The Very Rev Professor John McIntyre

Distinguished theologian


John McIntyre, theologian and minister of the church: born Glasgow 20 May 1916; ordained minister 1941; Minister, Parish of Fenwick, Ayrshire 1943-45; Hunter Baillie Professor of Theology, St Andrew's College, University of Sydney 1946-56, Principal 1950-56, Honorary Fellow 1990; Professor of Divinity, Edinburgh University 1956-86 (Emeritus), Dean of the Faculty of Divinity 1968-74, acting Principal and Vice-Chancellor 1973-74, 1979; Dean of the Order of the Thistle 1974-89; Extra Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland 1974-75, 1986-2005, Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland 1975-86; Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1982; married 1945 Jan Buick (two sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 18 December 2005.

John McIntyre was one of the most distinguished Scottish theologians and churchmen of his generation. For 30 years, from 1956 until 1986, he was Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University, acting as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1982.

A talented pupil at Bathgate Academy, McIntyre confirmed his early promise as a student at Edinburgh University, graduating MA with first class honours in Philosophy and BD with distinction. His studies under the philosopher Norman Kemp Smith and the theologian John Baillie were to leave an indelible mark on his contribution as a teacher and scholar. He was ordained in 1941 and several years were spent in parish ministry, first in Argyll at Glenorchy and Inishail, and then in Fenwick, Ayrshire. There he met and married Jan Buick, the district nurse at Fenwick, with whom he celebrated 60 years of marriage last year.

In 1946, McIntyre was appointed Professor of Theology at St Andrew's College in Sydney. His 10 years in Australia proved immensely productive. Working in a small theological college, he taught across the entire theological syllabus. He regarded this as of immeasurable benefit in his early career and would later commend it to his own pupils as the best means for mastering their discipline.

Work on two early books was completed during this period: Anselm and His Critics (1954), his DPhil thesis, and The Christian Doctrine of History (1957) established his reputation as a measured and lucid writer with a capacity to apply analytic rigour to the central topics of theology. These Australian years were also marked by a series of high-profile public debates in which he explored questions of religious belief with the eminent atheist philosopher John Anderson, another Scot who had earlier settled in Sydney. Both McIntyre and Anderson had been pupils of Kemp Smith.

In 1956, following the retirement of John Baillie, McIntyre returned to his Alma Mater as Professor of Divinity. His work in Edinburgh was marked by highly effective leadership. He served as Principal Warden during the time of the construction of Pollock Halls, as Acting Principal and Vice-Chancellor in 1973-74, following the departure of Michael Swann to the BBC, and again in 1979 after the death of Hugh Robson.

As Dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Principal of New College from 1968 to 1974, he was deeply committed to the centuries-long Scottish tradition in which ministers were educated in the ancient universities. He positioned the Faculty of Divinity at New College in the centre of university life. Yet, while defending the place of the Church of Scotland in his faculty, he also perceived the importance of ecumenical links and of the burgeoning field of religious studies.

By the time of his retirement in 1986, New College had become a more ecumenical institution, but one that retained much of its traditional strength and appeal to students from overseas. An important marker had been set down in 1979 with the appointment of James Mackey, a Roman Catholic theologian, to a chair of theology in Edinburgh. His nomination aroused controversy in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the national press.

As a university administrator, McIntyre had a mastery of detail that could prove intimidating. Always in command of his brief, he would attend to the finer points of debate while never losing sight of the larger picture. His patient and measured style was to prove effective in the building of Pollock Halls, in the reconstruction of New College, and in his many dealings with university staff and students. In the more militant era of the early 1970s, a long-running dispute within the student body was resolved within 48 hours after McIntyre assumed responsibility as Vice-Chancellor.

The same qualities were evident in his lecturing. Long before the time when teaching aids became de rigueur, he would provide his students with a complete transcript of his lecture notes. This imposed a significant burden on his secretary, before the era of the photocopier. A quietly methodical teacher, McIntyre possessed an urbane and self-deprecating humour. He would sometimes remark that he not only put his students to sleep, but gave them the sheets in which to do so. Whether they slept or not, he could remember them clearly years later and was glad to follow their progress in parish ministry or academic life.

Despite the burdens of administration, McIntyre maintained a significant scholarly output that continued through many productive years of retirement. A longstanding interest in the role of the imagination in religious belief resulted in the publication of Faith, Theology and the Imagination (1987), perhaps his most original work. The previous year, Religious Imagination, a Festschrift collection in his honour, had appeared on this same theme. Other volumes on traditional theological topics such as the love of God, the person and work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit were also undertaken.

McIntyre was one of very few academic theologians who engaged with the charismatic movement. Largely eschewing intellectual fashions, he could prove a difficult thinker to categorise. Nevertheless, his theology can reasonably be situated within the Reformed tradition, though without a commitment to some of its harsher aspects. As generally orthodox in its doctrinal orientation, his work reveals that blend of philosophical acumen and Christian piety that has characterised much of Scottish Presbyterian scholarship.

A more cautious approach together with varied interests in apologetics, philosophy of religion, the role of the human subject in knowledge, and other faiths may have prevented his work from being too closely identified with his distinguished Edinburgh contemporary Thomas F. Torrance. Yet their differences in style and temperament probably concealed an unacknowledged theological consensus.

Also a noteworthy churchman, McIntyre was appointed by the Queen as one of her honorary chaplains in Scotland and as Dean of the Order of the Thistle in 1974, a position he held for 15 years. The public highlight of his career came in 1982. During his time as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, he greeted Pope John Paul II before the statue of John Knox in the New College courtyard. His words of greeting were typically courteous and eirenic, celebrating the end of years of sectarian division in Scotland while looking forward to ecumenical collaboration.

David Fergusson

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