“For over thirty years, Ray Anderson has been quietly writing a body of work that is remarkable in its ability to awaken both theology and the church to a theology that actually intersects with the ministry of the church and a view of ministry that dwells in a deep place of reflection… Donald Mackinnon, the noted Cambridge theologian who has received new interest in recent years, spoke of [his] ‘nervous, restless quality’ …”
–Christian D. Kettler, Friends University
The American pastor and theologian Ray Anderson died on Sunday, Father’s Day. The above quote comes from an obituary that you will find at Ben Myers’ blog “Faith and Theology”. I urge you to read it.
I first came across Ray Anderson four years into my own ministry, when I bought a book of his on spec called Theology, Death and Dying (1986). As a young minister confronting the in-your-face realities of death and dying, I found myself starving on a diet of the work of Colin Murray Parks and Elizabeth Kübler Ross - and even C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed - that we had been fed as ordinands. Those were the days of the church’s Counselling Captivity, from which we are just beginning to escape. Blow the psychology, I thought, I need some theology here, and something thick and filling, not the usual pastoral platitudes - grief can’t manage on gruel. Drawing on Barth, Jüngel, Rahner, Thielicke, and T. F.Torrance, Ray Anderson fed me with the bread of life.
Over the last couple of years I have met Ray electronically at “Faith and Theology”, and he has continued to nourish my soul, both in his posts and in the exchange of comments. When I was looking for some “name” theologians to do some blurbs for my book, Ben actually suggested Ray, were it not for the fact that he had heard that Ray was quite ill … Meanwhile I have bought and read his Historical Transcendence and the Reality of God (1975) and The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God’s People (1997), while On Being Human: Essays in Theological Anthropology (1982) is in my in-tray. I have just moved it to the top of the pile.
Here is an excerpt from The Soul of Ministry (pp. 12-13). I think it is nicely expressive of Ray’s restlessness.
“When truth is pushed to the point of absurdity, it becomes foolishness.
“Theology that cannot stand the ‘absurdity test’ is likely to be a poor theology, if not a dangerous theology. I once participated in a debate sponsored by college students over the issue of divorce and remarriage. My counterpart in the debate argued his position strongly. It was absolutely impossible to permit the remarriage of a divorced person on the grounds that Jesus forbid it in his teaching….
“My argument that the actions of Jesus were as authoritative as his teaching did not cause him to waver. Finally, a student raised his hand and asked: Professor, you say that the sin of divorce, while it can be forgiven, allows for no remarriage; is that correct?’ The answer was yes. ‘Then is it not also true that in the case of the death of one’s spouse the surviving spouse could remarry, as that would not violate the teaching of Jesus?’ Again, the response was affirmative. I quickly saw where the good professor was being led, and remained silent as the lamb was led to slaughter!
“‘Then what about this,’ the student asked, ‘in Bakersfield there was a pastor who became angry with his wife and shot and killed her. When he gets out of prison, is he now free to remarry, seeing that instead of divorcing his wife he killed her?’
“It was too late. The branch had been sawed off, and the professor, consistent with his formal logic to the end, had to admit that, ‘yes, this man could remarry!’ The laughter of the students over the absurdity of this case reduced his agument to folly in their eyes. He, of course, expressing deep discomfort over the logical outcome of his position, remained unmoved.
“What is my point? It was the ministry of Jesus, not merely his teaching, that revealed the character and purpose of God. Over and over again, Jesus appealed to his listeners to practice discernment in evaluating his ministry.
“‘What do you think?’ was a favorite gambit of Jesus.”
And of Ray too. May he rest - restlessly - in peace.