Phil Holtrop’s gentle demeanor, kindness, listening ear, and respect for others as God’s image bearers helped to make him a trusted confidant and mentor to many. His accomplishments in the areas of education, ministry, and the fostering of cross-cultural understanding are many. However, his life’s story is really a chronicle of God’s incredible guidance, grace, and restoration in the life of a man whose mother died when he was 5 years old, who was angry at God, and had many deep questions. Phil’s personal experience that Christ is indeed “the resurrection and the life” became the passion and focus for his entire life. He died June 12 at age 89.
A graduate of Calvin College (now University) and Seminary, Phil also obtained a doctorandus theologie degree from the Free University of Amsterdam in 1963 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1989. He began his career teaching at Illiana Christian High School and at Trinity Christian College, both in Illinois. Ordained in 1971, he pastored North Haledon (N.J.) Christian Reformed Church until he became professor of theology at Calvin in 1977, where he remained until retirement in 1999. Phil was considered an authority on Christian ethics, the Reformation, and John Calvin.
In 1992 Phil and his wife, Marie, embarked on a journey of teaching and ministry in China. Between then and 2016, they made dozens of trips to China. Phil shared knowledge and preached messages of forgiveness, love, and hope to people in many places from prestigious Chinese universities to small schools in remote villages. He recruited large numbers of Chinese students to attend Calvin, helping them with letters of recommendation.
Phil is survived by Marie, his wife of almost 65 years; and their four sons; two daughters-in-law; “adopted” couple, Rose and Fan; 11 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.