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Remembering James E. Will, Alumnus and Emeritus Professor

September 14, 2016
Rev. Dr. James E. Will

Rev. Dr. James E. Will, alumnus and emeritus professor of systematic theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, died at 88 on September 10, 2016, in a single car accident. Will was a member of the faculty at Garrett-Evangelical for 39 years, first as professor of philosophical theology at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Naperville, Illinois starting in 1959 and later as professor of systematic theology in 1973 to the newly merged Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Will retired and was named emeritus professor in 1998.

Reflecting on the life of Will, Garrett-Evangelical President Lallene J. Rector remarked: “Jim was a champion for justice in many forms and a leader at the seminary in teaching inter-faith courses for four decades. During that time, his engagement in process theology and perspectives in philosophical and liberation theologies had a tremendous impact on our students, the seminary, and the academy at-large. We give thanks for Jim's life and his numerous contributions to Garrett-Evangelical and I offer my condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Will centered much of his teaching in the relation of faith to culture and theological ethics. He served as the first director of the Garrett-Evangelical Peace Institute, which was founded in 1975. This work led to the publication of numerous articles and books during his career, including Must Walls Divide? (1981); Moral Rejection of Nuclear Deterrence (1985); A Christology of Peace (1989); and The Universal God: Justice, Love, and Peace in the Global Village (1994). His final book, Review of a Contemporary Theology for Ecumenical Peace (2014), was authored at the age of 86. While written primarily for laity in the church, the book reads somewhat as a memoir. In it Will tells stories from his times in ROTC, college and seminary, as well as when he taught in graduate school.

Ordained by the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a predecessor of The United Methodist Church, Will’s ministry extended far beyond the seminary classroom. He travelled all over eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, studying the ministry of churches in socialist societies. He was a principal speaker at the Christian Peace Conference in 1975 at Budapest, Hungary, and he represented the National Council of Churches-USA at a World Council of Churches consultation on human rights in Montreux, Switzerland in 1976. He also served as a member of the Commission on Faith and Order of the National Council of Churches and director of the Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

Will received his doctor of philosophy degree at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1962. He received a bachelor of arts degree with high honor from North Central College in 1949 and a bachelor of divinity degree from Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1952.

While we at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary grieve the loss of Will, we also give thanks for his numerous contributions to the church, the academy, and the seminary community. We offer our deepest condolences and send our heartfelt prayers to Will’s family and loved ones during this time of loss.

A memorial service service will be held on Saturday, October 22 at 11 a.m. at Kingswood United Methodist Church, 401 West Dundee, Buffalo Grove, Illinois 60089. Messages of condolence may be sent to Rev. Hwa Young Chong, 721 Harlem Avenue, Glenview, Illinois 60025, or by email at