‘The People’s Theologian’ reaches 50 years in the ministry

Church and civic leaders have paid tribute to one of the nation’s most prolific clergymen upon reaching a half-century of active ministry in the Free Church of Scotland.

As well as being one of the most in-demand preachers, Professor Donald Macleod’s writings continue to stimulate, shock and even outrage through his opinion pieces for the media, most notably in The West Highland Free Press (WHFP) and The Observer.

After being ordained to Kilmallie and Arisaig Free Church in Lochaber on 5 November 1964, Professor Macleod went onto minister in Partick Highland, Glasgow, from 1970-78, and continues to teach at the Free Church College (now Edinburgh Theological Seminary) to this day.

He has moulded the minds of hundreds, if not thousands, of ministers and Christian students who have gone onto serve around the world.

The 73-year-old also edited the denomination’s magazine, The Monthly Record, from 1977-1990, during which time the magazine became required reading at every Scottish newsroom with Professor Macleod making incisive observations on everything from the devolution vote in 1979 to Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

Founding WHFP editor Brian Wilson said: “Donald MacLeod has been an intellectual giant of his generation. His writing, whether theological or temporal, is invariably challenging and superb in the use of language.

“Donald does not merely offer opinions but draws them from a deep well of knowledge and learning, rooted in his faith and culture.

“His contribution to Scottish life, continues to be immense and his output is remarkable in its consistency.”

Rev David Meredith, a former Free Church of Scotland Moderator and minister of Smithton-Culloden Free Church in Inverness, added: “There is no doubt that Donald was the most influential figure in the post-1900 Free Church.

“In many ways he represented the spirit of the Disruption more than he did the later Free Church.

“Donald certainly defies categories, he is a radical traditionalist, a conservative reformer. He believed that theology should be theologically robust, socially aware and politically engaged.”

Mr Meredith continued: “Donald taught a whole generation to think. He constantly challenged us to give reasons for our position and was impatient with mere rote answers.

“He is an iconoclast in the best tradition of Scottish Presbyterianism who allowed us and indeed demanded that we question the status quo. He is a prophet, speaking God’s word into our needy land.”

As well as his eloquent yet evocative writings into Scottish public life, Professor Macleod made a number of significant contributions to the Christian Church in Scotland.

He is credited with the rediscovery of Scottish theology, drawing deeply on the teachings of men like Thomas Chalmers and John Knox, and as Principal led the Free Church College when its theology degree course gained accredited status with the University of Glasgow.

Branded “the People’s theologian”, Professor Macleod is renowned for his searching Christ-centred preaching. He is also the author of several important theological books.

Throughout his half-century in ministry Professor Macleod has received 11 calls from various congregations, including an audacious bid from one Church of Scotland parish back in 1996.

Originally from Ness on the Isle of Lewis, Professor Macleod is the son of a joiner. He went to high school at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway before going onto study at the University of Glasgow, where he graduated with a degree in teaching.

He openly professed faith in Christ for the first time at Partick Highland Free Church in April 1960, and, sensing a call to ministry, was accepted and began training at the Free Church College in October 1961.

After successfully completing his theological training, and just a few months after his ordination to his first congregation in Lochaber, Donald married Mary in 1965.

They have three sons – John, 48, Murdo, 47, and Angus, 44.

Professor Macleod served as Principal of the Free Church College from 1999 to 2010; and in 2008 was honoured as a Doctor of Divinity (DD) by Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - the first Free Church of Scotland minister to be made a DD in many years.

The Free Church is indebted to his preaching and teaching, and rejoices in the occasion of his jubilee in the ministry.