LOUISVILLE, KY. – William Edward “Ed” Farley (BD ’53), 85, died December 27, 2014. Raised in Louisville, Ky., Farley was a member of the 100th graduating class at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1953. He pursued graduate studies in philosophy and theology and earned his doctorate from Union Theological Seminary in New York and Columbia University and later completed post-doctoral studies abroad. In his earliest years of graduate work, he began a career in teaching at Centre College, the University of Louisville, as a graduate assistant at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, in the fields of philosophy and religion at DePauw University, and as associate professor and professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He was an emeritus professor of the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University, where he taught for 30 years.
During more than 50 years of research, writing and teaching, Farley became one of best known and respected American theologians of our time. He is renowned for his prolific writing in systematic theology and his analysis of theological education. On the latter he participated nationally in conversations about the state of theological education in the United States, particularly the internal, cultural and religious challenges that besiege such institutions. His views on this subject were captured in two books, Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Fortress Press, 1983); and The Fragility of Knowledge: Theological Education in the Church and the University (Fortress Press, 1988).
As a theologian, Farley’s contributions became a routine course of study among seminarians and are often part of the permanent libraries of other theologians and pastors. His more recent publications included Good and Evil: Interpreting the Human Condition (Augsburg/Fortress, 1990), Divine Empathy: A Theology of God (Augsburg/Fortress, 1996), Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic (Ashgate, England, 2001), and Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts about the Church’s Ministry (Westminster/John Knox, 2003). His latest publication was his memoir, Thinking About Things and Other Frivolities (Cascade Books, 2014).
Among a lifetime of numerous honors, including the Fielding Lewis Walker Scholarship in Systematic Theology from Louisville Seminary, Farley was invited by Louisville Seminary to give the Caldwell Lectures in 1989, which he entitled, “The Presbyterian Heritage as Modernism: Reaffirming a Forgotten Past in Hard Times.” In 1991, Vanderbilt awarded him the annual Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research. A prize ordinarily given to a faculty member in one of the pure science fields, Farley was the first winner from the School of Divinity. He received the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Theology for Divine Empathy as well as several Lilly Endowment grants and a Lilly Fellowship in Religion. Louisville Seminary honored him as a Distinguished Alum in 2004.
by Louisville Seminary communications staff