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Farewell to Tyndale

Farewell to Tyndale, April 18, 2019 – Remarks Made at Tyndale on My Retirement as a Research Professor After  Twenty-One Years.

On July 29th 1946 I made my first visit to Toronto Bible College, and had my initial introduction to Canada and its history in the Principal’s Residence.  J. Bernard Rhodes had just succeeded Dr. McNichol as Principal of the College.  My father described him as his “roommate” but I am not sure if it was at Chefoo as a fellow “China Mishkid” or during his year at Princeton Theological Seminary (1925-6).  Bernard Rhodes had a fascination for history:  As minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg, he had directed the rebuilding of the church after the disastrous fire of January 4th, 1937.  He had written a thesis “The Scripture Principium: Historically and Critically Considered”.  Bernard Rhodes continued the college tradition, exceptional among all similar schools in North America of being non-dispensational. He died on holiday in Virginia in 1953, but left a rich historical and theological heritage to the School.

Fast forward . . . In Ian Scott Rennie you will see a similar commitment. Ian’s graduate study at the University of Toronto was in Nineteenth Century Evangelical Anglicanism. I first met Ian in 1966 when the Presbyterian Church in Canada was confronted with a new Statement of Faith prepared by McGill Professor Joe McLelland, which Evangelicals were about to defeat.  Ian set a tone for Tyndale when he arrived in 1981.  The very choice of a new name for the school suggested an historical foundation dating back to the Sixteenth Century Reformers.  Ian’s strong conviction that church history was essential for a spiritually alive, theologically grounded, and culturally sensitive institution helped shape our School.  I last saw him when travelling to Los Angeles as Tyndale representative for the installation of Barry Corey as President of Biola University.  A stopover in Vancouver disclosed that Ian was failing rapidly and had lost that wonderful ability to tell stories and anecdotes of the past. I said good-by to him, greatly saddened at the impending loss of this friend who had such a great influence on Canadian evangelicalism and our school.

What Ian affirmed was the conviction that Christians needed to know the history of the church and that Canadian Christians were particularly imperilled by ignorance of their past.  In a day when we have thrown out the hymnbook from our churches, this is more relevant than ever.  Hymns have a way of linking us to the past.  From Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee” to Stewart Townend’s “In Christ Alone”, we have a continuing reminder that the church has a heritage that needs constant re-emphasis.

Today, the academic discipline of church history is imperilled as never before by the need to economise and reduce the spiralling cost of graduate theological education.  The other temptation available for economising, in the ever present need to cut costs, is the library.  Who needs a library of books when you can go on line?  The endless opportunities provided by the internet to save money by bypassing print media appeared to provide an option.  We, at Tyndale, are blest by having had a succession of dedicated librarians:  including, Sandy Findlayson, and now most recently, Hugh Rendal.  In all the various recent changes, as we relocated to the Bayview Campus, Hugh has been an unsung hero of this school.

One of our great assets in the Library is the Baldwin Collection of Seventeenth Century Puritan volumes acquired by the late P. J. Baldwin.  I remember when Perce died in 1975, travelling with Ed Clowney, President of Westminster Seminary, to enquire from his widow what would happen to his collection, which scholars at Westminster greatly prized.  Eventually Audrie, his daughter, determined that they should be left in Canada and given to Tyndale. Hugh’s noble efforts to have an Annual Baldwin Seminar have unfortunately not met much response.  This collection could open a whole new ministry for Tyndale in Puritan Studies.

Evangelicals in Canada need a repository for historical archives.  Archives are essential, not just for historical research, but also as a responsibility. It is desirable that these records of our past be left in Canada and not sent on to Wheaton or other places in the United States.  The preservation of archives has become more challenging due to the decline of mainline protestant denominations in Canada, particularly, the odyssey of the United Church collection from the campus of the University of Toronto to Cabbage Town.

Alongside archives, we should also include oral history.  My recent book “China Mishkid” has encouraged some reminiscing seniors to contact me with their memories of the past.  Dr. Robert Stephens, 95-year old son of a former OBC Trustee Chairman, recalls vividly the fire that destroyed the Muskoka site of Canadian Keswick in 1946 and its impact on the evangelical churches of Toronto and Hamilton. Church members, who loaned money to pay for the original property, lost everything, thus impacting the whole financial stability of the Christian community in Southern Ontario.

Biographies are an important part of our story.  Not the hagiographies of an earlier age, but solid historically credible and theologically aware accounts of outstanding Christians. There are many stories still needing to be told about Canadian evangelicals of a previous generation.  If we do not tell our story, who will?  But such accounts need to be honest and historically verifiable.

The constant misuse of the word “Evangelical Fundamentalists” without any understanding of its historical roots provides endless opportunities for caricature and ridicule.  We need to be particularly sensitive to the reality that it is in the ethnic churches that the future of evangelicalism may lie in Canada.  Tyndale is a bridge community and helps newcomers become aware of the Christian tradition of our Dominion, and learn from our mistakes as we face a post Christian culture.  Church history puts it all in perspective.  Tyndale has an opportunity to provide instruction in Canadian church history, tradition and culture, for students preparing for ministry in an increasingly diverse and even antagonistic society.

On Palm Sunday I returned to a church in downtown Toronto that I once served.  The congregation has undergone a $3 ½ million renovation.  The regimental flags from 150 years ago had been taken down from the buttresses of the Sanctuary.  The high pulpit had been cut down and was now a repository in the entry way for bulletins and other information.  In the social activities room in the back of the church the portraits of all 14 ministers had been removed as had the missionaries’ pictures.  What I saw saddened me, though the church now, thank God, includes many children and young adults of many races.  The congregation has had to weigh the relative merits of heritage and outreach, and of making everyone feel comfortable in their religious environment, without compromising the truth of the Gospel. This, they have succeeded in doing, and what I saw rejoices my heart as a former pastor.  The challenge of teaching church history is to keep the balance between respect for the past and hope for the future. Our identity is grounded in an understanding of where we have come from, which also provides a roadmap for the future.

It has been my great privilege, under the anointed leadership of our dean, Janet Clark, to see much encouraging growth.  For the past twenty-two years, since I returned to Canada, I have been a part of this community, and will always be grateful for this honour.

 

A.D. MacLeod – adonaldmacleod@gmail.com

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