Memorial service set for Vanderbilt professor of church history

Dale A. Johnson (Neil Brake/Vanderbilt)
Dale A. Johnson (Neil Brake/Vanderbilt)

Dale A. Johnson, Drucilla Moore Buffington Professor of Church History, Emeritus, died Aug. 10. Johnson, 78, lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and had suffered from colon cancer.

“Dale was a quiet, serious, disciplined, welcoming colleague,” said Emilie M. Townes, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society. “He paid close attention to detail and was a scholar who was well aware and respectful of the diverse perspectives people have. [rquote]I will miss his long memory of the school as well as his understated humor.[/rquote] We, at the Divinity School, share his family’s sadness and express our gratitude to them for their long support for our cherished colleague.”

Johnson was born in Duluth, Minnesota, and later moved to Omaha, Nebraska. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University, where he graduated magna cum laude. A Rhodes Scholar, he earned degrees from Oxford University and the Lutheran School of Theology. He received a doctorate in theology from Union Theological Seminary before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1969.

Johnson’s teaching in the area of church history spanned the period from the 16th to the 19th centuries in Europe and America. His research focused on the history of Christianity and Christian thought, the Reformation and modern European Christianity, 19th-century English religion, women in religion, and religion in America.

Johnson’s publications included Women and Religion in Britain and Ireland: An Annotated Bibliography from the Reformation to 1993 and The Changing Shape of English Nonconformity, 1825-1925, which was awarded the1996 Albert C. Outler Prize in Ecumenical Church History. The book focused on the four major non-Anglican Protestant churches — Congregational, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian — in England during a 100-year period.

Johnson served as editor of Divinity School: Education, Contest, and Change, a history of Vanderbilt Divinity School that was published by Vanderbilt University Press in 2001. “His edited volume of the Divinity School is both a history and a primer on how one theological school has tried to be faithful to its mission and purpose as well as its long commitment to justice,” Townes said.

Contributors to the volume included Vanderbilt professors, Divinity alumni and experts from theological schools around the country. Among the chapters was “The Lawson Affair, 1960: A Conversation with James M. Lawson, Gene L. Davenport, Langdon Gilkey, Lou H. Silberman, John Compton, and Charles Roos; Convener, Dale A. Johnson.”

Johnson served as editor of the quarterly journal Religious Studies Review from 1993 to 2001. In 2003, Johnson became the first person from Vanderbilt elected to serve as president of the American Society of Church History. He received the Mary Jane Werthan Award from the Cuninggim Women’s Center for his outstanding commitment to women at Vanderbilt.

Johnson’s survivors include his wife, Norma Freeman Johnson; brother, Keith Johnson; children Kristen Johnson and Stephanie Johnson; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Aug. 23, at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3201 Hillsboro Rd., with a reception to follow. Memorials may be made to Trinity Presbyterian Church, the More Light Presbyterian organization or a charity of one’s choice.