David Wilkerson

David Wilkerson
Religion Christianity
Denomination Non-denominational
Church Times Square Church
Nationality American
Born (1931-05-19)May 19, 1931
Hammond, Indiana
Died April 27, 2011(2011-04-27) (aged 79)
Cuney, Texas
Spouse Gwen Wilkerson (died July 5, 2012)
Senior posting
Period in office c. 1950 – 2011
Religious career
Post Evangelist
Website www.davidwilkerson.org

David Ray Wilkerson (May 19, 1931 – April 27, 2011[1]) was an American Christian evangelist, best known for his book The Cross and the Switchblade. He was the founder of the addiction recovery program Teen Challenge, and founding pastor of the non-denominational Times Square Church in New York.

Wilkerson's widely distributed sermons, such as "A Call to Anguish", are known for being direct and frank against apostasy and serious about making the commitment to obey Jesus' teachings. He emphasized such Christian beliefs as God's holiness and righteousness, God's love toward humans and especially Christian views of Jesus. Wilkerson tried to avoid categorizing Christians into distinct groups according to the denomination to which they belong.

Wilkerson was killed in a car crash in Texas on April 27, 2011.[1]

Early years

David Wilkerson was born in 1931 in Indiana. He was the second son of a family of Pentecostal Christian preachers, and he was raised in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania, in a house "full of Bibles". His paternal grandfather and his father, Kenneth, were ministers. According to Wilkerson's own testimony, he was baptized with the Holy Spirit at the age of eight.[2]

The young Wilkerson began to preach when he was about fourteen. After high school, he entered the Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. The school was affiliated with the Assemblies of God. In 1952 he was ordained as a minister.[3]


Wilkerson married Gwen in 1953. He served as a pastor in small churches in Scottdale and Philipsburg in Pennsylvania, until he saw a photograph in Life Magazine in early 1958 of seven teenagers who were members of a gang in New York known as "Egyptian Kings".[4][5] He later wrote that he felt the Holy Spirit move him with compassion and was drawn to go to New York in order to preach to them. On his arrival, Wilkerson went to the court in which the teenagers were being prosecuted. He entered the room and asked the judge for permission to tell them something, but the judge ejected him.[4] Upon leaving, someone took a photo of Wilkerson, who then became known as the Bible preacher "who had interrupted the gang trial".[6] Soon after this, he began a street ministry to young drug addicts and gang members, which he continued into the 1960s.[5] Later in 1958, he founded Teen Challenge,[7] an evangelical Christian addiction recovery program in Brooklyn affiliated with the Assemblies of God, with a network of Christian social and evangelizing work centers.[8]

Wilkerson gained national recognition after he co-authored the book The Cross and the Switchblade in 1962 with John and Elizabeth Sherrill about his street ministry. The book became a best-seller, with over 50 million copies in over thirty languages, and is included in Christianity Today's "Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals".[9] In the book, Wilkerson tells of the conversion of gang member Nicky Cruz, who later became an evangelist himself and wrote the autobiographical Run Baby Run. Nicky had been the leader of the "Mau Maus" gang, and he and his friend Israel Narvaez became Christians after hearing Wilkerson preach. In 1970, The Cross and the Switchblade was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Pat Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Cruz.

In 1967, Wilkerson began Youth Crusades, an evangelistic ministry aimed at teenagers whom Wilkerson called "goodniks"—middle-class youth who were restless and bored. His goal was to prevent them from becoming heavily involved with drugs, alcohol, or violence. Through this ministry, the CURE Corps (Collegiate Urban Renewal Effort) was founded. In 1971, Wilkerson moved his ministry headquarters to Lindale, Texas. On September 22 he founded World Challenge, an organization seeking to promote and spread the Gospel throughout the world.

Wilkerson claimed that in 1986, while walking down 42nd Street in New York City at midnight, the Holy Spirit called him to return to New York City and to raise up a ministry in Times Square. He founded and became the pastor of Times Square Church,[1] which opened its doors in October 1987. The church first occupied rented auditoriums in Times Square (Town Hall and the Nederlander Theater), before moving to the historic Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1989, in which it has operated ever since.

Wilkerson did not preach in the name of any specific denomination. Instead, he focused on biblical preaching with the aim of encouraging people to seek God through a personal and deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ[10] and the experience of the Holy Spirit. He said:

I am not preaching some denominational doctrine, This church does not belong to any denomination. We are not Assemblies of God, we are not Baptist, we're not Methodist, we're not Catholic. We're just Holy Ghost people believing this book [The Bible].[11]

Throughout his ministry, Wilkerson had contact with many other prominent Christian ministers, including Leonard Ravenhill, who was his friend, and Ray Comfort, whom Wilkerson met in 1992 after listening to a message called Hell's Best Kept Secret.[12]

From the 1990s, Wilkerson focused his efforts on encouraging pastors and their families throughout the world to "renew their passion for Christ".

Wilkerson and his wife Gwen moved to New York City at the inception of Times Square Church in 1987, and in 2006 began splitting their time between New York and Texas. They had four children and eleven grandchildren.


Wilkerson received a vision in 1973 regarding the future of the United States, subsequently published in a book called The Vision. Some of the subject areas of this prophecy were: "Worldwide recession caused by economic confusion"; "Nature having labor pains"; "A flood of filth and a baptism of dirt in America"; "Rebellion in the home"; and "A persecution madness against truly Spirit filled Christians who love Jesus Christ".

On March 7, 2009 Wilkerson posted a message to his personal blog titled 'An Urgent Message' where he re-stated an earlier prophecy he had made concerning New York city: "For ten years I have been warning about a thousand fires coming to New York City. It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires". Wilkerson indicated that this would be part of a "earth-shattering calamity" affecting the whole earth, brought on by the wrath of God in judgement against "the raging sins of America and the nations". Regarding the timing of these events, he said: "I do not know when these things will come to pass, but I know it is not far off." [13]


On April 27, 2011, while driving east on US Route 175 in Texas, Wilkerson crossed into the westbound lane and collided head-on with a tractor trailer. He was pronounced dead at the scene, just over a month from his 80th birthday. His wife Gwen was injured.[14]

Gwen Wilkerson died a year later, on July 5, 2012 from cancer, at the age of 81.[15]



  1. 1 2 3 "Rev. David Wilkerson Killed in TX Car Crash". Christian Broadcasting Network. April 28, 2011.
  2. "You Need The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit by David Wilkerson". Sermon Index. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
  3. "Kirk Estes - obituary". Celebratethewhole.net. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
  4. 1 2 "Rev. David Wilkerson Dies at 79; Started Times Square Church". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
  5. 1 2 Wilkerson, David. ""The Cross and the Switchblade" More Details". David Wilkerson Publications. Archived from the original on May 7, 2010. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
  6. "Interview: Brother of Late David Wilkerson on His Life, Legacy". Christianpost.com. 2011-04-28. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
  7. "History :: Teen Challenge USA". Retrieved 2008-11-22.
  8. "Teen Challenge's Proven Answer to the Drug Problem". Association of Christian Alcohol & Drug Counselors.
  9. "The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals". Christianity Today. October 6, 2006.
  10. "Times Square Church | About Us | David Wilkerson, Carter Conlon, Patrick Pierre, William Carrol, Teresa Conlon, Ben Crandall". Tscnyc.org. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
  11. You Need The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit (4:49-5:8)
  12. "Hell's Best Kept Secret" (PDF). Livingwaters.com. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
  13. "What You Need to Know about David Wilkerson's 'Urgent Message'". Christianity Today. March 16, 2009. Retrieved 2015-07-23.
  14. "Evangelist David Wilkerson, Times Square Church founder, dies in car crash". Pocono Record. April 28, 2011.
  15. "Home". World Challenge. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
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