By Dr. Jim Sweeney
When word came Tuesday morning that Earl Radmacher had passed from this life into the presence of Christ the day before, I felt that quick stab of pain/joy that is experienced uniquely in God’s family in such an instant. Two deep, conflicting emotions that rarely keep company. A dear, dear friend and colleague gone…but not really gone. The visit planned for next week no longer possible, but no longer relevant, as he is now face to face with Christ.
For those of us who knew and worked with Earl Radmacher, he was an imposing presence. My relationship with him began at Western Seminary; he had just come to the Seminary as a professor in the early 1960’s, and I arrived a couple of years later as a student. He was young, not long past his own theological education at Dallas Seminary, and I was a bit older than the typical seminary student. Our ages were not so different. Little did I realize, this was the beginning of what would be a lifelong relationship with a remarkable man I would know as mentor, colleague and friend.
Earl’s unmatched energy and vision were quickly evident, and in 1965 he was named president of Western, at the time a rather small school. He had become the youngest seminary president in the country, and in short order Western soon became the fastest growing seminary. His impact on evangelical theological education was nothing less than phenomenal. When I graduated in 1966 and moved into pastoral work, the enrollment at Western was no more than 90 students. Just six years later, when he and Dean Bob Cook invited me back to the Seminary as a faculty member, enrollment stood near 600. His influence was particularly powerful among young college students as he went around the country speaking and teaching on university campuses. Hundreds of them, feeling a call to ministry, heard Earl speak and realized that they would need a solid theological education to be effective. Western was soon flooded with outstanding young men and women and would, under the leadership of this extraordinary man, become known for its unflinching commitment to the Scriptures and its educational innovation.
Much more about his life and leadership at Western and elsewhere will be written in the days just ahead. His fierce commitment to Christ, his strength of mind and heart, and his driving ambition for the training of others for gospel ministry set him apart. Few had the energy of mind or body to match his, and he could sometimes appear unyielding and rigid. Yet, those who knew him day to day—and often did battle with him over big ideas—held him with great respect and admiration. Perhaps lesser known was his immense capacity for compassion and his concern for the welfare of fellow believers, great or small; he would travel fast and far to be at the side of a pastor or an acquaintance in trouble. Allow the enemy to win the battle in a believer’s life? Never, he often exclaimed.
Earl Radmacher was a beloved friend and colleague to me and many others, but more than that, a towering and determined champion for the kingdom of God. His presence in heaven leaves, for now, a gaping vacancy down here.
We hope you’ll take time to remember and share a memory about Dr. Radmacher on our webpage.
Dr. Jim Sweeney served Western Seminary for many years as faculty member and academic dean. He is currently serving as president of North Portland Bible College.