Volume 4 Number 4
Defining the Mainstream
In regard to Professor James Moorheads article "Mainstream Protestants and the End of the World" in the winter 2000 issue, I think the use of the term "mainstream" or "mainline" is very unclear and probably erroneous as well, yet it is used extensively by the author. I sense that those who portray themselves as mainstream are really off the tracks, on a side road, and certainly departed from the main confessions of the church. Those in the mainstream certainly, if I understand the term, represent a minority of the Protestant church, and there is nothing "main" about them. When my family came to Seattle, I listened to twenty hours of tapes on the Book of Revelation by one of your trustees, Earl Palmer. These represented classical Reformed views. I consider them the leading view in Reformed circles. We should not bestow on deviationists the title of "mainstream."
Next time I am in the Princeton area I hope to purchase one of Nena
Bryanss sculptures; they were great. Also, I am glad you brought to our
attention [through inSpire] Gary Barckert, who does not live very far from
The terms "mainstream" and "mainline" are used by most historians and sociologists to denote those Protestant groups that formerly enjoyed a place of dominance and cultural prestige in American religion and life. The precise boundaries of this "mainstream" depend upon the period under discussion. For the period with which my essay was chiefly concerned (the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), the mainstream would include Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and probably the Disciples of Christ. Other groups might also arguably belong. It is, of course, a truism that such groups have within the last few decades lost their culturally privileged place and dwindled in numbers. Perhaps today they are more accurately styled "oldline" than "mainline." These were the meanings and assumptions that governed my articles use of the terms "mainstream" and "mainline." The Protestant leaders whom I have surveyed may indeed, as Mr. de Vries suggests, have deviated in some important particulars from "classical Reformed views." I tend to think he is right on that point. But that is neither the issue the article was intended to address nor the standard by which the terms "mainstream" and "mainline" are employed in current historical and sociological discourse.
From Where the Bell Tolls
One factual correction: A letter from alumnus Alan M. McPherson (64M) on page two of the winter 2000 issue refers to "the sonorous clang of the Miller Chapel bell."
I feel certain that Mr. McPhersons memory must have been hearing the
Alexander Hall bell, for, to the best of my knowledge, Miller Chapel never
had a bell.
A Lesson in Grace
In appreciation of the contents and much-valued spirit found in copies of inSpire, I am enclosing a story concerning an incident I observed while a freshman in the class of Dr. Bruce Metzger in 1939. It has left me with a lifelong, profound respect for a dedicated Christian gentleman.
As a first-year student I was thrilled with all I had experienced at the Seminary, and held the Seminary professors in great awe. I was enrolled in a New Testament Greek class taught by Dr. Bruce Metzger. In the process of translating a passage, I became fascinated with the word "grace" and approached Dr. Metzger after class to ask for further clarification. "Grace," he informed me, "means forgiveness without justification, a condition in which forgiveness is given to another undeserved."
The fall semester had been underway about a month when on a Saturday morning I decided to walk from the Seminary campus to downtown Princeton. I had barely reached Nassau Street when the heavens opened up and a heavy downpour of rain threatened to inundate me as I passed Nassau Presbyterian Church.
Gathering my raincoat tightly about me, I proceeded to lean into the burst as I made my way eastward on the sidewalk. As I did so, I peered ahead of me, noting a man about fifty yards ahead walking in my direction. I recognized the man at once as Dr. Metzger. Suddenly, a student on a bicycle, also headed east, almost bumped me off the sidewalk as he passed. Riding bicycles on the sidewalks of Princeton was unlawful. Without warning, the student ran head-on into Dr. Metzger, knocking him down into a deepening puddle of water and mud.
Gaining his feet as quickly as possible, Dr. Metzger stepped over a couple of yards and tried to help the student regain his feet and pick up his bicycle. I then overheard some of their conversation, which was about the rarest I have heard in my lifetime. Dr. Metzger, instead of being angry at the irresponsible young man, began to apologize for being in the boys way and scattering his possessions.
The years have passed since this accident happened, sixty of them, but
hundreds of times my mind has brought back a living instance of
"grace" from the lips of a godly man and a true Christian.
Remembering Hugh Kerr
I was very disappointed with the article "Theology Today: A
Journal for the Millennium," which ran in the winter 2000 issue of inSpire. I am disappointed because the author failed to mention my
brother, Hugh T. Kerr Jr., who was an editor of Theology Today since its
inception. This just shows how easily and quickly a name fades from
memory. I think the author missed an opportunity to recognize one of
Princeton Seminarys devoted professors.
Presbyterian Native American Churches
I wanted to call your attention to an error in the Class Notes section
of the winter 2000 edition of inSpire. Under the Class of 1987 it states
Jill Robb Denison Paulson (86B) remains interim pastor of
the nations only Presbyterian Native American Church." The 1999
Native American Churches and Committees directory published by the
National Ministries Division lists well over one hundred Native American
PCUSA churches and chapels. In Grand Canyon Presbytery, where the Rev.
Paulson is doing her fine work, there are twenty-four.
Black Seminarians History
I read with great interest your issue of inSpire [summer 1998] dedicated to the African American experience at PTS. I commend the editors for undertaking such a herculean task.
There were several facts, however, that were not included. The Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) played an immeasurable role in helping students of African descent make a positive adjustment to the life and culture of Princeton. ABS was also active in community service and social justice.
I recall that in 1972 members of the association responded to a cross burning by the Ku Klux Klan in the Princeton area. In the same year, members participated in a demonstration against the Atlantic and Pacific (A&P) Company in response to unfair hiring practices.
And any history of PTS should note the election of the first African
American student body president, Charles A. Curtis, a member of the Class
of 1973. I had the pleasure of serving in that capacity for the 19711972
school year. Princeton Seminary is a wonderful institution with a great
deal to offer students. I hope it will continue its commitment to all
persons, regardless of race or sex.
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