LYNCHBURG, Va.—Dr. Robert Leslie Sumner, a longtime pastor who had preached in all 50 U.S. states, as well as Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and Brazil, died Dec. 5. He was 94.
Sumner accepted Christ as his Savior at age 17 and almost immediately felt called to the ministry. He graduated from Baptist Bible Seminary in 1943. After his ordination, he pastored churches in Pontiac, Illinois; Long Beach, California; Graham, Texas; and Portsmouth, Ohio. Later he received an honorary DDiv from Bob Jones University and a doctor of sacred theology degree from Louisiana Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 1955, Dr. John R. Rice, a nationally known evangelist and editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper, invited Dr. Sumner to become associate editor and a staff evangelist. Later Dr. Sumner would write the biography Man Sent from God, about the life of this good friend and mentor. For years, Dr. Sumner wrote a column for The Sword called Sumner’s Incidents and Illustrations, which he later continued in his own newsletter, The Biblical Evangelist, after Dr. Rice’s death. Dr. Sumner founded The Biblical Evangelist in 1966 and served as its editor.
A prolific author, Dr. Sumner wrote approximately 50 Christian books and booklets. A gospel booklet he wrote, Heaven Can Be Yours, has circulated more than 2¼ million copies in English, and nearly 400,000 in a half dozen additional languages.
In the mid-1960s, he served on the Council of 14 (now Council of 18) of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. He was inducted into the Fundamentalist Hall of Fame at the Lucerne (California) Conference Center in 1976 and was a trustee emeritus for Cedarville University.
He was preceded in death by his first wife, Orphina, after 55 years of marriage.
He is survived by his second wife, Dorothy, whom he married on March 20, 2004; five children, Richard, Ralph, Ruth Purvis, Rita Phipps, and Ron; eight stepchildren; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild. Including Dr. Sumner’s children, stepchildren, and their families, the Sumner family totals 126 people.
A memorial service honoring Dr. Sumner’s legacy and his Lord will be held Dec. 17 at 2:00 p.m. in the sanctuary at Timberlake Baptist Church, 21395 Timberlake Rd, Lynchburg, VA 24502. Final interment will be at a private family ceremony at Lady Lake Cemetery in Florida, where his first wife is buried. Memorials are preferred to Dr. Sumner’s ministry, Biblical Evangelism.