David F. Wright (1937-2008) – Requiescat in pace

I was saddened to hear today of the passing away of Professor (Emeritus) David F. Wright, who died yesterday. The New College website reports that he was a ‘distinguished member of the New College academic staff from 1964 till his retirement in 2003. He was awarded the DD as a higher doctorate for his many respected publications, and was subsequently awarded a personal chair in Patristic and Reformation Studies. He had suffered from cancer for several years, but maintained a very active in lecturing internationally and in several publication projects until the last few months. Prof. Wright will be remembered affectionately by many students, including his numerous PhD students. He is survived by his wife, Anne Marie, and their son and daughter. Condolences can be sent to Mrs. Wright care of New College’.

I only met Professor Wright a few times, but each time discovered in him one who was a great encourager, in person and in print. Many of his books continue to grace my shelves, two of which (he co-edited) receive near incessant consultation: New Dictionary of Theology and the particularly helpful The Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology. In more recent years, his attention turned to questions of baptism, evidenced in his 2003 Didsbury Lectures, published as What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom and, most recently, his challenging essays in Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies.


  1. Thanks for marking the passing of one of Scottish Evangelicalism’s leading lights. Professor Wright was a remarkably gifted church historian and theologian, whose expertise in Patristics as in Reformation studies was encyclopedic in scope and profound in the depth of his thought. Few scholars successfully become a recognised authority in two major periods of Church History – but David did this while also ranging throughout the disciplines of Christian scholarship with a most enviable facility.

    But as with a number of his generation it was his scholarly humility, his generous encouragement of others, his lifelong commitment to theological education as itself both spiritual discipline and intellectual vocation, his genuine enthusiasm for learning, that made him such a respected and loved teacher.

    Like you Jason, I value the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology – there isn’t a book like it, and it is only one of the legacies David leaves. British Evangelicalism, and the Scottish church, have lost the presence and gifts of a Christian thinker steeped in the traditions of our faith, a man of measured, generous judgement, and an example to those of us who aspire to be scholars in the school of Christ. May the peace of Christ enfold him, and Anne- Marie and his family, while we in mourning his loss, give thanks for his life – and the way that life enriched ours.


  2. I knew David Wright at three different stages in my life. As a teenager, I came with a friend, Alan Thomas, to the Scottish Christian Youth Assembly in Edinburgh. Local folk offered hospitality, and Alan and I stayed in David’s flat in the West End. (Alan died in his thirties from cancer.) David was a generous host.

    Then, as part of the “Cheyne gang”, he was on the faculty at New College when I was a student there (1969-72). David was a generous teacher.

    He was Moderator of Edinburgh Presbytery a year or two before I served in that capacity. But we worked closely together over such items as support for the staff of Crossreach during a very difficult spell in that organisation. David was a generous friend.

    Our theologies could never have been described as being in the same stable – but that never diminished David’s interest and friendship, and experience I know that many shared.

    I valued him greatly in all those contexts


  3. As one of Prof. Wright’s PhD students from the early 90s who had the blessing of his direction and ongoing friendship, I grieve David’s passing. Thank you for drawing attention to such a life well lived in the Lord’s service and to such a great evangelical scholar and servant. The funeral services will be held tomorrow at Palmerston Place Church (not enough room at David’s church) in the mid-morning. I pray that it will be the deserved celebration of one of God’s most influential children. He enriched the lives of so many. Anne-Marie is handling things well but will greatly value all our prayers for His present comfort.


  4. I’ve been trying to persuade Continuum (successors to T & T Clark), if they’re not able to reprint the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology in a conventional hardcover, at least to do it Print-On-Demand in two paperback volumes. I thought I might be getting somewhere but I haven’t heard anything more. Anyone else chasing them would be welcome. I don’t feel its fair to all the folk who put so much effort into it, for it to be left to die when it is so much easier than it used to be to keep things like this in print.


  5. Peter, I wholeheartedly agree that the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology deserves to be kept in print. There are absolutely no equivalents to this well-researched volume. One can’t help wonder if the (over-inflated) price of the volume was a chief cause of it being pulled in the first place. Second-hand copies are as scarce as hens teeth. In days past, publishers seem to have felt a greater sense of responsibility to keep important books like this in print, and (as you say) in these days of print on demand, there are simply no decent excuses.


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