Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

May God Grant Us New Prophets and Teachers

This morning I was talking with a longtime friend about the deaths of so many major creative voices in theology and in the life of the Church Universal in the past decade.  I suppose it’s a sign of my own increasing middle-aged status (I’m 48), but I find it to be a startling list of voices who led or provoked, prodded, and served (for better or worse) the Church, often defining much of the landscape, for generations.

We who are left are the poorer for their absence and must pray that God raise up others just as creative–even those in the list I or some readers would consider heretical should be viewed as gifts of grace since their challenge(s) often clarified important issues.  (Always be thankful for your critics–they stimulate further reflection and, perhaps, repentance.)

Here are the voices I know we’ve lost since 2000. Please use the comments to add those I’ve missed or forgotten as well as add reflections on individuals in the list.  After 2 weeks, I’ll use the comments to revise the list.  As a Protestant, I do not pray for the dead in the sense that Catholics do, but I think it completely appropriate to give thanks for their lives (witness), to mourn their passing, and to pray for those they’ve left behind.  I encourage readers to add their prayers as appropriate.

  • Richard A. McCormick, S.J. (1932-2000), was for decades the leading American Catholic moral theologian, especially in the controversial area of medical ethics.  He taught at the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago (1957-1974), Georgetown University (1974-1986), and, as John A. Ryan Professor of Moral Theology, at the University of Notre Dame until his retirement (1986-1999). 
  • James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000), pioneering Baptist narrative theologian.  One of the first white theologians to take Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously as a theologian (not just as a “civil rights leader”), he was later influenced by John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, by the philosophers J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein.  He was one of my mentors.
  • Frank Stagg (1911-2001), Southern Baptist New Testament theologian, pacifist, activist for racial justice, early advocate of the ordination of women.
  • Neville Clark (1927-2002), a British Baptist theologian about whom I know little, but see Andy Goodliff’s introduction here.
  • John F. Walvoord (1910-2002), a major voice of Dispensational theology (not a view I’m fond of) who led Dallas Theological Seminary for decades died in Dec. 2002 at the age of 92.
  • John H. Leith (1919-2002), a Reformed theologian in the Presbyterian Church, USA, who taught for decades at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia.
  • Daniel Jenkins (1914-2002), a British Congregationalist theologian and ecumenical leader.
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). I don’t know if he was a Christian, but this German philosopher had a HUGE influence on Christian theology, especially biblical hermeneutics.
  • William L. Hendricks (1929-2002), Baptist theologian. Student of Langdon A. Gilkey. Pioneer in interface between theology and the arts for Baptists.  Wrote mostly for laity.
  • Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), major voice of post-WWII U.S. Evangelicals. One of the founding faculty members of Fuller Theological Seminary and the founding editor of Christianity Today.
  • Colin Gunton (1941-2003), British theologian in the United Reformed Church died suddenly and too early at aged 62.  I was a colleague of his for the summer of 1999 when we were both Visiting Professors at Fuller Seminary, staying in the same guest house.  I had previously been unfamiliar with Gunton, but found him a fascinating and challenging dialogue partner.  He was one of the founders of the International Journal of Systematic Theology.
  • Edward A. Dowey (1918-2003), a renowned Calvin scholar and Princeton seminary theologian died at 85.
  • Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003), pioneering (and usually controversial) German Protestant feminist theologian and political activist.
  • Langdon A. Gilkey (1919-2004), famed U.S. liberal Baptist theologian who taught for decades at the University of Chicago Divinity School. 
  • (Christian Frederick) Beyers Naudé (1919-2004), one of the few white church leaders and theologians in South Africa to have strongly opposed apartheid and worked at great risk for racial justice and reconciliation.
  • Henlee H. Barnette (1914-2004), Baptist theologian and ethicist. Another one of the few early white theologians to take Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously as a theologian. (In fact, Barnette got the trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to offer King a full professorship in Christian ethics in 1963–which Coretta urged him to take, but King declined because he felt God’s call to continue to teach “in the streets.”) 3 portraits hung in Barnette’s office: Those of Walter Rauschenbusch, Clarence Jordan, and Martin King–they defined his tradition as a radical Baptist theological ethicist.
  • Jan Milic Lochman (1923-2004), Ecumenical theologian from the Czech Brethren. 
  • Robert W. Funk (1929-2005), pioneer of the “new hermeneutic” and later very controversial founder and promoter of the “Jesus Seminar.”
  • Monika Hellwig (1929-2005), former nun who attended the Second Vatican Council, pioneering feminist theologian. After leaving her status as a nun, she adopted two children and raised them as a single mother, never marrying.  Defended Catholic intellectuals against a Vatican crackdown.
  • Gerhard O. Forde (1928-2005), famous Lutheran theologian died of Parkinson’s.
  • Stanley J. Grenz (1950-2005), pioneering “postconservative” Canadian Baptist theologian died suddenly of a heart attack.
  • Karol Wojytla, a.k.a., John Paul II (1920-2005), prominent Catholic leader in resisting Communism in his native Poland, took the Catholic church in a more conservative direction as pope than it had been travelling since Vatican II.  Defended peace and universal human rights, but tended to view all liberation theologies through the lense of his experiences with Stalinistic Communism in Poland.  One of the most globetrotting of popes and one of the most beloved.
  • Paul Ricoeur (1914-2005), French hermeneutical philosopher and faithful member of the Reformed Church of France which grew out of the 16th C. Huguenot movement.
  • Brother Roger of Taíze (1915-2005), founder of a French Protestant “monastic” order.
  • William Sloan Coffin (1924-2006), Chaplain to Yale University during Vietnam War, pastor of Riverside Church, NYC. United Church of Christ minister and social justice activist.  A prophetic voice for peace.
  • Corretta Scott King (1927-2006), wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a prophetic voice for justice and peace in her own right.
  • Krister Stendahl (1921-2006), brilliant New Testament scholar, dean of Harvard Divinity School, and Swedish Lutheran bishop.  Early advocate for the ordination of women to the ministry, but wary of some later feminist theology.
  • Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006), Anglican priest and theologian who worked in the relationship of science and theology.
  • Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006), Lutheran minister, church historian, and historical theologian par excellance.
  • Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007), probably the greatest British theologian of the 20th C. (and maybe in the English speaking world).
  • Vernard Eller (1929-2007), Church of the Brethren theologian. Pacifist, theological anarchist, student of Kierkegaard, Barth, Ellul. Early advocate of the ordination of women, but strong opponent of feminist inclusive language for God.
  • John Maquarrie (1920-2007), Anglican theologian who mediated Bultmann and Tillich.
  • Letty M. Russell (1928-2007), Presbyterian and pioneer feminist theologian. Interacted strongly with the work of Jürgen Moltmann.
  • Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008), grandson of a Presbyterian minister, son of a conservative U.S. Secretary of State, he converted to Catholicism and became a major moderately-conservative theologian.
  • Ann Carr (1934-2008), Catholic feminist theologian and nun.
  • Henry Chadwick (1920-2008), Anglican priest and church historian.
  • Thomas Berry (1915-2008), American Catholic priest and pioneer of radical eco-theology.
  • Richard John Neuhaus (1937-2009), once liberal Lutheran pastor and theologian who became a neo-conservative, then converted to Catholicism, was ordained a priest. Leading conservative American Catholic theologian and founder of the journal First Things.
  • Olivier Clément (1929-2009), Eastern Orthodox theologian in heavily Catholic France.
  • Ray Anderson (1925-2009), theologian of the Evangelical Free Church, who taught for years at Fuller Theological Seminary and was a major pioneer in pastoral theology (in dialogue with psychology).
  • Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1915-2009), British born Anglican priest, church historian, historical theologian, and translator of numerous major German theological works into English.  After pastoral ministry in the UK, he taught church history and historical theology for decades at Fuller Theological Seminary.
  • Edward Schillebeecxx (1915-2010), Belgian Catholic priest of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and towering theologian, especially in the wake of Vatican II.
  • Mary Daly (1929-2010), former Catholic nun who attended Vatican II, became a radical post-Christian feminist philosopher.
  • Bruce Shelley (1928-2010), Conservative Baptist minister and church historian who taught for decades at Denver Seminary.
  • E. Earle Ellis (1926-2010), Southern Baptist New Testament scholar from a conservative evangelical perspective.
  • Clark Pinnock (1937-2010), Canadian Baptist theologian who went from scholastic Calvinism to “open theism,” died of Alzheimers.
  • Donald G. Bloesch (1928-2010), evangelical theologian in the UCC, died of cancer.

All in all, it has been a hard decade on theologians.  Please join me in praying for new voices of wisdom and courage.

Update:  Further reflection shows that the entire theological landscape in which my generation was raised and educated–the entire landscape, liberal and conservative, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox–is passing away.  The landscape the next generation will inherit is not clear, but they’re are both ominous and hopeful signs about which I’ll write in future posts.

September 1, 2010 - Posted by | church history, history of theology, obituaries


  1. John Howard Yoder
    Frederick Herzog

    Comment by Tobias Winright | September 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. I was just including the last decade, Tobias. As you know, Yoder died last week of 1997 and Herzog in 1995. But their loss to the church was, of course, tremendous. Every day, I realize how much we could use Yoder’s voice and I always wished Herzog (who taught my teacher, Glen Stassen) was better known.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  3. I forgot Methodist pacifist theologian John M. Swomley (1915-2010).

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

    • William McCracken, Presbyterian peace theologian died in 2005.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  4. Graham Stanton, Cambridge NT scholar from NZ (1940-2009).
    Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s student, friend, and biographer (1910-2000).
    James Barr, British OT scholar (1924-2006).
    Harold O. J. Brown, conservative evangelical theologian (1933-2007).

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  5. Maurice F. Wiles, liberal Anglican priest and Regious Prof. of Divinity at Oxford (1823-2005).

    William C. Placher (1948-2008), “postliberal” narrative theologian and Presbyterian minister.

    Bernard W. Anderson (1916-2007), famed scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures who taught at Drew University Theological School and, later, Princeton Theological Seminary.

    Charles Francis Digby (C.F.D.) Moule (1908-2007), famed NT scholar.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  6. Herman N. Ridderbos (1909-2007), N.T. scholar–expert on Paul.

    Raimon Pannikar (1919-2010), Catholic theologian and “apostle of interfaith dialogue.”

    Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007), Presbyterian minister and N.T. scholar. One of the finest textual critics who ever lived and editor of the RSV and NRSV translation committees.

    Brevard Childs (1923-2007), Old Testament scholar who focused on the “final canonical form” as what should be interpreted.

    Robert Webber (1933-2007), evangelical advocate of the “ancient-future faith.” Major figure in evangelical liturgical renewal and led many “along the Canterbury trail” to the Episcopal Church.

    Stephen de Gruchy, Congregationalist minister and professor of religion who, along with his more published brother, John, was one of the rare white theologians who pushed for racial justice during the apartheid days. He drowned in
    February while tubing with his family down a river.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 2, 2010 | Reply

  7. Paul S. Minear (1906-2007), premier New Testament theologian at Yale Divinity School, died just after his 101st birthday in February 2007.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 11, 2010 | Reply

  8. Elizabeth R. Achtemeier (1926-2002), one of the earliest women to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister; Old Testament scholar and homiletician. Neo-orthodox in theology, she opposed much of feminist theology as pagan. Born in Oklahoma, B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa), Stanford University; B.D., Union Theological Seminary (NY); Ph.D., Columbia University; post-graduate study in Heidelberg and Basel.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 11, 2010 | Reply

  9. Robert McAfee Brown (1920-2001), Presbyterian theologian, student of Reinhold Niebuhr, early scholar of Karl Barth’s work, civil rights and anti-war activist, later one of the first U.S. white interpreters of liberation theologies, especially of the work of Latin American liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 12, 2010 | Reply

  10. Rosemary Skinner Keller (1934-2008), United Methodist permanent deacon and church historian concentrating on women’s history.

    Shirley C. Guthrie (1927-2004), Presbyterian theologian and minister.

    George R. Edwards (1920-2010), Presbyterian New Testament scholar and longtime pacifist and peace activist, especially leading in the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

    Philip F. Berrigan (1923-2002), soldier in WWII who became a priest in the Order of St. Joseph, a pacifist and activist in the civil rights and anti-war movements. During a prison stretch, he corresponded with a nun named Elizabeth McAlister and, when released, they both were laicized (relased from their vows) and married. Berrigan and McAlister continued their peace and justice work while raising a family in intentional community.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 12, 2010 | Reply

  11. Robert T. Handy (1918-2009), American Baptist minister and church historian.

    Jaraslov Pelikan (1923-2006). Lutheran minister who became a layperson in the Orthodox Church, church historian and historical theologian.

    Vernard Eller (1927-2007). Church of the Brethren theologian.

    George R. Beasley-Murray (1916-2000), British Baptist NT scholar.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 12, 2010 | Reply

  12. John Macquarrie (1919-2007), Anglican theologian. Gerhard Ebeling (1912-2001), Lutheran New Testament scholar and theologian in the school of Rudolf Bultmann.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 12, 2010 | Reply

  13. Lewis B. Smedes (1921-2002), Reformed theological ethicist.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 13, 2010 | Reply

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