I Wish My Dear Friend Good Sailing: A Tribute to Alan Culpepper


By Molly T. Marshall, President of Central Seminary

Upon the occasion of his retirement as Dean, I join many others in celebrating the good work R. Alan Culpepper has conducted at the McAfee School of Theology. He has accomplished what venerable seminary president David Tiede observes as most important: “getting out of the job alive.” Because of his extraordinary capacity to balance extensive interests—and he has many—Alan leaves the legacy of a remarkable school, yet has robust energy to add to his life's work.

I hold Alan Culpepper in the highest regard, having observed his life for forty years. Scholar, administrator, colleague, and friend, Alan has set a worthy standard for the rest of us in theological education. Treasured for his wisdom, he has kept on imagining how preparation for ministry might better be accomplished. I have gained greatly from his perceptive insight.

I had the good fortune of spending a semester at Cambridge University in 1980 while Alan and his family were devoting a sabbatical year there. Not only did I get to know his dear family, I was able to witness the immense respect significant scholars of the New Testament accorded him. It was during that time that he wrote the groundbreaking Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel. 

In more recent years, Alan has offered leadership in Jewish-Christian relations. As one who has wrestled with the contested testimony of John's Gospel, it is only fitting that he bring his formidable scholarship to bear on this urgent agenda. Indeed, he has proven himself a skilled interlocutor with rabbinic colleagues and helps craft a new rhetorical landscape for Jews and Christians to traverse.

The decades of the Southern diaspora have seen key leaders such as Bill Leonard and David Garland and Alan Culpepper go to new schools (or, in my case, an old one) offering their splendid gifts in the service of the church through shaping ministers. Alan has remained a steady helmsman, and reminds us of the myriad ways God has preserved our vocations and called forth our best when “not our choice the wind's direction.”

I can only wish my dear friend good sailing in these coming years. I thank God for his faithful life.