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Bloesch Underappreciated in His Lifetime, Colleague Says

Gabriel Fackre places late United Church of Christ scholar high among the top evangelical theologians of the twentieth century.

As CT reported last week, prominent evangelical theologian Donald G. Bloesch died on Tuesday in Dubuque, Iowa, where he taught at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary for many years.

Gabriel Fackre, Abbot Professor of Christian Theology Emeritus at Andover Newton Theological School in Andover, Massachusetts, was a longtime friend and colleague of Bloesch.

"I'm deeply saddened," Fackre said. "he was a good friend…I guess it's been about 60 years."

Fackre considers Bloesch "the premier evangelical theologian of the twentieth century, second only to my dear friend Carl Henry."

Fackre cites Christian Foundations, Bloesch's seven-volume systematic theology, as "a unique achievement in American theology, and probably even, in our time, in any theology… No one else has done, as far as I know, a seven-volume series on the basic loci of systematics. So that fact alone marks Don as a major figure in Christian theology in our time."

But Fackre said that Bloesch did not get the recognition he deserved.

"He was not appreciated as he should have been in wider circles," Fackre said. "In that respect, he was a lot like Carl Henry, who never quite got the attention he was due."

Fackre did note, however, that that Bloesch was "very much appreciated" at the Dubuque Seminary and that scholars as diverse as Roman Catholic Cardinal Avery Dulles and Reformed theologian T.F. Torrance paid tribute to Bloesch in the 1999 festschrift volume Evangelical Theology in Transition.

Fackre also recalled Bloesch's work in the renewal movements of mainline Christianity, most especially in Bloesch's own United Church of Christ (UCC). Bloesch drafted the Dubuque Declaration, which became the statement of faith for the Biblical Witness Fellowship, an active renewal organization in the UCC.

"Don was never given the recognition due to him in the UCC because he was a feisty critic of the liberal establishment," Fackre said. "We both were doing our best in the United Church of Christ to call it back to its original ecumenical vision."

When writing about prominent UCC theologians for the denomination's 50th anniversary, Fackre included Bloesch among names like Reinhold Niebuhr and Walter Brueggemann. "He got sort of a kick out of that," Fackre said with a laugh.

Fackre said that Bloesch was "an unconventional evangelical theologian as well as a leading one," noting that Bloesch's fascination with Mariology was a "curious interest" for evangelicals. He also approvingly cited Bloesch's views (consonant with Fackre's own) on the possibility of posthumous salvation for those who have never heard the gospel.

"He had a significant impact, I think, in regard to bringing evangelicals closer to ecumenicals," Fackre said. "In other words, any evangelical theologian who traces his theological lineage to Barth, and P.T. Forsyth, and evangelical catholicity … anyone who is influenced by this kind of what I call ‘ecumenical evangelicalism,' would count Don as a major figure in drawing people into dialogue with the larger Christian community."

Fackre also talked about Bloesch's "very wonderful spouse," Brenda Bloesch, who was "co-worker with Don in everything he did. She will miss him deeply."

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