Grier, William John (1902–83), protestant fundamentalist, is of unknown origins and parentage. He experienced a religious conversion at a mission preached by W. P. Nicholson (qv), which led to an intention to enter the church. In 1923–5 he studied at Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States, then the centre of conservative presbyterian theology, where the foremost fundamentalist theologian, J. Gresham Machen, was a teacher; Grier was always proud to have been a Princeton man. When he returned to Ireland in autumn 1925 he enrolled at the Belfast Presbyterian Theological College to take his final year of theology. He was offended by what he saw as the heterodox teaching of the professors; in particular he believed that the views of Professor J. E. Davey (qv) amounted to a denial of biblical inerrancy and the divinity of Jesus. His conversation on this subject with the Rev. James Hunter (qv) led to the inception of a fundamentalist campaign against the college curriculum by the Presbyterian Bible Standards League. The headquarters of the league were at 15 College Square East, which became the site of the Evangelical Bookshop, at first no more than a few trestle tables where league members sold ‘Ulster pamphlets’ denouncing the alleged heresies of the college; the bookshop premises were acquired in 1945. Grier became bookshop manager; he held this position for the remainder of his life and was succeeded by his son John. During the trial of Professor Davey for heresy in 1926 Grier was a witness, and was subjected to insinuations that he had altered his lecture notes to support the charges. He maintained that this was a misrepresentation of his manner of presenting his evidence, and that the issue was raised as a diversionary tactic by the defence to evade the central issues raised by the prosecutors.
In July 1927 Grier joined Hunter's secession from the Irish Presbyterian Church; he subsequently entered the ministry of the Irish Evangelical Church (later the Evangelical Presbyterian Church), and was regarded as its leading figure after Hunter's death. (His ordination was recognised as valid by presbyterians since it was conferred by an ordained minister.) Grier combined his pastoral duties with the editorship of the church's monthly magazine, the Irish Evangelical (later Evangelical Presbyterian). Many members of the new church had undergone conversion at Nicholson's missions but were not originally presbyterians, and the church experienced internal divisions over premillennial dispensationalism. This doctrine, developed by John Nelson Darby (qv) and popularised through the Scofield Reference Bible, quickly gained adherents among twentieth-century fundamentalists; it holds that a great apostasy and the coming of Antichrist will be followed by the return of Jesus to reign over an earthly kingdom that will last a thousand years before the last judgement. Grier had formerly held premillennial views but had abandoned them at Princeton. He and Hunter eventually succeeded in asserting their orthodox Calvinism as the official position of the Irish Evangelical Church; in the process Grier produced The momentous event (1945), which became one of the most influential fundamentalist statements of the amillennialist viewpoint and still circulated in the twenty-first century. Amillennialism, historically the mainstream Christian position since its espousal by St Augustine, maintains that biblical references to the millennium do not refer to an earthly kingdom of Jesus but to the life of the church between the incarnation and the second coming. The third major school, postmillennialism, holds that the spread of Christianity will establish the millennium on earth before the second coming.
The dissensions over premillennialism contributed to the failure of the new church to attract recruits on a large scale. In 1945 Grier published an apologia, The origin and witness of the Irish Evangelical Church. Around this time he befriended and encouraged the young Ian Paisley (qv), giving him financial assistance and recruiting him to preach at Irish Evangelical Church services; Grier was an officiating minister at Paisley's ordination on 1 August 1946, and Paisley went on to form the populist Free Presbyterian Church, which soon outstripped the membership of the Irish Evangelicals.
Although the Irish Evangelical/Evangelical Presbyterian Church never had more than a thousand members, it played a significant role in maintaining the fundamentalist witness, not only in Northern Ireland but in Britain; this was due in significant measure to Grier's role. The church maintained strong links with fundamentalist groups elsewhere, especially in Scotland and America. Until the early 1960s the Evangelical Bookshop, nerve centre of the denomination, was virtually the only British outlet for American fundamentalist literature. Evangelical Presbyterian ministers were trained by the Free Church of Scotland; Grier was a founder and trustee of the Edinburgh-based Banner of Truth Trust, one of the most influential publishers of Calvinist literature and the focus of the more conservative wing of the Free Church. He also co-founded the fundamentalist annual Leicester Missionaries’ Meeting in 1962, and as its elder statesman delivered the annual address each year during the 1970s; his address ‘The wrath of God’ (1971) was particularly highly esteemed. His other publications included Hus and Farel: heroic pioneers of the Reformation (1965) and The best books (1968), and he provided an introduction to a reprint of Thoughts on religious experience by Archibald Alexander. Grier and his wife (née Hunter) had children. From 1979 he lapsed into senility; he died in 1983.