A Great Loss and a Great Gift
Jun 26, 2009 by Don Payne | 3 Comments
This morning I was informed that Dr. Ray S. Anderson, long time professor of theology and ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, passed away two days ago. The blogosphere is rapidly filling with tributes to this unusual, provocative, and incredibly influential evangelical theologian. I must add my own.
My students and colleagues enjoy teasing me about my "devotion" to Ray Anderson. Yes, I use his writings as required texts and have given away numerous copies of his books to others. I also confess to playing the "Ray Anderson card" probably more than is fashionable in academic circles where too many references to another person's work suggests a narrow neophyte; mea culpa. Despite whatever theological idiosyncracies Dr. Anderson possessed, his way of doing theology and his modeling of the pastor-theologian have had indescribable impact on me. I will forever be in his debt and grateful to God on his behalf.
I first came across his name in the mid-late 1980s through a pair of articles he wrote for the TSF Bulletin where he argued for the resurrection as a hermeneutical criterion. I had never seen evangelical theology done like this, didn't really know what to make of it, but knew that there was something there worth a lot of probing. I have come back to that pair of articles several times in the years since. Through them Ray Anderson started me on a lifegiving theological journey.
In 1991 a Fuller Seminary D.Min. student resurfaced his name and gave me a book entitled The Praxis of Pentecost, a pre-publication manuscript of what IVP later picked up and titled Ministry on the Fireline. Reading it was probably the first time I ever fell to my knees in worship while reading a book of challenging theology.
Early in my own pastoral ministry experience, when facing some daunting challenges and questions, I dared to write to Ray Anderson though I had not personally studied under him or even met him. I was stunned when he wrote back quickly, speaking to my questions with personal warmth and more than perfunctory answers. He took me very seriously and gave wise, theologically-informed pastoral counsel. I still have all the letters and emails he sent to me.
That inflamed my quest to grapple with this man's supple and inquisitive theological mind. His books On Being Human, On Being Family (with Dennis Guernsey), Historical Transcendence and the Reality of God, Living the Spiritually Balanced Life, and Unspoken Wisdom have been among the most influential volumes of my life. Rarely has someone written so powerfully across the spectrum, from intense and probing scholarship to earthy wisdom. I will never forget sitting in my office as a young pastor, reading the stories of his upbringing and alternating between laughing out loud and sobbing almost uncontrolably. He could touch places in my soul I did not even know needed healing.
In 1996 (I think) I had the delight of meeting Ray. A friend and I attended Sunday morning worship at the little church he pastored. They met in an elementary school multi-purpose room. Most of the folks there were quite elderly; an unusual sight in a rented school facility. Ray was kind enough to let us take him to lunch rather spontaneously. He gave me some good feedback as I was trying to find a Ph.D. program and topic. Afterward, my friend took our picture together then secretly sent it to Ray to sign. It's now framed and hanging in my home; a treasured momento of sacred time with a mentor.
I could go on, but others who knew him better have already covered the territory in their own tributes. [http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2009/06/ray-s-anderson-1925-2009.html] Suffice it to say that I my life, relationships and connection to God, as well as my theology, are vastly different and better because of Ray Sherman Anderson. Yes, there were times when I thought, "OK, Ray, you've gone too far now. I just don't buy that." Yet, over time I would often come to place of saying, "Well, who knows? You might be right." At any rate, topics like the Incarnation and grace came alive to me like never before through his theological provocations.
Ray wrote candidly and theologically about the subject of death. If my facts are correct, one of his reflections was about the grave plot that he had prepared for himself next to his parents in S. Dakota. I suppose that is where he will lie in anticipation of the resurrection. His passing is sad for so many like myself. Yet, I think all of us share an unusual comfort because the path he took to that resting place has been so carefully and richly paved with a theology worth both living for and dying for. My own anticipation of that Day is now heightened.
Thanks, Lord, for the gift of Dr. Ray S. Anderson.