Obituary: OT Scholar David Russell

I stumbled across the sad news that David Russell one of the leading OT scholars of his generation, expert on Jewish apocalyptic literature, and former General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain has recently died. The Thanksgiving Service was held yesterday (18th November).

Here is the statement from the Baptist Times:

Tributes have been paid to the Revd Dr David Russell, formerly General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, who has died aged 94. Dr Russell had pastorates in Berwick, Oxford and Acton, and was a scholar with a world-wide reputation and Principal of Rawdon College before its move to Manchester, after which he served as Joint Principal of Northern Baptist College.

He became BUGB General Secretary in 1967 and served until 1982. 'We give thanks to God for the remarkable life of David Russell,' said current General Secretary the Revd Jonathan Edwards. 'He was a man of immense personal warmth, great intellect, and a razor-sharp wit.

'As a local minister, college principal and general secretary David made a huge contribution to the life of our Baptist Union. 'As General Secretary he become a much-loved and greatly respected statesman, whose counsel was welcomed not only within our Union but far beyond, both ecumenically and internationally. 'We will remember his family in our prayers at this time.' The Revd Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), spoke of Dr Russell's role in Eastern Europe.

'The way he dealt with the Communist authorities, fearlessly but with humour, caused a number of breakthroughs,' he said. 'He was a very significant campaigner for freedom in the Communist era.' With the Revd Alec Gilmore, he was also active in helping Eastern European Christians acquire good theological literature through the books and translations committee of the EBF and the Eurolit programme. He secured funding for the translation of William Barclay's New Testament commentaries into Russian; these formed the core of many pastors' libraries in Russian-speaking regions.

Dr Russell retired to Bristol and with his wife Marion was a member of Westbury on Trym Baptist Church.

Its former pastor the Revd Dr Stephen Finamore, now Principal of Bristol

Baptist College, described him as 'a terrific scholar', and 'a fine preacher and teacher with a wonderful fund of anecdotes and an ability to engage an audience that lasted well into his 90s.' He added, 'He had a wonderful gift for befriending people; his neighbours, the men in the next hospital beds the person alongside him in the bus queue.

'Whoever they were and whatever their background, he would talk to them naturally about the world and about faith, always bearing witness to the relationship with Jesus Christ which was the very centre of his own life.'

Westbury's current minister the Revd Colin Norris said 'David wore his learning lightly. 'He had the humility to still be on a journey of discovery and learning. In the last couple of years his regular trips to hospital for dialysis put him for hours at a time alongside people with very different backgrounds and experiences to his own. This caused him to ponder afresh the challenges of sharing faith in the contemporary world. 'And despite all that he had written about eschatological hope, as he entered the last days of his final illness he looked forward to being welcomed into God's presence but also insisted that death is a mystery.'

Like many of my and earlier generations I am indebted to David in many ways. He was teaching at Bristol Baptist College when I was a student there, although he never taught me directly. His books on Jewish apocalyptic were my earliest entry point into that world, and while now outdated in serious ways, they were nevertheless written with an unmatched clarity and verve. I remember the speech he made at the Baptist Asseembly that was considering Baptist participation in new ecumenical structures; in less than 5 minutes he changed the tone of the debate and changed, I suspect, not a few minds in the room. Especially I remember him as the person who at a meeting of the Baptist Union Scholarships committee in 1990 encouraged the committee to award a £500 book grant to a young student who was beginning doctoral studies in Oxford (I couldn't receive a full scholarship because I had been awarded a British Academy full grant). With that money I purchased my Kittel TDNT, Charlesworth's OTP and the revised Schürer's History of the Jewish People. Every time I use these books I think of David Russell, a true scholar-pastor who deserves to be remembered as among the finest and funniest Baptists of the last century.