category: Faculty Emeriti - In Memory Of

M. Vann Murrell

Professor Emeritus of Religion

M. Vann Murrell

Dr. M. Vann Murrell (1929-2019), professor emeritus of religion and former chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy, was born in Jacksonville, N.C., to Mr. and Mrs. Z. Ennis Murrell.

Murrell graduated from Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1951; the Southeastern Baptist Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1954; and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, with a Ph.D. in New Testament studies in 1958. He studied at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; he was a research scholar at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and also pursued studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Murrell came to Gardner-Webb as professor of religion from Campbell College (now University) in 1967, where he had served as an associate professor of religion (1962-67). Coming to Gardner-Webb as it moved from two-year to four-year status, he was named chair of the new Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy and was active in shaping its curriculum. Under his leadership it became one of the largest such programs among Baptist colleges in the South and Southwest. For many years he escorted college-sponsored tours of Egypt, Jordan, and the Holy Land. Over the course of his career, he led 20 such biblical study tours.

Dr. Alice Cullinan, of Boiling Springs, professor emerita of religion, taught with Murrell for 21 years. “In my opinion, Vann demonstrated the importance of balancing Christian scholarship with practical service and ministry,” Cullinan reflected. “He challenged his students to strive to be people who wisely studied the Scriptures, while he encouraged them to personally walk with the Lord and to serve Him faithfully. This world has said, ‘good-bye for a while,’ to a wonderful example of what it looks like to walk faithfully with and love the Lord…and others.”

She fondly remembers his positive attitude and contagious laughter. “The students often told me that he would tell a joke in class, and that they would get more tickled at him laughing at the joke than at the joke itself,” Cullinan described.

Dr. Perry Hildreth, GWU professor of philosophy, vividly remembers Murrell and his classes. “Dr. Murrell helped all of us to grow beyond our basic childhood Sunday School perspective of Jesus to a more mature and theologically rich understanding of our Lord. He challenged us to study the Bible seriously and carefully—and to put what we learned into practice as teachers, preachers, and human beings. I have little doubt that when I teach students Introduction to New Testament, I am passing along something that I learned all those years ago with Dr. Murrell. I am also challenged by his example to be the kind of person and teacher who encourages students to take Jesus’ teachings as central to meaningful human living.”

After retirement from Gardner-Webb in 1995, Murrell became a full-time pastor in Jacksonville, N.C. After retiring from the pulpit, he returned to the classroom and taught for Campbell University and Coastal Carolina Community College until 2016.

Murrell was president of the North Carolina Teachers of Religion in 1973-74, secretary-treasurer of the Association of Baptist Professors of Religion in 1977-78, and president of the Southeastern Section of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion in 1984-86. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Academy of Religion.

Always active in ministry, Murrell served as pastor of Sharon Baptist Church at Chinquapin, N.C., and Dobson’s Chapel Baptist Church of Magnolia, N.C., and Brookwood Baptist, Jacksonville. Murrell served as a supply pastor, and interim pastor at 54 churches in North Carolina over the course of his career. He also served on the general board of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention.

Murrell was known for his compassionate and caring nature, modeled after Christ’s examples. This was demonstrated in efforts ranging from visiting his congregants every Sunday to ministering to the sick and hurting in homes and hospitals, to teaching immigrant students to drive so they could obtain a driver’s license.

Dr. Sophia Steibel, GWU professor of Christian education in the School of Divinity, was a former student of Murrell’s and had the privilege to be his colleague during his last years at Gardner-Webb. “Dr. Murrell was a dynamic teacher who taught with enthusiasm and joyfulness,” she affirmed. “He made biblical characters become our dearest friends and companions for life. I am grateful for the legacy he left behind.”

Murrell and his wife, Ina, had four children: Anita, Zack, Helen, and Danny. Murrell died October 31, 2019, after a brief illness. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ina, who died 13 months prior.

Source: Personal Interview — Robert L. Lamb

Updated: August 2014

Updated: October 2019 – Jackie Bridges

Updated: October 2022 ­– Noel T. Manning II

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