One of the most gentle and scholarly of all evangelical theologians, and one of the most significant theological influences in my life, passed away in August. Donald G. Bloesch died at 82 after a long and fruitful life of teaching theology both in the classroom and through is published works. He was not only a theologian; he was also a hymn writer and author of devotional works.
I was privileged to know Don during the 1980s and 1990s as we met many times at the American Theological Society meetings in Chicago. For many years he was a voice of moderation there. I remember one meeting where a leading feminist theologian spoke. Afterwards, many of the men were afraid to ask any hard questions. In his inimitable way Don stood and very graciously asked her about her view of the Bible and its authority.
Don wrote numerous books of theology including two multi-volume sets of dogmatics: Essentials of Evangelical Theology (1982) and Christian Foundations (seven volumes published throughout the 1990s). I read almost everything Bloesch wrote from his early works such as The Evangelical Renaissance (1973) through his Foundations set. One of his best (but neglected) works was The Struggle of Prayer (1988) in which he very gently and kindly took on the contemplative/silent prayer movement.
Don was a staunch defender of biblical orthodoxy among liberals and a strong defender of moderation in all things among conservatives. He called himself a “progressive evangelical” by which he meant that he cautiously and critically used higher criticism (which I never really saw in his works) and was open to revisioning classical doctrines (although he always held the Great Tradition of Christian doctrine as second to the Bible only in terms of authority).
Bloesch was strongly influenced by Karl Barth, but disagreed with Barth over universal salvation (see his Jesus is Victor!). He was also especially influenced by British evangelical writer Peter Taylor Forsyth–largely forgotten by modern evangelicals. Don was an intellectual pietist–a man of profound spirituality and devotion who valued the life of the mind.
I consider Donald Bloesch my personal theological mentor “from afar” even though we did meet and have conversations on several occasions. He mentored me through is books and articles (e.g., in Eternity magazine in the 1970s). I adopted his brand of evangelicalism without, of course, agreeing with him about everything. I believe evangelicalism in America and around the world would be better off if it paid more attention to theologians like Bloesch and less to theologians who make it their special task to ferret out heresies where nobody had noticed them before