New Testament scholar Dr. Virgil Cruz died on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, after suffering a stroke in the Netherlands. He was 80 years old. Cruz was a powerful advocate in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for an evangelical theology and for church renewal.
Dr. Cruz served on the faculty of Louisville Seminary from 1986 to 1996. When he was called to LPTS, Cruz became the first African American professor to be tenured on the faculty. He was recognized globally for his work in biblical studies, for his preaching, and tireless efforts in race relations. In addition to presenting numerous lectures around the world, he is perhaps most recognized for his publications, Breaking Down the Walls: Responding to the Racism that Divides Us (1992) and How Shall We Witness? Faithful Evangelism in a Reformed Tradition (1995), co-edited with former Louisville Seminary Professor Milton J. Coalter.
“Virgil brought to the Louisville Seminary faculty’s conversation a different and important voice and perspective. His time at LPTS marked, in significant ways, the beginning steps toward our present racial and theological diversity and our anti-racist commitments,” said David C. Hester, who taught with Cruz and is currently Dean of the Seminary and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Harrison Ray Anderson Professor of Pastoral Theology at Louisville Seminary.
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Cruz played a major role in helping to bring the denominational offices to Louisville, Ky., and sought to lead the denomination in articulating the evangelical call to discipleship in the world. In 1989, he assisted with the formation of Presbyterians for Renewal, serving as the organization’s Vice President. He also served on the committee to draft Turn To The Living God: A Call To Evangelism In Jesus Christ’s Way, a resolution that endeavored to provide “direction to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as it engaged in world evangelism, particularly among unreached people groups, in the decade of the 1990s.” The resolution was adopted by the 203rd General Assembly in 1991.
At the urging of his childhood pastor, Rev. Roy Lambert, Cruz left his job as a truck driver to attend Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., and later graduated from Pittsburgh Xenia Seminary in 1956. Following ordination, he became the first African American in the United Presbyterian Church of North America to lead an all-white congregation. He earned his doctorate from Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and spent two years teaching at Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa. Following a three-year teaching position at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich., Cruz joined the faculty of Louisville Seminary in 1986. While teaching, he also served on the Council of Theological Seminaries, the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the National Council of Churches. Upon his retirement from teaching in 1996, Louisville Seminary appointed him professor emeritus. Cruz has resided in the Netherlands for the past 14 years.
Dr. Cruz is survived by his spouse, Margot, and two children, son Miguel, who lives in Malaysia, and daughter Isabel, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. An intimate service for family and friends in Castricum, Netherlands, will be held on Saturday, May 29.