Daniel H. Holcomb, beloved professor and church historian whose tenure spanned 40 years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, died Dec. 27, 2020. He was 87.
Holcomb, whose knowledge and in-depth class material earned him the nickname “Smoke’em Holcomb,” is remembered by colleagues and students as a kind and gentle man with a pastor’s heart.
“Dan had an amazing way with words and could speak knowledgeably at length on almost any topic,” said Lloyd Harsch, associate dean of the Theological and Historical Studies Division at NOBTS “He had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus which spilled out into everything he did. He was my colleague and friend.”
At NOBTS, Holcomb held the John T. Westbrook Chair of Church History and led the Theological and Historical Studies Division for many years. His tenure was marked with sabbaticals at the University of Oxford, U.K., and at Yale and Vanderbilt universities.
Prior to his NOBTS tenure, Holcomb taught at Oklahoma Baptist University, from 1969-79, and served as the chair of the OBU religion department. An ordained Baptist minister, Holcomb began preaching at age 15. He earned undergraduate degrees from Mississippi College and the University of Southern Mississippi before training for ministry at NOBTS. After graduating from NOBTS, Holcomb earned the doctor of theology degree at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
David Cranford, Louisiana Baptist Convention president and senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Ponchatoula, La., described Holcomb as a scholar, gentleman, “a wonderful, evangelistic preacher,” and one of his “absolute favorite” professors.
Cranford recalled one particular experience in class when Holcomb suggested that the seminary should grant degrees to students on the first day, then let those who wanted to learn to stay and take classes.
“It reminded me that I had the privilege of a seminary education to truly learn, to grow in wisdom and stature unto Jesus,” Cranford said. “What a great lesson, exactly when I needed it.”
Holcomb was regarded by students as a diligent teacher who expected much from his students.
James Roberts, who earned a Ph.D. in church history under Holcomb, remembered Holcomb’s genuine love for others but said he understood Holcomb’s “tough” reputation.
“I saw that his passion for discovering how God had worked in the lives of His followers throughout history, and his earnest desire to stretch students’ thoughts beyond their preconceived ideas of how God could work in the world, were the causes of his ‘tough’ reputation,” Roberts said.
Roberts expressed his gratitude to Holcomb, and wife Olga, for treating his family “as their own children” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Holcombs housed and fed the Roberts family during their time of need.
“[Holcomb and wife Olga] displayed a rock-solid biblical faith and a love for helping generations of students understand God better,” Roberts said. “Dr. Holcomb’s ability to listen to and teach various viewpoints without automatically attacking them were just an overflow of the grace God had shown him personally.”
Social media posts by former students following Holcomb’s death remembered him as a “true hero of the faith” and a “Christian statesman.” One post noted, “His praying before class was nothing less than sitting at the feet of Oswald Chambers.”
Holcomb was preceded in death by his wife Olga and is survived by his sons John of Bixby, Oklahoma, and David of Belton, Texas, his daughters-in-law Jeanna and Carol, and five grandchildren.
Jeff Riley, associate dean of NOBTS’ Ph.D. program, spoke at the graveside service and noted that Holcomb had spent his life helping others “hear God, respond obediently, and experience the real presence of God … Dan taught us to seek the presence of God no matter where we are or what is happening in our lives.”