The Love of Christ and the Glory of God
If there were one passage of Scripture to sum up the life of Dwight L. Gustafson —“Gus” or “Dr. Gus,” as he was affectionately called by colleagues and students—it might be Philippians 1:9-11.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.
The love of Christ and the glory of God—those formed the impetus for Dr. Gus’s life. And those frame the memories his family and friends now cherish.
Yet it was not always so, for Dr. Gus. He could not have always said that his life was Christ’s and Christ’s alone.
Growing up, young Dwight took piano and violin lessons. He sang in a men’s quartet in high school. But art was his passion, not music.
As a child he sketched as he listened to the radio. The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, football games—all took shape on his paper. In high school he took every art class that was offered, and eventually became the artist for his school newspaper—no small accomplishment in a high school of a thousand students.
He dreamed of someday becoming an animator for Walt Disney. Yet he could not rid himself of the nagging feeling that perhaps God wanted something different of him.
“A lot of Christian young people go through a rebellious time, whether it shows on the outside or not,” Dwight explained in a 2002 interview. “I went to more campfire services than the ordinary teenager did. But when the mission conference came, I would always sit in the back row … because I was afraid God was going to send me to the mission field.”
“I told the Lord, you know, ‘I’m going to be an artist! This is what You’ve given me!’” he said. “So when I came to Bob Jones, I was fighting God’s will for my life.”
He began as an art student at Bob Jones University in 1948. And at BJU he finally surrendered to do whatever God wanted to do with his life. By his second year, he had changed his major to music.
As Dwight himself so eloquently expressed in his book A Brighter Witness, “The point here is that a loving God, seeing the self-willed struggles of a young boy, drew him to a place where he clearly saw God’s will and opportunities for service, and he obeyed. It was a decision that would lead him down paths he could not imagine.”
A Path Unimagined
In 1952 Dwight graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music, married Gwen Adams (a beautiful soprano whom he had met in university choir) and began graduate school.
Suffice it to say, those years were not easy. Work, school, music and family responsibilities piled high. Yet God was faithful, and Dwight and Gwen did not give up.
In 1954 God entrusted them with a new responsibility. As Dwight told it, “I got a call slip that the president wanted to see me. He said, ‘We’d like you to come back as acting dean of the School of Fine Arts, and if it works out well, come on as dean.’”
Dwight had planned to serve as a music minister in a church after earning his master’s degree. Yet as he and Gwen discussed it and prayed about it, it seemed clear that God wanted them at BJU.
That one simple step of obedience shaped the history of Bob Jones University, as well as the lives of countless students.
Lifetime of Accomplishments
Though he was young—only 24 years old when he became acting dean!—his passion for all areas of the fine arts gave him the vision he needed. He not only served as administrator, but also continued teaching and composing, directed orchestra and choir, performed in operas and plays, led music in chapel, ministered in churches and much more. In the midst of all this, he earned a doctor of musical arts degree from Florida State University in 1967.
And under his leadership, the School of Fine Arts flourished like never before. Every division, from art to music to speech, grew in number of faculty, students and programs. Physical space was expanded as well, with the completion of the Fine Arts building in 1956.
Dr. Gus served as dean of the School of Fine Arts for 43 years, until his retirement from administration in 1997. He still holds the record for the longest-serving dean in BJU history. But even after retirement, he kept on teaching, conducting and composing—and, of course, influencing and inspiring students.
In 1999 Bob Jones University honored Dr. Gus’s immeasurable contributions with the naming of the newly renovated and constructed Gustafson Fine Arts Center. That same year South Carolina recognized his lifetime of accomplishments by awarding him the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in the state.
The Brighter Witness
Yet in the midst of the praise of men, Dr. Gus, like J.S. Bach, would say: Soli Deo Gloria. His goal was excellence and beauty in all things—for the glory of God in all things. This is the enduring legacy he leaves behind.
40th Anniversary Tribute (1993)
Click a time to listen to a specific section.
As Dr. Gus himself put it:
It should be clear by now that the brighter witness does not come about as a result of our efforts. God must light the fire, a truth never to be forgotten. But we do have a part, and the result can be immensely satisfying. In the arts, as in our other undertakings, what God has struck aglow will flame beautifully when a love for Him and a concern for His glory blaze on the altar of our lives.
Thank you, Dr. Gus, for showing us how brightly a surrendered life can blaze.
May we, too, allow God to strike that flame in us.
View more videos with Dr. Gustafson in our Gustafson Youtube Playlist.