Miller, Marlin Eugene (1938-1994)

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Ruthann and Marlin Miller, 1991.
Photo by Larry Boshart. Mennonite Archives of Ontario 1991-13 26

Marlin E. Miller: pastor, theologian and seminary president, was born 29 November 1938 in Iowa City, Iowa, USA to Marner Miller (24 June 1914-7 October 2007) and Lala Mae Hochstetler Miller (29 May 1917-27 June 2008). Marlin was the oldest of three sons and one daughter. On 12 June 1960 he married Ruthann Gardner (13 January 1940- ); together they had two daughters and a son. Marlin Miller died of a massive heart attack at his home in Goshen, Indiana on 3 November 1994. He is buried in the Violett Cemetery in Goshen. In November 2005 Ruthann Miller married George R. Brunk III.

The Miller family moved to Goshen, Indiana in 1946, where Marlin grew up as part of a family engaged in small business. He attended Bethany Christian High School, and graduated from Goshen College with a BA in 1960. After attending Goshen Biblical Seminary for one year, Marlin and Ruthann moved to Europe in 1961 where he undertook graduate studies, first at the University of Basel and then at the University of Heidelberg where he received a summa cum laude doctoral degree in theology in 1968. His dissertation was published in 1970 as Der Übergang: Schleiermachers Theologie des Reiches Gottes im Zusammenhang seines Gesamtdenkens, a study on the Kingdom of God in the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher.

From 1968-1974 he served with the Mennonite Board of Missions in France, and was ordained in 1971 for pastoral ministry in the Chatenay-Malabry congregation near Paris. During these years he was also very engaged in ecumenical activities for the European Peace Section of Mennonite Central Committee (1963-1974), which included participation in the Puidoux Theological Conferences. In later years he was further engaged in ecumenical discussions with other groups like the Lutheran Church.

In 1974 Marlin Miller began to teach theology at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. The following year he became president of Goshen Biblical Seminary, then “associated” with Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MBS), a General Conference Mennonite Church institution. In 1990 he became president of MBS as well, and in 1993 achieved the merger of the two seminaries into Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS, now Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary).

From 1986 until his death, Miller was co-chair of the Inter-Mennonite Confession of Faith Committee, which developed the widely-used Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective approved by both the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church in 1995. He also served on the executive committee of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

Marlin Miller was often described as a person who “reached across walls,” building bridges between the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, between Mennonites in Canada and the United States, between Mennonites and other Christians. He was strongly supportive of women in church leadership. According to a tribute by J. Lorne Peachey, “Most often his goal seemed to be unity as much as anything else.”

After his death, Miller’s tenure as seminary president came under severe criticism for the way in which he managed the sexual abuse scandal surrounding one of his faculty members, John Howard Yoder. Miller was very protective of the seminary he was leading, and provided little or no support to female students or other women who complained to him about Yoder’s behavior. Miller spent much energy trying to “contain” the scandal. Some colleagues later suggested the stress of dealing with the issue contributed to Miller’s early death.

Marlin Miller’s impact on the Mennonite Church was great, because of the leadership positions he held, and especially through the confession of faith he helped to shepherd almost to its conclusion. He espoused a peace theology for the late 20th century, and was remarkably successful in bridging the theological diversity within the two largest North American Mennonite denominations that would allow them to merge and realign as Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada within a decade of Miller’s death.

Marlin Miller sacrificed his academic and theological career to administration and the work of the church. He looked forward to retirement from administration so that he could pursue theological studies and writing. His early death ended this hope.

The scar of the Yoder scandal at AMBS reflected both personal and institutional failure; it did not remove the other, positive, contributions Marlin Miller made to the Mennonite community.


Goossen, Rachel Waltner. “’Defanging the beast’: Mennonite responses to John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 89 (January 2015): 7-80.

“In Memoriam: Marlin Miller, 1938-1994” Mennonite Quarterly Review 69 (January 1995): 4.

Kauffman, Richard A. “Miller, Marlin E.” MennLex V. 2013. Web. 10 July 2016.

Kauffman, Richard A. “Opinion: Mistakes, regrets, lessons: John Howard Yoder’s life is not the ultimate test of his theology.” Mennonite World Review (2 March 2015). Web.

Klassen, Mary E. “Seminary president dies of heart attack.” The Mennonite 100, no. 22 (22 November 1994): 15.

“Marner Miller.” Find a Grave. 2007. Web. 10 July 2016.

Peachey, J. Lorne. “Marlin E. Miller: AMBS President.” AMBS Window (Fall 1994): 1.

Books by and about Marlin Miller

Kauffman, Richard A. and Gayle Gerber Koontz, eds. Theology for the church : writings by Marlin E. Miller. Elkhart, Ind. : Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1997.

Miller, Marlin E. and Barbara Nelson Gingerich, eds. The church's peace witness. Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.

Author(s) Samuel J Steiner
Date Published July 2016

Cite This Article

MLA style

Steiner, Samuel J. "Miller, Marlin Eugene (1938-1994)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2016. Web. 18 Oct 2021.,_Marlin_Eugene_(1938-1994)&oldid=165213.

APA style

Steiner, Samuel J. (July 2016). Miller, Marlin Eugene (1938-1994). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 October 2021, from,_Marlin_Eugene_(1938-1994)&oldid=165213.

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