Monday, July 16, 2007

The Passing of Joe Brown

As an RTS alum, I am saddened at the news of Dr Harold O.J. Brown's passing. Joe Brown was a pivotal figure in the resurrection of the respectability of evangelical thought and influence in our culture and even in the Academy. His multiple degrees from Harvard gave him a unique platform to speak as an evangelical to non-evangelical circles and be taken seriously.

Joe Brown taught for many many years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His passion for the dignity of all human life led not only to him founding the Christian Action Council (currently Care Net), which advocated on behalf of the unborn and eventually was critical in the mainstreaming of the crisis pregnancy care movement. Brown's interest in bioethics went beyond the abortion question, and touched on a wide array of issues where human dignity, science, and ethics intersected. It was largely through Brown's prominent influence that Trinity today offers a Masters in Bioethics as part of their suite of graduate-level degrees.

In his later years, Brown also taught at RTS, mainly at the Charlotte campus. Every summer, Joe Brown would take a group of interested students to Wittenberg to study church history for academic credit, another passion of his.

Joe Brown's compassionate advocacy for the cause of the unborn was very heavy lifting that was rarely easy. Yet, when I knew him in his late years stricken with cancer, he was a man who always had a smile on his face and was proactive in talking with people like me. Another seminary professor of mine once said that the Academy, even the evangelical Academy, was full of cynics. He told me that I would be wise to seek out those increasingly few professors who have truly seen it all in the church - the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly - and yet, still walk around with smiles on their faces and authentic joy in their hearts. Harold Joe Brown was one of those people. When told that his cancer was terminal and that he only had weeks to live, it is reported that Joe said, "My short-term prognosis is unknown, but my long-term prognosis is good!"

Here's hoping my generation will learn from Joe Brown's advocacy for justice and compassion, combined with an abiding love for Christ and the certainty of the eternal life he promises for those who are his. May we be like Joe Brown in not merely shaking our heads at injustice and whining about how we don't have a voice in the culture, but proactively stepping out in tangible faith, seeking to change the culture even when things seem dark, trusting that God will multiply our meager loaves and fishes.

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