As he slept the night of February 5, Dr. John Clement Whitcomb, Jr. entered his Savior’s presence to hear his Lord’s “Well done, good and faithful servant.” For me he was a spiritual cedar of Lebanon, one of the giants of the faith who impacted my life for the past 57 years, especially as mentor during my doctoral program at Grace Theological Seminary (1976–1981). My shelves still hold a copy of the 1965 edition of The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1961), co-authored with Henry M. Morris. The book helped me understand the Genesis account of creation and the Flood at the time I began my transition from the theory of evolution to the biblical truth in 1963 under my pastor’s tutelage. Dr. Whitcomb’s signature rests on its title page where he wrote it in 1965 when I first met him in person at Beth Eden Baptist Church in Denver, CO. At that time I was a first year Bible college student drinking deeply at the well of the Book of Genesis with the capable guidance of another giant in the spiritual forest of Lebanon, Dr. Leo Lapp. Little did I realize how significant of an influence Dr. Whitcomb would have in my life.
In 2006 I was given the great privilege of contributing a chapter to a Festschrift honoring Dr. Whitcomb and his accomplishments for the creationist movement which he and Henry Morris had set in motion with The Genesis Flood. Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth, edited by Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), features chapters by fourteen of Dr. Whitcomb’s friends and former students as well as forewords by Henry Morris and John MacArthur. Paul Scharf penned the “Bibliographical Tribute” at the end of the volume’s main chapters — the source to run to for an account of Dr. Whitcomb’s life and ministry.
Dr. Whitcomb (“Jack,” as he gently reminded me in our last phone conversation about two years ago) was born at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. His father graduated from West Point, served in WW1 and WW2, and attained the rank of colonel under Gen. George Patton. Dr. Whitcomb spent some of his early years (1927–1930) in China where his father was serving in the Army. That’s how he came to be fluent in Mandarin, the first of a number of languages he could use with skill. As he reached the age to go to university, his poor eyesight kept him out of West Point, so he enrolled at Princeton University to pursue a possible career as a diplomat. Instead of a government ambassador, he became an ambassador of Christ. Under the guidance of Dr. Donald B. Fullerton, who established the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, Dr. Whitcomb became a Christian in February 1943 while a freshman. Two months later (April), he was drafted into the Army and, following training, was shipped out to Europe in the fall of 1944. He narrowly escaped death in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 as an artilleryman. He left Europe in January 1946 and returned that summer to Princeton from which he graduated with honors in 1948.
Through Fullerton’s direction, Dr. Whitcomb ended up at the newly established Grace Theological Seminary to sit under Drs. Alva J. McClain, Herman A. Hoyt, Homer Kent, Sr., and Robert D. Culver. He graduated in May 1951. Dr. Culver resigned his Old Testament professorship the night before graduation. The next morning Drs. McClain and Hoyt asked Dr. Whitcomb to remain at Grace to replace Dr. Culver. He went on to obtain his Th.M. degree in 1953 and his Th.D. in 1957. He also married Edisene Hanson in 1953. The children of that union were David (1955), Donald (1957), Constance (1958), and Robert (1960). Edisene died of a rare liver disease in June 1970. Before she left her beloved husband and children behind to enter the Lord’s presence, she told Dr. Whitcomb he should marry the widow of one of his doctoral students who had suffered a heart attack while jogging in April 1969. Mrs. Robert Pritchett became Mrs. Norma Whitcomb in 1971, bringing with her two sons (Daniel and Timothy) for their combined family. For almost 49 years they enjoyed a wonderful marriage and served as a very efficient and successful team in Whitcomb Ministries which they established.
Dr. Whitcomb’s career at Grace Theological Seminary came to an end in February 1990. Although the events surrounding his departure presented a difficult time in his life, he rose above the fray and continued to serve his Savior faithfully in writing and speaking ministries until his recent health slowed this spiritual dynamo. Many eulogies and memories of this great man of God will be published online in the coming days and weeks. One of the first is that by Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), who first encountered The Genesis Flood in 1974 during his final year of university studies in Australia. Although Dr. Whitcomb is worthy of every eulogy, the one he desired more than any human recognition was what he received from his Savior on February 5.
To close this personal blog, I want to express the kinship I felt with Dr. Whitcomb. First, he was my guide from afar on the issue of creation and Flood through The Genesis Flood. Second, he became a personal acquaintance who would mentor me through my doctoral program. I was impressed by his earthly congeniality and warmth as he and Norma entertained new doctoral students for a barbecue at their Winona Lake home in 1976. His signature on my dissertation is as valued as it is on the title page of my copy of The Genesis Flood. Third, as I became more involved in creation ministries and became a part of Canyon Ministries and began to write more extensively on Genesis, Dr. Whitcomb never ceased to encourage me in my endeavors. Since my older son graduated from West Point, that became an additional connection to Dr. Whitcomb’s experiences with his father’s graduation from that institution and later service as a faculty member there. When Dr. Whitcomb found out I did not enter the Naval Academy for the same reason he did not enter West Point, we forged yet another bond. He rejoiced that my second son was a graduate of the Naval Academy. We shared and continue to share a deep conviction concerning biblical inerrancy and the historical accuracy of all the Bible, especially Genesis 1–11.
I will always be grateful to the Lord for allowing me the privilege of knowing Dr. John Whitcomb. May his testimony and example of faithful service continue to drive the creationist movement forward.