Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie (b. 1925) has died only weeks before his ninety-first birthday. Dr. Ryrie taught Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary before serving as dean of doctoral studies for more than two decades until his retirement in 1983. He passed away at 12:37 a.m. on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
Charles Ryrie was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in Alton, Illinois. He attended First Baptist Church of Alton, where he was the fifth generation of his family there. Ryrie was also valedictorian of Alton High School, where he played the piano for his own commencement in January 1942, a mere six weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Leaving Alton to attend Stony Brook School on Long Island, Ryrie studied with noted evangelical educator Frank E. Gaebelein. Ryrie then entered Haverford College with the intention of studying math and music and the expectation that he would follow his father into banking. But before long, Ryrie left Haverford to attend DTS.
Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Influence
The reason? DTS founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer. “[He] is the reason I am in the ministry and the reason I went to seminary,” Ryrie told the managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin in 2008. “That happened when I was a junior in college. At the time I went to Haverford College in Pennsylvania, a Quaker school. Chafer was holding meetings in the area. I went to one of the meetings and said to him, ‘I should like to talk to you.’ He said, ‘I’ll let you know after I check my schedule.’ So eventually he sent me a telegram. (There were no phones in the Haverford dorms at the time.) He said, ‘I can meet you at a certain time and a certain place at a hotel.’ And during that meeting is when I feel I was called to the ministry.”
“I thought about this once in a while, when seminary students asked to meet with me. I was sometimes tempted to think, ‘I don’t have time for you.’ But then I would think of Chafer, who took time for me, and not just because I was a potential seminary student—because I wasn’t at that time.”
Although Ryrie left Haverford before completing his studies there, Haverford conferred his B.A. (1946) on the basis of his work at DTS. A year later, Ryrie received his Th.M. (1947), and two years following that, his Th.D. (1949). He went on to complete a Ph.D (1953) at the University of Edinburgh, and he later received a Litt.D. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, now Liberty University School of Divinity.
While a student at DTS, Ryrie joined First Baptist Church in Dallas, befriending the pastor at the time, W. A. Criswell. Ryrie regularly taught a Sunday school class there, and enjoyed a long-term relationship with the church.
After receiving his master’s degree, Ryrie moved to California to join the faculty of Westmont College. He returned to DTS in 1953 to teach Systematic Theology, but he left for several years to serve as president of Philadelphia College of the Bible, now Cairn University (1958–1962). Upon returning to Dallas, he served as dean of doctoral studies until his retirement from DTS in 1983.
Remembering Dr. Ryrie
DTS chancellor Dr. Charles Swindoll said of Dr. Ryrie, “He was one of my professors and a man whom many of us who knew him personally greatly admired. To this day, I use the Ryrie Study Bible every time I prepare a message from God’s Word. What a magnificent contribution!”
Dr. Mark Bailey, president of DTS, said, Dr. Ryrie was a master at biblical and theological synthesis. He had the unusually rare gift of being able to state complex theological ideas in succinct statements. All of us are indebted to his efforts to articulate and defend dispensational premillennialism.”
Dr. Willie O. Peterson (MABS, 1986), wrote, “So many lives are the better because of his gifts and his faithfulness. Not the least of which is his significant role in promoting the racial integration of Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Ryrie actually went into the high-profile black venues with Dr. Eddie Lane [DTS’s first African-American student] in search of attracting the best of the best African-American applicants.” Peterson believes the steady 11–12% black DTS student enrollment should be attributed to the shared efforts of Ryrie and Lane.
Dr. Ryrie served on the executive council of the then Central American Mission—now Camino Global—for twenty-three years, fifteen of them as the council’s president. He traveled extensively to speak and teach in countries in which the mission ministered.
An OMF missionary to Thailand, Larry Dinkins (ThM, 1979) remembers, “If a student arrived late to [Dr. Ryrie’s] class, he was required to repeat a verse before the other students. I had seen a number of my classmates cramming in a verse before entering, and many tried to repeat John 3:16—a practice Dr. Ryrie frowned on.”
Another grad, Doug Tiffin (ThM, 1980), now dean of academic affairs at Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, said, “I remember being in a study group and coming up with crazy acrostics so that we could remember the material. They didn't make any sense but they worked. Senior Theology—commonly known as “Ryrie Roulette”—was a terrifying experience, but was one of the best preparations for ministry. Dr. Ryrie would announce the topic for the next class and tell us to be prepared. We never knew what to expect, so we had to work hard to be ready for anything. What a great learning experience!”
Jerry Laursen (ThD, 1976), who serves in Hispanic Leadership Training at Camino Global, said, “All my seminary profs were top-notch, but I especially enjoyed the insights of Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges.”
A man with a heart for international missions, Dr. Ryrie served on the executive council of Camino Global (then called the Central American Mission) for twenty-three years, fifteen of them as the council’s president. He traveled extensively to speak and teach in countries in which the mission ministered.
Dr. Ryrie also returned to the Midwest multiple times for prophecy and dispensationalism conferences. And although he had a full teaching and writing ministry, he continued to minister to people in small, local church settings. Through the years he taught hundreds if not thousands of students, and in his retirement, he lived long enough to see the fruits of his ministry to second and third generations.
Dr. Ryrie had a genius for clear, concise summary of difficult concepts. Chaplain Brent Stake (ThM, 1976) recalls, “Dr. Charles Ryrie showed me how to take theology and simplify it to its essence.” Ray Pritchard (ThM, 1978), president at Keep Believing, wrote of Dr. Ryrie, “His knowledge was encyclopedic, yet he wore his learning lightly… I think his greatest gift was making abstract ideas understandable. Anyone can make the simple complex. Only the greatest minds can make the complex simple.”
Ryrie's Writing and Legacy
Dr. Ryrie is probably best known for his work on The Ryrie Study Bible (Moody), which contains more than 10,000 of his explanatory notes, and which has sold more than 2.5 million copies in multiple languages. “When I was working on the study Bible,” he said, “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… On the human side, I think [my 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 his work on the study Bible, Dr. Ryrie wrote more than fifty books, two of which—The Miracles of Our Lord and So Great Salvation—garnered Gold Medallion Book Awards (now Christian Book Awards®) from The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. O.S. Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, upon learning of his death described Dr. Ryrie as “a giant of the faith.”
In his retirement, while Dr. Ryrie’s most far-reaching influence was with his pen— Spiritual Life courses at DTS still use his book, Balancing the Christian Life—Dr. Ryrie continued to have a substantial ministry of preaching and teaching. And while in later years he referred to himself as a “past tense” pianist, he would occasionally sit on his bench to play favorite hymns such as “Like a River Glorious” and “Marvelous Grace,” the last line of which is, “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe; you that are longing to see his face, will you this moment his grace receive?”
Ryrie was the father of three children and three grandchildren. At the time of his death, he resided in Dallas.