Gordon Kaufman, R.I.P.

Ted Grimsrud—July 24, 2011

Gordon Kaufman, a giant among 20th century Christian theologians, died at his home in Cambridge, MA, this past Friday. Kaufman, an emeritus professor at Harvard Divinity School, was 86.

Kaufman was well known in theology circles as a theological liberal (he’s featured prominently in Gary Dorrien’s authoritative history of liberal theology in the U.S.). Not so well known, he was also a Mennonite. His father, E.G. Kaufman (also a theologian) was long-time president of Bethel College, a Mennonite school in Kansas.

Gordon was a conscientious objector during World War II, serving in Civilian Public Service. After graduating from Bethel, he went on to graduate studies at the University of Chicago and Yale Divinity School. One of his main teachers was H.Richard Niebuhr. After completing his doctorate, he taught at Pomona College in southern California for a few years. At that time he was ordained for the ministry in the General Conference Mennonite Church, an ordination he kept current the rest of his life. He moved on to Vanderbilt Divinity School and in 1963 joined the faculty at Harvard Divinity School, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Beginning in 1960, Gordon published a series of important theology books, most notably his In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology (Harvard University Press, 1993) which won an American Academy of Religion award of excellence in 1995. He kept writing well into his retirement years. His last book was Jesus And Creativity"" (Fortress Press, 2006). Continue reading “Gordon Kaufman, R.I.P.”