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Christoph Schwöbel (1955 – 2021)

Judith Wolfe
Wednesday 22 September 2021

Christoph Schwöbel studied at the Kirchliche Hochschule Bethel and the University of Marburg, before taking his first academic post as Lecturer in Systematic Theology at King’s College London in 1986. With Colin Gunton, he founded the influential Research Institute for Systematic Theology at King’s in 1988, and he served as its Director until 1993, when he left London to take up a chair in Kiel. Christoph had a glittering career in Germany: he moved to Heidelberg in 1999, and to Tübingen in 2004, and served academy and church with great distinction, notably as chair of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Theologie from 2008 to 2011; as editor of the leading journal Die Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie since 2007; as a member of the Leuenberg Fellowship from 1989 to 1994, drafting its influential statement, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ’; and as co-chair of the Meissen Conference, which brings together the Church of England and the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, from 2004 to 2010.

He returned to the UK, to St Andrews, in 2018 to take our Chair of Divinity, established in 1643. His teaching here was inspirational, from introductory doctrine for first-year undergraduates to seminar programmes for doctoral students. Unsurprisingly, long queues formed, wanting to study with him, but he was generous with his time to all students and colleagues, and committed to the flourishing of the School. He was a founding father of our ongoing St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology project and gave himself selflessly to the task of making it the best it could be.

Christoph was committed to the worldwide church, with a particular focus on Asia, where he maintained strong relationships and helped found the East-West Theological Forum. He was also deeply committed to inter-religious dialogue, and his work in promoting Christian-Muslim conversation and understanding, both individually and institutionally, will be of lasting significance.

Over his career he published six monographs, about two dozen edited volumes, and several hundred journal articles or book chapters. His writings have shaped the discipline in very significant ways, but those of us who knew him would say his presence and personality were more transformative than even his writings were.

Christoph had a zest for life and cultivated a wide acquaintance. Everyone who knew him was drawn to his passion and his joy in seeking to explicate the gospel. We are all the poorer for his passing, but we remember particularly his children Martin, Christine, Johannes, Stephan, and Simon and Jonathan, and his widow Katrin.

If you would like to leave a message of condolence, a tribute, or a memory of Christoph, please add it below.

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15 thoughts on "Christoph Schwöbel (1955 – 2021)"

  • Robert MacSwain (PhD, 2010)
    Robert MacSwain (PhD, 2010)
    Wednesday 22 September 2021, 8.34pm

    Such a profound loss to the discipline of theology, the community of St Mary's College, and his family and friends. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

  • Alasdair Coles
    Alasdair Coles
    Thursday 23 September 2021, 10.38am

    In the days since hearing this terrible news I've seen his face and heard his voice so many times: the smile, the gravely purr ... as hugely learned as kind and generous - a remarkable person. Condolences to Katrin, Simon and Jonathan and to his many friends and colleagues.

  • Christian Polke
    Christian Polke
    Saturday 25 September 2021, 9.03pm

    For Christoph, one of my first advisers and teachers in theology, who came 1999 the same winter to Heidelberg, he as a Professor, me as a young student, whose courses were inspiring, especially because he was one of the true Socratic teachers. For Christoph, whom I am still have owed a study on an issue I was thinking about for one and a half decade. Wished I could have sent you the manuscript earlier. For Christoph, family guy, academic scholar, teacher, man of the church, friend for many and for more... Rest in Peace and in God´s Eternity

  • Christian Polke
    Christian Polke
    Saturday 25 September 2021, 9.07pm

    For Christoph, who was one of my first advisers and teachers in theology; coming the same winter 1999 as a Professor as I myself as a young student to Heidelberg. A true Socratic teacher who has asked more than to give definite answers by himself. For Christoph, whom I have owed for more than a decade a study on an issue we have discussed earlier. Wished I could have finished my book earlier. For Christoph, family guy, teacher, son of his church, friend of many and for many more... Rest in Peace and in God´s eternity and Glory

  • Daniel Mourkojannis
    Daniel Mourkojannis
    Monday 27 September 2021, 5.44pm

    I was very shocked by the news of Christoph Schwöbel's sudden death. I got to know Prof. Schwöbel as an inspiring theologian during his time at Kiel University. His great, encyclopedic knowledge, his "british humour" his openness and fairness as well as his hospitality made a deep impression on me. I would like to express my sincere condolences to his relatives and friends. Daniel Mourkojannis

  • Hartmut Rosenau
    Hartmut Rosenau
    Tuesday 28 September 2021, 8.40am

    It is so sad to hear that you are gone, dear Christoph! I will keep you in my mind as one of only few theologians who impress others by their thoughts and by their personality as well. Thank you for many inspiring discussions - and rest In peace!

  • Khegan Delport
    Khegan Delport
    Tuesday 28 September 2021, 10.11pm

    Christoph was very kind to me during my student exchange at the University of Tübingen in 2014. He also had an impact on the final form of my masters dissertation, which I was completing at that stage, as well as assisting me in several research applications I made thereafter. His death is a significant loss to the theological fraternity.

  • Dr. Hans R. Balzer
    Dr. Hans R. Balzer
    Monday 18 October 2021, 5.07pm

    Christoph Schwöbel and I worked next-door to each other in Marburg from 1980 to 1983. I probably remember every word he said in our discussions on the floor and over coffee - because each of his words had real meaning! Our mentor, the late Professor Ratschow, once told me: "Mr. Schwöbel's professional future is my greatest concern. He is very modest, but every colleague realizes - Mr. Schwöbel knows much more than all of them together!" Then I went to Africa, he went to the UK, and we lost sight... I regret that I never contacted him all these years. But who he was and what he did will be a blessing for generations.

    • Klaas Hansen
      Klaas Hansen
      Saturday 25 March 2023, 1.03pm

      Lieber Herr Dr. Balzer, wie schön, an dieser Stelle eine Nachricht von Ihnen zu finden! Der plötzliche, viel zu frühe Tod von Prof. Dr. Christoph Schwöbel hat mich ebenso betroffen gemacht wie Sie. Ich habe bei ihm in Marburg im WS 1983/84 mein Orientierungsprojekt Theologie gemacht, und zugleich bei Ihnen Hebräisch gelernt, aber wahrscheinlich werden Sie sich nicht mehr an mich erinnern. Ich habe 1991 in Marburg mein Examen gemacht und war von 1994-2011 Pfarrer in Rimhorn im Odenwald. Wie ich beim Lesen der Pfarrchronik herausfand, war dort von 1927-1937 ein Karl Schwöbel Pfarrer gewesen, der sich durch mutiges Bekennen gegen die Nationalsozialisten auszeichnete. Welch ein seltsamer Zufall: Jener Karl Schwöbel war Christoph Schwöbels Großvater. Ich habe Christoph Schwöbel damals versucht, in Tübingen zu kontaktieren und ihn nach Rimhorn einzuladen, aber dieser Kontaktversuch hat ihn wohl nicht erreicht, jedenfalls habe ich keine Antwort bekommen. Inzwischen bin ich (seit Ende 2011) in der Kirchengemeinde Eckelshausen (bei Biedenkopf/Lahn) tätig, was ganz in der Nähe der Wohnung meiner Eltern liegt, die beide hochbetagt sind und noch leben. Ich selber hoffe, hier noch einige Jahr hier Dienst zu tun, bis ich 2027 in den Ruhestand trete. Ich hoffe, es geht Ihnen gut. Was ist eigentlich aus Ihrer Untersuchung zur hebräischen Wurzel DBR geworden? Ganz herzliche Grüße Ihr Klaas Hansen

  • Lena Kremp
    Lena Kremp
    Thursday 21 October 2021, 7.10am

    I am shocked of this message. He was my favorite professor in Tübingen, and I always enjoyed attending his lectures and seminars. I learned a lot from him and always appreciated his pleasant manner, not only in lectures and seminars, but also in exams. With his calm voice he took away the fear of the exam. The news that he can no longer teach makes me very sad. My thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and students. His death is a great loss to theology.

  • Simon Kremp
    Simon Kremp
    Friday 29 October 2021, 11.31am

    I am very saddened and shocked by the news of his early passing. I remember vividly sitting in his office in Tübingen, talking about Tolkien and his theology while he smoked his pipe. He was a good lecturer and friendly examiner. He helped me a lot with starting my exam thesis and gladly accepted in supervising my PhD work. The world has lost a great man and theologian. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and also with his colleagues and students.

  • O. B.
    O. B.
    Friday 19 November 2021, 7.22pm

    In shock and mourning - and deep gratefulness. I met Mr. Schwöbel in my second semster in Kiel - after studying in Göttingen and Jerusalem - and he fundamentally changed my perspective on how to play with philosophical and theological models. He first introduced me to the thoughts of Colin Gunton and David Ray Griffin. His own theological challenges have been and still are tempting for my live and believe - in retrospect I can appreciate how the encounter of his personality has played out in my later live and thought. I hope that I have been able to kindle some sparks of this fire of thought in a few of my own pupils later on. It is a great gift, that his humorous voice can still be heared in a lot of presentations available on the internet - and if I listen to his words I still can see his face with his big beard as in the days of Kiel. O weiter, stiller Friede! So tief im Abendrot. Wie sind wir wandermüde – Ist dies etwa der Tod?

  • Henning Brunke
    Henning Brunke
    Monday 9 January 2023, 6.24pm

    50 years ago i studied with him as a young man in bethel and have fond memories of him as a very promising classmate. R.I.P.

  • Barry E. Bryant
    Barry E. Bryant
    Sunday 22 January 2023, 7.01pm

    Someone how I managed to miss hearing about Christoph's death until today when I stumbled across this, so my grief is fresh. I was one of his Ph.D. students when he taught at King's with Colin Gunton and was his tutorial assistant from '91-92. I will always remember Christoph's concern for each of his students, the many conversations in his office, my visit to his home, and meeting his lovely family. Like Colin Gunton before him, we have lost a brilliant mind and compassionate heart way too soon. My deepest condolences to the family and may your grief be comforted by the high regard in which so many held Christoph. Barry E. Bryant, KCL 1992.

  • Ernest Abbott
    Ernest Abbott
    Saturday 20 January 2024, 6.48am

    I have only just been informed of his 'home call'. I was one of his MTh students 1989-1990. In the tutorials he always asked difficult & challenging questions, at least to us present they were difficult & challenging. The questions were always followed by what seemed a long period of silence before someone proffer an answer. I never quite got around to starting my PhD under him. I did have a brief chat about it, but would have liked to. I have very fond memories of Christoph, not just in the tutorials, but also his presenting a paper at one of the conferences he, Colin (& others) organized. The family can be assured that all who interacted with him in any way came away from he interaction all the richer. Ernest Abbott KCL 1989/90


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