Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

In Memorium: Hugo Adam Bedau

Long-time death penalty scholar Hugo Adam Bedau died on August 13, 2012 .  Dr. Bedau had been the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, and is best known for his work on capital punishment.  Dr.  Bedau frequently testified about the death penalty before the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures. He authored several books about the death penalty, including  The Death Penalty in America (1964; 4th edition, 1997), The Courts, the Constitution, and Capital Punishment (1977), Death is Different (1987), and Killing as Punishment (2004), and co-authored In Spite of Innocence (1992).  This last book, written with Prof. Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Constance Putnam (Dr. Bedau’s wife), contained one of the best early collections of people who had been wrongly convicted in death penalty cases. In 1997, Bedau received the August  Vollmer Award of the American Society of Criminology, and in 2003 he received the Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU of  Massachusetts.  Dr. Bedau was a founding member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.  He was a personal hero of mine and he will be missed in the struggle.

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August 24, 2012 Posted by | capital punishment, ethics, heroes, obituaries | 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

A Tribute to John Stott (1921-2011)

John Stott died on 27 July 2011.  For those readers who are not familiar with the Rev. John Stott (27 April 1921-27 July 2011), he was a pastor and evangelist in the Church of England with a long ministry to London’s urban poor.  He was also one of the architects of the global Evangelical movement, especially in the English-speaking world.  New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof favorably compares Stott and his ministry to the hateful U.S. TV preachers who have stolen the term “evangelical,” twisting it from its natural meaning (“gospel centered”) to one of favoristism to the rich, punitive political power, self-satisfied self-righteousness, and marginalization of outcasts.  Stott, a scholarly minister who wrote numerous books, combined orthodoxy in his theology with compassion for the poor and the environment.

Stott was born in London to Sir Arnold and Emily Stott.  His father was a physician and an agnostic while his mother was a Lutheran by conviction who faithfully attended All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, a famous parish church of the Church of England at which Stott would later be the pastor.

At age 8, Stott was sent to boarding school in the English tradition. In 1935, he entered the famous Rugby School. (Yes, the sport of Rugby football was invented there.) In 1938 at Rugby, Stott heard an evangelist preach on Rev. 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. . .”, realized he’d never invited Christ into his heart, and became a born again Christian.  Steve Bash, the evangelist in question, became a mentor to Stott, writing him a weekly letter, advising him on how to grow as a Christian.

Stott earned his B.A. in Modern Languages at Cambridge University (Trinity College) where he graduated with a double first in French and theology.  There Stott became heavily involved in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, an evangelical student ministry.  He did his theological studies and ministry preparation at Ridley Hall, the Anglican theological college at Cambridge. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1945. He then became first curate (1945-1950) and then rector (1950-1975) of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, the parish of his childhood.

One of the things I admire most about Stott was his longterm commitment to inner-city ministry and to a single parish. Too often in contemporary evangelical circles, the “successful” minister moves to ever bigger congregations (with increases in salary packages and perks) or building a mega-church with a TV ministry–either independent or only loosely tied to a denomination.  This has encouraged a “cult of personality” and for people to seek churches that “meet their needs.” By contrast, Stott was unabashedly Anglican (though involved in many ecumenical endeavors and organizations, especially those with strong evangelical ties) and was committed to inner-city ministry that was not glamorous–and to a single parish, All Souls’ Church.

As Rector, Stott began to play an important role in national and international debates among evangelical Christians, especially in the English-speaking world.  In the late 1960s, British evangelicals had a large debate over whether they could remain in the Church of England (then being led mostly by strong liberals such as John A. T. Robinson (1919-1983), New Testament scholar, “secular” theologian, universalist and Bishop of Woolwich.) Stott was one of the leaders of those arguing for evangelicals to remain in the Church of England and his side ultimately prevailed.  As a result of this leadership, however, Stott increasingly felt unable to devote his full time to All Souls. He appointed a vicar to take over most pastoral duties in 1970. In 1975, he retired as rector but remained a member of All Souls as rector emeritus.

Stott created John Stott Ministries (a.k.a. Langham Place International) to equip Bible teachers for local churches around the world.  In 1974, the first International Congress on World Evangelization (an evangelical event) at Lausanne, Switzerland, adopted the Lausanne Covenant.  It committed evangelicals to the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed (with the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith), to global evangelization and to work for social justice. (Most U.S. evangelicals, while affirming loyalty to Lausanne, abandoned the commitment to social justice by the 1980s, instead forming the Religious Right and becoming an ultra-conservative wing of the U.S. Republican Party.) Stott was a major drafter of the Lausanne Covenant and both his writings and his ministries were consistent in keeping the tri-partite balance between evangelism, a generous orthodoxy, and work for social justice.  Jim Wallis of Sojourners , a U.S. ministry focusing on peace and justice that was founded by white evangelicals (most of the original members began as students of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL in the 1970s), affirmed that John Stott was the first evangelical leader with any name recognition to affirm the value of their work, instead of seeing it as a threat to the work of evangelism.

Stott wrote over 50 books, all of which were aimed at “informed laity,” and could be read and understood by high school graduates, but none of which “talked down” to readers.  The most famous of these was Basic Christianity (InterVarsity Press, 1958), an evangelical and ecumenical primer and apologetic which was widely used in “new members” and “seekers” classes around the world.

Stott never married. While this led some to suspect that he was a closeted gay man, he affirmed a calling to the celibate life.

Stott was never a major influence on my theology or my outlook. At the time I would have appreciated his popular works the most, I was reading other people. But I admired the balance in his life and I have always believed that if his influence had been stronger in North American (especially U.S.) evangelical circles, the health of American Christianity would be far stronger.  When, beginning c. 1979, strident voices like those of Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, and others drowned out voices like that of John Stott, American evangelicalism became cancerous.

We need more people like John Stott as evangelical leaders–in the U.S. and throughout the English-Speaking world.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | obituaries, theologians | Leave a comment

Pioneer Evangelical Feminist Nancey Hardesty Dies: Rest in Peace

In 1974, the evangelical publisher, Word Books, published a groundbreaking work, All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today by Nancey A. Hardesty and Letha Dawson Scanzoni.  My mother, an evangelical Methodist and a budding feminist in 1974, brought home a copy.  About a year later, I read it and it changed my views on the equality of sexes (in home, church, and society) forever.  Word Books eventually went out of business, but two other publishers published new editions of this classic and Hardesty and Scanzoni, together with their friend, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, went on to found the Evangelical Women’s Caucus which later became the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus and helped to publish Daughters of Sarah from 1974 to 1995–the first journal for Christian feminists.

Today, after 2 years battling pancreatic cancer, Nancey Hardesty has passed away.  The Christian Century has more details here.

Although my daughters have grown up in a very different environment (their mother is an ordained Baptist minister, our pastor is another Baptist minister and they have known numerous women preachers and theologians, as well as living in a world where more and more countries are led by women and 3 of the last 4 Secretaries of State in the U.S. have been women), I have still urged them to read All We’re Meant to Be in their teens.

I will mourn Hardesty’s passing, but even more I will mourn that U.S. evangelicals are less open to biblical feminism TODAY than they were in the 1970s–or so it seems.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | obituaries | 5 Comments

Taking the Passed Torch: Theologians Who Died 2000-2010 as Challenge for We Who Tarry

In September, I wrote a column on the theologians who have died this first decade of the 21st Century.  I missed a few and some more have passed since then. I reprint the column below as a challenge for those of us left here to keep what was best about the work of those now gone, excise what falls short of the gospels demands and the demands of our age and forge new paths–faithful to the gospel and faithful to the challenges we will face.  MLW-W

  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 for concern.  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.

2000

  • Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000).  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.  All process theologians build on Hartshorne’s work.
  • 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 Huntston Williams (1914-2000).  Unitarian theologian and historian of the radical reformation at Harvard University. One of the very few Unitarians in the 20th C. to interact with and influence more mainstream Christian theologians, including some evangelicals like Timothy George.  An ordained Unitarian who believed in the Trinity, Williams was also a sacramental Protestant. A pacifist who spoke out against McCarthyism and who burned draft cards as a sacrament during the Vietnam War, Williams was a complex person who also spoke of elective abortion as sinful and believed that elective abortions should at least be legally restricted if not banned altogether.  He was also a major voice in studies of the Radical Reformation.
  • 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, the “hero of humane healthcare” as one obituary put it.
  • 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, Beasley-Murray spent most of his career as James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at 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.

2001

  • 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. Had Stagg chosen to publish more of his work outside Broadman Press (the official Southern Baptist publisher), he’d have been far more influential in ecumenical circles.
  • 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).

2002

  • 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.
  • Kenneth Kantzer (1917-2002).  Minister in the Evangelical Free Church in America.  Longtime Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), later President of Trinity College (now Trinity International University) and longtime Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today. (This entry is an addition I originally missed–added thanks to a commenter.) 
  • 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). B.A., Oklahoma Baptist University; M.Div., Th.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; M.A., Ph.D., 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. 

2003

  • 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.  B.A., M.A., Wheaton College; 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 Torrance (see below); 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. 

2004

  • 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.  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. Gilkey also played a major role in the interface of science and theology, including testifying for the ACLU in a major court case against “Creation Science.”
  • 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.

2005

  • 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. both in and out of Catholic circles.
  • 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.  B.A., University of Colorado @ Boulder; M.Div., Denver Seminary; D.Theol. (magna cum laude ) University at Munich with Pannenberg (on the thought of Colonial-era Baptist Isaac Backus). He taught briefly at North American Baptist Seminary (Sioux Falls, SD)  before moving to Vancouver, Canada to teach theology and ethics at both Regent College and Carey Theological Seminary.

2006

  • 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).

2007

  • 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 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, political independence and nonviolence. Eller was  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 (Deerfield, 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 (though it is not clear that Brown was pleased with all of the directions the Religious Right took on other issues than opposition to abortion).
  • 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). 

2008

  • 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.
  • Thomas A. Langford (1930-2008).  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 initially 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! 
  • 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.

2009

  • 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. Bromiley 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. 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.

2010

  • Vernon M. Grounds (1914-2010).   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.
  • Roger Nicole (1915-2010).  On 11 December, the ultra-conservative Baptist theologian Roger Nicole died. One of the founders of the Evangelical Theological Society, Nicole brought heresy charges at ETS against Canadian Baptist theologian Clark Pinnock, but Pinnock was cleared. Both men ended up dying the same year. (This is an update from comments).
  • 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). 
  • Robert Bratcher (1920-2010). Baptist missionary and Bible translator for the American Bible Society and the United Bible Societies. Bratcher was the major translator of Good News for Modern Man  which became the New Testament section of The Good News Bible, at one time the most popular English translation sold in the United States.  This established the “dynamic equivalence” approach to biblical translation.
  • W. Morgan Patterson (1925-2010).  Southern Baptist church historian who taught at 4 different Baptist seminaries and was president of Georgetown College (Georgetown, KY). Patterson was most famous for his strong critique of “Baptist successionism,” the erroneous view (still popular in some circles) that Baptists are not Protestants but the “true church” traced in unbroken succession from Jesus’s baptism by John in the River Jordan through dissenting groups throughout the centuries .
  • Gerald F. Hawthorne (1925-2010). I missed this one, but my former teacher, Craig Blomberg, called it to my attention. In August, Wheaton College New Testament professor Gerald Hawthorne died.
  • 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. Shelley (1929-2010) Evangelical Baptist church historian in the Conservative Baptist Association. Taught for decades at Denver Seminary. 
  • Ralph McInerny (1929-2010).  American Catholic philosopher, and professor at University of Notre Dame.  Also author of the best-selling mystery novels of Father Downing.
  • Mary Daly (1929-2010).  In January the former Catholic feminist theologian who became a radical “post-Christian” feminist philosopher died.  Daly was a very provocative and controversial figure whose work inspired more mainstream Christian feminists even when they couldn’t follow all of Daly’s paths. She was also controversial among secular (and some Christian) feminists for her opposition to transsexuals and sex-reasignment surgery for transgendered persons.
  • David Livingstone Mueller (1930-2010).  Baptist theologian and pastor who was a major interpreter of the work of Karl Barth.  Mueller was one of my teachers and although others made more of an impact on the content of my thought, Mueller did the most in helping me to think theologically. After retiring from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1994, Mueller taught for another decade at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, TX.
  • Moishe Rosen (1932-2010). American Baptist minister and controversial founder of Jews for Jesus, an evangelistic ministry to members of the Jewish faith.
  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • Andrew D. Lester (1940-2010).  Baptist minister and longtime professor of psychology of religion and pastoral care and counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) during the 1970s and 1980s. With the fundamentalist takeover, Lester moved to Texas and finished his teaching career at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University.
  • Susan Nelson (1947-2010).  Former American Baptist turned Presbyterian minister and feminist theologian. Taught for many years at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary before becoming Dean of Claremont Theological Seminary.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | biographies, obituaries, theologians | 19 Comments

R. I. P. G. McLeod “Mac” Bryan–Baptist Champion of Human Rights

G. McLeod Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Religion at Wake Forest University, who formerly taught philosophy and religion at Mercer University and Mars Hill College, died today.  “Mac” Bryan played a part in the U. S. Civil Rights movement, the Anti-Vietnam War and Anti-Nuclear weapons strands of the peace movement, and a supporting role in peace and human rights struggles around the world, including the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. 

I don’t think I ever met “Mac” Bryan (perhaps once in the mid ’80s, before I knew who he was, but I may be misremembering), but everywhere I went among “peace and justice Baptists” from the U. S. South, I met his friends and students.  I have lost track of the number of “Mac Bryan” stories I’ve heard at meetings of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or at reunions of people whose lives intersected Koinonia Partners in South Georgia or other intentional Christian communities across the South.  Many times when I’ve met Southern Baptists (or white Baptists who used to be Southern Baptist, or Christians in other traditions who used to be Southern Baptist) involved in ministry to prisoners, or the homeless, or working with Habitat for Humanity or Bread for the World, or working in some way for peace, justice, and human rights it would turn out that Mac Bryan had inspired them to get involved. (After all, Southern Baptists, a denomination born in defense of slavery and which was the strongest anti-Civil Rights denomination in the nation in the ’60s, is hardly known for the numbers of peace and justice activists it produces.)  Mac Bryan hasn’t been the only catalyst of an alternative way of being Baptist in the U.S. South, but he has certainly been a major one.

A brief obituary is found on the Wake Forest website.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, obituaries, Uncategorized | 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.

2000

  • 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!

2001

  • 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).

2002

  • 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.

2003

  • 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.

2004

  • 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.

2005

  • 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.

2006

  • 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).

2007

  • 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).

2008

  • 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.

2009

  • 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.

2010

  • 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

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

Rest in Peace John M. Swomley (1915-2010)

I have just learned that Rev. Dr. John M. Swomley died earlier this week (16 Aug. 2010) at age 95.  A United Methodist minister, pacifist Christian, and nonviolent activist, Swomley had influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “pilgrimage to nonviolence.”  He was Exec. Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, president of the Methodist Peace Fellowship, helped to desegregate the armed forces after WWII and worked to end conscription. He taught Christian ethics for years at St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, MO and served a period as head of the Society of Christian Ethics. 

A tribute is found on the website of the F.O.R. here.

August 19, 2010 Posted by | Methodists, obituaries, pacifism, peace, theologians | 1 Comment

R.I.P. Gene Stoltzfus (1940-2010)

I had planned to blog something else today, but this takes precedence.  Earlier today, someone asked me whether or not Gene Stoltzfus, founding Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, was still alive. I said, “yes,” not knowing that yesterday, he passed for this life to the life eternal.  I did not know Gene closely, but all who had contact with him or with Christian Peacemaker Teams, have been blessed by his legacy.  A full obituary is found here on the CPT website

Rest from your labors, faithful servant of the Servant-King.  We who now tarry are impoverished without you. Amen.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | obituaries, pacifism, peace | Leave a comment