Shirley Guthrie dead at 77
Theologian taught at Columbia Theological Seminary for 40 years


by Jerry L. Van Marter

LOUISVILLE - The Rev. Shirley C. Guthrie, who taught theology at Columbia Theological Seminary for nearly 40 years from a deeply held perspective of God's love and justice, died Oct. 23 at his Avondale Estates, GA, home.

Guthrie, 77, fought cancer for a number of years.

He frequently criticized the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s internal debates. During yet another discussion of human sexuality in 2001, Guthrie declared, "You've got self-righteous people on all sides arguing with other self-righteous people. Maybe God is saying 'no' to what we are and these little trivial debates we're having in the church while hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death."

Guthrie taught at Columbia seminary from 1958 until 1997. "The teaching of his faith matched the living of his faith," said Walter Brueggeman of Decatur, an internationally known Old Testament scholar.

Guthrie's 1968 book Christian Doctrine has become a seminary standard.

He earned a doctorate from the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he wrote his dissertation under the direction of Karl Barth, one of the 20th century's top theologians.

"He said he was so nervous in front of Barth that he was afraid to speak," recalled George Stroup, a Columbia colleague for 25 years. "But Barth apparently took a liking to him. When he made his only trip to the United States in 1961, he had Guthrie translate for him."

Shirley C. Guthrie is survived by his wife, Vivian Hays Guthrie; a son, Tom Guthrie of Chicago; a brother, Allen Guthrie of Coahoma, TX; and a sister, Janet Sims of McKinney, TX.


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