Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Tribute to F. Calvin Parker

Calvin Parker was one of my most esteemed missionary colleagues in Japan, a valuable mentor, and a dear friend. He passed away on December 22, and his memorial service is being held today in Mars Hill, North Carolina.
F. Calvin Parker (1926-2010)
I first met Calvin on September 1, 1966, the day June & I and our two children (at the time) arrived in Japan. For roughly the next two years we lived less than five minutes by car from where Calvin and his wife Harriett lived in Shibuya, Tokyo. They were our very helpful sempai (senior colleagues) during that time.
Calvin soon invited me to attend a monthly theological book discussion group with him. During the grueling time of language school, those meetings were one of the major highlights of each month for me, both because of the high quality of the discussions and because of the conversation with Calvin going and coming each time.
Calvin was a man of great integrity and humility, in the best sense of the word. And he was a scholar; he knew how to do research, how to write, and, most importantly, how to think, how to analyze and synthesize.
In the summer of 1968, June and I moved to Fukuoka in southwest Japan, but then in 1980 Calvin and Harriet moved to the same city. Calvin became my colleague in the Department of Theology at Seinan Gakuin University. His levelheaded participation in our faculty meetings was very helpful, and it was a real loss to our department when he retired in 1988.

Calvin was the author of several books. His most “academic” work was Jonathan Goble of Japan: Marine, Missionary, Maverick (1990), revised and published as Icon and Outcast: The Life of Jonathan Goble (2007). His books I appreciated the most are Christ in a Kimono (2003) and The Good Book Is Better Than It Used to Be: Eighty Years with the Bible (2009), which I had the privilege of reading in manuscript form and of writing a blurb for the back cover.

Earlier this year, even though his physical strength was waning, he read each chapter of The Limits of Liberalism, my new book, and I greatly appreciate the many helpful (mostly editorial) suggestions he made for each chapter. 

In November, Baptists Today featured Calvin and Harriett with their picture on the front of the issue and an article about them, featuring his 2009 book. I am grateful John Pierce was able to interview them back in July and to publish the results while Calvin had the opportunity to see that issue.

Sadness surrounds the death of most people, but it is truly sad with a person such as Calvin Parker passes. The world is certainly worse off without him. His insight and wisdom will continue to inspire many through his books. For those of us who had the privilege of knowing him personally, not only his memory but his considerable influence will also long remain in our minds and lives.


  1. Melvin Bradshaw, a former missionary to Japan who knew Calvin as well as I, or maybe even better, sent the following comments by e-mail, which I post with his permission:

    "Thank you for sharing this tribute to Calvin. He was, like you, a truly Christian scholar. He shared his gifts humbly and generously with and for us. It was a privilege for me to serve with him on Mission committees, in the Mission Office and to be his neighbor in Tokyo.

    "Calvin will be missed but certainly not forgotten."

  2. A Thinking Friend who lived in Japan for many years wrote,

    "I am very sorry for your loss of such a good friend and mentor. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time. I did not know of your friend, but am now very interested to read his books listed."

  3. A local Thinking Friend with no direct connection to Japan kindly wrote,

    "My condolences. To have had such a friend enriches our lives. To have lost that friend leaves a void in our hearts. You and June are in my prayers."

  4. I failed to post earlier the first, much appreciated, response received this morning, one from another local TF with no direct connection to Japan:

    "I am so sorry for the loss you feel but I hope you will take the opportunity to celebrate because that is what you would want us to do in your passing and that is what Calvin would want you to do in his. The world is a better place because of his living and now we count it a blessing as well that he joins that 'great cloud of witnesses.' His questions are now all answered and his pain is all relieved as he sits like a young boy bouncing on his Eternal Father's knee. A great union awaits us but let us continue the work of Calvin that all may know the authentic life of freedom and insight that Christ provides."

  5. And then this from George Watanabe, a former missionary colleague who is my age and lives in Hawaii:

    "ALOHA AND HAPPY NEW YEAR. Thank you for this fine tribute of our fellow senkyoshi [missionary], Calvin. He was very brilliant and scholarly and I enjoyed listening to Calvin at M.M. [mission meeting] and at some Hayama Conferences. We've lost a treasure-house of knowledge and wisdom."

  6. I am deeply saddened by Calvin’s death as well. One of the most serendipitous events in my life directly involved Calvin. I completed an Honors Project as an undergrad at William Jewell College which involved transcribing, annotating, and contextualizing the diary of a U.S. Marine named Jonathan Goble in Commodore Perry’s fleet to open Japan in 1853-1854. Calvin and I were equally surprised to find out about the work that the other had been doing on Goble. Calvin had been extensively researching the later life of Goble, who had returned to Japan as the first Baptist missionary, without realizing that he had first come to Japan with Perry and left a diary of the trip. Goble’s diary ended up with Dr. William Cuthbertson, a WJC history professor who entrusted it to me for my Honors Project. It was very delightful to make the connection and collaborate with Calvin and later to visit with Calvin and tour key Goble sites in the Tokyo area with him. Calvin was a very special person and will be greatly missed.

  7. I discovered your memorial to Calvin Parker while hoping to find an email address where I could compliment him on his book "Sentaro: Japan's Sam Patch: Cook, Castaway, Christian." I am sad that I did not have the opportunity to tell him what a magnificently-written book it is. Writing in a way that brings history alive (or trying to) is what I do for a living. Those rare people who succeed at that task are treasures. Calvin Parker is one I am very sorry to lose without knowing the man. But from what you have written I am glad to have known him through "Sentaro."

  8. Christopher HarrisApril 5, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    Hello Mr. Seat. Were you aware of the connections of Mr. Goble and William Jewell College? Jonathan Goble was attending the same church as William Bruns when he lived in Illinois later in life. The diary that he kept while going to Japan in the 1850's was given to Mr. Bruns. Toward the end of Mr. Bruns' life, he gave this diary to my grandmother (his niece) Helen Hughes. Helen and her husband, Dewey C. Hughes of Liberty, Missouri in turn gave the diary to William Jewell Collge's Curry Library where it remains.

    Christopher Harris
    grandson of Dewey & Helen Hughes