Harold O.J. Brown in younger days wondered whether he should pursue medical ethics, law and culture, journalism, political philosophy, or theology. All of the above, he decided. By the time he died July 8 of cancer at age 74 in Charlotte, N.C., where he was a theology professor at Reformed Seminary, Brown had left a lasting imprint in all of those fields.
A Harvard-trained theologian, historian, and philosopher profoundly influenced by evangelical scholar Francis Schaeffer, Brown was known for his activism, impatience, outspokenness, and humor sometimes laced with sarcasm. His outgoing friendliness and big-brother-like mentoring, harnessed to a brilliant mind, endeared him to generations of students. He loved the risk-taking of skiing and mountain-climbing but was unequivocally pro-life.
Brown issued a ringing wake-up call to evangelical leaders, warning them that abortion-then still being argued in the courts-posed a grave moral threat to American society and to values sacred to the church. Brown joined Christianity Today magazine in January 1972 as an associate editor. Roe v. Wade was argued twice at the Supreme Court that year. On Jan. 21, 1973, he joined some members of the American Medical Association and the Christian Legal Society in New York to discuss abortion and a strategy to combat it. The next day, the high court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision. Brown hurried home to write his magazine's lead editorial.
"It appears doubtful that unborn infants now enjoy any protection prior to the instant of birth anywhere in the United States," he concluded.
Brown left the magazine in 1975 and founded the Christian Action Council. It was the first major U.S. evangelical pro-life organization. He taught theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 1976-1983, pastored a church in Switzerland for four years, rejoined Trinity's faculty in 1987, and moved to Reformed Seminary in Charlotte in 1998. Along the way, he served as editor of several important publications dealing with religion and social issues.
Brown "was instrumental in touching the lives of millions of women facing crisis pregnancies with the compassion of Christ," said Care Net president Kurt Entsminger. Melinda Delahoyde, Care Net's board chair emeritus and a former student of Brown at Trinity, said the ministry had lost "a great heart and a great mind." Brown, she said, "had a unique ability to not only articulate the principles of Western civilization but also to translate them into compassionate and caring action."