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Fritz Guy: Rigorous Thinker and Loyal Adventist

Fritz Guy speaking at La Sierra.

An Influential Teacher

Fritz Guy was a member of the religion department when I enrolled at La Sierra College in the early sixties. I took a class titled “The Life and Teachings of Jesus” from Guy during my freshman year. I remember that he made thoughtful presentations and also that he began each class with a ten-point quiz. 

Like a lot of students, I still remember the quiz question I got wrong. Our assignment dealt with the famous parables of Luke 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. All three describe the joy people experience when they recover something of value they had lost. The quiz asked for a definition of the word “prodigal.” I answered with something like “lost” or “ungrateful,” which accurately described his behavior. But as an answer to the question, it was wrong. The word actually means “recklessly spendthrift,” and thus refers to the irresponsible behavior of the younger son when he got to the far country. (It might also include the father’s lavish welcome when his son finally returned home).

The next year I took a sequence of two classes from Guy under the title “Introduction to Theology.” After describing the discipline with some lectures on the history of theology, Guy led us through the entire range of Christian doctrines in the traditional order found in theological textbooks—God, humanity, salvation, church, and last things. For each doctrine, we had to construct what was called “a theological outline,” a carefully organized discussion that succinctly described our understanding of all the essential topics the doctrine involved along with biblical support for each of our points.

A number of Guy’s students thought the requirements for the course were excessive—a series of five papers that together totaled more than a hundred pages for just four units of lower division academic credit. But there were also some who found the challenging assignments well worth the effort they required. (My five outlines came to a total of 130 pages, and they are the only college assignments that I still have.)

Commitment to the School

In 1954, before I arrived on campus, Guy had married Marcia J. Specht. Their three children, Linda Davis, Susan Reeder, and Richard, all attended La Sierra. Marcia died in 2006, and the Guy family established a memorial prize in her honor for winners of La Sierra’s annual concerto competition.

In 1964, Guy moved to Chicago with his family to pursue a doctorate in theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. While there, he took a number of challenging classes from several well-known professors. They remembered him years later as one of the best students they had ever taught. The director of his doctoral dissertation was Langdon Gilkey, a widely read and highly respected Protestant theologian. Guy was originally interested in writing on the topic of the Sabbath, but he wound up instead studying the various ways Christian theologians dealt with the topic of time. His dissertation’s title was "Man and His Time: Three Contemporary Theological Interpretations." 

After several years in Chicago, Guy returned to La Sierra with his family, where he resumed his teaching responsibilities and completed his dissertation in 1971. While at La Sierra, which had become a second campus of Loma Linda University, Guy took on administrative responsibilities as associate dean and then dean of Loma Linda University’s College of Arts and Sciences (1972-1977). In 1977, he accepted an invitation to join the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University as a professor of theology. Seven years later, he returned to southern California and became pastor for university faculty and staff relations and theologian-in-residence at the Loma Linda University Church.

Following the separation of the La Sierra campus from Loma Linda University, Guy became the first president of La Sierra University, a position he held from 1990 to 1993. He then returned to teaching full time as professor of theology and philosophy. He retired in 1994 and, a number of years later, moved from California to Oregon where his daughter Linda and her family live. He passed away in 2023.

A Lasting Legacy

Like others who helped found and always remained members of the Association of Adventist Forums, Guy combined profound loyalty to the Adventist church with intellectual rigor and a willingness to constructively address some of the pressing problems in Adventism. These included questions of whether women should be ordained to the ministry, science and the book of Genesis, and the challenges facing church members whose sexual identity does not fall within traditional patterns. In 2008, he saw the time was right and co-edited Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives.

As a student, I admired Dr. Guy and to some extent followed a similar path. I, too, attended college at La Sierra, later studied theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and then joined the religion faculty on the La Sierra campus of Loma Linda University. Perhaps most importantly, I have always appreciated the fact that Guy's work exemplifies how the ideal Christian theology combines rigorous thinking with loyalty to the Christian tradition.

To quote the article that appeared in La Sierra University’s recent account of his passing,

Guy loved La Sierra University, which he viewed as a beacon of hope in the Adventist world and was delighted to live to see it reach its 100th anniversary. He will be remembered as an insightful, generous, rigorous, and highly capable scholar, teacher, and pastor who exemplified and fostered the university’s core values. His views are reflected in the following statement made during a homily he delivered a few years ago: “The best way to be human is to be a person of faith. And the best way to be a person of faith is to be Christian. And the best way to be Christian is to be an Adventist. And the best way to be Adventist is to be at La Sierra.”

 


Richard Rice is a professor emeritus of the Loma Linda University School of Religion. 

Title image by La Sierra University. 

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