Avondale remembers passing of a powerful preacher
Death has finally silenced a Bible scholar and “revered” former Avondale Theology Department Head whose differences with his denomination sidelined a gift for gospel preaching.
Dr Desmond Ford died this past Monday (March 11) at St Mary’s Aged Care (Pelican Waters, Qld) with wife Gillian by his side.
A graduate of the then Australasian Missionary College, Ford spent several years in local Seventh-day Adventist Church ministry before a return to higher education and an influential 16-year tenure (1961-1977) at Avondale. He would become one of a select few on faculty to earn two doctoral degrees, one from Michigan State University (USA) and the other from The University of Manchester (UK). The topic of the first degree, A Rhetorical Study of Certain Pauline Addresses, gives some indication of his prowess as a public speaker.
Ford’s “fast moving, free flowing and mesmerising” lecturing style inspired students and filled seats. He always allowed time for questions and “seemed to have a reasonable answer for every one of them,” writes Conjoint Associate Professor Dr Norman Young, a former student and colleague who became a friend. Exchanges would often continue on Friday afternoon walks along bush tracks “at a blistering speed with Ford at the front with his head held high, shoulders back and arms swinging in a considerable arc.”
[Ford] did not deny the transformed life in Christ, but he never let it stand alone in isolation from the gospel of grace. . . . The work of the Spirit never surpassed nor replaced the achievement of Calvary.Dr Norman Young, Conjoint Associate Professor, Avondale College of Higher EducationIn a letter to Des and Gill this past month, President Professor Ray Roennfeldt thanked his former lecturer for mentoring “a very high spiritual tone” in the sermons he preached, in the chapel and dormitory worship services he presented, in his personal counselling of students and in his Bible classes, “which were as much inspirational as educational.” His influence “drew many outstanding students to Avondale, and especially into ministry.” What astonished Roennfeldt and his classmates: the constant criticism of Ford for “discounting the importance of Christian living when that was so evident in your own personal life.”
A prolific reader and writer with a “prodigious” memory, tales of Ford’s knowledge of the Bible and the writings of Adventist pioneer Ellen White “had reached even far-off Tasmania, and this is one of the reasons I came to college,” says Head of Science Dr Lynden Rogers. “Over the ensuing 47 years, I came to know Des very much better. I always held him in the highest regard, particularly for his willingness to face evidence, whether biblical or extra-biblical, for his courage, his warmth and his sterling integrity.”
Theology largely defined Ford. Foundations to his understanding of the doctrine of salvation included tenets such as the sinless nature of Christ, the Fall and a Christian’s lifelong battle with sin, “always striving but never arriving at perfect morality.” He came to the latter by emphasising the verbs in the present tense of Romans 7:14-25. Ford “offered God’s grace and imputed righteousness as the sinner’s remedy,” writes Conjoint Senior Lecturer Dr Milton Hook in the biography Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist. He preached “memorable sermons about the certainty of God’s forgiveness and the sublime assurance that follows with full acceptance of Christ.”
Ford “did not deny the transformed life in Christ,” writes Young, “but he never let it stand alone in isolation from the gospel of grace. . . . The work of the Spirit never surpassed nor replaced the achievement of Calvary.”
Ford accepted the reality of a pre-Advent judgement, but he emphasised the presence of God’s grace in it as much as it is in the gospel itself. For him, the heavenly sanctuary was not a literal, fully-furnished building. His high regard for Ellen White, recognised by the church for her prophetic gift, extended to his personal life—Ford and his first wife, Gwen, named their daughter Elènne.
Studying under Ford became “a turning point in my theology,” says Hook, who remembers the class reading lists of intellectually stimulating biblical classics from inside and outside of Adventism. “Des was a driven man, enthusiastic about evangelism, about public speaking, about apocalyptic literature, about health reform. He was up at four o’clock every morning, studying, exercising and getting breakfast for the family. None of us could match that. His energy never seemed to abate.”
Gill describes her husband as “a man always in a hurry, driven by a mission to serve God and proclaim Christ. He would urge you to take up the work he has laid down,” she writes on Ford’s Facebook page.
Busyness and activity seemed to be both a Ford virtue and a vice. “Unless he could do something useful, he wasn’t interested in going to anything social,” says Gill. Like an “endurance athlete,” “he had a purpose in mind and just went for it.” Gill speaks of her willingness to take more than her fair share of responsibility to free Des to preach, teach and write—he authored nearly 40 books. “We were mentally in sync. I was interested in what he was interested in, and I was very happy to help him.” Youngest son Luke, a writer and blogger, sees his father in himself. “Both Dad and I put our work, at times, ahead of all other considerations,” he writes in post on his blog.
A citation marking the 25th anniversary of the church’s Glacier View Sanctuary Review Committee and presented to Ford by Sydney Adventist Forum in 2005 recognises his “honesty and integrity in biblical exposition.” It also thanked him for his “enduring . . . goodwill toward the church we love and for [his] desire that its members might know their salvation with greater assurance.”
“Many Adventists and others owe their commitment to the gospel of God’s grace, as revealed in and through his Son, to the preaching, teaching and writing of this scholarly gentleman,” writes Young. “The only perfection Des claimed was the perfection he had in Christ, but highly and deservedly esteemed he certainly was.”
Dr Desmond Ford is survived by Gill, his daughter Elènne and sons Paul and Luke. Gwen predeceased him in 1970.
Avondale Remembers Des
Join the Avondale College of Higher Education community in remembering the passing of powerful gospel preacher, Bible scholar and former Head of the Theology Department Dr Desmond Ford. Celebrate the contribution of a long and productive life spent answering the call to serve God and proclaim Christ.LEARN MORE