Another evangelical hero passes to glory

When I was making my youthful transition to the wider evangelical world one of my guides was Vernon Grounds, long-time president of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary (now Denver Seminary).  Grounds died the other day at age 96.  He was one of the most influential evangelical statesmen in America and, among other things, an expert on Bonhoeffer.  It was via his writings that I first realized that an evangelical could actually appreciate the thoughts of a non-evangelical (in the sense of American conservative, revivalist evangelicalism).

Grounds was a generous, “big tent” evangelical who was nevertheless not hesitant to speak his mind on issues he considered controversial.  One of the best brief essays on limited atonement is Grounds’ “God’s Universal Salvific Grace” in Grace Unlimited (Bethany House, 1975).  There he wrote: “It takes an exegetical ingenuity which is something other than a learned virtuosity to evacuate these texts [viz., five NT texts teaching the universality of the atonement] of their obvious meaning: it takes an exegetical ingenuity verging on sophistry to deny their explicit universality.” 

In spite of his sharp opposition to “decretal theology” (his term and others’ for high Calvinism), Grounds was an irenic evangelical who was conversant with the wider ecumenical community and able to “take the good and leave the bad” with regard to theologians such as Karl Rahner (who he quotes approvingly in the above mentioned chapter while at the same time clearly rejecting some of Rahner’s views). 

In other words, Grounds was a model post-fundamentalist, centrist evangelical whose voice has been missed these past many years since his retirement.  May his tribe increase. 

Some years ago Stan Grenz, John Franke and I (together with several advisers) wrote a manifesto called The Word Made Fresh.  It was a call for evangelicals to step back from the brink of neo-fundamentalism and rediscover our biblical and progressive bearings (e.g., as expressed in Carl Henry’s groundbreaking 1947 book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism). Grounds was glad to sign on together with over 100 other leading evangelical scholars and administrators.

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  • I was always surprised how Vernon Grounds maintained his equilibrium while serving the Conservative Baptist movement. Vernon was the best of Evangelicalism while the CBs were always being leveraged by the fundamentalist baptists. I guess it was one of those situations in which it is easier to operate within something that you know than switch and seek new influence. But Vernon was always a man who built high hopes in me and apparently lived a life of patient influence.