August 13, 2009
Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1915-2009)
Fuller Seminary has posted a notice of Geoffrey Bromiley’s death last Friday. And Mark Galli at Christianity Today has posted some reflections. Those who pay attention to details like translators’ and editors’ names, will recognize the name Geoffrey Bromiley, the former professor of church history and historical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Galli was a student at Fuller and remembers him as his favorite professor. I too was a student at Fuller, and while I only had one course with Bromiley, I was awestruck by his abilities and productivity.
Just think of Bromiley’s more prominent accomplishments, translating Barth’s Church Dogmatics and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament into English. But that’s not all—he also translated other volumes by Barth and by Pannenberg, Ellul, Thielicke, Kasemann and others. Plus he was revision editor of ISBE and English-language editor of the Encyclopedia of Christianity. And he published his own books on baptism, marriage, ecclesiology, historical theology, the Reformation and Barth.
Throughout my career as a reference-book editor, Bromiley has been one of my heroes, someone in a class of his own. I recall attending a Fuller symposium of sorts in the late 70s in which various faculty members and perhaps others spoke about a breadth of ministries they were involved in (“The Ministry of … “). I’m quite sure that Bromiley spoke on “the ministry of scholarship.” And even if I’m mistaken about the exact event, I do know I heard him speak on this topic at some point while I was a student. I was impressed, and I believe he planted a seed that developed into my own career.
I recall hearing that Bromiley did his work on a manual typewriter, and that during the early years he translated Barth on the back of used paper. And that he did his translation work in the early morning hours. Gary Deddo, my editorial colleague, recalls hearing a conversation between a certain Fuller faculty member, who had just discovered the wonders of word processing, and Bromiley. Professor X, who loved redoing his class notes, was exulting over this new technology. “Look, Geoffrey, this is wonderful. I can easily go back and revise or correct mistakes!” Bromiley, clearly unimpressed: “Well, X, I just do it right the first time.” And he probably did!
I don’t have a copy of the Bromiley Festschrift, Church, Word, and Spirit (edited by Bradley and Muller, Eerdmans, 1987), but I believe it includes a biographical essay. And over at Faith and Theology, Ben Myers speculates on the significance of Bromiley for 20th-century English-speaking theology and opines that he was the most significant figure. I’ve had similar thoughts. He was a relatively quiet figure, and without his work of translation we would had either a big gap in our literature or (perhaps more likely) a retarded filling of that gap. Page by page, morning by morning, he amassed a library that we all draw upon. And he just kept going.