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Longtime TEDS professor and missiologist David J. Hesselgrave dies at 94

Trinity CommunicationsMay 23, 2018

David J. Hesselgrave, who served at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School as both a faculty member and a director of missions, died Monday, May 21, at his home in Rockford. He was 94.

Hesselgrave served on the TEDS faculty from 1965-91, establishing and directing the School of World Mission and Evangelism as well as the doctoral program. Although he completed all three of his degrees at the University of Minnesota, he was a student at Trinity Bible College and Seminary, where he met his future wife Gertrude Swanson.

The Hesselgraves served for 12 years as missionaries in Japan. He also cofounded the Evangelical Missiological Society. His colleagues on the TEDS faculty had great respect for his teaching ability and his work as an author.

“He was the author of several landmark books related to missions,” TEDS professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies Craig Ott said. “He was one of the most influential evangelical missiologists of his generation.”

“His imprint and influence on the Trinity community, students, missionaries, and church was far reaching through his work as educator, author and missions leader,” Trinity president David S. Dockery said. We offer thanks to God for the life, ministry and legacy of David Hesselgrave.”

In 2011, Hesselgrave wrote the essay “My Pilgrimage in Mission.” In reflecting on his life, he wrote “although I was not a missionary kid, my parents and their parents were deeply religious people, though in very different ways. Those differences help to account for both my missionary calling and my missiological trajectory.”

In the same essay, Hesselgrave concluded: “I express gratitude to God and all who have preceded, accompanied and succeeded me.” He added, “More than I, they are the ones who have contributed to the growth of the Japan Evangelical Free Church, Trinity’s School of World Mission and Evangelism, the Evangelical Missiological Society, and the many churches and ministries with which I have been associated over these many years.”

Hesselgrave connected with missions and church planting in a variety of settings. In 1974, he and former TEDS dean Walter Kaiser worked to begin a new church just 2 miles from campus. The Village Church of Lincolnshire now ministers to Trinity students from all over the world.

“That was the beginning of our congregation,” VCL pastor Lee Eclov said, “and also a reason why VCL has had a commitment to missions from our founding.”

Hesselgrave’s books include Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally (Zondervan), Planting Churches Cross-Culturally (Baker), Counseling Cross-Culturally (Wipf and Stock), Contextualization: Meaning, Methods and Models (William Carey Library), Scripture and Strategy: The Use of the Bible in Post-Modern Church and Mission (William Carey Library) and Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today (Kregel). Trinity president David S. Dockery wrote a foreword to a planned second edition of that book.

Hesselgrave also co-edited Missionshift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium (B&H Academic) with Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College.

“To be able to work with David Hesselgrave, the dean of evangelical missiologists,” Stetzer said, “was just a remarkable thing.”

Hesselgrave is preceded in death by parents, Roy and Selma Hesselgrave; sister Lyla Dubois (Glenn); brother LeRoy (Ida); and great granddaughter Noelle Davis.

Gertrude, his wife of 73 years, survives David, along with sons David Dennis (Carolyn) and Ronald Paul (Kathi); daughter Sheryl Ann Kroeker (Martin); six grandchildren; and 11 great grandchildren.

Visitation and a memorial service will be held Saturday, June 2, at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. respectively at the chapel of Fairhaven Christian Retirement Center, 2470 North Alpine Road, Rockford, Illinois.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be sent to: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), Attention: Advancement, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL  60015 (memo: memory of David Hesselgrave).

Several years ago, TEDS produced a video tribute to Hesselgrave. It can be viewed at

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