The Revd Professor Charles Cranfield who died on February 27th, a few months short of his 100th birthday, was one of the most respected scholar ministers in our Church. A member of Waddington Street URC in Durham, he taught in the Theology Department of Durham University from 1950 until his retirement in 1980.
After studying classics at Cambridge Charles trained for the Methodist ministry; and after local church experience he served as a chaplain to the forces during the war, with special responsibility for prisoners of war after the ending of hostilities. It was his close study of Paul’s letter to the Romans that led him to transfer to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church of England, and he was eventually to publish one of the definitive 20th century commentaries on Romans in the ICC series. However, for many students of the New Testament the name Cranfield will always be associated with the one volume commentary on the Greek text of Mark – still in print after more than fifty years.
At the funeral service Waddington Street minister Steven Orange reminded the congregation how Charles would have opposed the idea that such a service should focus on him. His concern, as the preacher, former Durham student Brian Hunt made clear, was always that Jesus Christ should be at the centre: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, of the seed of David” (2 Timothy 2.8). But happily the service, attended by a large congregation, was able to include our grateful recognition of all that Charles Cranfield had done for Christ, and all that he had done in his name.
We were reminded that for Charles theology and social awareness and action very much went hand in hand – reflecting the insights of his great mentor Karl Barth, who insisted that the preacher should always have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Far from living in an ivory tower, Charles over the years engaged with politicians and those in power, sending many letters containing closely reasoned arguments. But he was also an inspiration and encouragement to his fellow church members, helping them understand the challenges brought to their faith through a changing world.
Within our synod a number of our ministers recall with gratitude the bible studies he hosted for them in his home through the years of his retirement up to about ten years ago. One former student of his summed him up as “a wonderful example of how high-quality scholarship could be combined with committed Christian discipleship”.
As a synod we have expressed our sympathy to Ruth, to whom he was married for 62 years, and their daughters Mary and Elisabeth, who are both ministers in the Church of Scotland.