Olbricht a ‘Renaissance man’ for churches
"In those days there were giants in the land" quintessentially…
Tom Olbricht, whose academic work shaped generations of Christian scholars, ministers and church leaders, died today at age 90.
Olbricht “significantly contributed to theological education in Churches of Christ and to the broader world of scholarship in rhetorical studies, church history and congregational life,” said David Fleer, director of the Christian Scholars’ Conference, which Olbricht founded in 1981. The annual conference, hosted by universities associated with Churches of Christ, now bears its founder’s name.
Born in Thayer, Mo., Olbricht earned a bachelor’s at Northern Illinois University in 1951, a master’s and doctorate from the University of Iowa and a theology degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1962. He taught speech at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and the University of Dubuque, where he also chaired the department. He later taught at Pennsylvania State University before moving to Texas to teach Bible and theology at Abilene Christian University from 1967 to 1986. He also served as dean of ACU’s College of Liberal and Fine Arts for four years. From 1986 to 1996 he taught at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
“When I took my first class with Tom Olbricht, he asked questions I didn’t know we should ask, pointed to books I didn’t know we should read and raised ‘paradigmatic’ issues,” Fleer said. “Then, with the door opened, Tom enlarged the world by setting us on a path of discovery and engagement. …
“His stunning intellect, curiosity and correspondence were evident to the very time of his passing. Book reviews, sermons, essays and other writing projects in publication are still forthcoming from this remarkable man, who at 90 continued to engage us all.”
Olbricht was a contributor to The Christian Chronicle, occasionally submitting reviews of the latest scholarly works, biographies and memoirs. He was a prolific writer, authoring and editing several scholarly volumes and personal reflections including, “Hearing God’s Voice: My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ.”
Rick Marrs, provost and chief academic officer at Pepperdine, was a student of Olbricht at ACU. Marrs reviewed Olbricht’s 2012 memoir, “Reflections on My Life in the Kingdom and the Academy,” for the Chronicle and described his former teacher as “a Renaissance man in our movement.”
“I took every course he taught,” Marrs said. “Any student who sat at Olbricht’s feet will tell you he was a unique professor. Most have a Dr. Olbricht story, one that invariably conveys admiration and devotion for a professor with both uncanny erudition and a great sense of humor.”
Fleer cited the words of fellow Christian scholar Carl Holladay, who once said of Olbricht: “Somehow this towering intellect has resided within the body of an authentic minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ — this child of the Church of Christ, who sings its songs, prays its prayers, presides over its Lord’s Supper, preaches its doctrine, studies its Scriptures, ministers to its sick, comforts its brokenhearted, laments it divisions, and enacts its code of love.”
Survivors include his wife of 69 years, Dorothy, five children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Memorial gifts may be given to the Thomas H. Olbricht endowment for the Christian Scholars’ Conference.
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