Saturday, January 31, 2009

Below is a revised version of the eulogy I gave at Lincoln Hurst's memorial service on January 17, 2009, at Fremont Presbyterian Church, Sacramento.

Good afternoon, my name is Jim Shields. I am a former pupil, research assistant, and friend to Lincoln D. Hurst. From 1993 to 1995, I attended UC Davis as an undergraduate student. I minored in Religious Studies, but "majored in Hurst.” I found his classes fascinating and took as many of them as I possibly could. This past summer I worked with Lincoln on a variety of projects, including his Wikipedia article. I want to thank Dr. David Nystrom and the Hurst family for granting me the honor of sharing Lincoln’s major accomplishments with you today and allowing me to reflect upon what his friendship meant to my family and me.

Lincoln Douglas Hurst was born in Chicago on May 6, 1946, to Lincoln and Allaire Hurst. Lincoln was raised and spent his teenage years in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It was here that he developed his life-long interests in film, history, Christianity, and the Chicago Cubs. (In fact, Lincoln was such a dedicated Cub’s fan that this past season, as the team neared the playoffs, he could be seen at Costco with his laptop on his cart, watching the game while he did his shopping!)

In 1969, after graduating with a degree in History from what is now Trinity International University, Lincoln attended the distinguished institutions of Princeton Theological Seminary and Mansfield College, Oxford. There he worked alongside New Testament luminaries, Bruce M. Metzger and George B. Caird, among others. This experience honed his skills, strengthened his mind, and equipped him for his future career as a New Testament scholar and professor of Religious Studies. His time at Oxford with Caird especially shaped his theological views and provided the intellectual stimulus for his later writings. All of Lincoln’s major works were significantly influenced by Caird. It was George Caird who suggested and supervised Lincoln’s thesis on the historical and philosophical background of the Letter to the Hebrews. This thesis was the basis of Lincoln’s first solo book, The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Background of Thought, published in 1990.[1]

Having received his PhD from the University of Oxford in 1982, Lincoln began searching for employment. His family had moved to San Diego, and his love for them and for the beach naturally drew him to the “Golden State.” During this same year, Lincoln applied for a teaching position at the University of California. In his letter of recommendation, George Caird described the young Lincoln Hurst:

“He has all the qualities of a good teacher, and should well be able to convey to his pupils his own enthusiasm for his subject. He has a relaxed and friendly demeanour, wide interests, and a lively sense of humour...”[2]

Lincoln was selected for employment in January 1983, and began dividing his teaching responsibilities at New College Berkeley and UC Davis. Based in part on positive student responses, Lincoln was offered a fulltime teaching position at UC Davis. He would hold this post for 26 years.

Lincoln Hurst had a rare gift for teaching. His New Testament courses at UC Davis were very popular and his lectures were always well-attended. Students were inspired by his brilliant mind, amazed by his exceptional memory, and amused by his sense of humor. Freshmen were often surprised by the rigorousness of his courses, thinking erroneously that a New Testament class would be a “breeze” compared with Engineering or Biochemistry. It did not take long, however, before Lincoln blew this assumption to pieces. Throughout the quarter, Lincoln expected his students to learn important Greek words: hupodeigma, paradoken, and tetelesthai. In addition, students needed to know complex theological concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the difference between expiation and propitiation, eschatology, and principalities and powers. Everything was fair game come examination time; Lincoln expected his students to memorize everything!

The years from 1987 through 1998 proved to be the most fruitful period of Lincoln's career. He co-edited The Glory of Christ in the New Testament[3] with N.T. Wright, in memory of the late George Caird, and wrote articles on the ethics of Jesus, Qumran, the Christology of Hebrews 1 and 2, and the preexistence of Christ. However, Lincoln’s crowning achievement was his completion of George Caird’s New Testament Theology.[4] In 1984, Caird died suddenly from a heart attack, leaving his major work unfinished. Soon after, Lincoln was appointed literary executer by the Caird family and given the enormous task of completing the manuscript. Within ten years, Lincoln meticulously pieced together Caird’s thoughts and wrote over fifty-percent of the book in his characteristically lucid style. The finished work was a masterpiece.

Reflecting on Lincoln’s achievement, Dr. Margaret Laing, Caird’s daughter, recently wrote on behalf of the Caird family:

“We owe him a huge debt for the careful, dedicated, scholarly and loving way in which he finished our father's and grandfather’s last book. It is heart-warming to us that, amongst all the other things he undertook and did so well, Skip [Lincoln] continued to promote and build on Father's scholarship.”[5]

New Testament Theology received rave reviews and Lincoln was most pleased by the admiration of his closest colleagues. C.F.D. Moule called the book “a miracle.”[6] Bruce Metzger wrote that it was “fresh and illuminating…a weighty volume…made available and supplemented by one of [Caird’s] more accomplished students.”[7] In a personal letter, Henry Chadwick praised Lincoln’s work, “You have carried it out in masterly fashion, and it is no small volume on which you have lavished your erudition and affection.”[8] Lincoln was also deeply moved by a letter he received from a San Quentin inmate who wrote to say that the book had transformed his life.

From 1987-2008, Lincoln taught courses at Fuller Theological Seminary in Sacramento. His classes on the New Testament, Hebrews, Pauline Theology, and Christian Ethics were as academically rigorous as they were at UC Davis, but Fuller’s setting allowed him to be more pastoral. Through Lincoln’s teaching, the simple truths of the word of God came alive in deep and powerful ways. Some of the most memorable were: “Christ lives to intercede for us” (Heb. 7:25); “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:28-29); and, “We do not grieve like those without hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).

After a quarter century of teaching, Lincoln retired from UC Davis in 2006. This new phase of life allowed him to spend more time on his “avocation” (as he liked to call it), film history. Lincoln loved classical cinema and greatly admired movie star, Errol Flynn. In 2005, Lincoln provided commentary as a film historian to The Signature Errol Flynn Collection.[9]

Although it played a large role in his life, academics was only one part of who Lincoln was. His capacity for friendship and generosity added a distinct dimension to his life that many never got to see up close. My family and I were incredibly fortunate to experience Lincoln’s friendship, in addition to his teaching.

Above all else, Lincoln Hurst was a wonderful friend. In addition to theology, he and I shared many interests: classical music, Sherlock Holmes movies, Wimbledon tennis, Oxford’s history, all things British. We could talk for hours about his mentor, George Caird, and his experiences at his beloved Mansfield College. His tales were always engrossing and humorous.

Lincoln also had a special way of broadening my cultural horizon. For example, upon discussing our forthcoming trip to Oxford, England, in 2006, Lincoln suggested we visit "The Cloisters" at New College. We did, and it was sublime, just like Lincoln said it would be. (In fact, the site is so "magical" that it was used as a backdrop in one of the Harry Potter movies.)

Over the past seven years Lincoln visited our home for dinner on many occasions. My wife, Jennifer, especially appreciated his compliments at meal time. He once declared, “This meal is an incantation to the sin of gluttony!” She too, reveled in his sense of humor.

My two-year old daughter was in awe of Lincoln, but never afraid of him, despite his commanding presence. She instinctively knew that he was a gentle spirit. Joanna could bring a smile to his face by simply greeting him by name whenever he came to our home. And Lincoln, always the educator, taught her how to say “See you later alligator, after a while crocodile.” (These poignant words brought tears to my eyes when my daughter spoke them upon hearing Lincoln's name shortly after his death.)

In the end, I am not sure whether Lincoln knew the full measure of joy and comfort his friendship, wisdom, and prayers brought to my family. We will treasure our moments with him for the rest of our lives.

Committed to preserving the memories of George Caird and Errol Flynn, Lincoln spent the final weeks of his life writing about the historic achievements of both men. He was writing a biography about Flynn and had made significant contributions to Caird’s Wikipedia article just days before his passing.

On November 9, Lincoln went to the hospital suffering from chest pains. Two days later, he died from a massive heart attack. He was age 62. Lincoln is survived by nephews Tym Hurst, Jonathan Hurst, his niece Jami Dikeman and her husband Darren.

Of the many consolations of my faith - a faith that Lincoln taught me so much about - is that one day I will see him again when our Lord “leads many sons [and daughters] to glory.” As we move “further up and further in,” I look forward to conversing with him about the newly revealed truths to all of the theological questions we did not understand during our lifetimes.

In closing, I would like to dedicate a poem to Lincoln. It is by 17th century British poet, Richard Crashaw.

“Let [him] sleep: let [him] sleep on,
Till this stormy night be gone,
Till the eternal morrow dawn.
Then the curtain will be drawn
And [he] will awake into light
Whose day shall never die in night.”[10]

[1] L.D. Hurst, The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Background of Thought. SNTS Monograph Series No. 65. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
[2] G.B. Caird, Letter of remcomendation, 20 Sept. 1982.
[3] L.D. Hurst and N.T. Wright, eds., The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987).
[4] G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology, Completed and Edited by L. D. Hurst (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994).
[5] Margaret Laing, Personal e-mail, 14 Jan. 2009.
[6] C.F.D. Moule, review of G. B. Caird and L. D. Hurst, New Testament Theology, in Journal of Theological Studies 46 (1995), 245-250.
[7] Bruce M. Metzger, review of G. B. Caird and L. D. Hurst, New Testament Theology, in Princeton Seminary Bulletin 16, vol. 3 (1995), 366-368.
[8] Henry Chadwick to L.D. Hurst, 24 Dec. 1994.
[9] The Errol Flynn Signature Collection, vol. 1, dir. B. Reeves Eason and Chuck Jones, perf. Errol Flynn, DVD, Warner Home Video, 2005.
[10] An adaptation of Richard Crashaw, “An Epitaph Upon Husband and Wife, Which Died, and Were Buried Together,” A Treasury of Great Poems: English and American, ed. Louis Untermeyer (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942), 469.