Donald G. Bloesch (1928-2010)
Donald Bloesch, an American theologian and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, died on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. He taught theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa from 1957 until his retirement in 1992, and is best known for his seven-volume magnum opus, the Christian Foundations Series (InterVarsity Press, 1992-2004).
I asked Chad Owen Brand—Professor for Christian Theology at Southern Seminary—to offer an obituary reflecting on Dr. Bloesch’s life and work. (Dr. Brand did his dissertation on Bloesch.)
Donald Bloesch was trained at the University of Chicago Divinity School and was a theologian in the United Church of Christ. He should have been a Process theologian, or at least a liberal in the old-fashioned way of a Harry Emerson Fosdick or a William Newton Clarke. He was not. Encounters with Karl Barth, various American evangelicals, different forms of pietism, and a Bible-believing wife caused Bloesch to move increasingly in evangelical directions over the years.
He was hired to teach at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary precisely because the administration was tired of their older professor (Arthur Cochrane), who was neoorthodox; they believed, because of his training and his heritage, that Bloesch would be a liberal. It was the first two years after doctoral studies that changed him.
Bloesch wrote over thirty-five books in his lifetime, including two systematic theology sets, the first a two-volume systematic published in 1979, and the other a seven-volume opus published between 1992 and 2004. The latter set stands out as a remarkable addition to the field.
Irenic, though feisty, Bloesch is often a joy to read, though at times he can frustrate evangelicals. He tends (though not always) to break most issues down into three possibilities: the liberal/mystical/irrational/novel possibility; the fundamentalist/simplistic/rationalist/traditional possibility; and then the third, which is his view and the correct view.
His historical analyses were often brilliant, his exegesis was often sparse, and his knowledge of the literature was generally impressive. It is a rare theologian who really likes Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Bavinck, Herrmann, Barth, Ellul, and Rahner all at the same time. If you want to position him at all, it is somewhere between Kierkegaard and Kuyper, somewhere between Henry and Herrmann.
Bloesch made no large bold moves, hence there are no Bloeschites (or only a small group of them), but he made many small bold moves. He opposed what he called Carl Henry’s evangelical rationalism, but he anathematized feminism’s tendency to rename God into a feminine deity—he thought Henry compromised, but he considered Sallie McFague’s theology to be idolatry.
Thank God for Donald Bloesch. He will be missed, but his legacy is still here for us to learn from.
Update: See also Fred Sanders’s helpful obituary of Professor Bloesch.