Donald Bloesch, RIP.

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(Tim) If erudition's your thing, the late Donald Bloesch was your man. Seminary professor, denominational prophet to his own and President Barack Obama's United Church of Christ (which he referred to as "Unitarians Considering Christ"); and theologian; Don was bonkers prolific. He never seemed to stop writing. Speaking personally, though, Don was a dear friend who taught me much about how to work for reform within the church and how to apply the truths of God's Word to this present evil day.

Which is ironic when you stop to consider Bloesch held to classic Neo-Orthodoxy--particularly its denial of the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture. Once I tried to talk Don into delaying writing the volume of his systematic theology dealing with revelation until he'd gotten older and thought better of his commitments. Of course, I failed, but the disagreement didn't end our friendship. Don understood my concern and didn't resent my attempt to keep him from the publication of his errors. (And of course, it was IVP that printed those errors. IVP has long been in thrall to the Academy, leaving far behind its earlier foundation on the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture.)

Speaking of his view of Scripture, one night Mary Lee and I were having dinner with about five other guests at Don and Brenda's home in Dubuque. Brenda had served a wonderful meal and we were gathered in their living room for conversation, afterward. There were books here, there, and everywhere. Don sat in the middle of the couch and on the coffee table at his knees was Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which at the time was a runner-up to Clark's Man and Woman in Christ for the best book in print on the Biblical doctrine of sexuality.

Pointing to the book I asked Don if he'd read it? He said it was on his list but he hadn't gotten to it, yet. Brenda inserted that she'd been trying to get him to read it for some time, but failed. (She held the Ph.D. in French Lit and, given their childlessness, served as Don's full-time assistant in all his writing and speaking endeavors.)

With the subject broached, I asked Don what he thought of woman officers in the church?

He responded that...

he wasn't opposed; he thought women could be pastors and elders.

So I quoted 1Timothy 2: "What do you do with what Paul says in 1Timothy: "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:12,13)?

He responded, "Well, you have to understand the cutlural context Paul was writing to."

"Oh, the old cutural argument," I said.

"No," he said, "not 'the old cultural argument.' You have to know the context for 1Timothy 2 to understand what it means." (He didn't say "sitz im leben." Don was no pedant.)

"So what was the culture of the time like?" I asked. And Don spent five or ten minutes speaking a monograph on the Roman Empire's infatuation with androgyny, the growing power of women, the prevalence of gross sexual perversions, and the likelihood women were beginning to take over the leadership of the church in Ephesus. There were few things Don did better than to describe and make application of the context of this or that Biblical Epistle. He was a walking breathing William Ramsey.

When he'd finished his summary, I interjected, "It sounds a lot like today, doesn't it?" I wasn't being sneaky, but only stating the obvious.

"Well yes, as a matter of fact, it's just like today," he agreed. At which time all of us save Brenda began to chuckle.

Don got a quizzical look on his face and wondered aloud why we were laughing?

"Well, if it's just like today, why don't Paul's commands apply today just like they applied to the church in Ephesus?" I answered.

"Oh, yes. Well that's why I'm beginning to think we need to implement these commands again in the church of our time," he said.

And then it was silent. I mean, what exactly was I or anyone else to say at that point?

  • You can't apply Paul's command that woman not teach or exercise authority over man today because when Paul wrote it, he was dealing with a particular cultural context (with the implication that the Ephesian context was very different from our own).
  • You have to understand that Ephesian context to know how you should apply Paul's command today.
  • That Ephesian cultural context, particularly with regard to sexuality, is identical to our own context.
  • It may again be time to obey Paul's command that woman not teach or exercise authority over man.

I'm sure all of us, including Don and Brenda, felt somewhat as if we'd just been ushered into the twilight zone.

And yet.

I had the highest respect for Don and Brenda Bloesch. Don was a faithful warrior for the unborn; a zealot for the reform of the church; one of the most perceptive and prophetic witnesses against feminism I've ever known in the church, today; and a generous and kind lover of the people of God.

We will miss him.

In tribute, two quotes that have been foundational to my pastoral work, followed by the DuPage Declaration.

In the face of mounting secularization, the church must take a stand for both the purity of the faith and the crying needs of humanity. It must address itself to the threat of heresy from within as well as to pressing social evils. The culture will not listen to a church that is unsure of its own witness, that is willing to compromise its integrity. The church will never master the world until it breaks with the confusion and vacillation that reign in the world.

The sword of the gospel must first cut into the church before it can cut into the world.

What the church needs today is...people who will stand firm for the faith even at the risk of losing life, possessions, and respectability. (pp. 115, 107, 92 in Crumbling Foundations, 1984)

DuPage Declaration: A Call to Biblical Fidelity

Preamble

We evangelical renewal leaders from North American mainline churches gathered at Wheaton in DuPage County, Illinois, March 19th and 20th, 1990, express our concern for the church of Jesus Christ in its drift away from the evangelical faith. What is needed, we believe, is a genuine revival rooted in the Word of God.  We, therefore, present this declaration: A Call to Biblical Fidelity.

This declaration represents our understanding of theological and moral issues that are now in dispute in our churches. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of church doctrines and concerns.

It is offered in the spirit of Christ, our Savior and Judge, who calls each of us to confess our complicity in private and public sin: "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God" (1 Peter 4:17, NIV; cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-5). We resolve to serve Him with total fidelity and obedience to His Word.

Declaration

I
We affirm the Trinitarian name of God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We deny that these designations are mere metaphors drawn from the cultural experience of the past and may therefore be replaced by new symbols reflecting the cultural ethos of today.

II
We affirm that God has revealed Himself fully and decisively in Jesus Christ as attested in Holy Scripture.

We deny that there are other revelations in nature or history that fulfill or complete this one revelation of God.

III
We affirm that there is only one way to salvation--God's way to us in Jesus Christ, which is apprehended by faith alone through God's grace.

We deny that other religions are pathways to salvation, or that one can be in a right relationship with God apart from repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

IV
We affirm that Jesus Christ is God incarnate in human flesh, fully human and fully divine, different from all other human beings in kind, not simply in degree.

We deny that Jesus Christ is essentially the flower of humanity, a spiritual master, a paradigm of what all human beings can become.

V
We affirm that Holy Scripture is the written Word of God, the uniquely inspired testimony to God's self-disclosure in the history of biblical Israel culminating in Jesus Christ. The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments take precedence over experience, tradition and reason and are therefore our infallible standard for faith and practice. 

We deny that Holy Scripture is a merely human document that records the religious experiences of a past people, that it is only an aid in understanding our experiences in the present rather than a rule that is used by the Spirit of God to direct the people of God in every age.

VI
We affirm the biblical guidelines for human sexuality: chastity outside of marriage, lifelong fidelity and holiness in marriage, and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.

We deny that premarital or extramarital relations, trial marriages, cohabitation outside of marriage, homosexual relations and so-called homosexual unions, can ever be in genuine accord with the will and purpose of God for his people.

VII
We affirm the sanctity of human life at every stage based on our creation in the image of God and our election by God for service in his kingdom.

We deny, for example, that the personal choice of either parent takes precedence over the right of the unborn child to life in the service of God's glory. We deplore the continuing traffic of abortion as the slaughter of innocents, which can only be an abomination in the sight of God.

VIII
We affirm that the mission of the church is to spread the good news of salvation by word and deed to a lost and despairing humanity. This mission to proclaim the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to all nations calls people of faith to discipleship and obedience in the pursuit of personal and social holiness. We further affirm that the fruit of the gospel proclamation is justice, mercy and peace.

We deny that the mission of the church is the self-development of exploited peoples or the political liberation of oppressed peoples.

We invite pastors and lay people from the Body of Christ to join us in affirming this declaration.

Original Signatories:

Timothy Bayly
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Donald G. Bloesch
United Church of Christ

Richard M. Bowman
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Ray Bringham
Church of God, Anderson

J. Robert Campbell
Presbyterian Church (USA)

James V. Heidinger II
United Methodist Church

David M. Higbee
Independent Evangelical

Paul D. Johnston
Presbyterian Church (USA)

James Mark Kushiner
Independent Evangelical

Brad Long
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Richard Lovelace
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Betty Moore
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Kevin Perrotta
Roman Catholic

Kevin D. Ray
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Gerald M. Sanders
United Church of Christ

Vernon Stoop, Jr.
United Church of Christ

Matthew J. Welde
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Armand L. Weller
United Church of Christ

Waldo Werning
Lutheran

Todd Wetzel
Episcopal Church

Parker Williamson
Presbyterian Church (USA