In Memory of Dr. Bruce Demarest

On Wednesday, January 27, Denver Seminary learned that Senior Professor of Christian Theology and Spiritual Formation Dr. Bruce Demarest passed away.
Bruce was a part of the Denver Seminary community for more than 45 years
and will be dearly missed.

In 1975, Dr. Demarest was invited by Dr. Vernon Grounds to join the Seminary faculty in Systematic Theology. During the 1980s, he began to offer courses in formation and soul care, and soon a Certificate in Formation was developed, an M.A. in Christian Formation was created, and classes were added to the Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry track—Leadership in Community Spiritual Formation.

Dr. Demarest also served as adjunct professor of theology and spiritual formation at several colleges and seminaries in the U.S. and overseas. From 2003-2010, Bruce served as Resident Theologian of the TACT Group, a national research and ministry strategy group in spiritual formation, leading to publication of the book, The Kingdom  Life (NavPress, 2010). He wrote or co-authored fifteen books and numerous articles on theology and spiritual formation in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and scholarly journals.

Bruce was preceded in death by his wife Elsie in 2019, and is survived by their three children – Starr, Scott, and Sharon – and six grandchildren. He was an avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoyed hiking, canoeing, fly-fishing, and cross-country skiing.

If you would like to make a memorial gift to the The Dr. Bruce and Elsie Demarest Christian Formation Endowed Scholarship, click here

We are honored to share these tributes, written by colleagues and friends of Bruce.

If there were ever a person who deserved the compliment “gentleman and a scholar,” it was Bruce Demarest. Gracious, brilliant, and passionate, Dr. Demarest yearned to see all of us walk more closely with Jesus and experience the abundant life found only in Him. His influence on Denver Seminary is indelible and, for that, we are deeply grateful.

-Dr. Mark Young
Denver Seminary President 

Bruce was an instrument of many good gifts from God to and through the seminary. He rests in peace.

-Dr. W. Dave Buschart
Professor of Theology and Historical Studies

Oh how much I will miss him. 

-Rev. Dr. Jan McCormack
Associate Professor and Director of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Programs

Bruce loved the outdoors. On several occasions I went with him and a group of students cross-country skiing in the Colorado mountains. Skiing and hiking were among his passions. His life was a pilgrimage. He served in the Navy, then as a missionary in Africa. He did a New Testament Ph.D. but moved into systematic theology—always with a focus on what the biblical texts meant. Then he journeyed from theology into spiritual formation. It was clear how his mind and heart were affected, perhaps better, softened, by his entrance into this spiritual arena: he moved from being rather fixed in his thinking to becoming much more nuanced and open to different avenues of understanding and explaining God’s truth. His ongoing love for Scripture was evident, including teaching Bible studies and other “courses” at the senior living center where he and Elsie moved in their later years.

-Dr. Bill Klein
Professor of New Testament

After establishing himself as one of the preeminent theological voices in evangelicalism, Bruce courageously followed the lead of the Holy Spirit both personally and professionally into the life and study of spiritual formation. He quietly became one of the pioneers of the recovery and resurgence of spiritual formation and spiritual direction among Protestants, particularly evangelical Protestants, giving the movement a robust theological credibility. I was privileged to fly under his wing as Christian Formation and Soul Care became a field of study at Denver Seminary. His sharp mind and warm heart impacted students around the globe toward growth in Christlikeness for the sake of others and to the glory of the Triune God. His brightness will continue to shine through these students, his books, and his friends, like myself, who basked in the light and warmth of his holy fire.

-Dr. Howard Baker
Assistant Professor of Christian Formation; Director of Christian Formation

Bruce and Elsie made a huge contribution to Denver Seminary. They were a great ministry team, with Bruce’s mind and Elsie’s outgoing, fun-loving personality. And as has been mentioned, Bruce’s transformation from a rationalist to one who eventually recognized, in Pascal’s words, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know… We know truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.”

That development over the years was a wonder to behold, and it has been helpful to me to have seen someone like Bruce take that journey several years before I followed at a distance.

-Dr. Marshall Shelley
Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Ministry

Bruce Demarest was a member of the search committee when I came to candidate at Denver Seminary in 1993. He was unfailingly polite and kind to me but did not hold back in asking me tough questions during my two-and-a-half-hour doctrinal interview. I flubbed his question on the transmission of original sin.

Dr. Demarest was a scholar’s scholar who also cared for the broader Body of Christ and for foreign missions, having served as a missionary educator in Africa. He labored for years to co-write with Dr. Gordon Lewis, a three-volume systematic theology used for many years at Denver Seminary called, Integrative Theology. He authored many books, but a great achievement was The Cross and Salvation. In later life, Dr. Demarest discovered spiritual formation, wrote several books on this, and helped Denver Seminary appreciate this ancient art of soul care.

I last saw Dr. Demarest in January of 2020. He invited me to speak at an event at the Pinehurst Community. He was, as usual, warm and gracious. Just a few months ago, after reading some of The Cross and Salvation, I wrote him a note, thanking him for his scholarship and devotion to Christ. I thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the life of his servant, Dr. Bruce Demarest.

-Dr. Doug Groothuis
Professor of Philosophy

The first semester I was on faculty in 1986-87 we would read and review each other’s books once a semester at a faculty forum.  I was tasked with doing this for the newly published third and final volume of Integrative Theology that Bruce and Gordon Lewis had co-authored.  Knowing the potential landmines I might face, I was reluctant to include what book reviews are expected to include, namely, any disagreements with the author’s perspectives.  But I did and tried to do so nicely.  Bruce very kindly took me aside after the forum and thanked me for being so positive and explained that the things I had critiqued were not from the parts he wrote.  His grin told me I had made a friend and he was amazingly supportive throughout my career, even inviting me to speak at a weekly Christian gathering at Windcrest, his retirement community just a few years ago.  A loving, soft-spoken but razor-sharp Christian fully committed to his Lord and handling a number of physical challenges throughout his life with amazing grace.  I will miss him dearly.

-Dr. Craig Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament

Bruce Demarest was a man of God led by the Spirit to give to the students, faculty, and staff of Denver Seminary words of grace and a life of Christian discipleship. From pictures of Bruce at a professional conference during our first meeting 24 years ago until the brief encounters in the past few years, Bruce conveyed the dignity of a servant of God who knew his Savior and fulfilled his part in God’s mission without apology or excuse. Always softly spoken, his words carried the weight of conviction that drew deeply upon the wellspring of a life informed by time spent in presence of his Savior, whether in spiritual retreats and private devotion, or in times of prayer with others. We join his family in expressing sorrow over the loss of this man of God who gave so much to family and friends and who exercised a powerful ministry in writing and speaking. May he rejoice in his Savior’s presence.

– Dr. Richard Hess
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament

I remember Dr. Demarest reading a quote in class from a theologian who was passionate but uncharitable. Dr. Demarest didn’t tell us the name of its author, but in humility he said, “Years ago, I would have written something just like this.” We laughed at the admission because it was hard for us to imagine; we had only experienced the second-half-of-life Bruce Demarest. But like the Apostle Paul, he would tell his testimony often, modeling for us what it looks like to be changed by Christ, even in the latter years of life, when we tend to get stuck and entrenched and self-protective. I enjoyed hearing Bruce’s friends and former students bear witness of this mid-life transformation. As a student of spiritual formation, he helped me to ground my thinking in Scripture and theological reflection. Yet the most enduring impact Bruce left to me is a vision of what it looks like to welcome Christ, to allow Him room to turn my assumptions and my methods on their heads, making a place for the Spirit to do the sometimes disruptive and often unexpected work it takes to form me. I’ll miss him, his curious questions, and kind presence. 

-Aaron Johnson, MA Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, 2013
Associate Dean of Educational Technology

Bruce Demarest was a Christian gentleman, extraordinary scholar, and mentor to many.

He will be remembered as a lover of Christ and servant of the church. He reminded all of us that “We must first touch God (spirituality) in order that we might effectively touch others (ministry). He provided an important theological underpinning to the renewed emphasis in spiritual formation in the evangelical community in the 90’s. He recognized that God was leading him “to balance orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopathy (right affections) and orthopraxy (right actions).” He was a major contributor in Denver Seminary’s desire to intentionally address spiritual formation in our curriculum and provided leadership in developing certificate and degree programs in Christian formation.  He leaves a great legacy both through his writing and personal impact on all of us. It was an honor to serve with him for over twenty years.  We pray God’s comfort on his family of whom he was justly proud.

-Dr. Randy MacFarland
Provost/Dean (retired)
Senior Professor of Pastoral Care and Leadership 

 I had the privilege of sitting under Bruce Demarest for three courses in theology as a student at Denver Seminary in the early 1980s. His intelligence and humor were wonderful complements to his encyclopedic knowledge of Christian thought. After joining the faculty some years later, I also had the privilege of becoming his friend. His warmth and personal support of me as a new professor meant more than he would ever know. I’m ever grateful for the role he so graciously played in my own spiritual, theological and educational development.  May the LORD honor him on that Day!

-Dr. Scott Wenig
Professor of Applied Theology

Dr. Bruce Demarest was one of the very few scholars I’ve known who exhibited the life-giving synthesis of a rigorous and penetrating intellect, generosity of spirit, and delight in his Lord. His modeling of these traits was all the more striking and inviting because, by his own admission, the rigorous and penetrating intellect dominated the profile in his earlier years. That made his generosity of spirit and delight in Jesus Christ all the more authentic and powerful. He never wavered on his commitment to the historic theological tenets of the faith while learning to follow the often incalculable and mysterious ways of the Spirit in the experience of reconciliation and restoration. On a personal level, I will forever be grateful to God for Bruce’s encouragement and confidence in a would-be but unproven scholar.

-Dr. Don J. Payne
Interim Academic Dean
Associate Professor of Theology

Many Christians can look back and remember people who made a significant impact upon their spiritual journeys. For me, Dr. Demarest was one of those people. When I entered Denver Seminary in January of 2005, I was not quite sure in which direction that new season would take me. I entered Denver Seminary after ending six years of serving with a local church staff and the natural question was, “What’s next, Lord? What’s my next purpose? The first class I enrolled in was TH 501 and one of our core texts was Integrative Theology coauthored by Drs. Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest – the thick, hard backed, ten-pound book. During the study of the doctrine of the Imago Dei and while reading the pages in that text, it became wondrously and unquestionably evident, that my, our, original purpose as humans, is to be the image of God and reveal Him to all creation. Though simple, it was a profound understanding to me and generated deep ponderings for a number of days which led me to explore the implications, the direction, and impacts of, what I believe to be, this God-given insight.  Within the next two weeks as I remained immersed in this doctrine, the Lord met me again with the thought, “Don’t ask Me what you should do Debbie; ask Me who you need to become.” It was undoubtedly a Kairos moment.

 Through the reading of Dr. Demarest’s book, a significant shift emerged within my soul and because of this, my entire seminary journey, was redirected. With each course that I took, instead of asking, “Lord, enable me to do well in this class,” I asked Him to show me how this class informs who I need to become. And without overstating it, my life trajectory was thankfully, altered.

Thank you Dr. Demarest for what you poured into me through your writing, your teaching and interactions in class, and your companionship in my formational journey. You introduced me to, and trained me in, an entirely new (to me) way of living. Oh and your witty quotes, such as, “What is mysticism? ─ that which begins in mystery and ends in schisms,” remains with me to this day. I am grateful for you, Dr. Demarest, thank you.  May Light perpetual shine upon you.

Debbie Swanson, MA
Christian Formation and Soul Care, 2009