Chafer was born in Rock Creek, Ohio to Thomas and Lomira Chafer and was the second of three children. His father, a parson, died when he was 11 years old from tuberculosis, and his mother supported the family by teaching school and keeping boarders in the family home. Chafer attended the Rock Creek Public School as a young boy, and the New Lyme Institution in New Lyme, Ohio from 1885 to 1888. Here he discovered a talent for music and choir.
From 1889 to 1891, Chafer attended Oberlin College, where he met Ella Loraine Case. They were married April 22, 1896 and formed a traveling evangelistic music ministry, he singing or preaching and she playing the organ. Their marriage lasted until she died in 1944.
Ordained in 1900 by a Council of Congregational Ministers in the First Congregational Church in Buffalo and in 1903 he ministered as an evangelist in the Presbytery of Troy in Massachusetts and became associated with the ministry of Cyrus Scofield, who became his mentor.
During this early period, Chafer began writing and developing his theology. He taught bible classes and music at the Mount Hermon School for Boys from 1906 to 1910. He joined the Orange Presbytery in 1912 due to the increasing influence of his ministry in the south. He aided Scofield in establishing the Philadelphia School of the Bible in 1913. From 1923 to 1925, he served as general secretary of the Central American Mission.
When Scofield died in 1921, Chafer moved to Dallas, Texas to pastor the First Congregational Church of Dallas where Scofield had ministered. Then, in 1924, Chafer and his friend William Henry Griffith Thomas realized their vision of a simple, Bible‐teaching theological seminary and founded Dallas Theological Seminary (originally Evangelical Theological College). Chafer served as president of the seminary and professor of Systematic Theology from 1924 until his death. He died with friends while away at a conference in Seattle, Washington in August 1952.
In 1953, the newly‐built chapel was designated the Lewis Sperry Chafer Chapel after the recently passed leader.
During his life, Chafer received his Litt.D. from Dallas in 1924, D.D. from Wheaton in 1926, and Th.D. from the Aix‐en‐Province, France, Protestant Seminary in 1946.
Chafer had a tremendous influence on the evangelical movement. Among his students were Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life (as well as many of Young Life’s first staff members), Ken Taylor, author of The Living Bible translation, and numerous future Christian educators and pastors, including Howard Hendricks, J. Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, R. B. Thieme, Jr. and John Walvoord, who succeeded him as president of DTS.
Chafer was recognized among his friends and peers for his balanced, simple life. He was a well‐spoken and relaxed leader and was not a fire and brimstone preacher. Chafer believed the basic truths for Christian living are found in Romans 5, a chapter which teaches about peace, Grace, weakness, hope, sacrifice, love, and joy.
In recognition of this, Dallas Theological Seminary offers a commencement award, the Lewis Sperry Chafer Award, every year to the graduating master’s student who: “in the judgment of the faculty because of his well‐balanced Christian character, scholarship, and spiritual leadership, best embodies and portrays the ideals of Dallas Theological Seminary.” An additional award, the Lorrain Chafer Award, is awarded to the graduating international master’s student who: “in the judgment of the faculty, best evidences well‐balanced Christian character, scholarship, and spiritual leadership.”
The Dallas Seminary Foundation has also set up a charitable giving program called the Lewis Sperry Chafer Legacy, recognizing the graciousness in Chafer’s life.