(There are pictures and other details in the post below this one.)
Lecture Explores Life and Legacy of George Eldon Ladd
“Whatever else George Eldon Ladd accomplished or attempted . . . he led the way for later generations of evangelical students to use critical methods in their study of the Bible, and this was an enormous achievement.” Thus said John A. D’Elia, senior minister of The American Church in London, in a lecture he delivered at Fuller Thursday evening, May 1, on the legacy of former Fuller faculty member George Eldon Ladd. D’Elia, who has studied Ladd’s life extensively, spoke from his just-released book, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America (Oxford). Inaugural copies of the book were on hand at the lecture, one in a series of events commemorating Fuller Seminary’s 60th anniversary year.
George Eldon Ladd, who served on Fuller’s faculty from 1950 to 1980, was one of the most important authors in the evangelical scholarly resurgence of the mid-twentieth century, D’Elia began, and “he spent his life trying to accomplish one goal: rehabilitating evangelical scholarship—and evangelicalism itself—in both content and image.” He strived to do this, D’Elia explained, in two ways: first by “raising the level of discourse within evangelicalism—to improve the quality of its scholarly content,” and secondly in external image, by working “for evangelical scholars to be accepted as equals in the best institutions and societies.”
D’Elia offered examples of Ladd’s work in these areas, including his influential speech “Renaissance and Evangelism,” which called conservative evangelicals “to understand their beliefs in a deeper way, to demonstrate Christian love to each other more consistently and meaningfully, and to strive to understand the nature of the church in such a way that they didn’t damage each other into cultural impotence.” Ladd also, D’Elia explained, contributed substantially to the development of Fuller Seminary “into a place that remains a flagship institution of progressive evangelicalism”—and was the encouraging voice behind many doctoral students who went on to become notable evangelical scholars themselves.
Yet Ladd’s life and work took a tragic turn, D’Elia recounted, when his 1965 book Jesus and the Kingdom—his life’s “magnum opus”—received a scathing review from theologian and critic Norman Perrin, attacking both Ladd’s methodology and conclusions. “It is no exaggeration to say that this was the turning point for Ladd’s life and career,” stated D’Elia, and “the last 15 years of Ladd’s life, while giving the appearance of being productive, saw the man tumble through a process of emotional, physical and spiritual disintegration.”
Despite this tragedy, however, Ladd’s contributions to both Fuller and the larger evangelical world were powerful and enduring, D’Elia emphasized in conclusion. “His call to evangelicals to demonstrate intellectual excellence in all fields, to show Christian love for each other, and to cultivate a healthy understanding of what the church should be and do, remains an important lesson for all of us.”
D’Elia’s lecture was followed by commentary from three former students of Ladd: alumnus and theologian David Wallace, and Fuller faculty members Marianne Meye Thompson and James E. Bradley.
D’Elia, who is former director of development in Fuller’s School of Theology, holds an MDiv and ThM in Church History from Fuller and a PhD in History from the University of Stirling in Scotland