Grace College and Seminary Bestows Honorary Doctorate at its 87th Commencement Ceremony - Grace Theological Seminary Skip to content

May 9, 2024

Grace College and Seminary Bestows Honorary Doctorate at its 87th Commencement Ceremony

Written By Grace Theological Seminary

Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary honored 422 graduates at the institution’s 87th Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 4, in the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.

During the 1 p.m. ceremony, Grace bestowed Pastor John McNeal with an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree upon the recommendation of Grace Theological Seminary faculty.

“The honorary doctorate is not one flippantly or frequently given at Grace Theological Seminary,” said Dr. Freddy Cardoza, vice president of Grace Theological Seminary. “At institutions such as ours, doctoral degrees and the pursuit of education are held with the highest esteem. But there are those times in which a person has so distinguished himself or herself that a special type of acknowledgment is in order. Such is the case with Pastor John McNeal Jr.”

The third child of a sharecropper, McNeal was born in Metter, Georgia, during the Great Depression. Influenced by the steadfast faith of his parents and grandmother, he came to know the Lord as a teen and had a great desire to know the Bible. Although no one in his family had graduated from high school, he had a thirst for knowledge. McNeal asked the Lord to enable him to finish high school and go on to college and graduate school.

During his service in the U.S. Air Force, the Lord called him into Gospel ministry. “I got the reputation of wanting everybody to be saved,” said McNeal.

Following his service, he attended Fort Valley State Teachers’ College and earned a bachelor’s degree in social science through the G.I. Bill.

To be equipped to teach the Bible, McNeal applied to numerous seminaries known for their sound theological training. Although several institutions turned him down on the basis of race, he was accepted at Grace Theological Seminary.

“I contacted Grace, and they sent me a letter stating, ‘If God wants you here, we don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be here,’” said McNeal. “We came straight here, and the Lord did a marvelous, marvelous thing when I sat under the teaching of Grace scholars, such as Dr. Alva J. McClain and Dr. Herman Hoyt.”

The McNeals lived in Winona Lake from 1961 to 1964 as he completed his Bachelor of Religious Education degree. He was the first African American student to graduate from Grace Theological Seminary.

After graduating, McNeal served for 23 years as the dean of students and a professor at Carver Bible Institute and College in Atlanta, Georgia. He went on to attend Georgia State University to earn a Master of Administration degree and also holds a Doctor of Divinity in Bible and Theology from Carver.

In 1964, McNeal founded Atlanta Bible Baptist Church, which met in the Carver chapel. Twenty years later, McNeal began to serve as a pastor full-time.

Over his 60-plus years in ministry, Pastor McNeal has served numerous Christian organizations nationwide. He is an emeritus board member of Clarks Summit University and Baptist Bible Seminary, a lifetime member and chaplain of Goodwill Industries of North Georgia and a southern representative on the Steering Council for the Baptist Fellowship Association.

In January 2021, Pastor McNeal announced his retirement and transitioned to pastor emeritus. Despite retiring, he continues to share Christ. “I asked the Lord for a million souls, and then I upgraded and asked the Lord for another million,” said McNeal at the Grace Commencement ceremony. “And that’s why I am not done.”

“It has been a joy and privilege for me to learn about and grow in my relationship with the McNeal family,” said Dr. Drew Flamm, president of Grace College and Seminary. “As McNeal’s biography exemplifies,  he is everything we long to see in a Grace graduate. He has faithfully committed himself to the Word of God, and his life clearly demonstrates that his utmost desire is to know Christ and make Him known.”

To watch the video recording of the ceremony, go to McNeal’s recognition begins at the 33:00 time mark.

Grace held two ceremonies for its 2024 graduating class. The first was held for graduates of the School of Arts & Humanities, the School of Behavioral Sciences, the School of Education and the School of Science & Engineering at 9 a.m. The second ceremony, at 1 p.m., honored graduates of the School of Business, the School of Ministry Studies, the School of Professional and Online Education and Grace Theological Seminary.

To learn more about Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary, visit and

Photo Attached: Grace bestowed Pastor John McNeal with an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree upon the recommendation of Grace Theological Seminary faculty.