Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, held in the beautiful facilities of Colonial Hills Baptist Church of Indianapolis, Indiana. My good friend, Wendell Heller, started this church and the ministry continues now under its third pastor, Chuck Phelps. The FBFI is a fellowship of individuals, in distinction from the GARBC which is a fellowship of churches.
In addition to seeing a number of ministry friends, we heard preaching and teaching from invited speakers. Undoubtedly the highlight of the conference was the two sessions which featured John Whitcomb. In the first session, he talked to us about his important book, The Genesis Flood, while the second session was his recounting the story of his life and ministry. At 92, Dr. Whitcomb has definitely reached what might be called his twilight years. Despite his limited physical stamina, his voice was strong and his mind was clear. What a thrill to hear how God has used this servant of God for seven decades! Whitcomb was converted while a student at Princeton and became a conservative believer under the influence of Donald B. Fullerton (1892–1985), founder of the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship. Whitcomb did a stint in the military during the Second World War and, upon returning to the United States, finished his Princeton education. He went on to pursue graduate work at Grace Theological Seminary of Winona Lake, Indiana under Herman Hoyt and Alva J. McClain. During the Q&A time after the testimony, I was curious to know why Whitcomb went to Grace rather than to the new Westminster Seminary led by J. Gresham Machen. Whitcomb informed us that Fullerton felt that the eschatology at Grace, and especially that of Hoyt and McClain, was more biblical, so Whitcomb went to Grace. The rest is, as they say, history.
Now, as a non-Princetonian, I have to say that Fullerton was unfamiliar to me. But what struck me about Whitcomb’s testimony was the profound influence of one man over another and power to affect the entire course of another man’s life by being in the right place at the right time. Whitcomb, originally a gap-theory man, went to Grace and eventually rejected the gap theory, embracing Young Earth Creationism. Today his name is virtually synonymous with the movement, thanks in no small part to The Genesis Flood, which he co-authored with Henry Morris in 1961.
Whitcomb had a long teaching career at Grace until he was fired in 1990 over his accusations that the seminary was drifting from its founding principles. Whitcomb left Grace and helped to form the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International with men like Herman Hoyt. Remarkably, Whitcomb’s reckoning of the incident contained no acrimonious words about his Grace departure. His spirit was gentle and his manner reserved. He fielded questions with clarity and humor. At 92, he was engaging and gracious. I hope that if I live to a mere 70 that I can still minister as Whitcomb had done at 92! What a privilege to sit in the two services where John Whitcomb spoke. Thanks are extended to Chuck Phelps for recognizing the value of inviting Dr. Whitcomb. (Dr. and Mrs. Whitcomb have been attending Colonial Hills for a number of years and Chuck serves as the Whitcomb’s pastor.)
As I reflect on the meeting in Indianapolis, two things in particular stand out in my mind. The first is the idea of finishing well. My good friend, Mike Harding, who also spoke at the conference, mentioned a statistic that he had heard originally from Don Whitney. According to Whitney, only 1 in 20 men who study for ministry are still serving in ministry when they reach 60 years of age. This is a staggering figure if true, and even if it is an exaggeration, with the actual number being 5 or even 10 out of 20, it would still be sad in the extreme that so many men fail to discharge faithfully the stewardship which the Lord has given them when He called them into ministry. As I approach my 60th birthday and look back over forty-two years of preaching, I have known many men who today are out of ministry. I keep a list of such men and look at it periodically, sadly sometimes to add another name, but often to just remind for myself of the high cost of unholy living. Men that I knew and thought to be faithful, gifted brothers, failed to walk circumspectly and disqualified themselves from ministry. Not so with John Whitcomb. At 92, I suppose it is possible that this dear man might fall in the last few yards of his last lap, but it seems quite unlikely. How blessed to have heard a 92-year-old servant of Christ who is still faithful. The same grace that has carried John Whitcomb since he first became a Christian in the early 1940s can carry me over the finish line to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” May I live well so that one day I will be able to die well!
I have already alluded to the second important lesson I took away from the meeting last week—the importance of the influence I have on the men I teach. Donald Fullerton was used of God to first win and then direct young John Whitcomb. One day when Whitcomb is standing before the Bema, Fullerton will reap some of Whitcomb’s commendation. Edward Kimball had his D. L. Moody, and Donald Fullerton had his John Whitcomb (plus others such as John Frame and Southern Baptist Paul Pressler). The importance of what we do here at Central is not measured in the size of our classes or the number of volumes in our library or the books we publish. It is measured in the faithful servants of Christ who are laboring around the world in the cause of Jesus Christ whose lives we have touched. What a privilege to work with these men. Could one of them be another D. L. Moody or a John Whitcomb? I’ll leave that in the Lord’s hands. Just to be a small part in the lives of men and women as they prepare for a lifetime of ministry is indeed satisfying. Watching our men lead well is a blessing to my heart. Sola Deo Gloria!
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Keep Silence, All Created Things
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Keep silence, all created things,
And wait your Maker’s nod:
My soul stands trembling, while she sings
The honors of her God.
Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown,
Hang on his firm decree:
He sits on no precarious throne,
Nor borrows leave to be.
Chained to his throne, a volume lies,
With all the fates of men,
With every angel’s form and size,
Drawn by th’ eternal pen.
His providence unfolds the book,
And makes his counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and every stroke,
Fulfills some deep design.
Here, he exalts neglected worms
To scepters and a crown;
And there, the following page he turns,
And treads the monarch down.
Not Gabriel asks the reason why,
Nor God, the reason gives;
Nor dares the favorite angel pry
Between the folded leaves.
My God, I would not long to see
My fate with curious eyes,
What gloomy lines are writ for me,
Or what bright scenes may rise.
In thy fair book of life and grace
O may I find my name,
Recorded in some humble place
Beneath my Lord the Lamb!