Dr. Myron Houghton started every semester the same way, with the same simple words about his theological method: “An authentic evangelical theology will examine every doctrine in light of the gospel.” Then he would look up, pause, and add, “This has yet to be done,” an ongoing challenge that summarized his life journey.
Myron Houghton died on July 14, 2020, in Ankeny, Iowa, due to complications from COVID-19. He was 78.
He was born on July 26, 1941, in Schenectady, New York, followed by an unannounced blessing 27 minutes later: a twin brother, George. Their lives would be intertwined in ministry until the very end, when both contracted the coronavirus and were quarantined in separate rooms of the same care facility.
Myron’s Choice: An Education or a Car
When both boys were 9, they came to Christ through the influence of a Vacation Bible School and a home Bible club. Later, when Myron earned his driver’s license, his father promised he would pay for either a new car or Myron’s education. Years later Myron still laughed about the deal. He eventually earned 11 degrees and certificates, including two doctorates, from 10 institutions. In retrospect, the car would have been much cheaper!
He enrolled at Moody Bible Institute and joined Marquette Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. Pastor Bryce Augsburger invited the young man for Sunday dinner and immediately noted his leadership potential. Weekly dinners became informal teaching sessions on Baptist theology—and taught Houghton the mentoring potential of a shared meal. The experience ignited a 60-year relationship with the Augsburger family. Near the end of his life, Myron was cared for by Augsburger’s grandson Lance, pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Grimes, Iowa.
After graduating from Moody in 1962, Myron finished his undergraduate degree at Pillsbury College (BA, 1964), then joined George at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis. Both attended Faith Baptist Church of St. Paul, leading to their unique double ordination service on May 12, 1966.
Law and Grace: The Fork in the Road
The Houghtons came of age during a time when the theological landscape was rapidly shifting. As a student in 1962, Myron had joined the Evangelical Theological Society. He remained active in the group throughout his career, and at his passing he was one of the longest-tenured members of ETS. When discussing his developing theological method, he described his theology as evangelical, meaning gospel-centered, and saw the ultimate goal of all Scripture as making one wise unto salvation. But Myron also described his theology as churchly. He freely acknowledged that all groups, including Baptists, arranged their doctrines in various levels of importance. As a fundamentalist, Myron avoided formal cooperation with people and groups who denied fundamental doctrines such as inerrancy. But on an informal level, he would share coffee or lunch with just about anyone.
He continued his studies at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary (BD, 1967) and Grace Theological Seminary (ThM, 1968), then rejoined his brother at Dallas Theological Seminary, where both earned doctoral degrees. Their complementary research interests, George in church history and Myron in systematic theology, would position the twins to make a unique impact. George joined the Dallas faculty, and Myron was hired at Denver Baptist Bible College, where his mentor Bryce Augsburger had become president.
The Denver years ignited a formative period of study in comparative theological systems. While studying in Dallas, Myron had also earned a master’s degree from Southern Methodist University (1971); now he would add a master’s degree in Catholic theology from St. Thomas Theological Seminary (1977). He developed a seminary course on Law and Grace, a subject he called the “fork in the road,” the point at which various theological systems diverged into their distinctive beliefs. Not content merely to teach his personal theological system, he searched for ways to help students develop their own beliefs.
His answer hinged on a rigorous approach to theological method, the starting point of each course he taught, whatever the subject. But his answer also hinged on a technique he learned from Bryce Augsburger: the teaching power of a shared meal. To his students, Myron’s ministry around the lunch table was just as important as his lectures.
In 1983 Myron was hired at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa, where his brother had become dean of education. Three years later the college began a seminary, and Myron became chair of systematic theology. With both twins teaching at the same institution, students naturally dubbed them Dr. Myron and Dr. George.
Their personal lives took different paths. George met and married his wife, Karen, but Myron was becoming increasingly comfortable with his own singleness. On his left hand he began wearing a silver ring inset with an interlocking Trinity symbol, a reminder of his single-minded calling as a theology teacher. He continued studying theological systems, earning a ThD in Lutheran theology from Concordia Seminary of St. Louis (1986) and a graduate certificate from St. Stephen’s Course of Studies in Orthodox Theology (1995).
As he continued teaching, Myron saw more theology students who followed trends and personalities with “a tendency to cherry-pick various parts of a theological system.” He believed the problem stemmed from an incomplete theological method, leading to inconsistent, even incompatible ideas. His publication of Law and Grace (Regular Baptist Press, 2011) not only captured the teaching of his signature seminary course; it also helped students understand how doctrinal ideas could connect in a consistent pattern of belief.
Myron’s Legacy: Theologically Equipped Students
In time, Myron took on the role of elder statesman, a trusted advisor who was frequently consulted on theological questions. “He was a theologian without peer,” says Kevin Bauder, chair of systematic theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
The semesters flew by quickly. Time flies like an arrow—“and fruit flies like a banana,” Houghton would have added, ever the lover of bad puns. His lectures were spiked with humorous quips that live on as penciled additions to his class notes. No topic was immune. Death and cremation? “My last chance for a hot body,” he would say, before beginning a serious discussion on the end of life.
In the spring of 2019 he began his final semester with his usual challenge: to examine every doctrine in light of the gospel. His teaching career would soon draw to a close, but that unfinished task would be carried on by his students.
“Other theologians wrote more,” says Kevin Bauder. “Other theologians cultivated a coterie of students who follow them verbatim and copy their conclusions. But Myron Houghton wasn’t interested in students copying his conclusions—he wanted to equip them theologically. So there aren’t a lot of ‘Little Myrons’ running around copying his exact positions, but there’s a whole generation of pastors who are better equipped to think through the difficult issues that are approaching.”
The GARBC’s national representative, Mike Hess, agrees: “The GARBC will always be indebted to Dr. Myron Houghton. For several decades, pastors and Christian leaders who were trained and mentored under Dr. Houghton have faithfully served in GARBC churches, passing on the solid theological training they received. Dr. Houghton was a true Christian statesman and gentleman. He also exemplified what it meant to be a distinguished theologian who had a heart to train God’s servants for several generations (2 Tim. 2:2). His brilliant mind, quick wit, and heart for the Lord and His church will be long remembered.”
Myron’s Destiny: Reflecting Christ’s Glory
Houghton’s retirement turned out to be short.
“The end came sooner than we thought,” Lance Augsburger says. “I would have loved another meal together, more time to talk theology, and ask him about writing another book— but we prayed, ‘Lord, You do what is best.’ All of this was the Lord’s timing.”
Both brothers had contracted COVID-19 and were quarantined in the same care facility, unable to see each other. As their 79th birthday approached, Myron was growing weaker. Karen Houghton finally intervened. “I talked to the care center and asked, ‘Can’t you do something so George can see Myron one more time?’”
George, who was doing better than Myron, was granted an exception and allowed a brief visit, which he later described in a phone interview from the care facility.
“Finally I got to talk to Myron last Friday after supper. I hadn’t been able to see him for some time, but they took me down to his room and gave us some time together.”
By that point Myron did not look well, and George understood the end was near. So what do you say to the twin brother you will never see again—at least here on earth?
“You say whatever the Lord brings to mind,” George explains. “Most of all, you remember the comforting words of Scripture.”
He sat next to the bed and talked to Myron while holding his hand. “By that time he was not very alert, but they allowed me to pray with him and assure him of the presence of the Lord.”
A final hug, then a final word of encouragement: “The Lord has promised He will never leave us or forsake us.”
Which brings us to the matter of “last words.” What does a theologian say at the end of his life’s journey—or in this case, when the end comes sooner than expected?
Myron Houghton left his benediction at the end of Law and Grace:
This is how our study of Law and Grace ends—a look to the future, and a promise of hope. Our life on earth may seem difficult, but in view of eternity, our earthly experiences are only a light and momentary affliction. So we invest our remaining time here on earth in studying God’s Word more faithfully. As we gain a better understanding of what Christ has done for us, we will respond with a new zeal for devout and holy living.
The more we respond to God’s work in our lives, the more we will be able to reflect Christ’s glory in eternity. But this will not become a cause of eternal pride for any of us. People will not wander around Heaven, noticing a person’s reflected glory as if to say, “My, how faithful this one must have been.”
No, we will see each other and say, “What a wonderful Lord Jesus Christ whose brightness is being reflected!”
The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.
Dr. Houghton is survived by his twin brother, George, and sister, Ginger, a retired nurse anesthetist (“We’re all in the business of putting people to sleep,” Myron once said). He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Karen; a niece; and a nephew.
A memorial service will be held at Ankeny Baptist Church, Ankeny, Iowa, on Monday, July 20, at 10 a.m. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the church will reduce its auditorium capacity, provide for overflow seating, and livestream the service.
Kevin Mungons is editorial manager for Moody Bible Institute’s marketing department and a member of First Baptist Church, Arlington Heights, Ill. He previously served as managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin.