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The Reverend Dr. Iain D. Campbell

Obituary by Professor Donald Macleod

The tragic death of the Reverend Iain D. Campbell has cast a gloom over the island of Lewis such as it has never known in my lifetime; and the gloom is not confined to Lewis.  Iain was a well-known figure in Evangelical circles throughout Britain, and beyond, and tributes have already come in from the USA and elsewhere. 

‘He could have adorned pulpits in the largest cities in the world,’ writes Dr. Geoff Thomas of Aberystwyth, ‘or become a professor in an American seminary, but he valued the community which nourished and nurtured him, and he shared their values.’  To that community he dedicated his life, and from it he drew the strength that supported his wider ministry.

An outstanding pupil at the Nicolson Institute, he was Joint-Dux there in 1980 along with Frances MacFarlane (now Frances Murray, and Rector of the school), and he was no less distinguished as a student at the University of Glasgow, where he graduated with First Class Honours in Arts in 1985.  He went on from there to pursue his theological studies at the Free Church College, where he was profoundly influenced by the teaching of Professor John L. Mackay in Old Testament and Professor Alasdair I. Macleod in Apologetics.  In tandem with his College studies he also took external exams at the University of London, again graduating with First Class Honours as a Bachelor of Divinity. 

Some years later he began postgraduate studies at the University of Edinburgh and was awarded his PhD degree in 2001.  His thesis was on the life and work of Sir George Adam Smith, one of the early pioneers of the liberal criticism of the Bible, and the last ordained minister to serve as the Principal of a Scottish University (he was Principal of Aberdeen University from 1909 to 1935).  A slightly modified version of this thesis was published in 2004 under the title, Fixing the Indemnity.  Smith held views of Scripture which differed radically from those of Iain D, but the thesis, meticulously researched, is a model of its kind, treating the world-renowned critic with both fairness and rigour.

In his Foreword to Fixing the Indemnity, Alasdair I. Macleod expressed the hope that, ‘as Smith was a man of his times, maybe Iain will be a man for these specific times, contributing his own reformed, covenantal and christological perspectives to the study of the Old Testament.’   A decade of sterling work followed the publication of his thesis, but we had every reason to hope that the best was yet to come.  Now hope has had to give place to pain, but it is for what he was and for what he achieved that Iain D must be remembered, not for the tragic events of the last few days.

Iain D. Campbell was a brilliant communicator, in constant demand as a lecturer and conference-speaker.  He had a quite extraordinary fluency of speech, but the fluency was disciplined by clarity, precision and careful arrangement.  The delivery was effortless, though often passionate, the mastery of the subject complete, and while there was no trace of arrogance he spoke with the Bible-derived authority of a true preacher. 

But he was also a master of the written word, as his many publications show, and the Free Church recognised this by appointing him Editor of its magazine, the Record, not only once, but twice.  He was still serving in this capacity at the time of his death, and one of the most poignant memories we shall carry is that his very last issue (the February one) contains a photo of him in the prime of a splendid manhood, looking perfectly at peace with himself and the world.  His editorship avoided controversy, but it reflected faithfully both the growing diversity within the Church and its links with the wider Christian world; and his own contributions consistently dealt with the profoundest themes at a level which was well within the compass of an intelligent laity.

Iain D was a rare combination: an academic and a natural preacher, and all who knew him assumed that sooner rather than later he would be appointed to teach at the Free Church College.  Such opportunities did indeed arise and I, for one, devoutly wished to see him as either a colleague or a successor.  My attempts to persuade him failed, to my chagrin, and now to my lasting regret, but the College’s loss was Point’s gain.  He was inducted there on 21st August 2009, and as in his previous charges of Snizort (1988-95) and Back (1995-2009) his preaching quickly rekindled enthusiasm for the Christian message, and people who had lost their spiritual appetite found themselves once again looking forward eagerly to their Sundays and to preaching which fed their minds and stirred their souls.  Thanks to the marvels of modern technology these sermons were heard all over the world and within hours of his death an American pastor was writing, ‘I never met or heard Dr Campbell in the flesh, but I knew him from sermon audios, and the sermons I heard told me all that I needed to know of the man. The reason for his high reputation was obvious.  He was a man of transparent piety, for whom the Bible and the God of the Bible was a Being with whom he was familiar.  The Bible irradiated everything he said, and every application he made of Biblical truth seemed so searching and personal, even though he did not know those whom he addressed.  He knew men’s deepest needs and he addressed them with gentleness and compassion as one who felt for them, and wanted them to have the comfort of Christian peace.  His death is a loss, not only to his immediate family and to the congregations he pastored, but to the wider church across the world.’

But over the last few months Iain D was providing a further service to the community of Point.  Away back in the early 1960s the congregation there, then one of the largest in the Free Church, became so divided that a large section separated and set up a church of their own.  As is the way with such happenings, things were said and done which were not easily forgotten and it seemed as if the rift could never be healed.  But in recent months, under Iain D’s leadership, rapid progress was made, and just a few days before his death the process of reunification was virtually completed: a remarkable development which, I am sure, has brought joy to the angels in heaven.

Iain D. Campbell, as boy and man, was greatly beloved.  He became a communicant member of Stornoway Free Church in August, 1977, aged only 14, and quickly bonded with his older mentors.  As a pastor, he was loved by his people; as a colleague he was admired by all who worked with him and who saw at close hand his quick mind, courteous demeanor and total professionalism.  Latterly, in addition to preaching, writing, itinerating, editing and attending to the pastoral needs of his congregation he was also Vice-Chairman of the Board of Edinburgh Theological Seminary (formerly the Free Church College) and the Chairman, Dr. Malcolm Maclean of Greyfriars Free Church, Inverness, warmly appreciated his work on the Board.  ‘We are devastated,’ he writes, ‘by Iain's passing. He was a gifted Reformed theologian who longed to see it taught faithfully, warmly, imaginatively and clearly. Dedicated to helping in this process, he involved himself wholeheartedly in the work of the Seminary Board, and made many valuable contributions to its discussions.’

Iain D would have risen to eminence in any profession (and once toyed with the idea of becoming an SNP candidate for the Scottish Parliament), but he chose the Christian ministry, and in that chosen field he became a giant.  Yet, for all the consummate ease with which he presented himself in public, he was a very private man who seldom shared his feelings, and he exuded such an aura of calm competence that none of us thought to ask, ‘Are you OK?’  Now, too late, we know that he was in pain, and sometimes pain is more powerful than faith, and more powerful than reason, and altogether too much for the balance of our minds.  Bereft of him, we are traumatised, our hearts bleeding, our minds stunned and our prayers turned into protests. 

I find myself swirling in a vortex of questions, narratives, disinformation, regrets and fears. St. Paul assures me that ‘God works all things together for good,’ but never has my faith in that great promise been so severely tested.  How He can turn this grievous loss into good, I see not.  But grace shone brightly in the life of Iain D. Campbell, such grace does not let go, and if it leads me home we shall soon be with the Lord together. 

In the meantime, we have a duty of care to Iain’s wife, Anne; to his mother, Lily; to his sons, Iain and Stephen; to his daughter Emily; and to his sisters, Margaret and Alma.  He was their hero.  May they do him proud.