Gilbert Bilezikian, Th.D.
By Louisa Janbazian
Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, affectionately renamed “Dr. B” by his students, was born to Genocide survivors who escaped to France from their native town of Marash, Turkey. His maternal grandfather was Pastor Garabed Kupelian, one of the nineteen ministers and missionaries who were killed on their way to a church convention near Adana in 1909. A native of Paris, he received his B.A. from the University of Paris. He then went to Boston to obtain the M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Th.D. from Boston University. He has also pursued a seven year post-doctoral program at the Sorbonne in Paris under Professor Oscar Cullmann.
Dr. Bilezikian’s professional life began in Paris where he taught seven years at the European Bible Institute while serving as Minister of Christian Education at the American Church in Paris. In 1961 he came to the United States and served for five years as Pastor of the Loudonville Community Church in Albany, New York. He then joined the Wheaton College faculty where he taught for twenty years until his retirement. In 1968, Dr. Bilezikian interrupted his tenure at Wheaton College to assume the position of the presidency of Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon, after which he taught for two years at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois before returning to Wheaton College.
“The call to go to Beirut and join Haigazian College came inauspiciously while the 1967 ‘Six Day War’ raged in the Middle East,” says Dr. Bilezikian. “I was then happily ensconced in the academic life of a tranquil Midwestern university in the United States.” As Haigazian College needed an administrator who was an Armenian, Protestant and Evangelical, who spoke English, Armenian and French, who knew American and European educational systems, who had the necessary academic credentials and whose professional experience spanned the continents, the California-based Haigazian Board of Trustees convinced him to take the position.
The political turmoil that prevailed during that time in the Middle East had deep repercussions on the campus of Haigazian College and some students became politically radicalized. They started publishing inflammatory underground papers and tried to organize demonstrations of a terrorist nature on the campus. As Dr. Bilezikian opposed attempts to turn the campus into a political battleground, he received death-threats from the extremists who were frustrated in their attempts to gain control of the College. Fortunately, the Students’ Government stood firmly on the administration’s side to protect the academic integrity of the College. It was during this time that the Bilezikian’s nine year old daughter, Christiane, was shot in the back while playing on her school grounds. Fortunately, the injury was not fatal. But, as a result of this and similar incidents, Dr. Bilezikian took his family back to the United States and returned to Beirut alone to continue his service at Haigazian until 1971. At that point, Dr. John Markarian, the founding President of the College, graciously agreed to assume its presidency again.
During Dr. Bilezikian’s time in Beirut, the administrative structure of Haigazian College was consolidated, the scholarship program was expanded, the finances of the college were managed on a secure basis, the faculty was upgraded, a Faculty Manual was produced to standardize teaching and grading procedures, the weekly campus paper, Haigazian Herald, started to be published and a Student Manual was instituted. As the student body grew, finding additional space became a priority. A magnificent building across the street, formerly occupied by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), was vacant. With the help of the Stephen Mugar Foundation, it finally became possible to purchase it, to move the library to the new building and to create more classroom space. This purchase was successfully finalized under Dr. Markarian’s administration soon after Bilezikian’s departure from Beirut.
Dr. Bilezikian is also a founding leader of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the fastest-growing and most innovative churches in the nation. He has been called the “most forceful advocate of the church as community on the current religious scene.” An important part of Dr. Bilezikian’s life-ministry has been his advocacy for the recognition of women’s gifts and participation in leadership on the basis of their ability to serve, as a condition for community to function biblically.
As a professional theologian and a church growth expert, Dr. Bilezikian has been frequently asked to lead seminars and to lecture both in the United States and abroad. The AMAA called upon him to teach and conduct seminars in the late 1990s, including the worldwide celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Paris. He was the speaker at the convention of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East which was held in Anjar, Lebanon. He also taught three non-consecutive semesters at the AMAA’s Evangelical Theological Academy in Yerevan, Armenia, and he still mentors some of the former students of the Academy. He has also preached frequently from the pulpits of Armenian Evangelical Churches, especially in California, Boston, Canada, Australia, Lebanon, Armenia, Belgium and France. A congenial tradition that started in 1974 and which is still continuing to this day has Dr. Bilezikian bring the message at the Armenian Evangelical Church of Chicago every Palm Sunday.
In addition to numerous articles, Dr. Bilezikian is the author of The Liberated Gospel (1977), Beyond Sex Roles (1985), Eglise, ouvre-toi! (1991), Christianity 101 (1993), and Community 101 (1997). His books have been translated into several languages. In 1992, he became Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus of Wheaton College where he also received the unique distinction of being awarded the citation of Professor of the Year twice, just ten years apart.
Currently, Dr. Bilezikian and his wife Maria live in Wheaton, Illinois. They have four adult children and two grandchildren, John-Michel and Sophie.