“Joe Brown was one of the greatest evangelical theologians of his time, and yet always put people before his scholarship.” -Doug Sweeney
Harold O. J. Brown
Like so many others who graced the halls of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Harold O. J. Brown (1933-2007) was an evangelical statesmen, demonstrating high intellectual acumen, steadfast theological conviction, and compassionate, prophetic social engagement. While a mentor in the classroom and beloved teacher, Brown was most known for his role in arousing a slumbering pro-life movement.
His Life: A Thumbnail Sketch
Born on July 6, 1933, Brown seemed to have a natural draw to the intellectual life. He studied vigorously at Harvard throughout his 20s and early 30s, where he earned four degrees from Harvard: A.B., Harvard College (1953); B.D., Harvard Divnity School (1957); Th.M., Harvard Divinity School (1959); Ph.D, Harvard University (1967).
Harold O. J. Brown, TEDS faculty (1975-83, 87-98)
During that same period, Brown was also ordained in the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (1958) and served in pastoral ministry first between 1958 and 1965. That pastoral tenure ended with postdoctoral work in Europe, having received the prestigious Fulbright and Danforth fellowships. His primary educational home, however, was Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he taught in 1971, 1975-83, and 1987-1998. (He also had an extended tenure at Reformed Theological Seminary.) On all accounts, he was a beloved teacher and mentor. As TEDS faculty member John Woodbridge fondly recalls,
Brown was an intriguing lecturer. He could awe with displays of vast erudition regarding theology, ethics, journalism, politics, and church history. He could entertain by spouting Latin verse or by bursting into the hearty singing of an old German song. He could charm with flashes of wit and colorful anecdotes. But students especially appreciated Brown’s care and concern for them as persons. He wanted them to be educated (“civilized” with a wide-ranging culture), articulate, and activist Christians.
This account is evidenced by the fact that students elected him “Faculty Member of the Year” in 1989.
Brown’s significance as a theologian, pastor, professor, and social activist lies primarily in his influence on the pro-life movement. He both anticipated the problem of abortion before it was legalized and was one of the more significant organizers and strategists afterward. It is reasonable to suppose that without Brown there may not have been a pro-life movement.Indeed, according to Matthew Miller, had it not been for Brown (and with him, Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop), “there may not have been a pro-life movement in the 1980s at all, nor in the years that followed.”
In 1975 (two years after Roe v. Wade), Brown and Koop founded the Christian Action Council (now Care Net), which was a leading “right to life” advocacy group on Capital Hill for some time and remains active in the promotion of “life.” He was also the editor of The Human Life Review, among many other publications. Furthermore, Brown was the Christianity Today editor responsible for writing the editorial in response to Roe v. Wade, which Mark Galli (CT) described as “[o]ne of the finer moments in CT history.” Published on February 2, 1973 with the title “Abortion and the Court,” the editorial is a scathing, insightful, bitingly witty, and intelligent critique of the Court decision. Besides his critique of the absurdities of the decision, and its moral consequences and pagan undertones, Brown’s prophetic articulation of the changing shape of society is also eerily spot-on:
Christians should accustom themselves to the thought that the American state no longer supports, in any meaningful sense, the laws of God, and prepare themselves spiritually for the prospect that it may one day formally repudiate them and turn against those who seek to live by them.
Besides his work in the “right to life” movement—indeed, in relation to it—Brown’s work in the Evangelical-Catholic dialogue is also noteworthy. As one Catholic, Scott Richert, remarks, Brown was “perhaps the best example I have ever known of an uncompromising ecumenism.”
For these reasons and many more, Harold O. J. Brown is the ideal theologian after whom to name our academic scholarship for doctoral students, designed to encourage excellent theological argumentation with compassionate, prophetic social engagement.