The Ghost of Harold John Ockenga

The Ghost of Harold John Ockenga January 9, 2020

With the news of Daniel Harrell’s appointment as editor of Christianity Today, I could not help but see the long lines of influence that post-World War II neo-evangelical leaders had on what we know now and complain about as evangelicalism. Here is Harrell’s biography:

Daniel M. Harrell is Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today. Formerly, he served ten years as Senior Minister of Colonial Church, Edina, Minnesota, and for 23 years before that as preaching minister at Park Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts. Daniel holds a BA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Psychology and Religion), an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his PhD from Boston College (Developmental & Educational Psychology).

He has taught at Gordon-Conwell, Fuller and Bethel seminaries, as well as at Boston University and Harvard University. He served for many years on the Community Ethics Committee of the Harvard University Hospitals and on the Advisory Council of Biologos.

Here are the balls to keep an eye on: Boston’s Park Street Church, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today.

That means Harrell is following a trail blazed by Harold John Ockenga. Who, you might ask? Well, he was the rare winner of evangelicalism’s Triple Crown — presiding over Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Fuller Seminary. He was also pastor of Park Street Church. And get this, Ockenga was pastor at Park Street and president of the college and seminary (Gordon-Conwell) all at the same time, though this biography at Gordon College’s website leave out that last trifecta:

Harold John Ockenga (1905–1985)
President 1969–1976

One of Gordon College’s most high-profile presidents, Harold John Ockenga was a nationally recognized preacher, theologian and educator. A native of Chicago, his own education included degrees from Taylor University, Westminster Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh along with several honorary degrees. Among his myriad accomplishments, Dr. Ockenga was one of the founders of Christianity Today magazine, a founder and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a founder and first president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, and a director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Before taking on the role of president of Gordon College and Divinity School he was the pastor of the influential Park Street Church in downtown Boston for 33 years.

Notice again the institutional connections: Christianity Today, Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, Park Street Church, National Association of Evangelicals.

In case you wonder whether these “elite” institutions still matter, consider the pastor recently appointed to preside over the National Association of Evangelicals, Walter Kim:

President-elect Walter Kim currently serves as pastor for leadership at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, and will continue in this role as he leads the NAE. He ministered for 15 years at Boston’s historic Park Street Church, a congregation that played a key role in the NAE’s founding. Kim has been a member of the NAE board since 2013 and has presented at NAE events, contributed to NAE publications and served on working groups on a variety of issues, including ethics and church life, racial reconciliation and the politics of sexuality.

Kim received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, his M.Div. from Regent College in Vancouver, and his B.A. from Northwestern University in philosophy and history.

Granted, Kim only has two direct links to Ockenga — Park Street and the National Association of Evangelicals — compared to Harrell’s four. Whether these institutions function more as gatekeepers or networks is debatable. But if you want to know where to look for leadership within those who want to be evangelicalism’s leaders, look to Boston while gesturing to Pasadena, California.

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