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Summary Article: Macquarrie, John (1919-2007) from The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

One of the leading theologians of the 20th century, John Macquarrie developed a Christian existentialist theology that integrated the principles of Martin Heidegger's philosophy into traditional categories of Christian systematic theology. Although he taught at both Union Theological Seminary in New York and Oxford University, his experiences in the local church parish and as a chaplain in World War II convinced him of the deeply human anxieties, doubts, and needs that motivated most people's religious questions. Macquarrie pursued such questions throughout his career, even up through the publication of his last book.

The only child of a devout Presbyterian family, John Macquarrie was born in Renfrew, Scotland. The son of a shipyard worker, Macquarrie attended Paisley Grammar School from 1934-1936. After attending his local secondary school, Macquarrie enrolled in the University of Glasgow, from which he obtained all of his scholarly degrees (MA, BD, Ph.D., D.Litt.). From 1945-1949, he served in the Royal Army Chaplains Department, serving for a time in Egypt and overseeing the pastoral care of German prisoners of war. Toward the end of his service with the Royal Army, he became a parish minister at St. Ninian's Church in Brechin, Scotland (1948-1953). While at St. Ninian's, Macquarrie began working part-time on his Ph.D. under Ian Henderson, a noted authority on New Testament theologian Rudolf Bultmann, whose provocative program of demythologizing the New Testament stirred great debates among scholars and pastors. Macquarrie's experience with German POWs and their discussions of death and anxiety, and his work on Bultmann — whose own work was heavily indebted to Martin Heidegger — drove Macquarrie toward existentialism. In 1953, while he was still working on his dissertation, Macquarrie returned to Glasgow to teach. In 1955, he published his dissertation, An Existentialist Theology: A Comparison of Heidegger and Bultmann, and five years later published a book on Bultmann's critical methods entitled The Scope of Demythologizing: Bultmann and His Critics (1960). Macquarrie's facility in German and his deep grounding in existentialist theology led him to publish in 1963 the first English translation (with Edward Robinson) of Martin Heidegger's principal work, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit, 1927).

After nine years at Glasgow, Macquarrie moved to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he taught from 1962 to 1970. He wrote many of his most influential works in those years, including Principles of Christian Theology (1966; revised 1977), which became a standard classroom text in seminaries, and Twentieth-Century Religious Thought (1963). Principles of Christian Theology develops Macquarrie's existentialist theology. In it he argues that our authority for doing theology is human experience rather than reason or Scripture. Theological language, for Macquarrie, is symbolic rather than literal, thus he describes faith as an individual's response to the graciousness of Being. In 1970, Macquarrie was appointed Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford, where he would remain until his retirement in 1986. Two years before his retirement, Macquarrie delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh. The lectures, published as In Search of Deity: An Essay in Dialectical Theism (1985), challenge classical theism by asserting that the transcendent is at the very heart of human experience, that is, it is immanent. In Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1991) he argues that Jesus was fully human and became a model of a human who responded to God freely and obediently and was raised then by his community to the status of son of God.

After his retirement, Macquarrie remained active, writing on ecumenism in Mary for All Christians (1991) and his own Anglicanism in A Guide to the Sacraments (1997). His books introduced an entire generation to existentialist theology and it provided the groundwork for many later theologies which took human experience as their starting points.

SEE ALSO: Bultmann, Rudolf; Existentialist Theology; Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976)

References and Suggested Readings
  • Long, E. T. (1985). Existence, being, and God: An introduction to the philosophical theology of John Macquarrie. Paragon House New York.
  • Kee, A.; E. T. Long (eds.) (1986). Being and truth: Essays in honour of John Macquarrie. SCM Press London.
  • Macquarrie, J. (1955). An existentialist theology: A comparison of Heidegger and Bultmann. SCM Press London.
  • Macquarrie, J. (1966). Principles of Christian theology. Scribner New York.
  • Macquarrie, J. (1981). Twentieth-century religious thought: The frontiers of philosophy and theo-logy, 1900-1980. Scribner New York.
  • Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
    Wiley ©2012

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