Meredith M. Kline
He was Dr. Kline to students and church members, Meredith to colleagues and friends, but to the family he was Hodge, grandpa Hodge, and even great-grandpa Hodge to Elijah, Ezra, and Lilly. The origin of the nickname has been erased from our memories; the dim myth is that it evolved from dinner banter about some hodge-podge and is probably only coincidentally related to the name of a famous civil-war era Princeton theologian.
God designed our dad to be a covenant theologian. David VanDrunen and Gordon Hugenburger have given you a picture of what that profession looks like, so I'll try to give some family snapshots of the personality whose book titles, like By Oath Consigned, can be as obscure as their content might be illuminating.
Hodge was a private person, a man of the study (meditating on Torah like his Jewish grandfather), an architect of ideas, who enthusiastically shared his discoveries in classroom lectures and Sunday School classes. His intellectual strength was an ability to integrate the details and the big picture as an organic whole, to perceive the beauty of truth.
Hodge wrote Images of the Spirit, explaining that though God the Father is invisible, we can see the Father by looking at Jesus, the divine Son, and his human images who have been transformed by and will be glorified by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, elements of our dad are evident in three successive generations. Obviously visibly; he had such a youthful look that his sons were sometimes thought to be his brothers. Uncannily, his newborn grandchildren and great-grand-children can look like miniature Merediths.
Portions of his personal traits and talents are also apparent in his offspring. When he was convinced of the legitimacy of his conceptions of biblical truth, he was a formidable force in correcting theological iniquity. Like his architect son, Sterling, who could tell some leaders of a congregation who were shamefully treating a pastor that their church's foundation was strong but its pillars were cracked, or his granddaughter, Michele, who works for DSS and is not afraid to tell police or derelict parents what their responsibilities are, so my dad wrote minority reports to ecclesiastical courts or book reviews upbraiding distorters of the Scriptures.
Our dad dedicated his last book, God, Heaven and Har Magedon, to his three sons, architect, musician, and poet. He was our artistic prototype.
Like his son, Calvin, the trumpet player, organist, and choir director, and most of the grandkids, who have played in bands, our dad was a musician, a violinist. He played in a Boston youth symphony, always listened to classical music at home, and even in his last conversation was trying to recall the name of a young violinist whose playing he enjoyed.
Like his son, Sterling, and grandson, Joel, the architects, he designed and built our Philadelphia home and told the architect of the Westminster and Gordon-Conwell libraries to include some windows in their plans. He shared artistic talents and interests with his wife, Muriel Grace. He took classes at the Museum of Fine Arts, drew cartoons for a Boston Latin School newspaper, and at boring faculty meetings would draw sketches of his colleagues. With our mom he was a member of the Beverly Guild of Artists. Our parents enjoyed visiting the art galleries in Gloucester and Rockport.
Like his son, Meredith, and grandson, Jonathan, he was a linguist and word-smith, as well as an unfolder of the aesthetic form and conceptual design of the Bible. He and his friend, Elmer Smick, were the team that did the original stage of the translation of Job and Psalms for the NIV translation. Our dad coined words like 'endoxation' of the Holy Spirit to parallel the incarnation of Christ, phrases like the Big Blaze as the biblical equivalent of the cosmologist's Big Bang, and hyphenated terms like Glory-Cloud; his writings can be slow reading.
His skill at perceiving both the trees, doing detailed exegesis of Hebrew and Greek, and seeing the whole forest, systematizing the Bible's covenantal structure and the development of God's kingdom from Creation to Consummation, are systems analysis skills passed on to son, Sterling, pharmaceutical-manufacturing architect, grandson Robert, the chemical engineer, and grandson David, the pediatric neurologist.
Hodge's career was devoted to unfolding the grand unified theory of Scripture. He was, however, not only a hearer of the Word (in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) he was a doer of the Word. Ecclesiastes 9:7 commands: "Go eat your food with joy." He enjoyed eating! But he wouldn't gain weight! We would sit around the table stuffed from one helping, waiting for him to finish, not because he was a slow eater, but because he was on his third plate-full. He loved buffets. The family has joked that he put the Hometown Buffet out of business. It was gratifying to us all that the last month of his life his tastebuds returned after being compromised by chemotherapy.
When my brothers and I were growing up in Philadelphia we assumed dad's dinner conversation was typical Philadelphia fare. There was the expected "boys, eat your vegetables" or the sports debating "Bill Russell is better than Wilt Chamberlain" (in those days the Red Sox and the Phillies were equally deplorable, the superstars played basketball). We did not realize that no one else heard comments during devotions like "such chiasms occur in the sanctions of Hittite suzerainty treaties."
Ecclesiastes 9:9 suggests: enjoy life with your wife. I mentioned that Meredith and Grace enjoyed classical music together (our mom played cello) and art activities. They even collaborated on my dad's last book, God, Heaven and Har Magedon; my mom did the cover painting of the White Mountains, which is also on the cover of today's program. They also liked to canoe. In fact, when they were college aged, Meredith was a counselor at the boys' camp and Grace was a counselor at the girls' camp, and after the campers were soundly asleep, Meredith would get a canoe, paddle to the girls' camp to get Grace, and they would canoe around Lake Winnesquam under the moonlight. Many years saw them canoe on various Maine bodies of water where Deerwander Bible Conference happened to be located or on the lake across the street from their Chebacco Road house.
Hodge also got in the water. As a seminary student at Westminster in Philadelphia, he supported the family by teaching swimming at the YMCA. He taught us boys to swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Wildwood, NJ, where for many years he would take us out of school a couple days early to spend a week at the OPC's Boardwalk Chapel, located on the beach. At Deerwander, he was the speaker in 1957, and he was back again the next year and for forty more, as waterfront director (and later, staff teacher)!
Ecclesiastes 9:10 advises: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Dr. Kline studied hard and expected his students to study hard. He was a tough grader, even after grade-inflation crept in; students took his courses pass-fail.
Hodge was an ordained pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and had one charge–Ringoes, NJ–farmers and car dealers. He prepared sermons as if they were papers for his doctorate on the languages of Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. It was like trying to teach big-bang cosmology to candle-blowing kindergartners. Hodge did not feel comfortable preaching; his theater of operation was the classroom. When he was a professor at Westminster in Philadelphia he would, nevertheless, sometimes fill pulpits. In the bedroom/study he had three sermons in a box and a chart on the wall listing the churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to indicate which sermon he preached there and when. His sermons must have been memorable. Last month's denominational magazine, New Horizons, mentioned the death of Ruth Grotenhuis, wife of an OPC-founding pastor. After hearing a sermon of our dad's one evening at the Boardwalk Chapel she commented, "You preached the same sermon at our church ten years ago! It was better this time!"
One of our dad's strengths was also a weakness. His scrutinizingly analytic thought process was perfect for crafting theological systems but got in the way when he was a hospital patient. Fortunately for nurses he was never in a hospital until his eightieshe always wanted to control when they were going to help him and tried to figure out how they should be taking care of himnot characteristics of a good patient.
Over-analysis may have contributed to his being mechanically challenged. At times during his recent illness he could not figure out how to pop up the top of a water bottle, adjust his walker, or empty his foley bags. He never learned to type. He wrote all his books on paper just as Moses had 3500 years ago; grandson Jonathan entered his recent texts on the computer. It scares me now to think that my dad operated a small bulldozer around our house in Philadelphia when my parents expanded the house. There was a four-foot high mound of dirt next to the house. He tried to direct the bulldozer up the little hill but it swerved over the side. He jumped off with the motor running and ran in the house. When we lived in New Jersey, our Chevy was parked in a garage with double swinging doors. One day he opened the left door, got in the car, backed up, and pulled the right door off its hinges.
Our dad and Meirwyn Walters's dad could be confused for each other from behind, with their artistically combed-back, curly silver hair. Both men suffered with cancer. During Hodge's illness Meirwyn's mom, Mair, remarked that God sanctified his children through such trials. Dr. Kline believed God was sovereign but had to learn to relinquish control of his life. When he realized he could not control his catheter, he became a pleasant patient, thanking emergency room nurses, even though they had poked him repeatedly trying to get IVs into his wiggly veins.
God choreographed Hodge's life. He almost died over 50 years ago. While driving to a doctoral class he hit a patch of ice on a road near where George Washington crossed the Delaware River, swerved toward a tree, closed his eyes, and put up his arms to cushion the crash. When he opened his eyes the car was heading down the highway.
Born in Coplay, PA, on December 15, 1922, he was raised in Dorchester, MA. He was offered scholarships to Harvard and Penn, but a woman in the Congregational Church he grew up in directed "Rev", as he was known, to Gordon College. As he finished college he applied to Dallas Theological Seminary but Burton Goddard directed him to Westminster. Would the artist who admired the organically integrated beauty of covenant theology have re-engineered the ugly disconnected boxes of dispensationalism?
Dave and Gordon are among our dad's theological admirers but he's had many opponents. Some of his ideas are not popular. He agreed with my atheist high school classmates who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to eliminate required corporate prayer from public schools. He argued that the days of Genesis 1 were heavenly and not earthly 24-hour days. He wrote that the sabbath does not apply outside a theocracy. Some in the presbytery where he held his church membership wanted to bring charges against him, even while chemotherapy was emaciating him. He was kept from teaching where he had taught before and from publishing in normal Reformed channels.
Through all his professional and private difficulties he retained the sense of humor he had exhibited in the classroom. His lectures could be intricately structured and the diagrams he drew on the blackboard did not always help visual learners since they ended up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting rather than a lecture outline. Understandably, one day a frustrated student raised his hand and said: "Professor Kline, I'm lost." To which our dad quickly responded, "Let me explain to you the way of salvation." It may have been a silly answer, but it reveals the focus of our dad's ministry to play a part in the construction of the Heavenly Architect's temple of eternally-living, God-blessing people.
As a pre-schooler in a Christmas pageant, Meredith G. Kline, Grace's husband, our father, grandfather, great-grandfather, relative, or friend shouted with all the power of his little lungs "Christ the Savior is born." For eighty years he continued to delve into and share the incredibly marvelous, glorious grace of the God who prepared him for that purpose. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, the Lord will give again. Let the name of the Lord be perpetually praised.
Meredith M. Kline is the son of Professor Kline and presently acting director of Goddard Library at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is completing his PhD thesis on Ecclesiastes and is a member of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore (OPC) in Ipswich, MA. He is also a member of the Christian Education Committee and the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training. Ordained Servant, August-September 2007.