The following is an adapted version of Dr. Scott Redd’s in memoriam address delivered at Dr. Howard Griffith’s funeral on March 30, 2019.
I, along with Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, and Richard Ridgway, chairman of our board, both of whom are here today, offer thanks to God for the gift of his servant Howard Griffith to the RTS community and the church.
I spoke to Howard two weeks ago on a chilly Thursday morning. It was the last time we spoke in person. Over the course of the morning, we talked happily about a variety of topics including the book on the Council of Trent he was reading, the difference between the Roman Catholic and Reformed doctrines of sin, and the glorious biblical doctrine of justification. Near the end of our conversation, we moved to some of the issues facing the seminary, and Howard offered some words of advice about how we ought to proceed. I had come to expect and truly treasure his counsel over the years.
When I first came to the Washington campus of RTS in 2012, Howard was one of the faculty members I did not personally know. I knew of him, of course, through mutual friends and colleagues, his reputation as a churchman, a career pastor, and a confessional theologian of significant stature. We first met at an off-campus gathering with Peter Lee and Chad Van Dixhoorn, after which Howard and I took a meandering drive through Vienna and McLean on our way back to the campus. Over the course of that drive, we talked about our mutual philosophy of seminary education and our concerns for the next generation of pastors whom we were training. By the end of that conversation, I think we both knew that we had found in each other a co-traveler and, perhaps more importantly, a friend. He ended the conversation by addressing my unspoken question that had arisen from our 20-year age difference. He said to me, “Scott, I’m so thankful to God that you will be leading us.” In saying this, he exemplified an often-forgotten principle of biblical leadership: a good leader is one who is willing to be led. He never failed in that regard, and I thank God for that.
As a scholar, Howard embodied the ideal of a systematic theologian who has a substantial appreciation for and a command of biblical theology. He brought that sensibility to his scholarly output, from the Festschrift for Meredith Kline he co-edited, his translation of Pierre Marcel’s handbook entitled In God’s School, numerous other articles, and his recent work on the Lord’s Supper entitled Spreading the Feast: Instruction and Meditations for Ministry at the Lord’s Table. Friends and colleagues of Howard Griffith will not be surprised to learn this last work included not only a theological reflection on the sacrament but also a selection of table addresses to guide pastors in the appropriate ministry of the sacrament in Sunday worship. For Howard, theology was never merely an intellectual discipline; rather it should always be nested in the very human context of confessional worship.
Whether he was contributing to the Creation Study Committee for the Presbyterian Church in America or offering a paper at a General Assembly breakout session on ministering to couples considering divorce, Howard saw his scholarly vocation as one that must provide encouragement and guidance for the pastors ministering in Christ’s beloved church.
This emphasis on lived theology found expression in his other scholarly work. Some of you may be surprised to know Howard presented a paper at a conference in Washington commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican II Council. In that paper, he briefly and clearly laid out the significant differences between Roman Catholic and Reformed bodies of doctrine, but then he transitioned to possibilities for mutual service in the public square. Never one to honor superficial ecumenism, Howard was unflinching in his presentation, and that sincerity gave weight to his thoughts about possibilities for partnership.
In the last year of his life, Howard’s research was dedicated to the early Reformation views of covenant in Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. That work will be published in an upcoming book on covenant theology authored by RTS faculty. His final scholarly product, entitled “Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Temptation” was submitted just over two weeks ago and will run in an upcoming issue of the seminary journal Reformed Faith and Practice. In this last article, Howard points to the God-ward and Christ-ward stance of the Christian in this life. He writes, “The reason Scripture instructs the Christian to resist [temptation, to be] strong in your faith, is that faith looks away from self to God and to his provision. The ‘alien righteousness’ of the gospel is exactly what the Christian needs to contemplate and grasp in the midst of Satan’s temptation.”
The Scripture was always set at the center of Howard’s understanding of God. As I said, he was a rigorous biblical theologian. As a teacher, he showered his students with biblical references, offered in context and in conversation with one another. In his classes, his students learned not only what to believe but why they believed it.
Over the course of the past week and a half, many of Howard’s students have posted online remembrances of him as a professor and mentor. If you peruse these remembrances—and I would encourage you to—you will see the same themes coming up over and over again. You will read how Howard was available, how he gave them the time to sit and talk, how he counseled, how he challenged them, how he prayed with them and followed up with them. These are the sort of gifts that are not apparent on a resume or a C.V., but they are some of the most important gifts for a seminary professor. In a time when so many preparing for ministry need a person to share their life with them, to offer biblical counsel, to be in a sense a spiritual father, Dr. Howard Griffith was willing and blessedly able to step in and do just that.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw students enter into his office situated next to mine to seek his counsel in areas related to their personal lives. I can’t tell you how many times students have reiterated to me something he said to them, how he prayed for them, how he called them or emailed them just to see how they were doing. You see, Howard left full-time pastoral ministry over a decade ago, but he never stopped pastoring, and a generation of pastors and church leaders are the better for it.
When I met with Howard that Thursday two weeks ago, he was a bit tired, but as we talked about some decisions facing the campus, he got that flicker in his eye. Exciting things were happening. We were moving into a new campus, considering a new faculty hire, and as I had come to expect, he had wise advice to offer and he offered advice freely.
And I took it.
But afterward, he leaned forward in his chair, and said, “Scott, I am not trying to force you in anything.” He recognized his words might carry too much weight, that I might feel bound to do exactly what he said in his weakened health, and he didn’t want me to worry. He was ministering to me. I had come to expect that too. He was not just a colleague, not just my academic dean, he was my friend and at times, he was my pastor. I will miss him very much, as we all will.