth as a fairly new state to the Civil War, through World War II and into the 21st century. Jonas, a professor of religion and chairman of Campbell University’s Department of Religion and Philosophy, published the book through Mercer Press in 2012 after roughly four years of research.

“I think it’s different from other books on church history,” Jonas said. “While many may focus solely on the church, I wrote in each chapter about what was going on in the nation at the time — or the city of Raleigh at the time — and intersected that with what was going on with the church. Those interested in Raleigh history, North Carolina history or Baptist history in general will find something interesting in this book.”

The book —  in addition to several peer-reviewed articles, essays, book chapters and reviews during the 2013-14 academic year — earned Jonas the D.P. Russ Jr. and Walter S. Jones Sr. Alumni Award for Research Excellence, now in its second year. Jonas said he was honored to receive the award and even more so because it recognized research.

“I’ve always felt like the ideal faculty member is a person who can balance good teaching with good scholarship,” Jonas said. “We as professors are deficient if we’re just teaching the same stuff over and over again. Research in our fields allows us to keep what we’re teaching in the classroom updated and fresh. To have been recognized for teaching in the past and now research is very fulfilling for me, professionally.”


Shortly after “Nurturing the Vision” was published, Jonas was approached by church leaders from First Presbyterian in downtown Raleigh, located “just a few churches” down from First Baptist. First Presbyterian will be celebrating its bicentennial in 2016 and has worked with the First Baptist church leaders on several projects over the years.

Jonas said he was hesitant at first to take on another project the magnitude of his previous book, but the more he thought about it, the more exciting the idea became.

“I had just climbed Mt. Everest with the last book, and originally I told them I didn’t want to turn around and start climbing back up again,” Jonas said. “And I knew it’d be more of a stretch for me to write about a Presbyterian church, since I had so much background knowledge of the Baptist church going in to the first book.”

But Jonas soon realized that much of First Baptist’s history — how it survived wars and the role it played in other important parts of North Carolina and American history — would mirror First Presbyterian’s. And the differences in those histories would prove to be equally fascinating, Jonas said.

“I’ve learned a great deal about the two pastors from the churches during the Civil War era,” Jonas said. “Lately, I’ve been wondering about just how well these two men — very prominent and well-known ministers — knew each other. Did they see each other and work together a lot? Did they go and have coffee? What was the nature of their relationship? Little things like that have made this more fun to do.”

Jonas has taught at Campbell University for 20 years. He has received numerous “professor of the year” and Dean’s Award accolades and recently had the Pine Burr Yearbook dedicated to him. Dr. Barry Jones, who nominated him for the research award, called Jonas “a model of collegiality.” Dr. Adam English, who presented him the trophy at the Senior Awards Banquet in April, said, “Dr. Jonas mentored me as a young professor with wisdom and professionalism. For that I will always be grateful.”


I have known Glenn since 1989 when I had the privilege of serving as the pastor took his parents at Rockwell UMC in Rowan County. Glenn has given of himself in the academic community, as well as being a faithful son. I’m glad that he is reaping the results of his labors. Well done, Glenn!

By DeForest Hillyer on July 2, 2014 - 5:58pm

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