John Macquarrie was born in Renfrew, Scotland on 27 June 1919. He was a man who remained closely tied to his Celtic roots and cherished his Scottish ancestry. Between the years of 1934–1936 John attended Paisley Grammar School. After attending this local secondary school, he enrolled at the University of Glasgow where he would end up receiving all of his advanced degrees (MA BD PhD DLitt). From 1945–1949 Macquarrie spent time in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department and then proceeded to become a parish minister at St Ninian’s in Brechin. During his parish ministry he became engaged and married Jenny Fallow Welsh. He did all of this while pursuing graduate work at Glasgow. Macquarrie obtained his PhD with a dissertation on the relationship between the German theologian Rudolph Bultmann and the German philosopher Martin Heidegger; it was published in 1955 as An Existentialist Theology. In 1953 he took up his first lectureship at his alma mater the University of Glasgow and remained there until 1962 when he decided to cross the Atlantic for a professorship in New York. In 1962 Macquarrie was made professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary and three years later become an ordained priest with the American Episcopal Church. Four years after becoming professor of systematic theology, he authored Principles of Christian Theology (1966) which became a widely used textbook in systematic theology. He continued his professorial role until 1970 when he decided to go back Britain. It was in 1970 that John Macquarrie was offered a prestigious chair at the University of Oxford the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity. The chair is linked to a canonry of Christ Church and Macquarrie found himself in the ideal position to do theology in the context of the Daily Office and the daily Eucharist. Upon coming to Oxford Macquarrie published a wide variety of books most of which are expansions of topics that were treated briefly in Principles of Christian Theology. In 1984 Macquarrie became a Fellow of the British Academy. He retired from Oxford in 1986 and moved with Jenny to Headington a suburb of Oxford.
John Macquarrie held honorary degrees from the University of the South General Theological Seminary, the University of Glasgow, the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest and Virginia Theological Seminary. He was named Doctor of Canon Law in 1986 by the Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary in the United States north of Chicago. He was a visiting professor at Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary, Tulane University and General Theological Seminary in New York. He was a visiting lecturer in numerous overseas universities and theological colleges in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark.
John Macquarrie died 28 May 2007.
“The life of the theologian will always be a pilgrimage with no stopping place that he or she can consider final. In what time remains to me I shall carry on my quest for a Christian theology truly catholic and truly critical.”
—John Macquarrie, 1986