Over the past year the church has lost several faithful pastors and theologians who have helped shape evangelicals both in America and throughout the world. Here are four men who died this year who were particularly influential on evangelicalism.
James Earl Massey
James Earl Massey died on June 24 at the age of 88. Massey (DD, AM, BTh) was ordained in the Church of God in 1951. He served as senior pastor of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit, Michigan, from 1954 to 1976, principal of the Jamaica School of Theology from 1963 to 1966, a speaker at CBH (Christians Broadcasting Hope, then Christian Brotherhood Hour) from 1977 to 1982, a campus minister, professor, and dean at the Anderson School of Theology from 1969 until 1995, and a professor and dean at Tuskegee University from 1984 to 1989.
“James Earl Massey was different than any other radio preacher I had ever heard,” said Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School. “His diction was perfect, his command of the English language was superb, and his style was lively and compelling, though never marked by ostentation. He also had a way of getting on the inside of a biblical text, of unraveling it, so to speak, not the way a botanist would study a leaf in a laboratory, but like a great singer offering a distinctive rendition of a famous song.”
Massey authored 18 books, including three textbooks on preaching, and was a research scholar for the Christianity Today Institute.
David J. Hesselgrave
David J. Hesselgrave died on May 21 at the age of 94. Hesselgrave (PhD, MA, BA) spent five years in pastoral ministry before working for 12 years as a missionary with the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) in Japan. He taught for three years at the University of Minnesota before coming to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he served for 14 years as the chairman of the mission and evangelism department. He also taught at Evangelical Theological College in Hong Kong and Asian Theological Seminary in Manilla.
“If you are an evangelical missiologist, you have been influenced by David Hesselgrave,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center. “David was a thought-leader in every sense of the term. Look over the curriculum in almost any missions department here in North America and beyond and you will likely find David Hesselgrave’s works still as foundational texts in courses. Nearly every serious missiologist I know today is indebted to David’s courageous and cutting-edge deep dive into how to engage cultures well.”
Eugene Peterson died on October 2 at the age of 85. Peterson (MA, STB, BA) became the founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bel Air, Maryland in 1962, and served there for 29 years before retiring in 1991. He also served as the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 1992 to 1998. After retiring he began writing and publishing the Gold Medallion Book Award winner The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, a paraphrase of the entire Bible.
“Christ plays in ten thousand places, so Peterson tried to preach and write in ten thousand ways,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and TGC Council member. “He played as he worked, with the joy of a Christ-soaked imagination. And, through it all, he pointed to the one sermon behind all the books and essays and messages and translations and memoirs: ‘Here he is! God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about’ (John 1:29, The Message).”
Billy Graham died on February 21 at the age of 99. Graham (BA) was ordained to ministry by a Southern Baptist church in 1939. He pastored a church in Western Springs, Illinois, before joining Youth for Christ, an organization founded for ministry to youth and servicemen during World War II. In 1947, at age 30, he was hired as president of Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota—at the time, the youngest person to serve as a sitting president of any U.S. college or university. After the war he also preached throughout the United States and in Europe and became one of the most well-known evangelist of the era. Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in 1950, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, until relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2003.
“Throughout his 99 years sojourning planet earth, Graham galvanized believers, rallied evangelical Christians, and humbly pointed them to Jesus,” said Greg Thornbury, chancellor of The King’s College. “He wanted them to be saved. And that’s all he wanted. When he stood before a stadium of thousands and preached ‘The Bible says . . .’ we believed him. We still believe.”
See also: 9 Things You Should Know About Billy Graham (1918–2018); An Interview with Mark Noll and George Marsden on Billy Graham; Leadership Lessons from Billy Graham; Billy Graham at 99: A Look Back at the Evangelist and the Presidents (From Truman to Trump); America’s Pastor