Macquarrie, John

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Macquarrie, John

Born on June 27, 1919, in Renfrew, Scotland; died of stomach cancer on May 28, 2007, in Oxford, England. Theologian. One of the twentieth-century’s leading theologians, the Rev. Professor John Mac-quarrie wrote more than 30 books developing an accessible theology that combined existentialist philosophy with orthodox Christian thought. In addition to writing, Macquarrie also held several teaching posts in England, Scotland, and the United States. Despite his stature in the church, he continued to speak at village parishes in England.

Macquarrie was born in 1919 in Scotland. His father was a shipyard pattern-maker and an elder in the Presbyterian Church; his grandfather was a native Gaelic speaker. He idolized the local Presbyterian minister who helped spark his interest in philosophy. Macquarrie attended Paisley Grammar School and later Glasgow University. He earned a degree in philosophy and turned to theology. He earned another degree in theology and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in the Church of Scotland, briefly working as an assistant parish minister.

In 1943, Macquarrie joined the British Army and served in the chaplain department until 1948. He became a parish minister but left to earn his doctorate at Glasgow University. He became a lecturer at the university until he joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York, in 1962.

Macquarrie began his literary career in 1955 with the release of An Existentialist Theology, which was a critique of Rudolf Bultman (a German theologian) and philosopher Martin Heidegger. His second release was The Scope of Demythologizing in 1960. Macquarrie’s interest in German existentialist philosophy brought him to translate Heidegger’s Being and Time with Edward Robinson. Also among his writings are Twentieth Century Religious Thought, In Search of Humanity, and Paths in Spirituality.

Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology, (published in 1966) became a classic textbook used in schools around the world. Each of his books explored a wide variety of subjects including the nature of God, human spirituality, and the potential for change and transformation. N. K. Bruger wrote in the New York Times in a 1972 review of Paths in Spirituality, “Unlike some modern theologians, John Macquarrie writes about God as though he believes in him.” Not one to cater to typical doctrine, Mac-quarrie appreciated the broad spectrum of Christian thought. He held a belief that other religions do reveal the ultimate truth. Many felt that this view was heretical. He felt that in order to dispute heresy the Church needed to prove it had the better theology.

During his time in New York, Macquarrie was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He was attracted to the Catholic element that was in the Church. He then moved to England and became the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and also canon of Christ Church Cathedral. He was a sought-after lecturer but continued to preach at local parishes. According to the New York Times, Dr. William L. Sachs, an Episcopal associate rector, likened hearing Macquarrie’s lecture to “listening to a fine, fine Beethoven symphony.” Macquarrie was also a priest associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. He was the first to lecture on theology at the University of Beijing and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

Macquarrie retired in 1986 but continued to lecture and write. In 2006, a volume of 25 essays was presented as a tribute to Macquarrie for working with publisher SCM Press for 50 years. On May 28, 2007, Macquarrie died of stomach cancer in Oxford, England. He was 87. He is survived by his wife of more than 55 years, Jenny, three children, and two grandchildren. Sources: Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2007, p. B7; New York Times, June 3, 2007, p. A29; Times (London), June 1, 2007, p. 80; Washington Post, June 11, 2007, p. B6.

—Ashyia N. Henderson