A Memorial to Christian Theologian Desmond Ford

shutterstock_1062579482One of my favorite contemporary Christian theologians, Dr. Desmond Ford (1929–2019), died recently. He was an Australian evangelical theologian with deep roots in the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) theological tradition. He was educated at both Michigan State and Manchester Universities, where he earned dual doctorates in New Testament studies. At Manchester, he studied under the eminent New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce. Ford had a long, distinguished career and ministry.

Born in Queensland, Australia, Desmond Ford pastored various churches and served as an evangelist in his home country. He was a professor of religion at two Adventist schools: Avondale College (Australia) and Pacific Union College (USA). He was dismissed as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and theologian in 1980 when he challenged one of the denomination’s controversial eschatological doctrines (the investigative judgment, which asserts that the divine judgment of professed Christians has been in progress since 1844) as being, in his view, inconsistent with the gospel.1 He later established a nondenominational evangelical ministry, Good News Unlimited, that was first located in the USA and later moved to Australia.

Having served as a teacher, minister, and theologian for more than sixty years, Ford’s specific fields of theological focus included apocalypticism and eschatology (the end times literature of the Bible, including the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation). He was also a prolific author. Among his thirty books include The Investigative Judgement and the Everlasting GospelRight with God Right Now: A Commentary on the Book of Romansand The Forgotten Day: A Study of the New Testament Sabbath. An avid vegetarian and committed jogger, Ford also gave lectures and wrote books on living a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise).

I first heard Desmond Ford speak at Walter Martin’s Bible class in Southern California in the mid-1980s. He was an amazing preacher and he presented the doctrine of justification by faith with such clarity, passion, and insight that I thought I was listening to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. I later got to know Des when I worked for Martin at the Christian Research Institute in the late 1980s. Ford was solidly evangelical on the doctrine of justification by faith. Yet he also championed certain doctrines that are associated with the Adventist theological tradition, such as Seventh-day Sabbath-keeping and conditional immortalityannihilationism.2

Though we differed on some important areas of theology, Des was a good friend who always had an encouraging word for me when I was early on in my apologetics ministry. He read some of my articles on Seventh-day Adventism3 and offered instructive, encouraging feedback. He was a Christian gentleman of unique scholarship, devotion, and courage. I also got to know Des’s wife, Gillian, to whom I extend my sincerest condolences.

Desmond Ford has now gone to be with the Lord he loved and served. But I miss my friend and early mentor in the study of theology and apologetics. May he now rest in peace with Christ and rise in glory!

Reflections: Your Turn 

Have you read any of Desmond Ford’s books or heard him speak? Do you have a favorite Christian author or speaker who has significantly influenced you? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes

  1. For more about Seventh-day Adventism’s relationship to evangelicalism, including the Desmond Ford controversy, see Kenneth Richard Samples, “From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day Adventism,” Christian Research Institute (September 6, 1993), https://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0005b.html.
  2. Samples, “From Controversy to Crisis.”
  3. For more about my theological reflections on Seventh-day Adventism, see Kenneth Richard Samples, “Evangelical Reflections on Seventh-day Adventism: Yesterday and Today,” Andrews University (October 25, 2007), https://qod.andrews.edu/docs/08_kenneth_samples.pdf.

  One thought on “A Memorial to Christian Theologian Desmond Ford

  1. jamesbradfordpate
    March 19, 2019 at 9:47 am

    I read the Forgotten Day, Daniel, and his dissertation about the Abomination of Desolation. I also subscribed to his Good News Unlimited magazine, and I loved its emphasis on grace. When I was a child, my family sometimes attended a small seventh-day fellowship, and the facilitator there played videos of Dr. Ford’s sermons, lectures, and Q and A sessions. That facilitator exposed us to the tapes in which you, Dr. Martin, and Dr. Ford had a seminar together on Seventh-Day Adventism. My Dad was recently moving, and he was going through his old stuff to see what to keep. He still found those tapes to be worth hearing. I hope, sometime in the future, to read Dr. Ford’s two-volume commentary on Revelation, entitled Crisis.

    • March 20, 2019 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks for your comments, James.

      Des Ford was a unique Christian scholar and gentleman.

      I miss him.

      Ken Samples

  2. jamesbradfordpate
    March 19, 2019 at 9:47 am

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  3. Crystal Wilson
    March 19, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Dr. Ford was a brilliant theologian. His insights into God’s Word have changed my life. He made the Gospel real to me and through reading his writings and watching video presentations, I have grown so much in my faith. The world is a darker place now that he is no longer it. I look forward to seeing him on resurrection morning.

    I guess if I had to recommend just one of his books it would be “Right With God Right Now”. Of course, all of his writings are eye opening.

    • March 20, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      Well said, Crystal.

      I’ll miss my friend and mentor Dr. Ford.

      Ken Samples

  4. Larry Christoffel
    March 20, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    I want to thank you, Ken, for your memorial of Des Ford that presents him for being the great evangelical thinker and witness that he was. In recent decades, no one has had more impact on Seventh-day Adventism than Dr. Desmond Ford in his insistence of the Biblical Pauline Gospel of Justification by Faith in Jesus and in His Atoning Sacrifice for our sins. He has also pressed us to maintain the sola Scriptura principle in every area of faith and practice. Des Ford was a champion of what I would call Evangelical Adventism that espouses the same central values. I consider myself to be of the same stream of Seventh-day Adventism. It is one in line with Luther and Calvin and Wesley and the other champions of the Protestant Reformation.
    In addition, may I say that you, Ken Samples, have played an important and permanent role in defining Evangelical Adventism along with Walter Martin through your extensive interviews of Adventist thought leaders, your research of our history and your significant articles and books.
    Des Ford’s legacy is permanent for both Seventh-day Adventism and also for the church universal. His wife, Gillian, has also stood by his side as a champion in her own right as a theologian and thinker. Rest in the Lord to Des and comfort to his beloved companion!
    Pastor Larry Christoffel

    • March 20, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Good to hear from you, Larry.

      Des Ford was a unique Christian scholar and gentleman.

      We’ll all miss him.

      Thanks to you, Larry Christoffel, for representing so well a true evangelical version of Adventism.

      My best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

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