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A Tribute to Dr. Ryrie

On Tuesday February 16, we received the news that Dr. Charles Ryrie had died in his sleep at the age of 90. As a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) for over 20 years, his great gift was to teach theology simply; he defined terms as clearly as possible and then gave Scriptural support for the various aspects of theology. He was my professor for several courses, and I remember having to memorize what he called “key passages” for the various doctrines, so that we could justify our convictions from the Scriptures. He also was an encouragement to me personally, and was one of the readers for my Th.M. dissertation.

When I think of Dr. Ryrie, the issue that is foremost in my mind is his conviction that the only requirement for salvation was to believe the gospel. He disagreed with John MacArthur’s book The Gospel According to Jesus, in which MacArthur emphasized that it was necessary to “make Christ the Lord of your life” in order to be saved. Ryrie believed that even mature Christians did not always know whether Christ was totally the Lord of their lives!

Ryrie argued that, if improperly presented, Lordship Salvation could give the impression that we had to attain a certain level of commitment in order to be saved; he said that it smacked of “works salvation.” After all, it appeared as though MacArthur was saying that sinners had to be willing to “count the cost” and give up a great deal to accept the gospel. This, Ryrie thought, confused salvation with discipleship. After conversion we become disciples who “count the cost,” but this is not a requirement of salvation. It is not about what we can do, but simply accepting what Christ has done.

In response to MacArthur’s book, Ryrie published So Great Salvation, which argued for the free offer of the gospel to sinners. I suspect that many of his students, like myself, have found a happy balance between the two views; but in the minds of MacArthur and Ryrie, their disagreement was clear.
Of course, many will remember Ryrie for his book Dispensationalism Today, which presented an updated view of dispensational theology and became a textbook for many students in schools and seminaries around the country. Countless others will remember him for The Ryrie Study Bible, with its more than 10,000 notes that helped them study the text of Scripture more effectively.

I admired Dr. Ryrie for consistently living out what he taught. He believed that the Bible did not allow for divorce under any circumstances, so when his wife divorced him in 1987, he was heartbroken but determined to live the rest of his life as a single man. For him, remarriage was out of the question; in his mind his wife’s divorce and subsequent remarriage did not break the marriage bond. Right or wrong, he lived what he believed the Scriptures taught.

My last recollection of Dr. Ryrie was when he spoke at Moody Bible Institute a few years ago for the installation of Dr. Paul Nyquist as MBI President. We exchanged a few remarks, and now in his mid-eighties with age beginning to take its toll, he looked at me with a smile and said, “Do I look as old as you do?” We laughed and reminisced briefly about his days at DTS. As he stood up to speak, everyone was expecting an admonition about the importance of theology, but he surprised us with a message that was lighthearted and folksy. What I remember best was his admonition to “Keep out of debt and have some fun.”

For him the real “fun” has begun, in a place where theology will be clarified, all disagreements will vanish, and arguments about the nature of the tribulation period will be no more. At last we will all agree about Calvinism, dispensationalism, and the Millennium. Needless to say, every one of us will have to adjust our theology in the presence of the Lord our God, and will be pleased if we hear, “Well done!”

I think Charles Ryrie has already heard those words.

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