Remembering Dr. Ray Bakke

Northern Seminary mourns the loss of a visionary Pastor, author, and innovative educator, Dr. Ray Bakke who died Friday, February 4, after suffering from cancer. He was preceded in death by his wife Corean and adopted son Brian Davis who died in 2018. He is survived by two sons, Brian and Woody, two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Dr. Bakke was Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary from 1979-1989 and was founding president of International Urban Associates and Bakke Graduate University. Ray and Corean trained and mentored generations of global pastoral leaders. His footprint is literally felt across God’s kingdom.

He and his late wife Corean met as freshmen in the choir at Moody Bible Institute; both came from rural farm communities- in Washington (Ray) and in Montana (Corean). They married in 1960. Corean was a concert pianist, composer, and recording artist.

Ray had a vision for global theological education. He said, “If mission is to, in, and from all 6 continents; so must be theological education. New models of credentialing what people already know. Identify teaching churches and have all pastoral churches taught in varieties of denominational and sociological contexts, so every grad is exposed to the best models of cell to mega church, no matter who is doing it; to study without caricaturing either right or left, but see the strengths and limits of each, for each prepares a space to reach people we will not reach.”

At Northern, McCormick, and Bakke Graduate University, he trained students to carry out that vision. Emeritus Professor of Ministry Dr. Robert Price studied urban ministry under Ray Bakke at Northern before joining our faculty. Dr. Price notes, “He was an amazing urban ministry pioneer and theologian. He also taught church history without notes! God used Ray’s mentoring to change my life and ministry along with countless others all over the world. One word to describe his ministry: prodigious.”

Ray’s influence changed the imagination of pastoral ministry. Dr. David Fitch, the Betty R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern, noted how Ray’s teaching prepared them for “the ever-changing socio-dynamics of the city. He taught us urban missiology in ways few of us were prepared to see in the 80’s. He gave us a vision for how God works in the teeming diversities of urban centers. He had a giant presence wherever he spent time with pastors and students.”

The classes that Ray taught and the community of global learners Ray assembled through his travels and network ignited passion for the global church. Ray discipled students as he traveled—from Egypt, to Ethiopia, the Philippines, and countless American cities. Dr. Wayne “Coach” Gordon, Associate Professor of Urban Ministry at Northern, and his wife Anne were two of those travelers. Coach attended Ray’s ordination in 1970 and has known Ray over 50 years. Ray had a deep love of Jesus Christ and an amazing grasp of scripture. Tommy Lee, Executive Director of the Grow Center for Church and Mission, said, “Ray Bakke taught me what it meant to be a student of God’s global work around the world.  I developed a passion for the work that God was doing globally around the world because of Ray’s teaching and influence.  He taught me the importance of being a student and to listen and to see what God is doing and what it meant to be a part of those plans.  He taught me what it meant to honor the people in communities that I walk in.  Ray was my “global professor.”  He took the Gospel to the ends of the earth by investing in so many students around the world.”

Dr. Bill Shiell, President of Northern Seminary, had the opportunity to visit personally with Ray in 2016 and again with his son Brian in August 2021. “Dr. Bakke loved Northern and had a heart for evangelistic pastoral training focused on the world’s cities. He lived into Ignatius of Loyola’s vision for theological education. He realized that seminaries should be on the front lines of the unhindered gospel as mission outposts, pioneering the work of the church, and training indigenous missionary pastors. I was personally inspired by Ray as a pastor and encouraged by Ray as a seminary President. The Northern community is so grateful for his continued influence and legacy.”

In the later stages of life, while serving as caregiver for Corean and enduring his own suffering from cancer, Ray continued to write and mentor. He would routinely email colleagues and friends on his reflections about the church, death, and theological education. In one of his emails from May 2021, Ray reflected on Romans 5,

“I’m at peace with God: my trauma does not change that. Our destiny is secure. But what follows does: “Glory in sufferings” for the process produces perseverance, character and finally hope.”

In summary, as Wayne Gordon, said “Ray loved the church and devoted his life to equipping her for loving the world and worshiping the LORD!”

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