Celebrating a Life of Service to the Lord
Covenant Theological Seminary said goodbye to a dear friend, beloved teacher, and mentor to generations of students, faculty, and alumni as Dr. David B. Calhoun, Professor Emeritus of Church History, went to be with the Lord on Friday, April 9, 2021 after a decades-long battle with recurring cancer. The entire Seminary community grieves with Dr. Calhoun’s family and friends at the loss of this faithful servant of God, yet we rejoice as well that he is now face to face with the Savior he loved and served so well.
A graduate of Covenant Seminary, Dr. Calhoun was Professor of Church History at the institution for 30 years. Known for his gentle humor and engaging charm, Calhoun was a popular teacher who enjoyed helping students gain a greater appreciation of the history and heritage of the Christian faith. His unique ability to bring the people and events of the past to life and to see the grace of God at work even in the darkest periods of church history influenced the lives and ministries of generations of future pastors.
David B. Calhoun was born in the little town of Flat Gap, Kentucky, in 1937, the son of David Harris Calhoun, an itinerant preacher and pharmacist who had once been a semi-professional baseball player, and Pauline Bays, who had once heard her future husband preach at her church. The senior Calhoun’s frequent work with African-American churches in the era of the segregated South, and his contact with the many missionaries who often visited the Calhoun home, gave the young David a good grounding in his faith, a broadened perspective, and a heart for missions.
After graduating from Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in 1959, Calhoun came to Covenant Seminary, earning first a Bachelor of Divinity then a Master of Theology in Old Testament. He was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1963, then went back to Columbia to teach a variety of subjects at his alma mater for four years before fulfilling his long-time desire to be a missionary. He served as principal of Jamaica Bible College in Mandeville, Jamaica, from 1967 to 1971. In 1972, he received a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Returning to the West Indies, Calhoun served for three more years as a coordinator and trainer for Ministries in Action (MIA), an interdenominational mission organization headquartered in Miami, Florida, and for which he helped to develop evangelism and church growth training materials. He would later develop similar materials for Mission to the World (MTW), the foreign missions arm of the PCA, and he would become a founding board member and President of Presbyterian Mission International (PMI), an independent mission agency that assists international students trained at Covenant Seminary in bringing the gospel back to the people of their native lands.
In 1978, after receiving his PhD at Princeton, Calhoun came back to Covenant Seminary, where he taught church history until his retirement in 2008. Even after that, he maintained an office on campus for several years, continuing to teach occasional classes and blessing the larger church with his teaching, preaching, and writing projects before moving to Chicago to be closer to family. He is survived by his wife, Anne Fleece Calhoun, two adult children, Allen and Isabel, and two grandchildren.
A respected scholar and author, Dr. Calhoun published many books, including In Their Own Words: The Testimonies of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and John Bunyan (Banner of Truth, 2018); Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally (Banner of Truth, 2016); Pleading for a Reformation Vision: The Life and Selected Writings of William Childs Robinson (Banner of Truth, 2013); Grace Abounding: The Life, Books, and Influence of John Bunyan (Christian Focus, 2005); the highly regarded Princeton Seminary (Banner of Truth, 1994/1996), a two-volume history of one of the most influential institutions in American Presbyterianism; and, most recently, Swift and Beautiful: The Amazing Stories of Faithful Missionaries (Banner of Truth, 2020), a subject near to his heart. In 2020, Covenant Seminary published a special limited edition volume of many of Dr. Calhoun’s shorter writings titled The Dr. David Calhoun Collection: Celebrating 40 Years of Writing. The volume was part of a tribute to Dr. Calhoun in conjunction with the establishment of the endowed David B. Calhoun Alumni Scholarship, funded through the Seminary’s recently completed Hope for the Future capital campaign.
Calhoun battled cancer off and on for several decades, often speaking openly about his struggles with the disease and writing frequently about the relationship between suffering and faith. The strength of Dr. Calhoun’s faith and his sense of grace and humor in the face of adversity were a great source of inspiration and encouragement to generations of his friends, colleagues, and students. He will be greatly missed.