Ryrie shunned the classroom yet became a beloved scholar

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
FBC Jax Pastors' Conference/Screen Shot

DALLAS (Christian Examiner) — For a man who shunned the classroom as a boy, Charles Caldwell Ryrie went on to produce one of the most beloved study Bibles of all time.

Ryrie was born March 2, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri and died Feb. 16, just after midnight, in Dallas, Texas. He was age 90.

The Ryrie Study Bible, the publication which bears his name and is perhaps what Ryrie is best known for, has been translated into at least 21 languages since its release by Moody in 1978, and is available in at least five versions, including the KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB and the ESV.

In the preface of the first edition, he wrote, "The Bible is the greatest of all books; to study it is the noblest of all pursuits; to understand it, the highest of all goals." The Ryrie Study Bible contains over 10,000 explanatory notes and has sold more than 2.6 million copies.

The fifth generation Baptist went on to publish more than 50 more books, teaching systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary before serving as the dean of doctoral studies before his 1983 retirement.

A little known fact about Ryrie's hesitation to attend school surfaced during an interview honoring him as the recipient of the annual Homer G. Lindsay Jr. Lifetime of Ministry Achievement Award in 2012 at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville's annual Pastors' Conference.

Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville, and the former pastor of First Baptist Dallas where Ryrie was a member, in a videotaped interview with his son Trey, asked the Bible scholar and teacher about his early interests.

"Well, my mother had to force me to go to kindergarten," Ryrie chuckled.

For one with such an early suspicion of school, the celebrated professor left St. Louis to attend Haverford College in Pennsylvania, a Quaker school, where he felt a call to ministry after attending a local meeting. From Haverford he went to Dallas Theological Seminary where he earned his a masters and doctorate in theology, and on to the University of Edinburgh where he completed a doctor of philosophy. Ryrie later earned the Litt.D from Liberty University School of Divinity.

In the interview with the Brunsons at his home around table, Ryrie talked about expository preaching based on an exegesis of the Scripture – and why pastors today are more apt to preach topically.

"One reason is that it is hard (to do exegesis)," Ryrie said. "It's just plain hard to dig everything up. It takes less time if you just hit the surface. It takes more time if you are patient and you don't hop, skip and jump all over the place.

"Sometimes we don't even know what true biblical exposition is," Ryrie sighed.

In an email to Christian Examiner from a ship where he is preaching, Mac Brunson said he and his wife Debbie just had dinner with Ryrie a month ago.

"His mind was sharp and his wit sharper," Brunson recalled. "He asked me what was the greatest need in the church and we agreed it was a return to strong, expositional, biblical preaching."

Noting the older man was in "rare form," Brunson said their last words were personal and comforting.

"The Brunsons rejoice through tear-stained eyes that our friend and God's man is now home with the Lord."

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, Dorothy, also shared with Christian Examiner their personal tributes to the revered dispensational scholar.

"Rare is the arrival of a scholar whose abilities of communication are such that at the same time he has the attention of his fellow scholars as well as the common man," said Patterson, who described Ryrie as "God's precious gift to the churches for the teaching of God's Word."

Ryrie was so "thoroughly familiar with the intellectual world, he had the ability to take difficult and profound insights and describe them in such a way that almost anyone could comprehend," mused Patterson. "As I listened to him I often thought that this man could explain Einstein's Theory of Relativity so that even I could understand it.

"Add to that a wry sense of humor and a ready wit, and few ever heard him who did not benefit profoundly," continued Patterson. "We will miss him in the academy, and they will miss him in the worldwide ministries of Word of Life. Farewell honored professor. "

Dorothy Patterson, a professor of theology in women's studies at Southwestern, said there have been few men or women who have impacted her as personally as have "the great theologian and Bible teacher" Charles Ryrie whose works she first encounted during her college years.

A favorite book, Patterson said, outside of the Bible, is Ryrie's What Can a Woman Do in the Church God?

"This volume is a masterpiece of blending historical records with biblical exegesis to present a well-reasoned biblical answers to the burning questions from this generation and those to come," Patterson said. "As I have wrestled with challenging texts of Scripture and examined the legacy to be found in the annals of church history, I have continued to come back to the clear presentation of biblical truth by Charles Ryrie."

Noting his long history of influence on her life, Patterson praised Ryrie's scholarship and leadership, noting she will miss their fellowship even as she grieves one she calls a "great and godly patriarch."

"[Charles Ryrie] has been my teacher through the pages of his books; he has been my instructor through lectures and sermons in the marketplace of ideas; he has been my mentor in answering my questions with patience and precision; he has been my counselor in wrestling with spiritual struggles in the midst of often being among the minority, and thus rejected even my colleagues, when addressing what have become divisive issues within the church," she said.

"May God grant that I be a faithful steward of all he invested in me over these decades," Patterson told Christian Examiner.

Mac Brunson, in the 2012 interview asked Ryrie for the Scripture that was his greatest source of comfort.

Speculating that most people might anticipate his choice would be "Psalms," Ryrie took a deep breath and said, "I got more comfort out of Ephesians, not Psalms," calling the New Testament book "more basic and foundational," although he did not elaborate on his choice.

Responding to Trey Brunson's request to provide one word of advice for young pastors, Ryrie said he had three words – but in a spirited and quick delivery, instead gave three imperatives:

1) "Do your very best to keep out of debt";

2) "When you have a need, trust the Lord to bring the right people across your path at the right time"; and

3) "At every stage of life, be willing, sincerely willing, to do any thing, any time, any where. Period."

Ryrie is survived by his children Elizabeth Ryrie Anthony; son-in-law John, Bruce Caldwell Ryrie; Carolyn Ryrie Howard; and son-in-law Rick, all of Dallas; grandchildren Steven Charles Anthony of Des Moines, Iowa; Matthew Anthony of Lugano, Switzerland; and Claire Howard of Dallas; Brian Howard and Whitney Howard of Dallas; sister-in-law Virginia Ryrie of Alton, Illinois; numerous nieces and nephews; as well as innumerable friends and former students.

Brunson announced Sunday, Feb. 21 he will preach at the memorial service scheduled Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. in the sanctuary of First Baptist Dallas. Memorials to be used for student scholarships may be sent to The Ryrie Foundation, c/o 3310 Fairmount St, Dallas, TX, 75201 or Word of Life Bible Institute, 4200 Glendale Rd, Pottersville, NY 12860-2300.