Charles C. Ryrie, a scholar whose name abounds on Ryrie Study Bible editions with more than 2.6 million in print in multiple languages, died Feb. 16 in Dallas at age 90.
Known for his end-times theology of dispensationalism, Ryrie was a longtime systematic theology professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a longtime member of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Dallas.
At FBC Dallas, Ryrie became close friends with the current pastor, Robert Jeffress, and his predecessors at First Baptist, O.S. Hawkins and Mac Brunson.
Hawkins, now president of the Southern Baptist Convention's GuideStone Financial Resources who served at FBC from 1993-97, said in comments to Baptist Press (BP): “If ever there lived a man whose life was immersed in the Bible it was Charles Ryrie. This is evident not only in the legacy he left in the Ryrie Study Bible, his amazing collection of rare and antique Bibles and books, but his passion to never stop studying even into his ninth decade of life.
“What many do not know,” Hawkins noted, “is that he was a great churchman” who attended regularly.
“He was a mentor and compassionate counselor to me personally,” Hawkins said, “and I already miss our frequent visits and fellowship. I can still hear him say, '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.'“
Brunson, pastor of FBC Dallas from 1999-2006 and now pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said Ryrie “will be remembered as one of the great theologians of the 20th century. He was a tremendous synthesizer of text and theology, making it so plain anyone could understand. His study Bible stands alongside the work of Scofield and Dabney.
“The older he grew, the more he attracted younger men who were eager to sit at his feet,” Brunson said. “He was brilliant, sharp-witted and genuinely humble, and a dear friend to those who knew him.”
Jeffress was unavailable for comment Feb. 17.
Ryrie joined FBC when he was a DTS student from the mid- to late 1940s and the late W.A. Criswell was the church's new pastor, ultimately serving there 50-plus years.
A seminary tribute to Ryrie stated that the professor and Criswell became friends and that Ryrie “regularly taught a Sunday School class there and enjoyed a long-term relationship with the church.”
The Ryrie Study Bible, with the DTS professor's 10,000–plus explanatory notes, used the King James Version when it was first published in 1978. It is now also available in New American Standard Bible and English Standard Version translations.
The DTS tribute to Ryrie quoted the Bible scholar's reflections on his way of writing: “When I was working on the study Bible, I thought of people in home Bible classes, and I would sometimes ask, 'Would they want a note on this verse or an explanation of this doctrine? Simply?' These people were my make-believe audience.
“Actually, they weren't make-believe, they were real people,” Ryrie continued. “On the human side, I think [the ability to be concise] is because off and on through the years, I've taught children. If you want to advise your writers to write more clearly, tell them to go host a Good News Club somewhere, and teach it.”
In addition to the study Bible, Ryrie wrote more than 50 books. During his time at DTS, he also served as dean of doctoral students for more than 20 years before retiring in 1983.
Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and coauthor of the 2000 book Progressive Dispensationalism with DTS New Testament professor Darrell Bock, noted in written comments to BP that Ryrie, in his book Dispensationalism Today, released in 1965, “defined dispensationalism for the generations of dispensational scholars who took their training in the ’60s through the ’80s, and it is still quite influential today. … Most importantly, it provided a clear, concise definition of dispensationalism that focused upon the essence of the system as he saw it.”
Ryrie's view of dispensationalism, Blaising said, “was built around three core affirmations that he labeled as its sine qua non: (1) the distinction between Israel and the church, (2) consistently literal hermeneutics, and (3) the glory of God as the unifying purpose in all His works. The features of the system, its way of reading the biblical narrative and its eschatology, are all to be related to these core principles.
“Practically all the distinct features of dispensational eschatology were affirmed by Ryrie and related to the definition he provided,” Blaising said. “This includes the pretribulational rapture, the future seven-year tribulation, and the millennial kingdom.
“However, he offered some modifications on how dispensationalists thought about the number of dispensations, how the biblical covenants were related to the dispensations, and how the Kingdom of God was to be understood in the New Testament,” Blaising said. “Most important was his modification of what earlier dispensationalists called the eternal distinction between heavenly and earthly peoples and programs in the plan and purpose of God.
“Because of these modifications or revisions of the classical system (from John Nelson Darby to Lewis Chafer), I have referred to Ryrie's system as Revised Dispensationalism. Many, however, refer to it as Traditional Dispensationalism, since it was the form of dispensationalism that was widely taught and promoted in the latter half of the 20th century.”
Blaising added that Ryrie's influence extended beyond eschatology.
“He wrote widely, with books on the Holy Spirit, the Christian life, grace and the doctrines of salvation. He was one of the earliest to address the growing question concerning the role of women in the church…. In all that he wrote, he was a masterful theologian, concise, readable and understandable to the average layman as well as to the scholar. He made a profound impact on my life, and I am grateful to God for him,” said Blaising, who also holds the Jesse Hendley Chair of Biblical Theology at Southwestern.
“For all of his giftedness, he was a humble man who loved the Lord and had a heart for the gospel.”
Ryrie was a native of Alton, Ill., who attended First Baptist Church, “the fifth generation of his family” at the American Baptist congregation that is no longer in existence.
Ryrie held a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Edinburgh; doctor of theology and master of theology degrees from DTS; and an undergraduate degree from Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
He is survived by three children and three grandchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)