2007 saw the deaths of some major figures in contemporary theology and biblical studies. Here are the ones that I can remember.
*T. F. Torrance (1913-2007). Time will tell exactly how high he ranks, but this Scottish theologian is somewhere near the top of the list of major twentieth century theologians. Torrance was a hard worker and a creative thinker who knew his theological ABCs: That’s Athanasius, Barth, and Calvin.
*Bruce Manning Metzger (1914-2007). Metzger was the greatest explainer of textual criticism in the English-speaking world, and his clear writing on canon, apocrypha, and apocalyptic has also been helpful.
*Brevard Childs (1923-2007). Advocate of a canonical approach to biblical theology that sometimes seems so simple that you can’t imagine why anybody ever thought anything else or cared very much, and sometimes seems so sophisticated and subtle that it transforms everything about thinking biblically.
*Hermann Ridderbos (1909-2007). Ridderbos wrote solid and stimulating commentaries on many books of the Bible, and creatively applied a redemptive-historical approach to a broad range of theological questions.
*C. F. D. Moule (1908-2007). Anglican New Testament scholar whose best books were about the earliest formulations of Christian belief: The Birth of the New Testament and The Origin of Christology.
*Harold O. J. Brown (1933-2007). Evangelical theologian and ethicist, Brown published on heresies and on a stunning range of social, political, and economic issues. You would think that writing so many books on current issues during the 70s and 80s would leave his work dated, but it’s remarkable how far ahead of his time so much of his work still seems.
*Robert Webber (1933-2007). Advocate of ancient-future evangelicalism, Webber seemed to be at all the right places to be helpful to generations of evangelicals who felt marginalized and disaffected. Webber increasingly concentrated on worship, spirituality, and emerging forms of faithful congregational life.
*Major W. Ian Thomas (1914-2007). Founder of Torchbarers International, “the Major” was, for many, the clear and undiluted voice of Keswick holiness teaching. With his passing (along with folks like Ray Ortlund Jr. this same year), will that strand of evangelical spirituality continue its influence or find its theological voice? The Saving Life of Christ is probably the Thomas book that will endure the longest.
*Madeline L’Engle (1918-2007). L’Engle’s an odd one in a list of theologians, I admit. I was never able to appreciate her work very much as an adult (with the exception of excerpts from Walking on Water), but when I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels tore the roof off of my world and left me under an open sky of imagination. No doubt her books will keep doing that for young theologians and other people.
Other notable passings for theological observers this year include D. James Kennedy, Jerry Fallwell, Ray Ortlund Sr., and Ruth Bell Graham. And Evel Knievel (I was never able to appreciate his work much as an adult, but when I was a kid I had the action figure and the lunch box. So finding out he was a brother in Christ was groovy).