Paul Settle, one of the PCA’s most influential founders, has died.
Settle, who resided in Greenville, South Carolina, was called home to be with the Lord on March 19, a few days shy of his 83rd birthday.
In a trivia contest about PCA history, if asked, “Who was the first member of the PCA?,” many veterans of the denomination would agree it was Paul Gunter Settle. He was among 29 leaders that gathered in 1971 to address a decidedly liberal shift in Presbyterian denominations, eager to bring about a return to biblical authority, the confessional standards of the Church, and a renewed emphasis on missions and evangelism.
Then, while serving as executive secretary of Presbyterian Churchmen United, he was one of four men selected to approach 16 conservative presbyteries about forming a new Presbyterian denomination. In this role, according to his good friend, Dr. Paul Kooistra, “I regarded him as the first PCA person.” Settle was the person hired to talk with people about becoming part of the PCA when it became obvious there would be a new denomination. He was the perfect person for the job – there was no question about his commitment to the Scriptures, to orthodoxy, and our Confession of Faith.
“Paul had fought the battles in the old denomination, but had done so with an interesting combination of godly graciousness, firmness, and integrity that people could respect and trust.”
Another longtime friend, Dr. Kennedy Smartt, affirmed that appraisal. “As representative of the Continuing Presbyterian Church, which became the PCA, Paul became a pastor to pastors, men who were considering leading their congregations in this new direction. He had a very warm, encouraging type of personality, a unique ability to relate to people and set them at ease.”
One of his most noteworthy contributions came after the PCA was formed in 1973, when he became the first coordinator of Christian education for the denomination. In that role he set a high standard for an emphasis on teaching that is still upheld today.
He also served as Moderator for the eighth PCA General Assembly in Savannah, Ga., in 1980. At that pivotal gathering, Settle deftly exercised one of his best-known traits, an engaging and disarming sense of humor.
“Paul’s wit and humor, plus his unusual ability to recall the names of almost every commissioner made everyone feel comfortable,” stated Smartt. “This was the assembly, it seemed to me, when the PCA began to grow up, and I think Paul had a lot to do with that. We were able to laugh a little at ourselves, but we also were beginning to think of ourselves with more dignity than we had before.”
“He truly was a godly man, one of strong conviction that stood for the truth and loved people. He had a vision for a denomination that was both orthodox and could yet still afford a great measure of freedom for its member congregations,” Kooistra observed. “He didn’t move people by telling them what they should believe. He demonstrated for them that you should live what you believe.”
Settle attended West Virginia University before enrolling at Bob Jones University and graduating in 1956. He earned a Master of Divinity degree at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1959 and was ordained by the Kanawha Presbytery in 1959.
He served in pastoral roles at numerous churches during his lengthy ministerial career, including pastor, Pliny Presbyterian, Pliny, W.Va. (1959-62); associate pastor, Trinity Presbyterian, Montgomery, Ala. (1962-66); associate pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (1966-69); pastor, Northside Presbyterian, Burlington, N.C. (1969-71); and pastor, Second Presbyterian, Greenville, S.C. (1976-91); associate pastor, Park Cities Presbyterian, Dallas, Texas (1993-2003); pastor at large, North Texas Presbytery (2003-06); stated supply, Christ Presbyterian, Flower Mound, Texas (2004-05), and retired in 2006.
Settle also served in a variety of other denominational roles, including executive director of Continuing Presbyterian Church (1973); coordinator of Christian Education and Publications (1974-76); chairman of the board of trustees at Ridge Haven Conference Center (1976-79) and on staff at the center (1991-93). In addition, he chaired and served on numerous committees and subcommittees from 1977 to 1994.
He served on the boards of trustees for The Presbyterian Journal (1979-85); Westminster Theological Seminary (1975-85, 1991-2006); The Presbyterian Guardian (1978-79); World magazine (1979); Hope Urban Ministries (1987-91); and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (1989-90).
Settle was a member of the visiting faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary (1968-69); Briarwood Continuing Seminary (1972); Covenant Theological Seminary (1977, 1984); Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (1988-90); ICU, Moscow (1996), and Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas (1993-96).
His published and media works included “Adult Sunday School Lessons,” Presbyterian Journal (1969); The Covenant Life Curriculum” Christian Observer (1970-72); Studies in the Catechism; Memory Work Notebook; A Time to Die; To God All Praise and Glory; Grace Triumphant radio ministry; Changeless Truths in a Changing World; “The Pastor as Theologian,” Men, Message, and Ministry; and was a contributor to A Journal of Pastoral Practice and Catechism for Young Children.
One of Settle’s passions was encouraging young men to pursue ministry as pastors or missionaries. Numerous men from the various congregations where he served chose to follow that path, inspired by his example and challenged by his vision for the world.
Dedication to excellence in Christian education and fostering a spirit of cooperation with the PCA lie at the heart of his legacy, according to Kooistra. “He stood for the truth with much integrity, much love, and much grace. It’s because of men like Paul Settle that the PCA has survived and thrived to be what it is today.”
Settle was the son of Paul Cochran and Ruth Gunter Settle. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Georgia Brown Settle; and is survived by their children, Paul David, and Jo Lynne Settle, as well as by his wife Mary. He also has two grandchildren – Shelby Emerson (Matthew) and Carly Spouse, and he also recently welcomed his first great-grandchild, Norah Emerson.
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