The Preacher Factory

Cabbages and Kings

I visited ours recently. Calvin Seminary. The present emphasis is on better preaching. Good! God is not boring! Let’s not make him so.

Today’s seminarians are more mature and more often married. They have a computer room where they sit and stare at screens. In my day we were younger and less married. We pawed through concordances. We called our school the “Preacher Factory.”

I was a lighthearted student attending Westminster Theological Seminary. Perhaps because I had not yet wholly committed myself to a future ministerial career. There were a few kindred spirits along with me on the assembly line who were also in search of God’s will for their lives.

The professors? There was Cornelius VanTil with his pre-suppositional apologetics. He was given to preaching on downtown street corners in Philadelphia with me and my trumpet in tow. I tooted. He addressed the passing parade. He asked me to assemble a male quartet for his 6 a.m. program on radio. I couldn’t find a tenor, so I assumed that role myself. Mistake! I wasn’t a tenor. I couldn’t reach the high notes. Even on tiptoe. And certainly not at 6 a.m.

There was Professor John Murray, the dour Scot. Yet not dour at all if you knew him. Standing before us in class lecturing deeply on dogmatics while adjusting the window shade to admit more light into the room—if not on his subject—the whole thing came crashing down on his head. Unperturbed, and with no interruption, he went right on lecturing. Three minutes later, after he’d made his point and adjusted his papers, he “came to,” as they say. Staring at the offending shade on the floor, he kicked it with surprising force across the room, as if trying for a field goal. What fun!

There was Professor Paul Woolley, a walking train schedule manual, who asked us in a surprise test to sketch the life of St. John Chrysostom. My friend, P.T., caught flat-footed, drew three pictures: Chrysostom as a child, as a man in his prime, and as a graybeard. If the professor wanted a sketch, P.T. would give him three.

For some reason, a few of us fell to speaking Shakespearean. My sketching friend, addressing me in a loud voice as we strolled down the avenue, would say, “See’st thou yon mortal with balding pate?”

My reply: “Nay, sire, behold rather approaching lass with flaxen curls.”

For a time we almost lost the art of ordinary prose.

Hitching a ride home to Detroit, I was dropped off late in the evening on the seamy side of downtown Toledo, Ohio. With but a paltry sum in my pocket, I was forced to rent a room in a fleabag motel. No lock on the door! In the night I sensed an unwelcome presence in the room. Without forethought I bounded to my feet on the mattress, bounced wildly up and down, and screamed, “Gather thy dignity about thee as a shroud and go forth to the reprehensible doom of thy destiny!” It was like the intruder vaporized. He was gone in a flash.

Are you disappointed in this rather one-sided report on seminary life? Forsooth! Desist! It was a place where I saw students from fundamentalist backgrounds discover with delight what had been my heritage all along—namely, the Reformed faith. Something I had taken for granted.

Most of my classmates are now gone. They are with Jesus. But turned loose in the world they became preachers, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, professors, seminary presidents, theologians, authors, and chaplains, some of whom lost their lives in combat.

All soldiers of the cross. Let many who come after them follow their steps and enter… a preacher factory.

About the Author

Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.
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