Spring 2000
Volume 4 Number 4

  

Defining the Mainstream

In regard to Professor James Moorhead’s 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 Bryans’s sculptures; they were great. Also, I am glad you brought to our attention [through inSpire] Gary Barckert, who does not live very far from us.
Rimmer de Vries
Seattle, Washington

editor’s note

We asked Dr. Moorhead, professor of American church history and author of the article, to respond to Mr. de Vries’s letter.

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 article’s 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. McPherson’s memory must have been hearing the Alexander Hall bell, for, to the best of my knowledge, Miller Chapel never had a bell.
Gordon M. Loos
Haverford, Pennsylvania

editor’s note:

According to librarian for archives and special collections William Harris, the bell atop Alexander Hall is the only one the Seminary has ever used.

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 boy’s 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.
Dean Osterberg (’43B)
Mesa, Arizona

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 Seminary’s devoted professors.
Donald C. Kerr (’40B)
Baltimore, Maryland

editor’s note:

We apologize for the omission of Hugh Thomson Kerr Jr., Benjamin B. Warfield Professor of Theology Emeritus and editor of Theology Today from 1951 until his death in 1992. Kerr was deeply involved in Theology Today beginning with its first issue in 1944, when he served as associate editor under the late John A. Mackay, then president of the Seminary. Dr. Kerr was profoundly appreciated by many Princeton students, as witnessed in the introduction to Pash Obeng’s article "Survival Strategies: African Indians of Karnataka, South India" in this issue.

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 that "…Jill Robb Denison Paulson (’86B) remains interim pastor of the nation’s 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.
Gary Hansen (’87B, ’90M, ’98D)
Dubuque, Iowa

editor’s note:

We apologize for the error and appreciate your correction.

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 1971–1972 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.
Charles Curtis (’73B)
New York, New York


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