Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

A Tribute to the Family Torrance

On my former blog, I once wrote an appreciation, as a Christian pacifist, of the Family Niebuhr. I may reprint it on this blog since I think it was nicely balanced between my genuine critiques of the shortcomings of their perspectives (especially Reinie’s) and an opened-mouthed awe at the gifts God had given this one family and the way they used them for the Church. I -have also written a similar post on the incredible Wesley family–amazed that God sometimes gifts the Church universal with whole  families of amazing servant leaders! (Similar cases could be made for the Family Barth, although Karl Barth’s immense contributions usually overshadow the contributions of Markus and Christoph; the Family Judson of pioneering Baptist missionaries; the father-son team of Thomas & Alexander Campbell; the father-son team of Alexander Mack, Sr. & Jr., founders of the Dunker/Brethren tradition; perhaps others.)

This post is similar, although the distance in theological perspectives is not as great as it was between myself and the Niebuhrs.  The Torrance family of Scotland are all Reformed and my faith is mostly Anabaptist (with some fragments from Puritanism, revivalism, the Social Gospel, liberation theologies, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, and some charismatic experiences).  But, with Barth as the bridge, I want to pay tribute to the amazing gift of God this family is to church and theology.  There are fewer Torrance family members as ministers or academic theologians than it appears because the Torrances are so seemingly omnipresent that it often appears as if every 3rd theologian in (or from) Scotland is named Torrance!  Here are my brief, inadequate, tributes:

Thomas Forsyth (T. F.) Torrance (1913-2007) was one of the theological giants of the English-speaking world in the 20th C.  He was born in Chengdu, Szechuan, China where his parents were serving as missionaries of the Church of Scotland–a Reformed Protestant denomination flowing from the heritage of John Calvin (Jean Cauvin–1509-1564) and John Knox (c. 1505-1572) and closely related to the Presbyterians in England and North America.  His father was an ordained Church of Scotland minister and his mother, whom he thought the best preacher and theologian in the family, was a formally-trained Anglican missionary–very rare for women in those days.  Taught in a Canadian school in China, Torrance was horrified to find out on a furlough to Britain that he was woefully deficient in classical Greek and Latin and set about to overcome this through rigorous self-directed study. M.A. in Classics, University of Edinburgh, 1934; B.D. New College, Edinburgh, 1937; Won an academic scholarship to study theology with the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, who had long been a theological  hero. D.Theol., University of Basel, Switzerland, 1946.  Invited to teach theology at Auburn Theological Seminary (NY), in the U.S., a Presbyterian seminary which has since merged with Union Theological Seminary  , 1938-39. Offered the first position in theology at the new religion dept. of Princeton University in 1939 (at 25!), but had to turn it down because WWII was so obviously imminent. He returned to Scotlan to be with his people rather than stay safe in the U. S. A. Consistent with his Reformed acceptance of “just war theory,” Torrance volunteered as an army chaplain to Scottish troops, but there was a waiting list. He went to Oriel College, Oxford to work on his dissertation, 1940. He wass a parish -minister, Alyth, Perthshire, Scotland, 1940-1943; 1943-45, Torrance saw service in “Huts and Canteens” in Middle East, then was army chaplain to frontline troops in the Italian campaign–repeatedly nearly killed. In1944, for wartime service awarded an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire). He also finished his  dissertation and returned to Basel for oral exams.  Torrance was awarded D.Theol., magne cum laude, 1946. He married Margaret Spear, an Anglican,  in 1946.  1947-1950, Torrance was again a parish minister, Beechgrove Church, Aberdeen, a large parish church that had previously been pastored by such Church of Scotland luminaries as James S. Stewart, A. J. Gossip, and, Torrance’s own professor, Hugh Ross Mackintosh.  In 1945, Torrance founded the Scottish Church Theology Society.  In 1948, he founded the Scottish Journal of Theology which he co-edited (with J.K.S. Reid) from 1948 to 1982.  In 1946, Torrance’s dissertation published as The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers.  In 1949, Published, Calvin’s Doctrine of Man as an attempt to settle the debate between Barth and Brunner over the relation of nature and grace, since both appealed not only to Scripture but to Calvin.

1950-1952, Professor of Church History, University of Edinburgh; 1952-1979, Professor of Christian Dogmatics, New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.  1952, Torrance assembled a team of scholars, including the brilliant choice of Geoffrey W. Bromiley as co-editor, to translate Karl Barth’s massive Kirchliche Dogmatik into the 16 volumes of Church Dogmatics.  If Torrance had done nothing else, this would have been a superb gift to the Church universal by itself. The translation and index was not completed until 1977!  Torrance retired from Edinburgh in 1979, but continued to lecture and write.

He made significant contributions to the dialogue between science and religion–and in 1978 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion because of these contributions.  He was instrumental in forging theological agreement between the Church of Scotland and Eastern Orthodox Christianity over the doctrine of the Trinity.  Torrance wrote several books on the Trinity, but also significant volumes on Creation, Atonement, Incarnation, Eschatology, and Pneumatology.

His works often constituted a “bridge” to Barth for evangelicals in the English-speaking world, especially in the UK and North America.  He also helped many a North American evangelical become more familiar with Patristic theologians.  And, as I can attest from 2 personal meetings, he helped convey a sense of the joy of Christian theology–that theology was a “joyful science” because one was seeking to better understand the gospel of the living God!

A major weakness from my own theological perspective is a lack of attention to theological ethics.  Barth’s own approach to ethics (deriving various dimensions of the Command of God from different theological doctrines) may be inadequate–I would argue that it is insufficiently exegetical and neglects the rich narrative ethics of both Jesus and the prophets!–but, at least, he spent considerable attention to these matters. Torrance did not–not even connecting his strong interest in the relation of theology and the sciences to the environmental crises. Nor did this army chaplain during World War II ever write anything (to my knowledge) on war and peacemaking, genocide, church-state relations, etc. In fact, though Torrance should be praised for going beyond his mentor, Barth, in engaging the world of Eastern Orthodoxy, he must be criticized for falling well below Barth in engaging Judaism! There is no hint in Torrance’s work that Christians living after the Holocaust need to confront the history of Christian anti-Semitism, including theological anti-Judaism–a history that distorts our view of Judaism and distorts our readings of Scripture because we fail to grasp how thoroughly Jewish the early Jesus movement was.  This must be counted as a major shortcoming of Torrance’s thought.

In 2004, the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Research Fellowship was formed, which gives some indication of the breadth of his continuing influence.

James Bruce (J. B.) Torrance (1923-2003), younger brother to Thomas.  Like his older brother, James was born on the mission field in China.  He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, with his first degree interrupted by being “called up” by the Royal Air Force in 1944. After his service in World War II, he earned an M.A. in philosophy from Edinburgh, taking First Class Honours and winning the Senior Medal in Moral Philosophy, Logic, and Metaphysics.  His influential teacher was Professor John MacMurray.  He earned his B.D. at New College, Edinburgh, and then an M.A. from the University of Marburg.  The conflict between Barth and Bultmann was at full-tilt during this period and, although James shared his brother Thomas’ regard for Barth’s work, he wanted exposure to the Bultmann first-hand.  Like his older brother, he finished his education with a D. Theol. from the University of Basel, where he studied with Karl Barth and Oscar Cullmann.  He did some post-graduate study at Oxford and then entered parish ministry, Invergowrie, near Dundee. It is reported that many were brought to living faith through James Torrance’s ministry there.  In 1963, as Thomas Torrance moved from teaching church history to theology at Edinburgh, the James was appointed Lecturer in the History of Christian Thought.  He spent 16 years on the Faculty of Divinity at Edinburgh, most of them as Senior Lecturer in Christian Dogmatics.  On the day he left Edinburgh, a packed Rainey Hall at New College gave him a standing ovation–rare even for beloved teachers and colleagues among the reserved Scots!  From 1979 until his retirement in 1989, Torrance was Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen, where he also served as Dean,  and was a major force (along with Methodist New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall) in leading Aberdeen to become, during this time, one of the most dynamic centers of theological education in the world.

During time teaching at Edinburgh and Aberdeen, James Torrance also traveled widely, especially in Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa, often lecturing and preaching up to five times in one day!  As a result, students flocked to study with him from all over the world.  He remained a faithful churchman, extremely active both locally and in ecumenical work.

He published much less than his older brother, contributing articles to dictionaries and scholarly journals, and writing one major book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace.  However, some of his many unpublished works are beginning to be published posthumously.  He also co-wrote, A Passion for Christ with his brothers, Thomas and David Torrance.

Ian Torrance (b. 1949), son of Thomas and nephew of James.  Currently, serving as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.  Torrance was the younger son of T. F. Torrance and born in Aberdeen, 1949. He grew up in the near-poverty that even academics faced in post-war Britain.  Because the government-run schools (what Americans would call “public schools,” but that term means something quite different in the UK) had been hit especially hard by the war, Ian’s family sacrificed greatly and sent him to Edinburgh      Academy, and Monkton Combe School in Bath, England. He earned his M.A. from the University of Edinburgh, B.D., University of St. Andrews, and his D.Phil., Oriel College, Oxford University.    After his doctorate at Oxford, he was ordained a Minister of the Church of Scotland, and served at Northmavine Parish, Shetland Islands (1982-1985) Territorial Army chaplain,1982-1997; Army Cadet Force Chaplain, 1997-2000; Convener, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland’s Committee to the Chaplains of the Armed Forces, 1998-2002; Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2003-2004; Represented the Church of Scotland at the Installation of Pope Benedict XVI.  Co-editor, Scottish Journal of Theology (1982-); Lecturer in New Testament and Patristics, University of Birmingham (1985-1993) (during which time he was on staff at Queen’s College, an ecumenical college for the training of clergy); Professor of Patristics and Christian Ethics, University of Aberdeen (1993-2004); Dean, Faculty of Arts and Divinity, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; Master, Christ’s College, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; President and Professor of Patristics, Princeton Theological Seminary, 2004-2012 and then retired and returned to Scotland to become Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.  Torrance has paid more attention to theological ethics than his father and uncle.  Although he served as a military chaplain, he opposed the nuclear arms race.  Further, during his time as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he used his office to call for the release of Libyan national, Abdelbaset al-Megrah, who was imprisoned (on flimsy evidence) for the Lockerby bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103.  Ian Torrance argued that the guilty verdict had more to do with pressure from the U.S. government and fear of al-Megrah as a Muslim than it did with evidence of his guilt in the act of terrorism.

Torrance also opposed Tony Blair and the British addition to America’s “coalition of the willing,” as it invaded Iraq in 2003.  He was not a pacifist and had served as a military chaplain.  But he believed that the invasion of Iraq did not meet the tests of “just war theory,” and warned that it would lead to a long occupation and would harm the moral reputation of both Christianity and the United Kingdom (and the U.S.A.)–which proved prescient. But Torrance would not make such criticisms from the sidelines. In his role as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he risked life and limb to visit every unit of British troops serving in Iraq.

Torrance took a different kind of risk when he championed the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of Scotland. His views were very controversial (2003-2004) and did not immediately carry the day, but his prominence and prestige opens the door to serious discussion of these and other, related, matters of sexuality within the Church of Scotland.

Because Torrance hasn’t written on theological ethics, we who were not his students, don’t know much about his method or his views on much besides war and sex, but we do know that he worked hard on this subject throughout his career.

Torrance has written on the Trinity, on Patristics and theology after the council of Chalcedon.  He has also been strongly involved in ecumenical work like his father and uncle before him, but, he has gone further than them in also being heavily involved in interfaith dialogue, especially Christian-Muslim dialogue.

I hope he writes more in his retirement.

Ronald S. Wallace (1911-2006), Brother-in-law to Thomas and Uncle to Alan and Ian. Born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1911 and was educated at The Royal High School, Edinburgh and graduated early at 15. At 16 he matriculated at the University of Edinburgh and took a First in Civil Engineering. Perceiving a call to ministry, he transferred to the Faculty of Arts and earned an M.A. in Philosophy, his Bachelor of Divinity from New College, Edinburgh.  He was ordained and became a Minister in the Church of Scotland.  In 1937, he married Mary Moulin Torrance, sister of Thomas Torrance.  They had a son, David, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Heather.  Wallace’s nephews include Ian Torrance and Alan Torrance; moreover his son-in-law, George McLeod Newlands, is also an academic theologian.  In 1940, Wallace became a parish minister at Pollock Church, Glasgow.  During World War II, he was a minister with the “Huts and Canteens” program of the Church of Scotland.  After WWII, he became, in 1951, Minister at St. Kentigan’s Church, Lanark. While there, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh with a dissertation on Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments.  In 1958, he became Minister of Lothian Road Church, Edinburgh.  From 1964 to 1977, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology, at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA (USA).  From 1977 until his retirement in 1995, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology and Dean of the Faculty at Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon.  Upon his retirement, Wallace returned to Scotland and died in 2006.  Wallace was an author of books of sermons, several popular commentaries on biblical books in both Testaments, an exposition of the 10 Commandments as an “ethic of freedom,” and a work of historical theology which examined the relationship of Calvin to the city of Geneva and the wider Reformation.

George McLeod Newlands, Emeritus Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, son-in-law to Ronald Wallace (see above).  Born  on December 7, 1941 in Perth, Scotland, Newlands was educated at Perth Academy,  the University of Edinburgh (M.A., Classics, 1st Class Honors; B.D., Ecclesiastical History, 1st Class Honors; Ph.D.; D.Litt.). He did graduate study from 1966 to 1969 on travelling fellowships at the University of Heidelberg, University of Paris, University of Zurich, University of Basel (where he attended Karl Barth’s last seminar and last lecture series). He earned an M.A. in 1973 at Churchill College, Cambridge University.  In 1970, he was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland, Presbytery of Glasgow and in 1982 became simultaneously a priest in the Church of England (License to officiate, Diocese of Glasgow).  From 1969 to 1970 Newlands was Assistant Minister in Muirhouse, Edinburgh.  Lecturer in Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1969-1970; Lecturer in Systematic Theology, University of Glasgow, 1970-1973; University Lecturer of Divinity, Cambridge University, 1973-1975; Elected Fellow of Wolfson College (Cambridge), 1975; Fellow and Dean (and Chaplain, 1982-1984), Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, 1982-1986; Elected Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1986; Head of Department of Church History and Theology, University of Glasgow, 1986-1992; Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, Glasgow University, 1988-1990; Principal of Trinity College (Church of Scotland), University of Glasgow, 1991-1997, 2001-; Director, Center for Literature, Theology, and the Arts, University of Glasgow, 1999-2002.

Newland has contributed in both historical and systematic theology and theological ethics.  His first work, Hilary of Portiers:  A Study in Theological Method (1978) was considered a landmark in the field.  In 1980, noting that Barth had done theology from the perspective of faith, and Moltmann from hope, Newland decided to re-think theology from the 3rd of the Pauline theological virtues, love.  The result was Theology of the Love of God (1980).  He followed this with The Church of God (1984) and his first work on Christian ethics, Making Christian Decisions.

Newland has made major contributions in the theological underpinnings of human rights and in interfaith dialogue.  He also went further than Ian Torrance as a straight ally for LGBT concerns in the church. He co-founded Affirmation Scotland, “a ministry of care, compassion, inclusivity, and advocacy” for LGBT concerns within the Church of Scotland.

Alan J. Torrance (b. 1956-), son of James and nephew of Thomas.  Like most of his family, Alan was educated at the University of Edinburgh (B.A.,  Philosophy; M.A., 1st Class Honours, Philosophy).  He earned his B.D.  with 1st Class Honours, at the University of Aberdeen.  He went on to earn his D. Theol. summa cum laude, from the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg. Currently, Professor of Systematic Theology, St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews University, St. Andrews, Scotland.  Previously lectured at King’s College, London University (1993-1998), where he was also Director, Research Institute in Systematic Theology. Previous to that post, he lectured at Knox Theologica, l Hall and the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Alan Torrance’s contributions in theology are still developing. He was awarded a Templeton Prize in Religion and Science to develop a course in science and theology at the University of St. Andrews, which he has done.

Alan Torrance’s writings, mostly well received, have been in Christology, theological anthropology, philosophical and systematic theology, and theological ethics.  He has reflected on the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to patriarchy (and its subversion). He has also written on the theological nature of forgiveness and reconciliation and their application to the socio-political realm.  He has continued the emphasis of Ian Torrance and George Newlands on the need for inclusion and equality of LGBT persons in the church and society.  Although not a declared pacifist, Alan Torrance is the first in this family of ministers and theologians to NOT serve in the military and he has seemed even more critical of nuclear weapons and institutionalized war system than the rest of his family.

Perhaps this amazing family will soon produce female theologians, too.  This family of theologians has been an amazing collective gift of God –not just to the Church of Scotland or to the Reformed tradition, but to the Church Universal.

 

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July 3, 2013 Posted by | history of theology, theologians | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONSERVATIVE Evangelical Dialogue Partners

Reprinted from my previous blog,Levellers.

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Previously, I posted a blog on “My Favorite Liberal Theologians” in which I listed the top 10 theological liberals whom I consider my “essential dialogue partners.” I promised a follow-up on evangelicals, but it has proven tougher because, broadly speaking, I am part of the evangelical tradition and because the parameters of “evangelical” are not all that clear. Liberals, who begin with human experience and intentionally adjust Christian doctrine to modern knowlege, are easier to define. Originally, the term  “evangelical” meant “Protestant,” then “Lutheran,” (in some European countries, “Evangelical” [Lutheran] is still contrasted to “Reformed”), then referred to the 18th C. renewal movements which became Pietism in Germany, the Wesley-Whitefield revivals in Britain, and the “Great Awakening,” in the U.S.  Beginning in the late 19th C., “evangelical” began to take on the meaning of “conservative Protestant,” but there were also “Evangelical Liberals.” Here, I have in mind that part of conservative Protestantism that essentially grew out of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies. Today, I list my essential dialogue partners among the conservative end of the evangelical spectrum. A follow up blog will list my dialogue partners among the wider evangelical spectrum. My continuing series’ on mentors and heroes will name/describe my theological “home,” whereas these posts, like my post on theological liberals, describe outside conversation partners. I think I will also do posts on essential dialogue partners among Catholics (liberal and conservative), Orthodox, Jewish thinkers, and (possibly) philosophical skeptics. Perhaps this is a sign that I am more eclectic than an original, creative thinker, but I find it impossible to do theology (even theological ethics, my specialization) except in conversation with others, including others who present strong challenges to my perspectives.

But no one can dialogue with everyone. Like others, I usually ignore voices that I don’t find helpful in some fashion. Thus, although the broadly Reformed tradition informs me (Baptists have both Puritan and Anabaptist roots; I draw more from the latter, but try not to ignore the former), I do not find its scholastic forms at all helpful: I have long since stopped reading anything from Kuyper or Dooyeweerd, nor the “Old Princeton school” of Hodge, Warfield, & Machen, nor their Baptist disciples: Boyce, Manley, John Piper, or Al Mohler. If you find them helpful, fine, but I cannot stomach them at all.

  • Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003) represents the best of the post WWII evangelical renewal in the U.S.–at least until the early ’80s.  His The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) pushed his fellow conservatives out of their apolitical slumbers–although an Eisenhower Republicanism was the most social conscience he allowed. An adult convert and former newspaperman, Henry went on to earn 2 doctorates (Th.D., Northern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Boston University), and after teaching at his alma mater (NBTS), went on to help found Fuller Theological Seminary as an institution both ecumenical and evangelical (though it eventually defined the latter term more broadly than Henry desired) and then became founding editor of Christianity Today, so Henry’s influence cannot be underestimated. Henry represents what I call “evangelical rationalism,” a position whose strength is to push evangelicals away from a fear of reason, but whose weakness is a theology that has little place for mystery–either in a pentacostal or a sacramental direction. He also epitomizes evangelical obsession with epistemology–writing not a systematics or dogmatics, but 8 volumes defining and defending biblical inerrancy! I have read all of these volumes (indeed, when Henry came as a visiting prof. to SBTS–back when my alma mater was allegedly full of liberals!–, I had to nurse several conservative students through his God, Revelation, and Authority, who had gone to class expecting sermon outlines instead of serious apologetics), and they have many strengths, including more interaction with non-evangelical theologians than was common during the period Henry wrote. I have to say that I did not feel that Henry always understood his opponents–including Barth, Brunner, or even Pannenberg, try though he did. I find Henry’s overall approach sterile and lifeless, but his shadow is so large in American Christianity that I would be a fool not to read and interact with his work. But my biggest criticism of Henry is that he was a poor exegete. For me, that is a damning statement. No one who spends 8 volumes defending a particular view of biblical authority should be as inept at close readings of the biblical texts themselves! (This was true not only in his writings, but on the two occasions when I heard him preach.)
  • F. F. Bruce (1910-1990), by contrast was a first rate exegete and set new standards for evangelical biblical scholarship. I do not agree with him always (his defense of the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, for instance, remains unconvincing), but his love for Scripture and for the gospel showed in his careful handling of texts. He is a great example of how an education in the classics can prepare one for a career in biblical studies. I also appreciate his commitment to teaching in religious studies departments in secular universities rather than in confessional seminaries. (This partly reflects his “Open Brethren” tradition which has no ordained or paid clergy, and whose congregations are led by scholarly laity. Bruce preached and taught in Brethren pulpits–and those of other Christian denominations–throughout his career.) Bruce’s generous spirit toward “liberal” Christians, including Rudolf Bultmann, was also rare for his day. He showed by precept and example that one could be orthodox without launching a war on believers from other traditions.
  • Bernard Ramm(1916-1992) is another conservative evangelical whose works I greatly appreciate. His early writings included textbooks on the basics of biblical interpretation, studies on sin and soteriology, and attempts to reconcile science and theology, eventually adopting theistic evolution. His later works bear the impact of Karl Barth in a very healthy way. I also appreciate the way Ramm considered himself always a Baptist, but never wedded to any one Baptist convention. During his career, he taught at institutions related to the American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Baptist General Conference, Canadian Baptists, and Conservative Baptist Association–and did not see this as “switching denominations.” My only criticism is that Ramm saw Baptists as one branch of the Reformed tradition–period. Had he interacted with the Anabaptist dimensions of our heritage, would that have made changes to his theology–particularly his lifelong attempts to wed head, heart, and life?  I think so and I think those changes would have been positive.
  • The Australian Anglican, Leon Morris(1914-2006), was another sound exegete and one whose mild Calvinism tried to face seriously the challenges to that tradition from within it. I especially appreciate the way his later writings showed how he learned from criticisms of earlier work. For instance, early on Morris defended substitutionary atonement, and especially propitiation, as the only viable atonement theory. Later, while still insisting on the validity of these dimensions, Morris recognized that the cross event was bigger than any one atonement theory and attempted to incorporate other elements–relating each perspective to particular biblical texts.
  • Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Prof. of New Testament at Denver Seminary, was my Greek and NT teacher and academic advisor at Palm Beach Atlantic College in South Florida during my undergraduate days. I learned huge amounts from Craig and became friends with both Craig & his wife, Fran. I had already begun learning Greek from my home pastor, but Craig added more, reinforced my love for close exegetical work, and introduced me to liberation theologies–evangelical and otherwise. I was one of the few students at this conservative Baptist college who was (even then) more liberal than Craig, not holding to inerrancy (not even his nuanced version–and I delighted in citing his own teacher, I. Howard Marshall, on my side!) and defending evangelical feminism against his own complementarianism. (Ironically, in practice, Craig & Fran’s marriage always looked perfectly egalitarian to me and these days Fran is on staff at an emerging church congregation and is earning a Ph.D. in Missiology from the International Baptist Theological Seminary at Prague.) But Craig never tried to make cookie cutter followers of his students; he wanted followers of Jesus Christ, instead. When I teach, much of my teaching methods come from Craig–including his habit of assigning pairs of textbooks, one more “liberal” than his view and one more “conservative” than the approach he was taking. How many evangelical scholars, especially in the U.S., have co-written a dialogue book with a Morman theologian? Craig Blomberg has–and that kind of “critical openess” pervades his work. He has chided fellow evangelicals for blanket condemnations of liberation theologies and of pacifism (though I have yet to convince him to become a pacifist). His recent work, Contagious Holiness, is an important corrective to Marcus Borg’s contention that Jesus’ meals with sinners show a lack of concern with holiness/purity, but that, instead, Jesus’ compassionate and inclusive table fellowship attempted to spread holiness.
  • George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), who taught New Testament at Fuller Seminary, worked hard to bring North American evangelicals to an eschatology that did not involve dispensationalism. Ladd also sought to engage the “Biblical theology” movement and the challenges of the 2nd wave of the “quest for the historical Jesus.” He was unfairly attacked from both the right and the left.
  • George R. Beasley-Murray(1916-2000), British Baptist New Testament scholar who taught at Spurgeon’s College (twice, including a stint as Principal), the Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland (now the International Baptist Theological Seminary and moved to Prague, Czech Republic), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Like Ladd, Beasley-Murray also worked in New Testament eschatology, though, being British, he wasn’t constantly engaging Dispensationalism! Beasley-Murray, another of my teachers, was attacked by conservatives because his strong defense of Mark 13 as going back to the historical Jesus involved his concluding that Jesus was mistaken about how soon the End would come. He translated Bultmann’s commentary on John, although his own 2-volume commentary on the same book found far more historical material. A truly amazing exegete and biblical theologian. See an excellent tribute here. As with Blomberg above, I almost listed Beasley-Murray as a mentor, rather than a dialogue partner. It was a close call, but both scholars are so identified with “Evangelicalism,” that I could not omit them here.
  • Donald Bloesch (1928-2010), a Reformed theologian from the conservative end of the Presbyterian Church, USA, attempts to reincorporate the pietist tradition into evangelical Reformed thought. Bloesch really sees the dangers to evangelical thought of Henry’s rationalism. Although he continues to use the term “inerrant,” for Scripture, he stretches that term considerably in his interaction with Barth and Brunner. See also here.
  • G. C. Berkouwer(1903-1996), the Dutch Reformed theologian and conservative Barthian. Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture rescues its authority from liberal neglect and from Protestant scholasticism. His defense of perseverance of the saints almost convinced this born and raised Arminian. For years the leading theologian at the Free University of Amsterdam, Berkouwer led the Gereformeede Kerken in Nederland (“The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands,” a conservative splinter group from the Dutch Reformed Church) to join the World Council of Churches, becoming one of the first evangelical denominations to unite with the mainstream conciliar ecumenical movement. His 14 volume Studies in Dogmatics, map out a “middle orthodoxy” which is a firm middle ground between fundamentalist rationalism and liberal flights of fancy.
  • Augustus H. Strong (1893-1921) may have been the most important evangelical Baptist theologian of the late 19th and early 20th C. President and Professor of Theology at Rochester Theological Seminary in upstate New York (now merged as Colgate Rochester Crozier Theological Seminary), Strong, converted as a college student under the preaching of Charles Finney, worked to reformulate Calvinist-Baptist thought for the modern era. He abandoned inerrancy as indefensible, and had a mild view of election. He came to embrace theistic evolution.
  • James Leo Garrett, Jr., Emeritus Professor of Theology at Southwestern Theological Seminary also taught church history and historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before returning to his native Texas. His new 2 volume Systematic Theology is an excellent, centrist, evangelical Baptist work–and notable for its historical interactions.

There are many others from the broader evangelical tradition and I will try to post on those dialogue partners in the near future.

May 21, 2012 Posted by | blog series, history of theology, theologians, theology | 2 Comments

My Favorite Liberal Theologians: A List of Theological Liberals I Find “Essential” as Dialogue Partners

This reprints a post I wrote on my old blog, Levellers, in October 2006. It started a well-received series on “theological dialogue partners.” I will reproduce and index the entire series–and perhaps extend it on this blog.  I don’t find anything in this list I would change.

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I must be a glutton for punishment. No sooner do I reassure many evangelical readers of this blog that I am “born again” with testimony of my conversion and faith in Christ, than I write about favorite liberals. What am I thinking? Actually, though, I had been working on this post for some time and, YES, I am planning a companion piece on essential dialogue partners among the Conservative Evangelicals (caps important).

First, let me make two things clear: 1) I do NOT use the term “liberal” in theology to refer to all people who reject biblical ‘inerrancy’ (a rejection I share). “Liberal” theologians, while they have many disagreements, are united in an anthropological starting point (i.e., they begin with some form of general human experience) and in some form of a “method of correlation” (Tillich) between theology and the Modern (Enlightenment and after) world. 2) I do not consider myself a “liberal” since I begin with God’s revelation in Christ through the biblical witness and since, at most, I believe only ad hoc correlations are possible.

The big influences on me theologically are neither “liberal,” nor “conservative.” Those influences: Yoder, Stassen, Marshall, Barth, Moltmann, McClendon, H.R. Niebuhr, Letty Russell, Rauschenbusch, M. L. King, Deotis Roberts, and some others have been or will be the subject of my ongoing series of blog postings on “mentors.” By contrast, the folks below are “dialogue partners,” as are those who will be listed in the companion piece on Conservative Evangelicals.

So, who are my liberal dialogue partners? First, from the Classic Liberal period 19th C.-mid-20th C.) :

F. D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), not only the “Father of Liberal Theology,” but the father of all modern and, yes, postmodern theology, too. The first to give theology a truly scientific and systematic shape beyond the summa or the handbook (Calvin’s Institutes clearly was simply a handbook). It is simply not possible to do serious theology since that time without building on Schleiermacher’s legacy, even when challenging or greatly revising it, as Karl Barth knew well. There is much in old Friedrich to deplore, including his anthropological starting point and his reductionism of Christian experience to a feeling of utter dependence, but his work  is a huge attempt to relate the Pietist tradition to the modern world and that remains, in my view, a worthwhile project. Link: Schleiermacher Society.

Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), gave an irreducibly moral shape to modern theology and helped recapture the centrality of the concept of the  Kingdom of God, which for centuries had just been understood as “heaven.” Ritschl’s view of the Kingdom is inadequate, as was Rauschenbusch’s who drew so much from Ritschl, but the recovery of its  theological centrality is still of incalculable importance. Ritschl’s contention that Christianity is characterized by 2 foci, individual salvation and social ethics, still seems right on the money, to me. Further info. here.

William Newton Clarke (1841-1912), the first in North America (taught in both Canada & U.S.) to write a systematic theology from a Schleiermachian perspective. Theologians debate how much Clarke borrowed from Schleiermacher and how much he simply thought along similar lines. There were also connections to Ritschl and Hermann.

Douglas Clyde Macintosh (1877-1948), Canadian-born Baptist theologian at Yale attempted to make theology an empirical science. He was an enormous influence on the brothers Niebuhr and later Process Theology, but also on the postmodern (ana)Baptist theology of my mentor, James Wm. McClendon, Jr.  Recent study found here.

Adolf von Harnack(1851-1930), for his incredibly encyclopedic knowledge and display of the history of Christian doctrine. (But his reduction of the “essence of Christianity” to the “Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man,” was incredibly weak–and patriarchal to boot.)

Top 10 Favorite Liberals: Contemporary and Recent Past

 

10. Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003), German feminist political theologian. See Sarah K. Pinnock, ed., The Theology of Dorothee Soelle.

9. Marjorie  H.  Schucocki (1933-), Feminist Process Theologian. Best 1 vol. systematic from a process perspective.

8. Gary Comstock, both for his early work on narrative theology (mapping out some of the varieties) and for his subsequent work on theology from an openly gay male perspective. Whatever one believes about “homosexuality” pro or con, one cannot ignore the theological challenge and Comstock is the best theologian among those proposing full inclusion. I do wish he would relate this to his earlier work on narrative theology so that one could judge the adequacy of connections.

7. Eric Rust, a British Baptist educated in both physics and theology, came to the U.S. after both pastorates and academic positions in the U.K. He taught for decades at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where he forged an “evolutionary theology” that was an early process theology not as fully dependent on the metaphysics of Hartshorne and Whitehead as most later versions. Rust helped many, many reconcile science and theology and was one of the first to see the challenge of the ecological crisis to theology. He related the covenant and salvation history themes of the Scriptures to evolutionary worldview in a very persuasive way.

6. Langdon Gilkey (1919-2004) Chicago’s giant from the early ’60s to the ’90s. Gilkey was a student of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, but, unlike the latter, he forged a “theology of culture” that could actually be understood! Gilkey’s book Naming the Whirlwind essentially demolished the “Death of God” movement. For more info. see here and here.

5. Hans Küng (1928-), the brilliant star of the radical Catholics whose work both led to Vatican II and charted the path further. Sidelined in Catholic life for challenging papal infallibility, Küng’s works On Being a Christian, and Does God Exist? are major apologetic works for our time which take seriously Christianity’s skeptical critics (as conservative apologists seldom do) without capitulating to them. He also has helped pioneer Christian interfaith dialogue in ways that are not just the nonsense of “all roads lead up the same mountain.” Biblio-blogger Chris Tilling’s excellent reflections on Küng’s importance are found here.

4. Daniel Day Williams (1910-1973), was a pioneer process theologian who work was far more connected to the major Christian tradition and its symbols than most in the Whitehead/Hartshorne school. Unfortunately, Williams’ most important works, God’s Grace and Man’s Hope; The Spirit and the Forms of Love; and The Demonic and the Divine are all out of print.

3. Howard Thurman (1900-1981) African-American mystic whom I profiled earlier as a Baptist prophet.  See the Howard Thurman Center at Boston University. There is also a Howard Thurman documentary film project here.  Morehouse College houses the Howard Thurman papers.  The interracial Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, which Thurman founded in San Francisco, is still in existence.  Thurman was a major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. Harvey Cox(1929-) — American theologian most in touch with the currents of culture.  Beginning with Barth & Bonhoeffer, Cox moved from celebrating “the secular city,” to being one of the first liberals to notice that secularism was dying. He rediscovered in a new way the centrality of Jesus in, of all places, his interfaith dialogue! Cox became one of the first mainline liberals to take Pentecostalism seriously, too. Never anything close to a systematician, Cox remains one of the most astute theologians of culture for North America. Currently the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University Divinity School.

1. Marcus J. Borg whose biblical work is among the strongest in the “Jesus Seminar,” but who also has sought to revitalize liberalism in ways that are easily communicable to laity. The Heart of Christianity renews the Pietist tradition of the heart in a radical post-modern world. Do I always agree? No. But it’s not your average liberal who advises congregations to have more Bible studies! More info. here and his books here.

Runners Up: Peter Gomes, John Cobb (for relating process theology to liberation thought and ecological theology); Clark Pinnock in “Open Theism” phase; L. Harold DeWolf & Walter G. Muelder for Boston Personalism; Rosemary Radford Ruether; Beverly Wildung Harrison; Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza; Carlyle Marney.

May 21, 2012 Posted by | biographies, blog series, history of theology, theologians, theology | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Theological Mentors #4 E. Glenn Hinson

One of my teachers whom I have not mentioned frequently is E. Glenn Hinson, church historian, contemplative & advocate of strong, disciplined practices of spiritual formation, ecumenist, peacemaker, and advocate of the liberal strand of Baptist theology. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Hinson grew up on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks near Sullivan. A poor Baptist farmboy growing up in the Great Depression and WWII, his path to success began with a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis where he earned a B. A. in history mathematics (correction from Sallie Lanier). As with many of us, university tested Hinson’s faith and he credits a wise counselor at the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus for showing him that if “all truth is God’s truth,” and if Christian faith was a relationship with the living God, then one could fearlessly investigate anything, test everything, and trust God through it all. That orientation led Hinson to reject fundamentalism and to see it forevermore as a kind of fear or even a “works righteousness” that desires to earn God’s favor through holding “right beliefs” and being intolerant of all, even other Christians, who see things differently.

Hinson took this new orientation and a call to ministry to the mother seminary of his denomination (Southern Baptist Convention), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. There he finished his B.D. near the top of his class (earning several awards) and took a Th.D. in New Testament, writing a dissertation in which he concluded that the Apostle Paul did not write the pastoral epistles–a daring conclusion for a Southern Baptist in the 1950s.

SBTS wanted to recruit the brilliant student from Missouri, but needed church historians more than Neutestamentlers. Hinson switched gears and pursued a second doctorate, a DPhil. at Oxford University in early church history. (He studied, of course, at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist theological college at Oxford.)  His background in New Testament has allowed him over the years to make many careful connections between the Apostolic era and the Patristic writings.

Becoming friends with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer whose abbey (Gethsemani) was near Louisville, Hinson became deeply involved in the ecumenical movement of spiritual renewal–connecting the revivalist spirituality of most Southern Baptists to ancient and medieval spiritual practices. His ecumenical efforts included participation in the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at a time when his branch of the Baptist movement was not a member of the WCC. He has lectured in Catholic, Orthodox, and many different Protestant institutions.

For 30 years, Hinson taught Church History at Southern Seminary, becoming one of the most published faculty members. He has written major works in early Church history (e.g., The Evangelization of the Roman Empire; The Church Triumphant; The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages) , biography (e.g., Seekers After Mature Faith; Love at the Heart of Things: A Biography of Douglas V. Steere); religious liberty(e.g., Soul Liberty; Religious Liberty: The Christian Roots of Our Fundamental Freedoms); spiritual formation (e.g., A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle; Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership), over 30 books and contributions to books in all.

Hinson has even used his NT scholarship and written Jesus Christ for the “Faith of Our Fathers” series in the early 1960s. This work was later to be the cause of some controversy, although the series died and few noticed Hinson’s volume at the time. The assignment by the publishers was for Hinson to write a “biography” of Jesus that included only what historians could prove or be reasonably sure of as historians. So, Hinson summarized the major conclusions of “historical Jesus” research at the time. He noted that the tools of historiography did not allow him as a historian to affirm Jesus’ resurrection, although as a believer Hinson could and did affirm Jesus’ resurrection.

Years later, in the 1980s, when Hinson was a major critic of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Hinson’s enemies used that book to claim that Hinson did not believe in the resurrection–which is false. One can debate whether or not Hinson is right about the limits of historiography, but that is an argument about what historians can reasonably assert, NOT an argument over the resurrection itself. Trustees at SBTS repeatedly cleared Hinson of any charges of heresy, but one of the injustices of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was that there was no such thing as protection against double jeopardy: Hinson and other professors could be cleared one semester only to face another individual or group putting forward the SAME CHARGES with NO NEW EVIDENCE the next semester.

When Pres. Roy Honeycutt retired from SBTS, Hinson retired rather than attempt to teach under a fundamentalist administration. From 1994-2000, Hinson was Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality at The Baptist Seminary in Richmond (BTSR) and an Adjunct Professor at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia/Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He has also held many visiting professorships. Currently, he is Visiting Professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Senior Professor of Church History and Christian Spiritual Formation at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (a non-fundamentalist alternative to the now fundamentalist-controlled SBTS), and Visiting Professor at Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ). During this post-SBTS period, Hinson has affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As with anyone, I haven’t always agreed with my beloved professor: Hinson denies the Anabaptist roots of Baptists, for instance, seeing English Puritanism as the sole root of the Baptist movement–a view I contest. I find less value than he does in the works of Teilhard de Chardin, whereas Hinson finds Teilhard’s work to provide a philosophy of history. But I have learned from him to appreciate the history of the entire church as MY history and learned steep myself in the “classics of Christian devotion” as guidance in spiritual formation and discipline. We share a deep commitment to Christian nonviolence (Hinson’s is more Quaker-influenced while mine is more Anabaptist in shape) and the work of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Hinson was the original editor of The Baptist Peacemaker.

His personal faith has also long been a source of personal inspiration: Hinson suffered a stroke and loss of some hearing in the late 1960s, but has persevered in service to Christ and the church despite this and much other adversity. I am glad to have been taught so much by this great mentor and friend.

Note: The Fall 2004 issue of the Review and Expositor (the oldest faculty journal of theology founded by Baptists in North America) is devoted as a Festschrift to Hinson.  The Spiritual Formation Network, dedicated to helping all Christians become spiritually mature, has created (in 2007) the E. Glenn Hinson Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation Scholarship.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, blog series, history of theology, theologians | 3 Comments

Barth Blog Conference 2010

The Karl Barth Blog Conference of 2010 has begun. I’ll be reading all the papers and responses, but won’t be commenting myself or doing further reporting on this blog–because it is getting plenty of coverage. So, I’ll just suggest that all those interested should go here and have a good time. I will.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | blog series, history of theology, Karl Barth, theologians, theology | Leave a comment

Passing the Torch: Theologians Who Died 2000-2010

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

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

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

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