CHICAGO, IL (July 20, 2010) – A memorial service for Donald C. Frisk, 99, “the theologian of the Covenant,” will be conducted at North Park Covenant Church in early September. Frisk died this morning.
Frisk served as professor of theology and dean of North Park Theological Seminary. His book Covenant Affirmations, This We Believe has been a standard text at the seminary and foundational for considering the implications of theology on every aspect of the lives of Covenanters since it was published in 1981.
Frisk was born April 14, 1911, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he grew up attending Salem Covenant Church. He married Evelyn Swanson on October 14, 1939. She died in 1987.
He earned Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Psychology from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Divinity degree from North Park Theological Seminary. He also studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, New York; Missionskola in Lidingö, Sweden; and University of Chicago Divinity School.
Prior to teaching at the seminary, Frisk served Swedish Covenant Church in New Rochelle, New York, and Mission Covenant Church in Princeton, Illinois. He began teaching at the seminary in 1945 and became dean in 1961. He returned to teaching theology in 1967 and continued until retiring in 1978. His son, Peter, said teaching was Frisk’s “first love.”
Covenant Executive Vice President Donn Engebretson noted Frisk’s important role in shaping the Covenant ethos. “Don Frisk gave an enormous gift to the Covenant in crafting a faithful, biblical but generous orthodoxy for the denomination at a time of great controversy over what it meant to be faithful to the Bible. In that way Don was a profoundly courageous man. So much of what we are today comes out of the mind, disciplined work and faithful heart of Don Frisk.”
Phil Anderson, seminary professor of church history, referred to Frisk as “the theologian of the Covenant church.” He added, “He was a superb scholar who was more interested in serving the church than the academy.”
His teaching left a “major legacy,” Anderson added. “Nearly every pastor in the denomination between 1945 and the 1970s learned their Covenant theology from Don.”
One of those students was John Weborg, professor emeritus of theology, who served at the same church in Princeton before following Frisk as a professor at the school.
The educator was a lifelong model for the pupil. “Mr. Frisk was a theologian of the church,” Weborg said. “While I followed him in the chair of theology, I am uncomfortable with the word ‘successor.’ I have tried to exercise the office of teacher in the church with the same sense of stewardship that professor Frisk had with the material as well as with his students.”
Another of Frisk’s friends, Jim Hawkinson, former executive secretary of Covenant Publications, characterized Frisk as “one of the foremost shapers of Covenant life and thought in his generation.”
“The clarity of his preaching, teaching, and writing throughtout his long career – first as a Covenant pastor and then as professor of theology at North Park Theological Seminary – remains a model for all coming after him. His New Life in Christ became the standard text for clergy and laity alike seeking to give form and shape to their faith, and Covenant Affirmations – in all its forms – relies yet on his unique ability to lay out clearly and logically the essential character of our movement as part of the body of Christ.
“No one in my experience was a better teacher, more devoted both to Christ and to the Covenant,” Hawkinson adds. “Thank the Lord that he being dead yet speaks.”
Anderson said Frisk’s leadership was key to helping guide and shape the school during the 1950s and 60s, which were turbulent years, not only in the church, but in all of society. The school achieved full accreditation during his tenure.
Frisk’s personal attention to his students also has continued to impact the entire denomination. “I am sure that I speak for generations of Covenant pastors when I say that Don had a profound influence on my life,” Engebretson said. “He was a marvelous teacher who encouraged creative but disciplined thought. He was deeply loving and affirming. My sense of his care for me as a student was deeply important to my sense of belonging in this community called the Covenant.”
Friends added that Frisk’s character was inspirational to the people around him. “He was the most gracious, kind, and fair Christian witness,” Anderson said.
Frisk, who had been in poor health, recently told his son, Peter, in preparing work on his memorial service, “I don’t want much said about Don Frisk, but a lot said about Don Frisk’s Savior.”
Frisk is survived by his son, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Covenant News Service will publish additional information as it becomes available.