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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carl Sandberg (not the poet)

If you asked me to list the top 10 most unforgettable characters I've met in my life, Carl Sandberg would certainly be among them.

Carl was a student of theology, and a contemporary of mine.  He finished his undergraduate at the same tiny college I attended, but a year before me.  He told me that he had been a Communist in Chicago, as was his father, when his attention got arrested by the preaching of a street team from a charismatic church.  He began attending this church, where he was subsequently converted.

He became a bit uncomfortable with the emotional antics of this church group, and found his way into a very narrow baptist church: the General Association of Regular Baptists.  For those not acquainted with this church, may I say they are as jealous of orthodoxy as the OPC, and sometimes just as cantankerous.  They seem willing to doubt the orthodoxy of every other denomination, with the possible exception of the OPC.  The reason for this exception was the early association two of these professors had with J. Gresham Machen.

Carl told me that at this point in his life he was drifting more and more into reformed thinking as a result of his study of the Bible.  In fact during Greek class at the Baptist school, he was called upon to translate Acts 9:18 and he read: "and he stood up and was baptized".  Against accusations of misinterpretation, Carl said he merely translated it.

Eventually someone at L. A. Baptist said he ought to be an Orthodox Presbyterian instead of a baptist.  He said, "What's that?"  And that is how he was introduced to the OPC.

Carl always had a controversial point of view, and accompanied his views with a controversial attitude.
Someone who knew Carl better than I said, "As far as personality alone is concerned, he should have remained a Communist."

At Westminster Seminary, following a class taught by Meredith Kline, Carl approached the professor, telling him of a book he read in which the author reconciles the Egyptian dating with that of the Bible.  Dr. Kline seemed fascinated with the idea and so he asked how he does this.  Carl said the author proposed that Egyptian dating was off by several years.  In response Dr. Kline threw back his head, laughed, and announced, "He's out of his mind!"  Then he picked up his bulky brief case and stalked out of the room.  Carl was left with his mouth hanging open.

Speechless was not a frequent posture of Carl.  He had a way of interrogating, rather than questioning, when he raised his hand in class.  Van Til and Clowney were frequent beneficiaries of Carl's whetting encounters.  The major exception was his appreciation of Professor John Murray.  In fact he once wrote me a note during class, saying, "Why don't we hear this good stuff in our home churches?"  I don't know where he attended church, but my home church did teach me good theology.  Immediately after I read the note I found the good professor standing next to me with his hand outstretched.  Into that hand I deposited the aforementioned note, being grateful that it was flattering rather than derogatory.

A mutual friend of Carl and another student, Alan Wyat, anticipated with apprehension the sparks that might fly when these two fiery personalities finally met.  The occasion, as best I can recall, was the return of a borrowed hauling trailer.  One of the principles offered an outrageous opinion about a current event.  The other countered with a psychiatric evaluation of the speaker, and suddenly the fat was in the fire.  These were now Christian men, in whom the Holy Spirit had begun, but by no means completed, the work of sanctification.  Therefore there were no fisticuffs.  But there were barrages of verbal exchange that raised concern for all in the room.

Neither of these men completed the course of seminary with me.  To the best of my knowledge they both dropped out of Westminster.  Subsequent careers of either man are not known to me.  I read that Carl was a teacher in a Christian school in Virginia, but that exhausts my information.

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