Obituary: Dr. Samuel H. Moffett (1916-2015)

Dr. Samuel H. Moffett, former professor at Princeton Seminary, died peacefully on Monday, Feb. 9 at the Princeton Windrows retirement community. He was 98-years-old.

Moffett was an influential Christian missionary, an accomplished scholar of Christianity in Asia, and a beloved professor at schools in both Korea and North America.

Moffett was born in Pyongyang, Korea (now North Korea) in 1916 to Samuel Austin and Lucia Fish Moffett.
After attending elementary and high school in Korea, Moffett came to America to continue his education. He graduated summa cum laude from Wheaton College in 1938 with a classics major, received his BD from Princeton Seminary in 1942 and was awarded a PhD in religion from Yale University in 1945.

In 1942, he married Elizabeth Tarrant.

In 1947, Moffett moved to China and joined the faculty of Yenching University in Peking, and in 1949 he moved to the faculty of Nanking Theological Seminary in Nanking. In 1951, the communist Chinese government expelled Moffett from the country after a spurious trial.

He returned to Princeton Seminary as a visiting lecturer from 1953–55. During his time in Princeton, his wife Elizabeth died from cancer.

Moffett moved to Korea in 1955 to serve as a missionary.

In 1956 he married Eileen Flower, whom he had come to know while she was a student at Princeton Seminary in Christian Education. For the next 58 years, the Moffetts would be partners not only in marriage but also in teaching, research and a ministry of hospitality and encouragement.

Presbyterian Theological Seminary (now Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary) in Seoul, Korea called Moffett to their faculty in 1959. He served as dean of the Graduate School from 1966–70 and as co-president of the school from 1970–1981. He was also the first director of the influential Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission.

In 1981, Moffett took a position as the Henry Winters Luce Professor of Ecumenics and Mission at Princeton Seminary.

Moffett wrote several important books, including a seminal history of mission work Where’er the Sun (Friendship Press1953). His two-volume History of Christianity in Asia (vol. 1, Beginnings to 1500, HarperCollins, 1992, vol. 2, 1500–1900, Orbis Books, 2005) has become the standard work in the field.

The Moffetts joined several other former missionary colleagues on a weeklong historic visit to Pyongyang, in 1997 arranged by the Eugene Bell Foundation. It was Moffett’s first and only return to the place of his birth and upbringing.

Moffett served on countless boards during his life and held a number of important positions with organizations serving the church in Korea, North America and around the globe.

He is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including the prestigious Peony Medal awarded by the government of South Korea (1981).

Moffett is survived by his wife, Eileen, his youngest brother, Thomas F. Moffett, of Louisville, Ky., sisters-in-law, Joanne Hackett (Paul) and Maridean Bennett (Bill), 21 nieces and nephews, many grand nieces and nephews, several great grand nieces and nephews and numerous cousins. Two older brothers, the Reverend James M. Moffett and the Reverend Charles H. Moffett, and a younger brother, Dr. Howard F. Moffett, preceded him in death.

A memorial service will be held at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton. The date and time will be announced soon.

In lieu of flowers, gifts in honor of Moffett may be made to the Samuel H. and Eileen F. Moffett Scholarship Fund of the UP Foundation (P.O. Box 24441, Los Angeles, California 90024) or to the Princeton Theological Seminary Library Korea Room.