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Erudition delivered directly with a Texas drawl

October 1, 2018

The author acknowledges up front that a reader might decide he’s a grouch.

A peruser of Hal Brunson Jr.’s latest book, his 12th, might conclude that the author of “Uhm, Like You Know?” is an intellectual snob - a man whose erudition and critical ear for inane conversation could intimidate average Joes and Josephines and just about everyone else.

The book bemoans the lack of eloquence in contemporary writing and speech and suggests “verbal garbage” dominates conversation. The preface includes this provocative observation from the former pastor: “Do most people really have much to say that has transcendent or eternal value?”

The answer is “no,” the author writes.

During an hour-long conversation last week with Brunson, 67, headmaster of Whitefish Christian Academy, he variously quoted, with obvious facility and palpable joy, philosopher Immanuel Kant, poet Lord Byron and philosopher Martin Heidegger. He made references to philosophers Frederick Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard, poet John Keats and psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud.

Yet Brunson, who plays guitar and writes songs, also cited Bob Dylan as a key intellectual influence.

Brunson delivers these learned references, along with verbatim passages from Scripture, in a warm, disarming Texas drawl. His eyes sparkled.

At one point, describing his father’s loving acceptance many years ago after Brunson returned as a Prodigal Son of sorts, his eyes glistened.

One of Brunson’s friends, the Rev. Siegfried Johnson, 64, first met Brunson in 1974, when both were students at Central Baptist College in Conway, Arkansas.

“He is one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known,” Johnson said. “His nearly photographic memory had the entire New Testament, and more, memorized in college, a feat I tried, but failed to duplicate.

“I suppose he could come across as an intellectual snob, but not to those who know him, those who are his students,” Johnson added. “His heart shines brighter up close than even his bright mind.”

John Adcox, 62, an English teacher at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, met Brunson in 1988 when both taught at Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas.

“To one who does not know him, I would say: Hal is an erudite scholar with a lyrical side, a man who can expatiate on Dante’s Beatrice or Dylan’s ‘blue-eyed son,’ with many ports of call in between, all with serious humor and humorous seriousness,” Adcox said.

Harold Elliott “Hal” Brunson Jr. was born in Marshall, Texas, in 1950, to Harold and Ollie Brunson. His father was a pastor and his mother an organist.

Brunson spent his childhood in Texas. But he graduated from high school in Mississippi after his family moved in response to his father becoming an itinerant evangelist.

Brunson said Wednesday that he was a less than vigilant student in those years.

“I put my education on hold when I was 14 and it didn’t pick up again until about 22,” he said.

These were turbulent times, he noted, with 1968 being one of the most clamorous years in the 20th century.

“And then God changed my life,” Brunson said. “I had what people call a spiritual conversion listening to Reverend Billy Graham on the radio. That’s what put my intellectual life back on track. It set my mind on fire.”

Brunson’s academic degrees include, among others, a master’s of divinity from the BMA Seminary and a doctorate in humanities from the University of Texas.

For 23 years he was pastor of a church he founded, the First Baptist Church of Parker, Texas.

Brunson and his first wife, Judy, had two sons. The oldest, Trey, 41, is a federal agent in Texas, and Matt, 40, is a cardiologist in Kalispell.

Judy died of ovarian cancer after she and Hal had been married 34 years.

Later, after seeking permission from his sons, parishioners and others, Brunson began dating Nancy Sanford, a former Hollywood talent agent. They married in 2009.

Matt’s move to Whitefish in 2015 is ultimately what lured the couple to Flathead County. Hal began teaching at Whitefish Christian Academy, a school with about 157 students that provides education from preschool through grade 12.

Brunson became headmaster in February.

For the foreseeable future, Brunson does not envision a return to a church’s pulpit.

“I keep that door open, but my ministry now is writing,” he said.

Thus, Brunson shares his scholarship and sometimes controversial ideas from the bully pulpit of his 12 self-published books.

For example, in “Lesbos, Narcissus, and Paulos - Homosexual Myth and Christian Truth,” Brunson reviews Scriptural references to homosexuality and offers his opinion on the subject.

Trey was asked how he would describe his father to someone who’d never met him.

“I would describe him as a man who loves the Lord,” he said. “He’s an intellectual, probably the smartest person I know. He can be incredibly funny. He is an excellent father, and loving husband. He loves fishing, reading, writing, studying ancient Greek, but also laughs at King of the Hill.”

He said he’s never known his father to demean anyone, but acknowledged Brunson’s embrace of direct, truthful communication might occasionally offend. Trey said that “often the medicine we need to make us better is quite unpalatable.”

“My father loves people enough to encourage them, strongly and intensely when needed, to feed their minds and souls with food not only fit for a king, but in fact ordained and created by The King.”

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at 758-4407 or dadams@dailyinterlake.com.