By Bob Allen
Alan Culpepper, founding dean of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, is stepping down after nearly two decades at the end of the current academic year. After a sabbatical, he plans to teach full time on the McAfee faculty.
A widely respected New Testament scholar, Culpepper accepted appointment as McAfee’s founding dean in 1995. He hired the first three faculty members before the school opened in 1996 on Mercer’s Cecil B. Day Campus in Atlanta. Before that he taught four years at Baylor University and 17 years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Growing up a missionary kid in Chile and Argentina, Culpepper earned his bachelor’s degree at Baylor, his master of divinity at Southern Seminary and his Ph.D. at Duke University.
At Southern Seminary, he served as assistant professor of New Testament interpretation from 1974 to 1980; associate professor of New Testament interpretation from 1980 to 1985; twice as associate dean of the School of Theology and as James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation from 1985 until 1991.
Culpepper left the Louisville seminary during the early stages of an ideological shift completed with the election of Albert Mohler as ninth president in 1993. The rightward move of all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, long the primary training ground for Southern Baptist ministers, prompted the formation of several new theology schools, including McAfee, that work in partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“As founding dean of Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology, Alan Culpepper has had a significant influence in shaping theological education in the Baptist tradition over the last two decades,” said Mercer President William Underwood. “He is greatly revered by students and alumni of the school, is known throughout the world for his New Testament scholarship, and is considered a friend to churches and pastors around the Southeast.”
Underwood’s predecessor, Kirby Godsey, who recruited Culpepper for the dean’s post, said the selection “brought spiritual insight and academic credibility” to the start-up theology school.
“He took what was only an embryonic idea of a school and, along with his colleagues, turned that idea into a place of education and reflection that has inspired and educated an entire generation of ministers,” Godsey said.
Carolyn McAfee — a Mercer trustee who with her late husband James McAfee, a health care businessman who died in 2004, helped establish the theology school with a $10 million gift — said she was “very proud” of Culpepper’s vision and leadership for the school that bears the couple’s names.
“Alan has done a remarkable job of understanding a dream, building and guiding a team through the planning stages, and developing a practical theological education that is preparing the next generation of ministers,” she said.
Culpepper, 68, described serving as McAfee’s founding dean as “the privilege of a lifetime.”
“Rarely does one see the hand of providence so clearly as in the story of the birth and first two decades of the McAfee School of Theology,” Culpepper said. “University leadership, the McAfees, faculty, staff, students, supporting pastors and churches, and friends of the school have all come together to shape a unique community of learning. I look forward to teaching full time and continuing to work with colleagues at Mercer as the school enters its third decade.”
Culpepper has written nine books, including Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel; The Gospel and Letters of John; the commentary on Luke in the New Interpreter’s Bible; John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend; Eternity as a Sunrise: The Life of Hugo H. Culpepper; and Mark, a volume of the Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary.
He has written numerous articles for journals, periodicals and books, and has served as a New Testament editor for the Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary and for the Biblical Interpretation Series published by E.J. Brill. He is also on the editorial board for the Library of New Testament Studies.
He and his wife, Jacquelyn McClain Culpepper, an associate professor in Mercer’s Tift College of Education, have two grown children, Erin and Rodney. The Culpeppers are members of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.
— With reporting by Kyle Sears of Mercer University news.