Robert Harrell Culpepper passed away on August 10 in Richmond, Virginia, where he had lived for the last several years. “Bob” (b. 1924) was a Baptist missionary to Japan and a seminary professor. And he was one of my most respected sempai (older colleagues) and friends in Japan.
Bob and his wife Kay, who passed away in 2007, went as missionaries to Japan in 1950 and served there for 30 years. After language school, Bob taught at what became, and is now, the Department of Theology, Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka City.
When we moved to Fukuoka in 1968, we moved to the missionary residence which was built for the Culpeppers. They started what became the Hirao Baptist Church in the upstairs of that house, and Hirao was our church home in Fukuoka for 12 years.
When Bob and Kay left Japan in 1980, I moved from the Department of Literature, where I had taught Christian Studies for the previous twelve years, to take his place in the theology department, which also is the only nationwide seminary of the Japan Baptist Convention.
The two missionaries in Japan with whom I had the most fruitful theological dialogue were Bob and Calvin Parker (1926~2010), about whom I wrote on this blog on 12/20/10.
Bob was more conservative, theologically and politically, than I, and we had some spirited discussions. But, as far as I know, there was never any animosity between us or failure on either of our parts to fully respect the other’s position.
In spite of the heavy demands of being a seminary professor and a church planter (he began the Nagazumi Baptist Church after Hirao), he also was the author of Interpreting the Atonement (1966), Evaluating the Charismatic Movement (1977), and God’s Calling (1981), his missionary autobiography.
As Bob was one of my mentors and friends, along with many other of his former colleagues, numerous students both in Japan and in the U.S., and many former church members, I am deeply saddened by his passing. June and I also extend our deep condolences to Bob’s daughter Cathy and her family.
Along with the sadness, though, is a feeling of gratitude for the meritorious life and service of Dr. Robert Culpepper, a brilliant scholar, a dedicated missionary, and a passionate churchman and seminary professor.