Essay / On This Day

Donald Bloesch’s Birthday

Donald Bloesch is a theologian whose name rhymes with “keep it fresh,” “nativity creche,” and “word made flesh.”

Born on May 3, 1928, Bloesch has been an important theological voice for decades. He published the widely-used two-volume Essentials of Evangelical Theology back in the early 1980s, and his Christ-centeredness has been a lodestar for evangelicals ever since. Bloesch is no maverick, but he is a bit idiosyncratic. He certainly hasn’t founded any school of thought, and there are no identifiable “Bloeschians” in the next generations. He is one of the most important evangelical interpreters of Karl Barth, cautiously and consistently interacting with Barth’s thought during the decades when the slightest whiff of Barth’s influence was enough to get a theologian invited to leave the Evangelical Theological Society.

Bloesch also planted his feet in a mainline denomination and stayed there for his whole career, even as that denomination has continued its drift into liberalism. Sticking with his liberalizing denomination has been a major decision for Bloesch’s legacy: One could wish that every mainline denomination had an evangelical voice like Bloesch’s in it somewhere, bearing witness for decades. On the other hand, staying in the liberal mainline has ensured that Bloesch has been always at the margin of the central institutions of evangelicalism, with the attendant strategic alliances and cooperation.

Bloesch’s major theological work is the seven-volume series Christian Foundations. Here is how he described his goals in that project:

The aim of my Christian Foundations series is to set forth a theology of Word and Spirit, which seeks to do justice to both the objective and subjective poles of revelation and salvation. A theology of Word and Spirit will be at the same time a theology of the Christian life, since the truth revealed in the Bible must be appropriated through the power of the Spirit in a life of obedience and piety. While I affirm the pivotal role of the Christian life I am calling not for a new form of the imitation of Christ but instead for a deepening recognition that the risen Christ lives within us, empowering us to realize our divinely given vocation under the cross. The Christian life is not simply the fruit and consequence of a past salvation accomplished in the cross and resurrection of Christ but the arena in which Christ’s salvation is carried forward to fulfillment by his Spirit. The Pauline and Reformation doctrine of salvation by free grace must be united with the call to holiness and discipleship, a theme found in Catholic mysticism and Protestant Pietism.

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