Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

A Tribute to Walter Wink (1935-2012): New Testament Theologian of Nonviolence and Power

On 10 May 2012, Rev. Dr. Walter Wink, passed away less than a week before what would have been his 77th birthday (23 May).  He had, apparently, been suffering some form of dementia for several years.  Dr. Wink was a huge influence on me through his writings, but I met him only once–in Washington, D.C. in 1989 when we were both arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience outside the White House–protesting the continued support of the Bush I administration for the apartheid-era government of South Africa.  (The protests, called “Stand for Truth,” had been planned for months and were huge that Mother’s Day weekend in ’89, but the news was somewhat overshadowed because less than a week earlier, the Chinese government had massacred protesting students and other pro-democracy groups in Tienenmen Square.  I met an amazing array of Christian peace and justice folk that weekend including Wink’s wife, June Keener-Wink, a young Jesuit priest named Fr. John Dear, S.J., who would soon make major contributions to peace and nonviolence theory, to theology, and to peace activism, but, who, that weekend before his fame was very quiet because his handcuffs were too tight and he was in great pain; Sister Joan Chittister, OSB; Jim Wallis, founding editor of Sojourners; Joyce Hollyday; Rev. Eugene Rivers, an African-American Pentecostal whose work with the Boston 10 Point Coalition was greatly reducing violence in street gangs; many more. It was a life-changing weekend for me.)

Dr. Wink lived an amazing life of witness. He was born in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression. He was born and raised in Texas in the midst of Texas Methodism–coming to a very different form of Christian nonviolence than fellow Texas Methodist Stanley Hauerwas.  He earned his B.A., magna cum laude from Southern Methodist University (Major: History; Double minor: Philosophy; English), but rather than pursue his theological education at SMU’s own Perkins School of Theology, Wink earned his Master of Divinity (1959) and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies (1963) from New York’s famed Union Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary of great influence. There is some irony here:  Union Theological Seminary is known as a center of non-pacifist liberal Christianity.  True, there are a few pacifist voices associated with UTS: Harry Emerson Fosdick and James Forbes, both Senior Ministers at nearby Riverside Church, were pacifists who taught preaching at UTS. But “Union” has become almost synonymous with names like Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), proponent of “Christian Realism,” Paul Tillich (1889-1965), German-American proponent of Christian socialism and a neo-liberal theology,  James H. Cone (b. 1938-), one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology, and Beverly Wildung Harrison (b. 1932–), foremother of Christian feminist ethics–and all of these voices represent strands of liberal Christianity that, while not militarist or “pro-violence,” are decidedly non-pacifist and endorse nonviolence only tactically and not out of principled conviction.

Wink was an ordained United Methodist Minister who spent time as a youth worker and a parish pastor before teaching at his alma mater, Union Theological Seminary. From 1976 onward, he was Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC, a sister-institution to UTS in covenant with the Presbyterian Church, USA (and found on UTS’ campus).  During his time as a youth worker at East Harlem Protestant Parish, Wink came under the influence of the lawyer and Episcopal lay-theologian, William Stringfellow. Stringfellow’s interpretation of the “Principalities and Powers” in the New Testament would profoundly influence Wink’s own work.

In 1973, Wink published a small book called, The Bible in Human Transformation that declared “the historical-critical method is bankrupt.” I have to confess that I was unable to follow Wink’s point when I first encountered it.  I had come from a tradition of conservative evangelical Christianity and had found the historical-critical method to be liberating from biblicist literalism.  But Wink was not wanting to repudiate the gains of the historical-critical method, but to add to them–using insights from psychology (and later from sociology).

He is best known for his 3 volume work on “The Powers,” i.e., on the biblical terminology for power, especially in the Pauline corpus, that uses terms like “Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Thrones, Dominions, Angels, ” etc. For centuries, these terms were simply dismissed as speaking of demons–and demythologized by the likes of Bultmann and fetishized by some Pentecostals and some Fundamentalists.  Hendrikus Berkhof, John Howard Yoder, and William Stringfellow began to see the importance of this language as pointing at once to political realities and to spiritual realities “behind” political institutions.  Wink, with insights from process theology and depth psychology, gave a metaphysic for the Powers that attempted to be non-reductionistic while acknowledging that none of us on this side of the Enlightenment can simply adopt the pre-modern worldview of the New Testament.  Wink also derived a theological ethic from his study of the Powers, especially in his third volume, Engaging the Powers.  The Powers form a world-system Wink called “The Domination System,” and the inbreaking Kingdom of God is “God’s New Domination-Free Order.” The Powers are not simply evil for they were created by God to bring order out of chaos. But they are “fallen,” twisted from their created purpose and used to enslave and dominate humanity.  They must be engaged–resisted and redeemed–by the followers of Jesus.

Wink also helped many reinterpret the Sermon on the Mount so that Matt. 5:9 is understood not as a call to nonresistance or passivity in the face of evil, but to a “Third Way” of Nonviolent Confrontation of Evil.  In a lexical study of the verb αντισθηναι (“antisthenai”), usually translated “resist,” Wink finds that it actually means “stand against” as in armed rebellion or murder, so that Matt. 5:9 should be translated, “Do not violently resist evildoers.” Wink demonstrates that turning the other cheek when backhanded by a social superior , removng both garments in court when sued for one’s outer garment (thus stripping naked in protest), and going a second mile when a soldier of the occupying army compels you to carry his gear the required one mile are all nonviolent direct actions against acts of domination and oppression.  He first published this is in a small book published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation for black churches in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle–churches that were seeking a way to be true to the gospel but resist the apartheid evil.  (See Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa:  Jesus Third Way [Fellowship, 1984]).  He expanded and deepened his defense of this approach in several academic articles and book chapters aimed at changing the way New Testament scholars, especially translators and writers of commentaries on Matthew, understood the Sermon on the Mount.  Finally, he reworked his original popular study for a larger audience–beyond the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. See Walter Wink, Jesus and Violence:  A Third Way.  Because of this “active nonviolence” interpretation, Wink did not like the term “pacifism,” (too easy to confuse with “passivity,” and refused to be called a pacifist even though his dedication to nonviolence was strong–and he was a critic of the way that Christian admiration for the life and testimony of Dietrich Bonhoeffer translated into justifications of violence. (The liberationist left often uses Bonhoeffer to justify violent insurrection against conservative governments and the rightwing uses it to justify bombings of abortion clinics.)

Wink was an early defender of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons in the church.  Eventually, he edited a collection of writings on the topic that did not simply include the “usual suspects,” but also the voices of pro-gay evangelicals like Peggy Campolo, Lewis Smedes,  and Ken L. Sehested.  See Wink, Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches.

Wink also edited one of the best collections of writings on nonviolence by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation over a 50 year period.  See Wink, Peace is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It’s truly a remarkable collection.

Walter Wink seamlessly combined the roles of pastor, teacher, scholar, and nonviolent Christian activist.  I give thanks for his life and witness hope that God continues to raise up prophetic voices like his.

May 25, 2012 Posted by | "homosexuality", Biblical interpretation, biographical entries, biographies, church history, Fellowship of Reconciliation, heroes, Methodists, nonviolence, obituary, peace, peacemakers, theologians | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Chuck Colson (16 October 1931-21 April 2012)

Seven days ago, former Nixon aide-turned-Evangelical-pundit Chuck Colson died.  Because my feelings about Colson are mixed, I waited this week before writing anything about him.  Especially through Prison Fellowship, the ministry he founded, Colson did some real good and I hope that influence lives on. But my overall assessment is that, even post-conversion, he was a negative force in both church and society and I hope his passing allows a fresh start.  That’s my thesis, now let me argue for it.

Charles Wendell “Chuck” Colson was born in Boston, MA to an upper-middle class Republican family that hated the New Deal and raised him to oppose almost all progressive social reforms.  He went to an elite private high school (The Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, MA), graduating in 1949.  He then earned a B.A. in political science, cum laude, from Brown University in 1953.  From there, Colson went on to earn his law degree, again with honors, from the law school of George Washington University in 1959.  From 1953 to 1955 Colson served in the U.S. Marine Corps, earning the rank of captain.  He founded his own law firm and worked on Republican political campaigns.    His first marriage (to Nancy Billings) lasted from 1953 to 1964 before ending in divorce. They had 3 children. He then married Patricia Ann Hughes in 1964 and this marriage lasted until Colson’s death.

Colson first came to national attention in 1968 when he joined the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. He was assigned to the “Special Issues Committee” informally known as the “Dirty Tricks Group.” Colson proved to be especially good at dirty tricks. He would hire Young Republican college students to volunteer for various Democratic campaigns and spy for Nixon, sabatouging the campaigns, and planting evidence in other campaigns.  After Nixon was elected, Colson was appointed as Special Counsel to the President–and soon became admired by friends and feared by enemies as Nixon’s “hatchet man.”  Colson himself has written that he was “useful” to the president because he was willing to be ruthless to get things done. (See Colson, Born Again, chap. 5.) He was considered the “evil genius” of an evil administration–the Lee Atwater or Karl Rove of his generation.

As such, Colson was implicated in the Watergate Scandal. Synopsis for a generation too young to remember. In the 1972 presidential campaign, the Committee to Reelect the President [CREEP], which, in an age before ANY campaign finance reform, had whole suitcases of cash to use in various schemes, hired some inept burglars to steal campaign plans and secrets from the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. They were caught and eventually (after the election), the authorization of this burglary was traced to the White House. It is unknown whether or not Nixon or Colson knew of the original burglary, but both were heavily involved in the illegal cover-up.  Colson was also involved in the burglary of the private files of Daniel Ellsberg, the decorated Marine and Pentagon consultant who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (proving that several presidents in both parties lied to the American people repeatedly concerning the Vietnam War). Colson’s plan was to derail criticism of both Watergate and the Vietnam War by getting the news to cover Ellsberg’s psychiatric counseling. (This backfired.  Ellsberg was charged with illegally releasing secret information–even though, unlike the United Kingdom, the U.S. has nothing like an “Official Secrets Act.” The burglary and leak of Ellsberg’s psychiatric files led the judge to throw out the case.) In 1974, Colson was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate coverup, as were dozens of other officials in the Nixon administration.

While Colson was facing arrest, a friend gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and introduced him to a prayer and Bible study group. Colson was converted and became an evangelical Christian. When the press learned of this, most were extremely skeptical, believing that Colson was simply trying for a reduced sentence. (Many of his fellow Watergate convicts thought the same thing.) It may be that Colson or someone close to him did release the conversion story with that in mind, but I think his conversion was genuine.  I have not doubted the sincerity of his faith, but rather the terrible shallowness of his theology. Colson reveals the huge weakness of evangelical Christianity in cultivating genuine discipleship and a Christian identity that is trans-national and with loyalties that resist the Powers and Authorities and stand with the poor and marginalized. Although 19th C. American evangelicalism displayed these characteristics, they have been mostly missing in 20th and 21st C. evangelicalism and Colson exemplifies this weakness. But there is no need to claim that his conversion was faked. It appears genuine.

Colson’s prison sentence opened his eyes to the huge problems of the U.S. “justice” system and especially the prison system.  Upon release from prison, Colson could no longer practice law or vote as a convicted felon. (In 2000, Colson, then a resident of Florida, had his voting rights restored by FL Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush (R).) He published his spiritual memoir, Born Again, which became a bestseller. It fit with the times. After the secular ’60s (including the notorious “Death of God” movement at the end of the decade), there were several national revivals in the 1970s:  It witnessed the birth of Jesus People, USA (an intentional community of ex-hippies); it saw several campus radicals become Christians (many retaining their liberal politics in the birth of the “Evangelical Left” of the 1960s), even the conversion of a few Black Panthers and former gang members. It saw the highly successful “I Found It!” campaign, the birth of “Jesus Rock” (later watered-down and commercialized as “Contemporary Christian Music”), the height of popularity for evangelist Billy Graham, and much more. Even the flourishing of many cults and new religions in the 1970s reflected a nation that was exhausted by political protests and social change movements turning inward to seek spiritual grounding–in both familiar paths to American Christians and in movements and ideas that, however ancient elsewhere in the world, were novel and strange on U.S. soil.  In that context, Colson’s redemption narrative–a form of spiritual memoir at least as old as St. Augustine’s Confessions–was eagerly read by many.

I’m sure that Colson used money from the book sales to pay his many legal bills, but I don’t conclude that his sole motivation was monetary.  I think that, at one level, he was seeking to give testimony, to learn to share his faith evangelistically.  I think the book was popular for at least one other reason:  Many conservative Christians, including the like of Billy Graham, felt horribly betrayed by the Nixon administration. Graham had endorsed Nixon as a person of faith and the conservatives turned to him in reaction to the Chicago riots at the ’68 Democratic National Convention and the secular spirit that (it seemed to many) had dominated the movements for social change of the ’60s. (This despite the numerous clergy, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, who had major leadership positions in both the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.) Watergate had made many feel like they had been duped and that their faith had been made a laughingstock before the world. Colson’s Born Again reassured many of these people that they hadn’t been completely wrong.  They treated him not as a notorious sinner who had been saved but needed intense discipleship before he could be trusted with any form of leadership, but as a prodigal son returning to the fold.  Unlike the ex-hippie radicals in the Sojourners Community or Open Door or Jesus People, USA, etc., Colson’s conversion was to a form of Christianity and church life that looked “safe” and familiar.

But he did do one challenging thing after his release from prison that didn’t fit the comfortable conservative Christian mold:  He created Prison Fellowship.  It was and is an outreach ministry to prisoners.  Now, Christians have been reaching out to the imprisoned since Jesus commanded it in Matt. 25.  In the 19th C. in the USA, evangelical Protestant Christians had literally hundreds of prison ministries. They also led the nation in prison reform efforts, including movements to abolish the death penalty.  But, by the early 20th C., this had mostly disappeared. Most denominations still produced a few ministers who would become prison chaplains, but, with the exception of Catholics and the Black Church, few members of local churches ever visited prisoners or tried to help them find employment after prison, much less did anything toward prison reform.  Colson’s Prison Fellowship soon became the largest para-church prison ministry in the nation and it was very successful in many ways.  In that way, it reconnected American evangelicals to a phase of their more radical history.  But, despite Colson’s own opposition to the death penalty (until the arrest of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing), he and Prison Fellowship did very little to actually reform prison conditions or the penal code. They did evangelistic outreach and some (limited) post-prison support.  But it was a very important ministry that changed the lives of many–and did not easily fit the cynical meme that “Colson just went from conservative politics to conservative religion with no real changes in basic outlook.” At least in this area, he did change.

[Correction from a reader’s comments:  I did not know that Colson was an early supporter of for-profit prisons, an incredibly unjust industry that has exploded in popularity since the 1980s. It’s very un-Christian and Colson’s support undermines one of the few areas of respect I had for him.  It may be the process I describe below that corrupted even Prison Fellowship.]

At this point, American evangelicalism did something that hurt Colson as a Christian:  Instead of insisting he stay out of the headlines for a time (as even the converted Apostle Paul did for 3 years) and learn. including unlearning all his habits as a political operative, they gave him a soapbox. In the late 1970s, Colson was given a regular column in Christianity Today, the most popular Christian magazine in the country, with a HUGE circulation that dwarfs all competitors.  From this post, he became a pundit and a leader–and this did much harm to his own spirituality and to the life of both the church and the nation.  From his position at Christianity Today, Colson helped to launch the movement known as “The Religious Right.” Thus, he went back into the game of politics, conservative politics, where he had been tempted to have no ethics and few scruples. He was soon hob-nobbing with those who still had no scruples: Richard Vigurie, Adolph Coors, Grover Norquist, and many others. And, while some of the leaders of the Religious Right later regretted the way they were co-opted by the Republican Party for its own uses (most notably, Frank Schaeffer, who broke with the movement in the 198os and became an Orthodox Christian, but also others), Colson never expressed any doubts about his use of many of the same tactics that led to his imprisonment to push the Religious Right agenda: outlawing abortion, pushing state-sponsored prayer in public schools, art censorship, anti-science campaigns (first against evolutionary biology and later against human-caused catastrophic climate change), restrictions of civil liberties, eroding the social safety net in ways that please big business and hurt  organized labor, promotion of huge military budgets and an overly militarized foreign policy, and, especially, an all-out crusade against GLBT persons and against women’s equality.  This agenda is hardly Christian and shows an inability to separate loyalty to the church universal from what should be lesser loyalties to particular nations, races, classes, genders, sexual orientations, etc. For Colson, and the Religious Right he helped to create, Christian faith was/is inseparable from the Republican Culture Wars.

For much of his post-Watergate life there was a notable exception to this:  Colson’s opposition to capital punishment. In 1960, polls showed that a majority of Americans wanted to abolish the death penalty.  By the early 1970s, this was no longer the case, which made for an incredible backlash when the Supreme Court temporarily ruled against the death penalty in 1972. (By 1976, they had okayed it, again!) From the mid-1970s until the late 1990s, the popularity of the death penalty grew every year in the USA. Only the advent of DNA testing (about 800 people have now been released from death rows by DNA evidence proving they could not have been guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted) changed that trajectory.  As a longtime death penalty opponent, I can testify to how lonely one could feel in America at that time. But Colson swam against the stream and argued against the death penalty during its rising popularity. Until the Oklahoma City bombing. He returned to a pro-death penalty stance just at a time when many other conservative white, evangelicals, including the likes of Pat Robertson, were questioning their support.  Colson ceased to be a prophetic voice, on the only issue in which he was one, just as that voice was needed most.

Even more than this, however, Colson helped twist U.S. evangelicalism by the promotion of “worldview theory.” Now, the term “worldview” for a coherent philosophy or outlook, is not new.  And Colson did not invent the outlook I’m about to describe: It was proposed first (I think) by the 19th C. Dutch Christian statesman, Abraham Kuyper.  Colson probably got it not from Kuyper, but from Francis Schaeffer, another early leader of the Religious Right.  The idea is that people carry around coherent, airtight, “worldviews” that are more than just doctrines or ethical behaviors, but entire, self-contained perspectives on the world.  And these various worldviews are in mortal combat. One cannot hold “THE” Christian Worldview and dialogue with someone who has an Enlightenment Worldview or a Hindu Worldview, or a Muslim Worldview. One can only defeat the rival worlview through superior logic or conversion or by some form of coercion or force.  Now, this is a problem on many levels:  It fails to understand that worldviews are NOT air-tight and coherent. The search for a pure “biblical worldview” is as elusive as finding someone who is of “pure race.” Go back far enough and we’re all mix-breeds, folks. The Bible itself contains elements from dozens of other cultures–sometimes in conflict and sometimes not.  The Enlightenment has elements in tension with Christianity, but is itself a product of Christianity.  Colson and other “worldview” types look back to the Middle Ages in nostalgia for when Christianity dominated the education of the universities–but this is only part of the story. The Western Medieval university itself was an idea borrowed from Muslims from North Africa–who also brought the concept of zero, calculus, Arabic numerals (which they borrowed from India even earlier), astronomy, and advances in architecture. They also led the Medievals to recover many of the Greek classics, including Aristotle. The thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, which synthesized the theology of St. Augustine with the philosophy of Aristotle, would not have been possible without the work of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd, also known as Averröes.  This is just one example of many as to the way that cultural influences mix and mingle.  The “worldview” idea distorts all that.

Colson’s promotion of “worldview” ideas also makes responsible citizenship in a pluralistic democracy all but impossible. It encourages total defeat of all who disagree as not only “the enemy,” but even as GOD’S enemy.  “Compromise” and “dialogue” are turned into swearwords. No one is able to learn anything from anyone not already viewed as an insider because “worldviews” can only clash, never dialogue, never learn from one another.

More than any particular campaign against gays or feminists, or Muslims, etc., the concept of “worldview” Colson promoted has led to our dysfunctional civic life.

For all these reasons, I believe that the majority of Chuck Colson’s influence has been negative. I mourn the passing of all persons, but I hope Colson’s passing allows for fresh winds to blow in American Christian life.

April 29, 2012 Posted by | biographical entries, biographies, church history, obituaries | 6 Comments

The 10 Most Important Christian Theologians in U. S. History

This kind of a list is necessarily subjective, but I am trying to base my choices not on “my favorites,” but on the basis of influence–both on other theologians and on the faith and practice of the churches.  After I post this list, my next posts will be a series of profiles of each of these ten. I do not think that either my choices or descriptions/evaluations are incontestable.  I invite others to submit their own lists and reasons for them–either in the comments or on their own blogs with links in the comments. I also invite readers from other nations to list the most important theologians of their nations. Our mutual enrichment could be considered a form of globalized “continuing theological education.” I hope you enjoy this series and I look forward to your responses. My list is in chronological order.

  1. Roger Williams (1603-1683).  Williams was a Cambridge educated English Puritan theologian who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony where his evolving views led to conflict with the colony’s religious establishment. He became a champion of religious liberty and church-state separation, as well as a friend and advocate for Native Americans. Banished (together with his wife) into “ye howling wilderness” by the Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities, Williams was saved by Native Americans of the Narragansett nation.  He founded Providence and secured a royal charter for the Colony of Rhode Island. He founded the First Baptist Church in North America in Providence, but soon withdrew himself from membership (believing all churches to be impure) to await the rise of a new apostleship. He wrote a grammar of the Narangansett language for English speakers, founded Rhode Island as the first colony to ensure religious liberty, and wrote many theological tracts that were influential on others, especially later Baptists.
  2. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Calvinist Congregationalist theologian of the Awakening, educated at Yale.  Although
    the stereotypes focus on his “hellfire and damnation” sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards was actually one of the foremost philosophical theologians of love.  He helped create the discipline of sociology in order to accurately describe the phenomena of
    the revivals.  His work Freedom of the Will re-thought the doctrine of Predestination.  Edwards reshaped Puritan theology to mold the Evangelicalism of the Great Awakening.
  3. Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Presbyterian theologian of the first generation of Princeton Theological Seminary, Hodge established the Calvinist orthodoxy of the central strand of American Evangelicalism.  He also began the form of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (refined by his son, A.A. Hodge and by B. B. Warfield) that became so important to most U.S. conservative Protestants after the rise of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.
  4. Walter Rauschenbush (1861-1918). American Baptist pastor, church historian, and THE theologian of the Social Gospel movement.
    The son of an immigrant German Lutheran pastor (August Rauschenbusch) who converted to Baptist convictions. Educated at Rochester Theological Seminary and the University of Berlin, the largest theological impact on Rauschenbusch was his experience as a pastor of poor people in Hell’s Kitchen—one of the worst slums in NYC.  Rauschenbusch’s theology centered around Jesus’ inauguration of the
    Kingdom of God—in which both individual salvation and the struggle for social justice were incorporated.
  5. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Minister in the Evangelical Synod of North America (and, after the merger, with the Evangelical and Reformed Church)—an immigrant denomination of Germans influenced by the Heidelberg Catechism which combined Lutheran and Calvinist influences. (This is one of the root denominations of today’s United Church of Christ.) Educated at Elmhurst
    College, Eden Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Yale University Graduate School (but his father’s death prevented him from finishing his Ph.D.).  Greatly Iinfluenced by his time as pastor in Henry Ford’s Detroit.  As Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, Niebuhr reconfigured the Social Gospel of Rauschenbusch with influences from Luther and
    Augustine—especially on the nature of sin.  He called the result “Christian Realism,” and, for better or worse, it has dominated the American Christian approach to social ethics and political involvement ever since.
  6. H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962). Reinie’s younger brother and arguably the more brilliant, but less influential, thinker. Influenced more by Calvin than Luther, also Troeltsch and Karl Barth. Created the foundations of what became “narrative theology” and the post-liberal tradition.
  7. John Howard Yoder (1927-1997). American Mennonite theologian educated at Goshen College and the University of Basel.  Influenced by traditional Anabaptist theology, Harold Bender,  Karl Barth, Markus Barth, and Oscar Cullmann.  Yoder took these
    influences and forged a nonviolent theology of social concern that rejected the Constantinian synthesis of imperial Christianity that had dominated Christianity since the 4th C.  He was probably the most influential Christian pacifist theologian since World War II and certainly the most Christocentric.
  8. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). African-American Baptist minister who took traditional Black Baptist pietism, the Social Gospel, Christian Realism, Boston Personalist philosophy & Gandhian nonviolence theory to forge the theology of the nonviolent Civil Rights movement. Educated at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, Harvard University, and Boston University, King repeatedly turned down academic posts in order to keep his commitments as a pastor and leader of the grassroots Civil Rights movement.
  9. Letty M. Russell (1929-2007).  One ofthe pioneers in Christian feminist theology, one of the earliest women ordained
    by Presbyterians, Russell incorporated feminism into a much more mainstream Christian tradition than did other early pioneers like Mary Daly (who became a self-described “post-Christian”) and Rosemary Radford Reuther
  10. James Hal Cone (1938–).  The most influential of the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology.  A minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Cone was educated at Philander Smith College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Northwestern University, Cone has spent most of his career teaching at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Influenced by traditional Black Methodism, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Power Movement, Cone has sought to re-think Christian theology from the perspective of the oppressed and to articulate a theology of liberation focused on the African American context, but in dialogue with other liberation movements and cultural traditions around the globe.

Well, there’s my list. I am deeply aware that it is dominated by white males, but the tradition has been so dominated for most of U.S. history and I am trying to organize my list in terms of influence.  I may believe (as I do) that Frederick Douglass should have been far more influential than Charles Hodge, but, at least at this point in U.S. history, it is not the case.

Even so, narrowing this list to 10 was not easy.  The omissions are glaring–and I hope your responses will help to fill them.


August 28, 2011 Posted by | blog series, church history, history of theology, theologians, tradition | 8 Comments

100 Baptist Pacifists (26-50)

As I mentioned in my first installment, there are several other Baptist peacemakers who may be (or may have been) pacifists, but ambiguities or contradictory statements leave me uncertain.  So, I have to omit them from the list until I can clear up these uncertainties.  There are several notable Baptist women whose actions seem to show pacifist convictions (and they were/are definitely peacemakers), but the silence of the record keeps me silent, too.   (For instance, I am almost certain that Ann Hasseltine Judson, who worked so hard to get her husband out of the British prison during the Burmese war, was a pacifist and was a catalyst for her husband’s coming to pacifist views–but she is silent on the subject.  So is Emily Chubb Boardman Judson whose son, George Dana Boardman, was a leader in the peace movement.  But, again, she does not speak on the topic.  I’d love to include more women in these posts, but I will not simply make the sexist assumption that a woman shares the views of the men in her life–fathers, husbands, brothivers, sons–in the absence of positive evidence.  After all, I have been surrounded by strong, opinionated women all my life: My mother was a great influence, but we didn’t always agree. My sisters and I disagree on huge range of topics. My wife, a Baptist minister, shares many things in common with me, but our theologies are far from identical.  And I think my daughters simply humor me. )

26.  George Keith (1639-1716) was a Quaker who came to believe that the Inner Light was not enough and came to Baptist convictions on believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  His short-lived movement of “Keithian Baptists” (sometimes called “Quaker Baptists”) were thoroughly pacifist.

27.  Elder Peleg Burroughs (1748-1800).  Newport, R. I. Baptist pastor in the General (6 Principle) Baptist tradition (whose wife was a Seventh Day Baptist).  He sympathized with the U. S.  Revolution, but would not violate his principles by agreeing to fight or monetarily support the war.

28.  Benjamin Randall (1749-1800), founder of the Free Will Baptists, was a thorough pacifist and the first couple of generations of Free Will Baptists were pacifists, too, although most current Free Will Baptists are both theologically fundamentalist and socially conservative, including being militaristically nationalist.

29. Elder Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797), a Baptist who came to believe in universal salvation, was also a strong pacifist and an early opponent of slavery.

30.  Benoni Stinson (1798-1869) was a Kentucky pastor of a “United” Baptist congregation (i.e., composed of a mix of Regular or Charleston Tradition Baptists with Separate/New Light/Sandy Creek Baptists) who came to reject Calvinism for Arminianism. He founded the General Association of General Baptists and opposed both war and slavery.

31.  Howard Malcolm (1799-1878) was an American Baptist minister who held pastorates in both the South and the North prior to the Civil War.  He served as first president of Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY (a Baptist college not to be confused with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. which is Catholic) and was later president of Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA (once Baptist and now secular).  Malcolm was active in many social reforms, including the abolition of slavery.  A strong pacifist, he was the founding president of the American Peace Society.

32. Henrietta Oden Feller (1800-1868) was a Swedish Baptist missionary to Canada where she founded a school for girls and women.  When the school and the Baptist congregation were attacked, she insisted that people respond with nonviolence and love of enemies.

33. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) Baptist newspaper publisher and major leader of the movement to abolish slavery, Garrison was also involved in the struggle for women’s rights, for universal education and an end to child labor, and the abolition of war.

34. Susan Elizabeth Cilley Griffin (1851-1926), known as “Libby,” this missionary and pastor is the earliest documented woman to be ordained to the gospel ministry in Baptist circles.  She was a Free Will Baptist missionary to India, then ordained and called to a church in Elmira, NY.  When much of the Free Will Baptists merged with the Northern (now American) Baptists, Libby’s ordination was accepted.  Her pacifism grew out of her devotion to missions and experiences as a missionary.

35 . Henry Clay Vedder (1853-1935) was a Baptist minister and church historian who became an advocate of the Social Gospel and was a conscientious objector to World War I.

36.  Samuel Zane Batten (1859-1928)  Northern (American) Baptist minister and advocate of the “Social Gospel” and strong pacifist who opposed World War I even after the government declared that opposition to the war would be treated as treason.

37.  William Henry Haden (1875-1972) a British Baptist pastor, founded the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship in 1929 which is today the (British) Baptist Peace Society.

38.  Herbert Dunnico (1876-1958), British Baptist pacifist and conscientious objector during World War I.

39.  Edwin Foley (1877-1972), British Baptist pacifist and conscientious objector during World War I.

 40 Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934), daughter of a Baptist minister, missions advocate, and suffragist (who was friends with Susan B. Anthony), Montgomery was the first woman to publish her own translation of the New Testament and to become head of a major denomination (president of the Northern Baptist Convention).  Her pacifism grew not just out of her study of the New Testament, but from her commitment to missions (vs. nationalism) and her commitment to advancement for women (women and children being historically the prime victims of war).

41. Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968) was a Baptist layperson, Yale historian of China and of the history of Christianity, especially Christian missions.  Latourette’s global sense of the church as the Body of Christ led him to embrace Christian pacifism.

42. Edwin McNeill Poteat Jr. (1892-1955).  Baptist pastor in both the South and the North of the United States and a missionary to China, president of Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary.  McNeill was one of the founders of the Baptist Peace Fellowship in 1929.  His pacifism led him to become a registered Independent in politics in order always to be able to “speak truth to power.

43.  George L. “Shorty” Collins (1892-1991)  who was 6′ 5″ and thin,  was an American Baptist minister, one of the Founders of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), and of the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship. He was for many years a traveling field secretary for the Fellowship of Recobnciliation.

44.  Edwin T. Dahlberg (1893-1986).  American (Northern) Baptist pastor, was one of the founders of the U.S. chapter of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (1915), and a founding member of the Baptist Pacifist Fellowship (1929).  President of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.) (1946-1947) and President of the National Council of Churches (1957-1960). Dahlberg received the Gandhi Peace Award.  The American Baptists annually award the Dahlberg Peace Award to a major peacemaker. The first recipient (1964) was Martin Luther King, Jr.

45. Ernest Alexander Payne (1902-1980), British Baptist pastor, historian, and ecumenist.  His pacifism was rooted in his Anabaptist view of the church.

46. Robert James McCracken (1904-1973), Scottish born Baptist minister who taught theology at McMaster Divinity School in Ontario and was the second Senior Minister of Riverside Church (NY) and taught homiletics at Union Theological Seminary.  More orthodox than his predecessor at Riverside Church (Fosdick, see previous post), McCracken’s pacifism was rooted in his Calvinistic trust in the Soveriegn Grace of God.

47.  Culbert G. Rutenber (1909-2003). Known as “Cubby,” Rutenber was a Baptist minister from the conservative evangelical strand of Northern/Americasn Baptists.  In addition to several pastorates, Rutenber spent most of his career teaching Christian social ethics and philosophy of religion at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now called Palmer Theological Seminary) where he articulated an evangelical version of the social gospel.  His best known book defending Christian pacifism was The Dagger and the Cross.

48. Frank Stagg (1911-2001) was a famed Southern Baptist New Testament scholar. His opposition to the Vietnam War led him to rethink the question of war and Christian discipleship altogether and, led by his study of the New Testament, he embraced Christian pacifism.

49. Jo Ann Robinson (1912-1992), was a National Baptist (African-American) and a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.  She was also a nonviolent activist for social justice. She was president of the Women’s Political Caucus and in the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.  When Rosa Parks, the NAACP secretary, was arrested for sitting in the “white section” of the city bus, Robinson and other women organized the Montgomery Busy boycott and the Montgomery Improvement Association–though male leaders liker Robinson’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., soon got all the press.

50. Carl W. Tiller, Jr. (1916-1991) was a layleader in  Northern/American Baptist circles, also sitting on the board of the Baptist World Alliance.  A pacifist and ecumenist, he was president of the American Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA) in 1966 and 1967.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, blog series, church history, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemakers | 5 Comments

100 Baptist Pacifists (1-25)

I was having a conversation this week about Christian pacifism or, as I prefer to say, gospel nonviolence.  The Christian Church was pacifist from its beginnings for 3 1/2 centuries–and majority pacifist for another half -century.  But for 16 centuries now, pacifism has been a “minority report” among Christians and, in the United States (for some time a particularly violent and militaristic culture) many of the majority who call themselves Christian have never even heard of gospel nonviolence or knowingly met a Christian pacifist.  Studies by the Pew Center and others have shown that among conservative Catholics and Protestant evangelicals in the U.S., the more frequently one attends church, the more likely one is to support torture, the death penalty, and war (and, yet, these same people constantly proclaim Christianity to be a “religion of love and peace” and demonize all Muslims as terrorists!).  So, Christian pacifists like myself often have these kinds of conversations where we try to explain Christian pacifism to dumbfounded persons who have never heard of it. It was one of those conversations.  Suddenly my interlocutor realized that I belong to the Baptist tradition. It shouldn’t have struck him as unusual–although my particular denomination, the Alliance of Baptists, is quite small, Baptists taken as a whole comprise the largest Protestant group in the U.S. and are especially strong in the U.S. South (though we entered North America and first took root in New England, especially Rhode Island).  But my interlocutor had never heard of a Baptist pacifist!

Why, he asked, aren’t Baptists the most pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-gun, pro-militarism, group of Christians ever? I could think of some rivals, but admitted that in recent years in the U.S., Baptists had that reputation–especially because of the size and influence of the Southern Baptist Convention which, since the 1980s, has been all of those things.  But, I replied, this hasn’t always been the case historically, nor is it true even today all over the world.  Although never one of the “historic peace churches,” pacifism has always been a significant minority report among Baptists and we have been involved in campaigns for peace, justice, and human rights throughout our 400 years as a distinct Christian movement. (Unfortunately, it’s also true that Baptists have been on the other side of those movements, too.  But this could be said by MOST Christian groups, sadly.)  He didn’t believe me.  He was a well-informed student of U.S. religious movements and challenged me to name 10 Baptist pacifists whose names he, or most well-informed observers of American religion, would know. I did so.  So, he upped the ante: Could I name ONE HUNDRED Baptist pacifists?  That took more time.  Here are my results in roughly chronological order.  I may profile many in this list in future posts.

The number of Baptist women who are pacifists is probably far larger than with men, both historically and now. But because of the silencing of women’s voices in most of history, I know of fewer examples. (There are others I suspect, but cannot document. They wrote mainly on other subjects.) Likewise, my knowledge of Baptist life outside North America and the UK is limited, though I keep seeking to broaden it.  Readers who have other examples are encouraged to send them to me in the comments, so that this list becomes more multicultural than at present.

Some names I would like to have included, but, while I am sure they were strongly pro-peace and anti-militaristic, I cannot be sure they were complete pacifists. For example, the famous 19th C. British evangelist, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), a hero to many conservative Baptists, especially Calvinistic conservative Baptists, was a strong opponent of both the Boer War and the Crimean War and openly admired the Quakers’ Peace Testimony–longing for the day when all Christians would adopt the Quaker view on violence. I strongly suspect Spurgeon to be a pacifist, but he never used the term, and his words are not definite enough to know whether his admiration for the Quaker peace testimony led him to completely embrace it.  Wherever I have encountered such ambiguities–and this was pretty often–I erred on the side of caution and left said person out of this list of Baptist pacifists. (If I had included “near pacifist” Baptist peacemakers, I could have provided 500 to a thousand names without much difficulty.)

I do not reproduce this list in order to brag on Baptists. I think our current reputation for militarism and violence (at least in North America) is well deserved and shameful. And I think that all Christians should be pacifists as part of being followers of the Prince of Peace.  But I want to help recover this subversive minority report in my tradition–and hope it spreads like wildfire.  Peace is at the heart of the gospel and evangelism without peacemaking is a false gospel.

  1. John Smyth (c.1570-1612).  Puritan pastor and exile to Holland who, under influence by Waterlander Mennonites, founded the modern Baptist movement. Becoming convinced of nonviolence, he and most of his exiled English congregation merged with the Amsterdam congregation of Waterlander Mennonites.
  2. John Murton (c. 1585-1621).  In 1611 a small group of Smyth’s congregation refused to merge with the Mennonites. Led by lawyer Thomas Helwys, they returned to England and founded the first Baptist congregation on English soil in Spitalfields, a suburb of London with Helwys serving as pastor.  Helwys was not a pacifist, but several of his congregation were. When he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for speaking out for religious liberty, John Murton took over as pastor until he, too, was imprisoned and died there.  Murton was a pacifist and, upon his death, his wife returned to Amsterdam and was accepted by the Mennonites “without further baptism,” meaning that they accepted her as “of like faith and order” including on nonviolence.
  3. Richard Overton (c. 1599-1664).  English Puritan, briefly a member of the Amsterdam Waterlander Mennonites, then an English General Baptist and a leader of the Leveller movement in the days of the English Civil War. Overton coined the term, “human rights” and both he and his wife practiced nonviolent civil disobedience to the authorities for the cause of religious liberty.  Many have denied that Overton was a pacifist because some of the Leveller tracts he co-authored allowed for minimal militias to replace standing armies–but these were jointly authored political manifestos, not sermons. On no document solely authored by Overton is violence ever justified.
  4. Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676), General  Baptist layperson and leader of the nonviolent movement for agrarian reform known as the “Diggers” or “True Levellers.” After the Digger movement collapsed and General Baptists became more conservative, Winstanley, toward the end of his life, became a Quaker.
  5. John Rogers (1648-1721) a Baptist minister who came to pacifist principles and refused to swear an oath to defend the colonies or crown by force. His followers, who blended the Baptist and Quaker traditions, became known as “Rogerenes.”
  6. Shubal Stearns (1706-1771), early leader of the “Separate” or “New Light” revivalist Baptists who planted the “Sandy Creek” Baptist tradition in the U.S. South, along with his brother-in-law, John Marshall, and his sister, Martha Stearns Marshall (who were also probably pacifists, but I can’t be sure).  In 1770, Stearns threatened to excommunicate anyone in the Sandy Creek Baptist church who took up arms against the governing authorities.
  7. George Liele (also spelled “Lisle”) (c. 1750-1828).  Born a slave in Georgia, Liele was manumitted by his master when he was called to the Baptist ministry. He started many of the oldest African-American Baptist congregations in North America.  When, after his former master’s death, the man’s children tried to re-enslave Liele, he left for Jamaica and founded the first Baptist congregation in the Caribbean among the slaves there–anticipating William Carey and the modern mission movement by a decade.  In the church covenant Liele drew up for the Jamaican Baptists we find these words, “We hold not to the shedding of blood. . .”
  8. William Carey (1761-1834) illiterate shoe cobbler turned Baptist minister–and an autodidact who taught himself Hebrew, Greek, and several languages spoken in India. Carey helped to launch the modern missions movement by founding the Baptist Mission Society (BMS–Today known as Baptist World Mission) and becoming its first missionary–to India.  In India, Carey preached for 10 years before his first convert, while learning to translate the Scriptures into Hindi, Punjabi, Gujurat and other Indian languages.  He also worked for social justice, including opposition to war.
  9. Henry Holcombe (1762-1824)  an officer in the U.S. Revolutionary War, Holcombe renounced his commission and war upon his conversion.  Serving Baptist pastorates in both New England and the deep South, Holcombe was a tireless champion of social reform–including advocating the end of slavery, for the education of women, prison reform, labor rights, and peace. He helped to found the oldest peace society in the United States.
  10. Adonirom Judson (1788-1850), the first and one of the most famous Baptist missionaries from North America.  Baptist missionary to Burma (Myanmar), Judson was widowed twice and married 3 times–to three remarkable women. (The 3 “Mrs. Judsons” may have also been pacifists. They were certainly strong workers for human rights and peacemaking.) Judson was imprisoned by the British during their war with Burma and his wife got him released. Upon his release, Judson became a pacifist and confessed his shame on waiting so long to speak out against war and Christian participation in war.
  11. George Dana Boardman (1828-1903), son-in-law of Judson and a famous New York Baptist pastor, Boardman was a pacifist who was heavily involved in the 19th C. Peace Movement.
  12. Joanna P. Moore (1832-1916).  Northern Baptist missionary to freed slaves following the Civil War–who believed that racism, war, and the exploitation of women and children (the term “sexism” had not yet been coined) to be the greatest of crimes against humanity.
  13. Frederick Brotherton [F. B.] Meyer (1847-1929) Baptist evangelist in both the United Kingdom and South Africa, Meyer was not only a pacifist and social reformer, but a major influence on Mohandas K. Gandhi during Gandhi’s South Africa campaigns.
  14. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918).  Baptist pastor in NYC’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and later church history professor at Rochester Theological Seminary, Rauschenbusch was the most important theologian of the Social Gospel movement.  Through much of his life, he did not consider or write on issues of war or violence, but as  WWI began–and the U.S. geared up to fight in it–Rauschenbusch became a pacifist and joined the newly organized Fellowship of Reconciliation.
  15. Isabel Crawford (1867-1961). Northern (American) Baptist missionary to Native Americans in Oklahoma’s “Indian Territory,” Crawford often acted as an unordained pastor.  A pacifist, she understood the anger and outrage among the Native Americans. So, she showed them how to use the courts to stand up for their rights without violence–actions which landed her in trouble with the mission agency.
  16. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969).  Famous liberal Baptist minister and founder of Riverside Church in the City of New York.  A follower of Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel, Fosdick did not notice Rauschenbusch’s move to embrace pacifism. Like most other pastors in the U.S. when America entered WWI, Fosdick waved the flag and cheered the troops from the pulpit.  He even went over to minister to frontline troops in France under the auspices of the YMCA (which was, at the time, an actual Christian mission organization and not a sports club). In letters and articles written from the front, Fosdick worried more about the sexual temptations of “our boys in uniform” than the morality of killing.  But the horrors of war changed him. When he returned, Fosdick became a pacifist and never again preached chavenistic nationalism or militarism. He continued to preach his pacifist convictions even during World War II.
  17. Muriel Lester (1883-1968) Born to wealth in British “Strict and Particular” Baptist circles, Muriel Lester founded a combination church and settlement house in the London slum known as Bow and became a social worker, pastor, self-taught theologian, socialist Member of Parliament, and pacifist. She was one of the Founders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1914, pledging “no moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount” during World War I. Later a global traveling secretary for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and a friend of Gandhi.
  18. Dores Sharp (1885-1981).  Baptist minister, student of Walter Rauschenbusch and Rauschenbusch’s first biographer.  An early leader of the U.S. chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Pacifist and conscientious objector.
  19. Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987).  African-American educator and civil rights activist. After being fired from the public schools in Columbia, SC for refusing to give up her membership in the NAACP in 1956, Septima Clark was hired by the Highland Folk School (now Highland Education Center) in Monteagle, TN to teach adult literacy and citizenship classes to African Americans. She also learned and taught Gandhian nonviolent methods and tactics to the Nashville students who would lead its Sit-In movement in 1960.  There she perfected her “Freedom School” methods that she used to help lead voter education classes throughout the Civil Rights movementClark was later to successfully sue the Columbia, SC schools for wrongful termination and receive back pay as a teacher. In 1979, Pres. Jimmy Carter presented her with a Living Legacy Award.
  20. Howard Thurman (1900-1981). African American Baptist theologian, mystic, and pastor. A major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.  Thurman was a pacifist, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who knew Muriel Lester, and was influenced by both Gandhi and the Quaker mystic, Rufus Jones.
  21. George Lee (1903-1955).  African-American Baptist minister and nonviolent activist in Belzoni, Mississippi–and martyr of the civil rights movement.  After being denied the chance to register to vote, Rev. Lee started a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Belzoni in 1953.  Lee led the NAACP promptly to begin a voteer registration drive.  White resistance to this move was massive and violent.  On the Saturday prior to Mother’s Day, 1955, Rev. Lee was driving home from voter registration work when he was hit by gunfire from a passing car. With half his face blown off, Lee pulled himself out of his car and made his way to a cab stand. Two black drivers took him to the hospital where he died quickly.  The local sheriff refused to examine the body and ruled that Lee died in a fatal traffic accident.  Even after the coroner pointed to the bullets taken from Lee’s head and face, the sheriff called them “dental fillings” and refused to investigate.  Rev. George Lee’s murder remains unsolved.
  22. J. Martin England (1901-1989).  American (Northern) Baptist minister born in the South; missionary to Burmal; co-founder of Koinonia Farms (see below); adviser to the fledgling Civil Rights movement and Christian pacifist.
  23. Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) Baptist minister from Georgia who earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before co-founding Koinonia Farm (now Koinonia Partners) , an interracial Christian farming community South Georgia in 1942.  Worked for racial and economic justice, translated the NT into colloquial English (in order to capture the emotional “punch” of the New Testament for Southern Christians who hid from its radical social message behind the King James Version’s Elizabethan English), interacted with the Civil Rights movement, and denounced war and violence.
  24. Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) Former Mississippi sharecropper and granddaughter of slaves, beginning in 1962 (when she was 42 years old), Hamer became a nonviolent activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “Snick”) and was the leading speaker at the public testimony of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.  She was severely beaten while trying to register to vote and beaten nearly to death in jail. In later years she worked with the National Women’s Political Caucus.
  25. Ralph David Abernathy (1926-1990).  African-American Baptist pastor and civil rights leader.  Although he served in WWII, Abernathy later came to pacifist convictions.  Co-founder of the Montgomery Improvement Association and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  After King’s assassination in 1968, Abernathy led the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. and in 1969 protested the launch of the Apollo 11 flight to the moon while millions starved at home.  In later years he addressed the United Nations on World Peace (1971) and served as President of the World Peace Council, headquartered in Helsinki, Finland.

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Baptists, church history, pacifism, peacemakers | 11 Comments

Slavery as a Crisis of Biblical Authority

I have mentioned that Cynthia R. Nielson has been posting a series of brief guest-bloggings on “Violence and Holy Writ” on her wonderful blog, Per Caritatem.  I am the guest-blogger for the third installment, on slavery and the crisis of biblical authority in 19th C. America.  See that post here.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | Biblical interpretation, blog series, church history, hermeneutics, human rights, slavery | Leave a comment

Silencing Women’s Voices in the History of Theology: Baptist Examples

Let’s face it:  Theology, like most academic disciplines, has been thoroughly dominated by male voices.  But the voices in Christian theology have not been exclusively male and recent decades have seen the recovery of female contributions to Christian theology in many eras (from the “Church Mothers” onward) and many branches of the Church catholic, East and West.  Yet, women’s voices continue to be omitted or downplayed in major surveys of historical theology.  Since criticism, like charity, best begins at home, I will illustrate this fault in my own tradition by focusing on two recent (and otherwise excellent) studies of the history of Baptist theology.

Now, the resurgent fundamentalism and scholastic (“high”) Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention has led the current shapers of that large denomination to be rather deliberate in their silence of women’s voices.  The post-fundamentalist takeover SBC  took away ordination as a local church matter in order to quash the ordination of women as deacons, pastors, and other ministers of the gospel.  The Convention’s statement of faith (turned into a rigid creed, unlike its historic function), The Baptist Faith and Message, was revised in 2000 to make explicit and permanent the subordination of women in family, church, and society ( in practice, many SBC fundamentalist leaders will vote for female politicians as long as they are rightwing Republicans like Sarah Palin, though their theologies should demand that they insist such women remain at home).  There was even a move a few years ago (which failed) to rename the iconic Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions because of the prominence given to pioneering woman missionary to China, Charlotte Diggs “Lottie” Moon.  But I want to focus on historical treatments by those who are in favor of the equality of the sexes and whose silencing of female voices is not conscious or deliberate–because this seems to me to be the larger problem.

William H. Brackney, A Genetic History of Baptist Thought (Mercer University Press, 2004).

Brackney is a brilliant church historian and historical theologian who has taught at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary( now re-named Palmer Theological Seminary) (an American Baptist school), McMaster Divinity College (Canadian Baptist), Baylor University (Baptist General Convention of Texas & Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), and is now Cherry Distinguished Professor of Theology and Ethics at Acadia Divinity College (Canadian Baptist).  His A Genetic History of Baptist Thought traces the theological influences on various Baptist groups since our 17th C. beginnings through confessions of faith, hymns, the influence of pastor-theologians, and through the study of major writing theologians in their institutional settings, i.e., Baptist-founded universities and seminaries and in diaspora at ecumenical institutions or other institutions outside Baptist circles.

Although concentrating on Britain, Canada, and the U.S., Brackney does an excellent job at recovering voices of African-American Baptist theology–all too often neglected in such surveys. His work would have been even more impressive had he not so narrowly defined “theology” in terms of “doctrine,” ruling out influential Baptist voices in biblical theology, historical theology, missiology, and Christian theological ethics.  That definitional restriction naturally eliminated some major female voices.  So, in a dense volume of 592 pages, Brackney only includes brief treatments of two women: the 18th C. British hymnwriters Anne Steele (1717-1778) (a Particular, or Calvinistic, Baptist) and Alice Flowerdew (1759-1830) (a General, or Arminian, Baptist). 

James Leo Garrett, Jr., Baptist Theology: A Four Century Study (Mercer University Press, 2009).

Garrett, a Southern theologian who was one of the last students of W. T. Conner (1877-1952) and who wrote his dissertation on Conner’s theology, taught theology and church history at Southwestern, Southern, and Baylor university.  He is a major theologian in his own right.  He and Brackney were writing at the same time and without knowledge of each other’s surveys.  Garrett also considers confessions, hymns, pastor theologians, and academic writers, but he defines theology in a broader fashion, so that he includes biblical theologians and missiologists.  Garrett also tries to study Baptist thought on all five (5) continents–a welcome inclusiveness.  He includes the roots of Baptist views in the early Church, the Reformers (including the Anabaptists), and is even more inclusive of submerged voices than Brackney, including numerous Latino as well as African-American voices, Asian, African, and Latin American theologians.  Yet, in 792 pages,  Garrett includes not a single female voice, not even in his “New Voices in Baptist Theology.”

What could be the excuse for such neglect?  Why do both these excellent surveys neglect such contributions to British Baptist thought as Anne Dutton (1692-1765), Marianne Farningham (1834-1909), or Muriel Lester (1885-1968)?  If one is going to include the thought of the Southern Baptist missiologist William Owen Carver (1868-1954), as Garrett does, why would one leave out the work of Annie W. Armstrong (1850-1938), or Mary Webb (1779-1861)?  Pioneering missionary Adonirom Judson was married 3 times because two of his wives died on the Burmese mission field.  All 3 women, Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789-1826), Sarah Hall Boardman Judson (1803-1845), and Emily Chubbuck Judson (1817-1854), were writers who influenced American Baptist views on many subjects, especially missiology.  Ann was an excellent student of Hebrew and Greek and helped Adonirom translate the Bible into Burmese and related languages. Her many letters to Baptist papers in America created the image of the missionary as a heroic figure in Baptist life.  Sarah translated Pilgrim’s Progess into Burmese and preached sermons to the Karen and Kachin peoples.  Emily wrote the biography of Sarah’s life, and numerous other works–many of which are now being reprinted by Mercer University Press.  A Canadian Baptist woman (originally from Sweden) who could have been included is Henriette Odin Feller (1800-1845) who founded a college for women.

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934), a friend of Susan B. Anthony, is the only woman to have published her own translation of the Greek New Testament, and she was the first woman to head a major denomination when she served as President of the Northern (now American) Baptist Convention.  She was also a major proponent and interpreter of Christian missions and a social reformer who helped promote the Social Gospel in Baptist circles.  But neither Brackney nor Garrett mentions a word about Montgomery and her influence.

What is especially puzzling is Garrett’s omission of women’s voices in his chapter on “New Voices in Baptist Life.”  Why no treatment of Molly T. Marshall, now President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Shawnee, KS) and author of three monographs? Why nothing on Emilie Townes (now of Yale Divinity School), author or editor of four (4) books of theology and ethics (who could’ve also been included in Brackney’s chapters on African-American Baptists or Baptists in Diaspora)? Sheri Adams, now at Gardner-Webb University’s Divinity School, was actually a colleague of Garrett’s at Southwestern but he says nothing of her work which included interaction with Latin-American Liberation Theology.  He covers the work of New Testament theologian Frank Stagg (1911-2001) without mentioning the fact that his wife, Evelyn (1914-), though unable at that time to be a regular student at SBTS, got better grades in Greek than he did and was the uncredited co-author of all his books (finally being listed as such in the 1978 Woman in the World of Jesus). Nor is there any attention to Elizabeth Barnes (of Southeastern Baptist Seminary and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond) who wrote a major study rethinking Baptist ecclesiology with aid from the early Karl Barth and another pioneering work in narrative theology.  Missing is any discussion of Eastern Baptist (now Palmer) Theological Seminary’s Eloise Renich Fraser or Colgate Rochester Crozer’s Melanie A. May.  

Dozens of others could be listed in “new voices.”   As with almost all other Christian traditions, Baptist theology has been dominated by men and the increasing number of women in leadership in (at least some strands of) Baptist circles are hard pressed for role models and female influences.  But when surveys such as Brackney’s and Garrett’s neglect the female voices that have been present, it is needlessly disempowering.  It is also hurtful to men:  Conservative men who are biased against women’s leadership have their already unreasonable pride and arrogance reinforced.  Men who would be open to women’s voices and perspectives are deprived of a chance to be introduced to them.  Further, both men and women miss the important theological perspectives that only women can give. In short, this kind of silencing hurts the Body of Christ.  It’s past time for these kind of silences to end.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, book reviews, church history, history of theology | Leave a comment

Passing the Torch: Theologians Who Died 2000-2010

This is a revised, more complete, list of the teachers and leaders in theology (and related fields) that the Church universal has lost in this first decade of the 21st C.  It is clear that many, if not most, of those who shaped the landscape of theological studies for the last half-century or more, are now passing from the scene.  The new landscape is being shaped by newer voices. In many cases I find that comforting–some of the younger voices in church leadership or theological education are vital and fresh (and some blog) and theological education is more global, more ecumenical (Eastern and Western Christianity, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, evangelical and liberal [and postliberal and postconservative!] ), more diverse in race, ethnicity, gender and language group, and more engaged in interfaith dialogue than ever before. It’s an exciting time for church and theology, full of creativity and potential.

In other cases, I find reasons to worry.  The resurgence of sterile liberalisms (especially through the takeover of theological faculties by “religious studies”) and of militant-imperialist fundamentalisms is extremely worrying.  More worrying is the belief of many ministry students that serious biblical study (including in original languages), study of church history, and serious theological engagement are “boring and unnecessary.” They substitute psycho-babble or business management and marketing techniques or lead in the dominant idolatries of materialist-consumerist-capitalism, imperialist-nationalist-militarism, or hedonism. It is a dangerous time for church and theology, full of temptations and idolatries.

Perhaps every era of the church is so poised between life and death this side of the eschaton.  But the passing of the torch shown by this decade of theological funerals  makes the starkness of the choices abundantly clear–even if the shape of the landscape replacing the ones we’ve known is still very unclear.  Of course, a theologian’s death does not mean necessarily the end of her or his influence–sometimes it presages greater influence. (I think the recent spate of posthumous publications and secondary studies concerning John Howard Yoder (1927-1997), who died just before the decade under review, is a hopeful sign that the forces which continued to try to marginalize his thought during his life, are in retreat.) Still, every one dies with work unfinished and must trust that others will take up the tasks.  This review is made as a challenge for those of us who remain, to take up the torch and lead in helping equip the church for faithful witness.


  • Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000). I initially missed this one.  One of the most important American philosophers, the 103 year old Hartshorne took the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and, at the University of Chicago Divinity School, began forging what would become process theology.
  • Eberhard Bethge (1910-2000). German Lutheran pastor and theologian. Student and close friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who married Bonhoeffer’s niece and became his major biographer.
  • George Hunston Williams (1914-2000).  Unitarian theologian and historian of the radical reformation at Harvard University.  This was another one that I originally missed and had to add later.
  • Richard A. McCormick, S. J. (1922-2000).  Raised in the “immigrant church” pre-Vatican II Catholicism, McCormick joined the Society of Jesus in 1940 and was trained in the old “manualist” tradition of Catholic moral theology.  The Second Vatican Council changed his view of the Church and of his calling as a priest and scholar.  He became one of the most respected (and contraversial ) voices in Christian medical ethics.
  • George R. Beasley-Murray (1916-2000). British Baptist New Testament scholar. Twice Principal of Spurgeon’s College, London, and briefly teaching at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland (after the fall of Iron Curtain, moved to Prague, Czech Republic), Beasley-Murray spent most of his career as James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. Most famous for Baptism in the New Testament and The Kingdom of God in Jesus’ Teaching, Beasley-Murray also wrote many commentaries and translated Bultmann’s massive commentary on John’s Gospel into English.
  • James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000). Pioneering Baptist narrative theologian. One of the earliest white theologians to take Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously as a theologian (not just as a “civil rights leader”), McClendon was strongly influenced by Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, Alasdair MacIntyre, and his longtime friend, Stanley Hauerwas. McClendon attempted to convey a radical Anabaptist theology in a way that those educated in the mainstream (liberal-Niebuhrian) tradition could hear and understand it.
  • Thomas A. Langford (1930-2000).  This is one I missed until readers called attention to it. Langford, a United Methodist minister, John Wesley scholar, and theologian was a former dean of Duke University Divinity School.  (They’ve renamed the main divinity school building after Langford.) I was shocked that I missed Langford’s death since he was such a huge influence on my father (a retired Methodist minister) and my father’s love for Wesley–despite the fact that Papa was a Candler (Emory) grad and not a “Dukie.” Langford played almost as strong a role in my father’s thought as Albert Outler, and that’s saying something!


  • Frank Stagg (1911-2001). Southern Baptist New Testament scholar and theologian.  Pacifist, activist for racial justice, and early advocate for full equality of women and men in society and church.
  • Gerhard Ebeling (1912-2001). German Lutheran New Testament scholar and theologian.  A student of Rudolf Bultmann’s, Ebeling was prominent in the “New (2nd) Quest for the Historical Jesus,” and, later, of “The New Hermeneutic.”  He was also a major interpreter of the work of Martin Luther.
  • Robert McAfee Brown (1920-2001). Presbyterian minister and systematic theologian.  Raised an old-style, liberal pacifist, Brown studied with Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Seminary during WWII and became convinced that he could not work for the reconstruction of Europe after the war while sitting it out. 1945-1946, Presbyterian chaplain, U.S. Navy.  Missionary relief worker in Japan and Germany in late ’40s.  Won a Fulbright to Oxford and studied with Barth at Basel before returning to finish his Ph.D. at Columbia in 1952.  Early U.S. interpreter of Barth and Bonhoeffer.  Civil rights and peace activist.  Later early (white, male, established) interpreter of liberation theologies in U.S.–especially the Latin American liberation theology of Gustavo Gutierrez.
  • Heiko A. Oberman (1930-2001).  Dutch historical theologian who specialized in the Reformation.  Taught at Harvard Divinity School, then Eberhard-Karls Universität, Tübingen (where he was Director, Institute for Late Middle Ages and Reformation Research), and, finally, University of Arizona (where he founded the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies).


  • Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Hugely influential philosopher who concentrated on philosophical hermeneutics, influencing much Christian theology.
  • John F. Walvoord (1910-2002). Longtime president and professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and advocate/interpreter of Dispensational Theology (a view I dislike strongly).
  • Daniel Jenkins (1914-2002). British Congregationalist theologian and ecumenical leader.
  • John H. Leith (1919-2002), Presbyterian minister and theologian who taught for decades at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia (now Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education).
  • Lewis B. Smedes (1921-2002). The child of Dutch immigrants to the United States, Smedes was a theologian and ethicist in the Christian Reformed Church. He taught theology, ethics, and pastoral counseling at Fuller Theological Seminary and was regularly a Visiting Professor at the Free University of Amsterdam (where he’d done his own Th.D.). After retiring from Fuller in the 1990s, Smedes served several congregations in the CRC. There is now a Lewis B. Smedes Chair in Christian Ethics at Fuller Seminary.
  • Philip F. Berrigan (1923-2002).Former Catholic priest and leader in nonviolent movements for justice and peace. Drafted into World War II, the violence of war and racism of army life changed him. Upon exiting the army, Berrigan became a priest in the Order of St. Joseph, working with the poor and for racial justice. He then became a leader in the peace movement (along with his older brother, Daniel, a Jesuit priest and theologian). He left the priesthood and married a former nun, Elizabeth McAlister. They raised 3 children in an intentional community (Jonah House, Baltimore, MD) while continuing their work for justice and peace.
  • Elizabeth Achtemeier (1926-2002).  Presbyterian minister, Old Testament scholar, and homiletician.  Heavily influenced by Barth and the “Biblical theology” movement.  Strong opponent of much feminist theology as a “new paganism.”
  • Neville Clark (1927-2002). British Baptist theologian.
  • William L. Hendricks (1929-2002). Southern Baptist theologian who taught at Golden Gate Seminary (San Francisco), Southwestern Seminary (Ft. Worth, TX), and The Southern Seminary (Louisville, KY) before finishing his teaching career as “Director of Baptist Studies” for Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University (Ft. Worth). Hendricks earned a Th.D. at Southwestern before earning a Ph.D. under Langdon Gilkey at the University of Chicago. He wrote mostly for laity, including for both the aging and children and, during his time at Southern (the mother seminary), created a Ph.D. program in theology and the arts.


  • Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003).  Raised in a secular family, this newspaper reporter experienced an adult conversion and baptism and then became a major leader of post-WWII American Evangelical theology.  Henry combined a mild baptistic Calvinism with a rationalism informed by Scottish realist philosophy, leading to a lifelong obsession with a rational defense of biblical inerrancy. Th.D., Northern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Boston University.  After a period teaching at his alma mater (NBTS), Henry was part of the founding faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, and, later still, founding editor of Christianity Today. 
  • Edward A. Dowey (1918-2003).  Renowned Presbyterian historical theologian and Calvin scholar.  A student of Emil Brunner, Dowey taught at Columbia and McCormick before spending the bulk of his career at Princeton Theological Seminary. His “The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology” is still considered to be one of the best introductions to Calvin’s thought.
  • James B. Torrance (1923-2003).  Brother to the more-famous  Thomas; Professor of Systematic Theology at University of Aberdeen (1977-1989); revisionist Calvin scholar (and defender of Calvin against Calvinists!); Chair of the Church of Scotland’s panel on doctrine; chair, joint Church of Scotland-Roman Catholic Commission on Doctrine.
  • Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003). Pioneering and controversial German feminist theologian.  Denied a teaching post in Germany, she taught briefly at Basel and had a regular Visiting Professorship at Union Theological Seminary of New York.
  • Colin Gunton (1941-2003). British theologian of the United Reformed Church who died too young at 62.  Professor, dean of faculty, and head of the department at King’s College, University of London.  One of the founders of the International Journal of Systematic Theology.  In 1999, I was briefly a colleague of Gunton’s as we were both summer Visiting Professors at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA and shared the same guest quarters.  I had not previously encountered his work, but found him to be a great dialogue partner.
  • Donald H. Juel (1942-2003).  Lutheran New Testament scholar.  Taught at Indiana University, then Princeton Theological Seminary, and Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary for 17 years before returning to Princeton.


  • Henlee H. Barnette (1914-2004).  Longtime Professor of Christian Ethics at the (pre-Mohler) Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.  Earned a Ph.D. at SBTS and a Th.D. at Harvard Divinity School (under James Luther Adams). A participant in the Civil Rights movement (in fact, he persuaded the trustees to offer Martin Luther King, Jr. a professorship in Christian Ethics at SBTS in 1961, which King declined), Barnette was also a major founder of the Society of Christian Ethics and played a behind-the-scenes role in thawing the Cold War, by getting Kruschev and Kennedy to agree student exchanges. Barnette’s tradition and vocation was defined by 3 portraits in his office:  Walter Rauschenbusch, Clarence Jordan, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • (Christian Frederick) Beyers Naudé (1919-2004). White leader in South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Church, Beyers Naudé was one of the few Afrikaaners who outspokingly opposed apartheid.  His opposition led him to resign his ordination in the white Dutch Reformed Church and become a minister in the Black Reformed Church and to serve as a minister in black congregations.  His life was continuously threatened by the government during the apartheid years.
  • Langdon B. Gilkey (1919-2004).  Moved from a Neo-orthodox to a Neo-liberal position.  His Out of the Whirlwind:  The Renewal of God-language in Theology linguistically destroyed the “Death of God” fad.  Played a bit role in the Civil Rights movement that led to his forced termination from Vanderbilt Divinity School.  He spent the rest of his career at the University of Chicago Divinity School, serving most of the time as Shailer Matthews Professor of Systematic Theology.
  • Jan Milic Lochman (1922-2004).  Born in the former Czechoslovakia, Lochman studied during WWII and after at Prague, St. Andrews (Scotland), and Basel and was ordained a minister of the Evangelical Czech Brethren.  He taught at Union Seminary in New York, and at the University of Basel (becoming Rector/President). From 1970 to 1982, Lochman was chair of the Department of Theology for the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and drafted the WARC statement on universal human rights.  He was also prominently involved in the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.
  • Shirley C. Guthrie (1927-2004). Presbyterian theologian who taught for decades at Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA. Guthrie wrote several major works in ecumenical theology and tried to heal the “evangelical-liberal” divide in U.S. Christianity.  His best known book was his introductory handbook, Christian Doctrine.


  • Paul Ricoeur (1914-2005). Devout Christian in the French Reformed Church, pacifist, and one of the 2-3 most important philosophers of the 20th C., especially in philosophical hermeneutics.  Conflicts in the 1960s with the student movement, the French government (over Ricoeur’s vocal opposition to the French wars to retain their colonies in Algeria and Vietnam), and with the then-confining nature of French academic life, led Ricouer to decades of teaching at the University of Chicago in both the philosophy department and the Divinity School. This led him to become one of the few Continental Philosophers to also engage the Anglo-American analytic tradition in philosophy.
  • Brother Roger of Taíze (1915-2005). Founder of the Taize community, a Protestant intentional community which began the “new monastic” movement in post-WWII Protestantism.
  • Karol Józef Wojtyla, a.k.a., Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).  The only Polish or Slavic pope and the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Adrian VI died in 1522, John Paul II had one of the longest papacies ever at 26 1/2 years! The most globe-trotting pope ever, he was conservative in many areas (the veneration of Mary; opposition to contraception and the ordination of women; opposition to increased lay ministries; suspicion of most liberation theologies as Marxist–viewed through his experience in Communist-occupied Poland), but a strong defender of religious liberty, human rights, and peacemaking.  Criticized heavily for allowing the local cover-ups of clergy sexual abuse, especially of children, he nevertheless was one of the most beloved of modern popes.  A huge influence on the 20th C.
  • Maurice F. Wiles (1923-2005). Major liberal voice in Anglican theology.
  • Gerhard O. Forde (1928-2005).  Famed Lutheran theologian. Heavily involved in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.  A major contemporary interpreter of Martin Luther.
  • Robert W. Funk (1929-2005). Liberal U.S. Protestant New Testament scholar.  Early career marked as a pioneer in “The New Hermeneutic.”  Later, a founder and initial head of “The Jesus Seminar” and publisher of the Jesus Seminar’s “color coded” Gospels which attempt to show laity how likely or unlikely specific sayings attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writers are to have actually been said by Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Monica Hellwig (1929-2005).  Catholic feminist theologian and former nun. After leaving her order, adopted children and raised them as a single mother.  Pioneering feminist theologian who attended the Second Vatican Council.  Later strongly defended progressive Catholic intellectuals against an increasingly conservative Vatican.
  • Stanley Grenz (1950-2005). Canadian Baptist evangelical and postconservative theologian who died far too soon and unexpectedly.  An expert in the later theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, Grenz was also a positive interpreter of postmodernism to evangelicals as more opportunity than peril.


  • Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006).  Church historian and historical theologian who spent most of his career teaching at Yale Divinity School. Pelikan was raised and ordained a Lutheran, but late in life became a layperson in the Orthodox Church of America.  He was one of the most influential interpreters of the Christian tradition in the 20th C.
  • William Sloan Coffin (1924-2006). United Church of Christ minister and social justice activist.  As chaplain of Yale University during much of the 1960s, Coffin helped rally students and faculty against the Vietnam War (to the fury of conservative students like George W. Bush). Later, as Senior Minister of Riverside Church, NYC, Coffin continued to be a leader in peace movements, especially against nuclear weapons.
  • Arthur R. Peacocke (1924-2006).  Initially trained as a biochemist, Peacocke became an Anglican priest (eventually Canon of Christ Church, Oxford) and worked in the interface of science and theology.  He has been one of the most influential voices in the science/theology interface.
  • James Barr (1924-2006).   British Old Testament scholar and theologian.  Barr’s career came in several stages:  1st, as a linguistic and hermeneutical critic of the “Biblical Theology Movement;” 2nd, as a major critic of fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, especially the doctrine of inerrancy and the hermeneutical moves fostered by inerrancy doctrines; 3rd, as a critic of Brevard Childs’ “canonical approach” to biblical interpretation; finally, as a proponent of a revised form of “natural theology,” (taking the side of Emil Brunner vs. that of Karl Barth).


  • Paul S. Minear (1906-2007).  Famed New Testament theologian at Yale Divinity School. Died just after his 101st birthday!
  • Charles Frances Digby (C. F. D.) Moule (1908-2007).  Anglican priest and New Testament scholar, for 25 years Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University (1951-1976).  Born in China to missionaries, he was President of the International Society of New Testament Studies, a major translator for the New English Bible, and a huge influence on generations of British Neutestamentlers.
  • Herman N. Ridderbos (1909-2007).  Dutch Reformed New Testament scholar, famous especially for his work on the theology of the Apostle Paul.
  • Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007).  Both one of the major interpreters of the theology of Karl Barth (1886-1968) and a creative theologian in his own right.  Torrance has been called the greatest Scottish theologian since the Reformer John Knox and the greatest British theologian of the 20th Century.
  • Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007).  Presbyterian minister and New Testament scholar.  A leader for decades in textual criticism (ascertaining, as far as possible, the original text of the NT writings), Metzger was the chair of the continuing committee for the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.  Taught for decades at Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • Bernhard W. Anderson (1916-2007).  Famed Old Testament scholar who taught first at Drew University Divinity School and then at Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • John Macquarrie (1919-2007). Scottish-born philosopher and theologian. Began as a minister in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) and later became an Anglican priest.  An interpreter of existentialist philosophy, Macquarrie also attempted to take forge the views of New Testament theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) into a systematic theology.  He was for years Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary (NYC) before becoming Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Canon Residentiary, Christ Church, Oxford (1970-1986).
  • Brevard Childs (1923-2007).  Stirling Professor of Divinity at Yale Divinity School until his retirement in 1999, Childs was an iconic figure in Old Testament theology.  He began as part of the “biblical theology” movement, then became one of its critics. Eventually proposing and defending a “canonical approach” to biblical interpretation, in which one could investigate thoroughly and critically the pre-history of the texts, but in which the final “canonical form” of the text, including it’s placement in the canon, controlled the normative interpretation for the church.
  • Vernard Eller (1927-2007). American theologian, pacifist, Christian anarchist, and minister in the Church of the Brethren.  A major interpreter of Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, the Blumhardts and Jacques Ellul, Eller had a folksy way of speaking and writing that led some to underestimate the seriousness of his theological writing.  He was a major critic of much feminist theology, especially the use of feminine imagery for God, which Eller believed led to a lapse into Canaanite fertility religion.  He was also a strong critic of materialism and nationalism in Christian churches, advocating for simplicity, reducing possessions, radical sharing of wealth, and critical of sacramental views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (which he believed would rob them of their ethical content).
  • Letty M. Russell (1928-2007).  One of the earliest women ordained in American Presbyterian circles, Letty Russell became a major voice in feminist theology, albeit, one who accepted and reinterpreted more of the mainstream Christian tradition than she rejected.
  • Harold O. J. Brown (1933-2007). American conservative evangelical theologian.  Educated with multiple degrees at Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School, Brown was an ordained minister in the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (the strand of American Congregationalists which did NOT become part of the United Church of Christ in 1957).  His principle teaching posts were at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Springfield, IL) and Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte, NC). In 1975, two years after the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, Brown formed the Christian Action Council (now CareNet) to oppose legal abortions, thus helping to launch the anti-abortion or pro-life movement and, more broadly, the Religious Right.
  • Robert E. Webber (1933-2007).  American evangelical theologian who revitalizd North American evangelical interest in the early church Fathers, in worship and liturgy, and in the promotion of “Ancient-Future faith” (a varient on the “Paleoorthodox” movement).


  • Thomas Berry (1915-2008).  U.S. Roman Catholic priest and pioneer in ecological theology.
  • Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008).  Major voice in the conservative wing of U.S. Catholic theology.
  • Henry O. Chadwick (1920-2008). Anglican priest and church historian.
  • Krister Stendahl (1921-2008). Swedish Lutheran New Testament scholar who laid the groundwork for the reappropriation of the Apostle Paul as a thoroughly Jewish figure, a groundwork that later flourished into the so-called “new perspective” on Paul.  Taught for decades at Harvard Divinity School, serving as dean during the turbulent ’60s, until elected and consecrated (Lutheran) Bishop of Stockholm in 1984.
  • Hugo Assmann (1933-2008).  Brazilian Catholic priest and one of the pioneers of Latin American liberation theology.
  • Ann W. Carr (1934-2008).  U.S. Catholic nun and pioneer Catholic feminist theologian.
  • Rosemary Skinner Keller (1934-2008).  A permanent deacon in the United Methodist Church, Keller was a feminist church historian, concentrating on the neglected experiences and contributions of women in church history, especially North American church history.
  • Jean-Marc Ela (1936-2008). Cameroon-born Catholic priest and African liberation theologian.  Africa’s first liberation theologian of note outside South Africa.
  • William C. Placher (1948-2008).  Presbyterian minister and theologian in the “narrative” and “postliberal” schools.


  • Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1915-2009).  Anglican priest and evangelical historical theologian.  Known primarily as a translator into English of major German theological texts (including Barth’s Church Dogmatics, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, plus works by Ernst Käsemann, Helmut Thielicke, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Bromily also wrote several books of his own in historical theology and contemporary theology.  After serving pastorates in the U.K., he spent most of his career as Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.
  • Robert T. Handy (1918-2009) American Baptist church historian specializing in the history of religion in the U.S. Handy taught at Union Theological Seminary of New York and wrote the official history of the seminary.
  • Ray Anderson (1925-2009).Minister in the Evangelical Free Church and systematic and pastoral theologian, Anderson taught at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He was a student of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a tradition that blended Reformed and Pietist strands.
  • Oliver Clément (1929-2009).  Influential Eastern Orthodox theologian in heavily Catholic France.
  • Graham Stanton (1940-2009).New Zealand born Anglican priest and New Testament scholar.   Moule’s successor as Lady Margaret Professor at Cambridge.


  • Vernon M. Grounds (1914-2010).  This is an addition from the comments.  Grounds, the Emeritus President of Denver Seminary, passed away on 12 September at the age of 96.  A Conservative Baptist, Grounds taught theology and Christian ethics. He was an ambassador for the best of American evangelicalism; always a voice for the poor and for peacemaking.
  • Edward Schillebeeckxx (1915-2010) Dominican priest and theologian who was hugely influential in Vatican II and was one of the progressive Catholic leaders after the Council. He was especially strong in incorporating critical biblical scholarship into his work as a systematic theologian.
  • John M. Swomley (1915-2010).  Moderately liberal United Methodist theological ethicist.  A pacifist, Swomley was a conscientious objector to WWII, a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and a behind the scenes player in the Civil Rights movement.  He taught Christian social ethics at St. Paul School of Theology, St. Louis, MO.
  • Raimon Pannikar (1919-2010).  Spanish Catholic theologian and “apostle of interfaith dialogue.”
  • George R.  Edwards (1920-2010).  Presbyterian New Testament scholar and longtime pacifist and peace activist, especially through the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Teaching for decades at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Edwards was known not only for an amazing classroom presence (and prayerful gentleness), but for two major monographs, Jesus and the Politics of Violence (1972) and Gay/Lesbian Liberation:  A Biblical Perspective (1984).
  • E. Earle Ellis (1926-2010) Southern Baptist New Testament scholar with a scholarly conservative bent. Worked especially on the use of the Old Testament by New Testament writers.
  • Donald G. Bloesch (1928-2010) Evangelical systematic theologian who stayed with the mostly-liberal United Church of Christ and taught at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. An evangelical interpreter of Karl Barth (and, to lesser extents, Emil Brunner and Reinhold Niebuhr), Bloesch had a two-fold mission: to bring back more orthodoxy into mainline Protestant theology and to get evangelicals to read more widely, think more self-critically, with more openess to the entire global church, and to persuade the entire church of the centrality of prayer and piety to both theology and the life of the church.
  • Bruce L. Shelly (1929-2010) Evangelical Baptist church historian in the Conservative Baptist Association. Taught for decades at Denver Seminary. 
  • Ralph McInerny (1929-2010).  American Catholic priest, philosopher, and professor at University of Notre Dame.  Also author of the best-selling mystery novels of Father Downing.
  • Clark Pinnock (1937-2010).  Canadian evangelical Baptist who moved from a Carl Henry-style evangelical rationalism to embracing the Charismatic movement, Arminianism, interfaith dialogue, and “Open Theism.”
  • Moishe Rosen (1932-2010). American Baptist minister and controversial founder of Jews for Jesus, an evangelistic ministry to members of the Jewish faith.
  • Arthur Gish (1939-2010). Amish-born conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, Gish was a minister in the Church of the Brethren, a popular pacifist author and peace activist. He worked especially on peacemaking in Israel-Palestine through Christian Peacemaker Teams.

I’ve probably missed some and the year is far from over.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | biographical entries, church history, obituaries, theologians | 20 Comments

Honoring the Legacy of Obadiah Holmes

On 06 September 1651 , 359 years ago tomorrow, Obadiah Holmes, a Baptist layperson who’d been arrested for preaching without a license, was given 30 lashes with a bullwhip in public.  During the beating, Holmes was so enraptured with God’s love that he swore he was being “struck by roses.”  His witness not only helped undermine the theocratic laws of Massachussetts Bay Colony, it also led to the founding of First Baptist Church of Boston. Holmes’ witness also led to the conversion of Henry Dunster, first president of Harvard College, to Baptist views (which led to his forced resignation when he refused to have his infant son baptized).

Nonviolent witness to the truth of one’s convictions can lead to greater religious liberty for all, but it is shameful that today many Baptists are working to deny Muslims the religious liberty for which they once suffered and struggled.  (In Holmes’ day, Baptists argued for religious liberty even for “Turks” which was the common term for Muslims in that day.)

September 5, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographical entries, church history, religious liberty | Leave a comment

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 | 14 Comments