Reformed Theology Takes Hold in Texarkana circa 1959

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In 1959, R. C. Sproul was still in college.  He had not yet encountered John Gerstner who would Calvinize his thinking.  John Piper was a teenager at Wade Hampton High School in South Carolina.  John MacArthur was a young Arminian, following in his father’s Wesleyan footsteps, who was transferring from Bob Jones University to Los Angeles Pacific College.  Tim Keller was an elementary school student.  John Frame was a seminary student.

There was no Gospel Coalition.  No PCA existed, while the OPC was a small group. No Founders Movement in the SBC.  Few people who identified as Anglicans in the Reformed tradition.  No internet trove of resources.  Few leaders who adhered to creation, inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and certainly not the Canons of Dordt.

Reprints could be found of old works of Arthur Pink and Charles H. Spurgeon.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known mostly in the British Isles.  Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd (still living at that time) were mostly confined to Dutch theological students.  Banner of Truth was just in its second or third year in the U. K.  Westminster Theological Seminary was a small operation that employed rather little known teachers named Murray, Van Til, Stonehouse, and Wooley.

These were what I have termed in various writings and talks “The Calvinist Wilderness Years.”  The declining fortunes of Calvinism had resulted in a loss of Calvinistic theology in Presbyterian, Reformed, Baptist, and Anglican circles.  Theological liberalism, the Higher Critical Movement, and Darwinian Naturalism had waged war against historic Christian theology in the latter decades of the 19th and the early decades of the 20th centuries.  The responses to theological deviations came from two radically different sources.  One was Neo-Orthodoxy and the profound, but not historically compatible, teaching of such men as Karl Barth or Emil Brunner.  The other more widespread response in the United States was the Fundamentalist Movement.

Rarely found from the fall of Princeton Theological Seminary to the 1980s were solidly Reformed, worldview thinking, culture driven Calvinist thinkers and movers and shakers.  Rarely found, but still in seed form and small plants, the future harvest of Calvinism could be found as I have indicated in my works called Calvinist Worldview Thinkers: The Wilderness Years.

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Here and there, a remnant was out there preaching and teaching the historic doctrines that echoed the lessons from Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, J. Gresham Machen, and others.  In the 1950s, a row broke out at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  Some students were talking on campus about something called “the Doctrines of Grace” or “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  The young men who were there with plans of becoming preachers who then embraced historic Calvinism realized that their futures in Baptist churches in the south were dismal at best.  What was needed was another field to work in where they would not be dependent on church support.

Henry Wood was a negligent and careless student during his first year of college.  Running up and down the halls with a water gun, he was failing or nearly failing his courses.  He was a tall, lanky young Christian man with a baritone singing voice of amazing tone who was going to be a preacher.  Raised in a faithful Christian home, he was called of God to his way of thinking, so he went to Ouachita Baptist College. Little did he know that God who purposes the times and events intended much more than for Henry to just sing in a quartet and get a Bible degree.

In short, Henry got a glimpse of God in His Sovereignty.  He fought the doctrines tooth and nail, but like all who battle against God, Henry was subdued.  He wasn’t brought kicking and screaming into Calvinism, to use C. S. Lewis’s description of his own conversion, but he did kick and scream (as I did many years later) until he was amazingly changed.

In 1959,  after a few years of teaching in a high school and some time spent in seminary and then on to graduate school in history, Henry and his wife Melba Wood arrived in Texarkana, a border city on the Texas and Arkansas border.  Henry had been hired as a history teacher at Texarkana College.

It was 1974 when I was first sitting in his classroom at the front of a row with a notebook opened and ready to take notes.  I had previously taken a CLEP test that granted me credit for both semesters of American history.  But God had ordained that Texarkana College would still require that a student take one semester of American history.  I entered the classroom with the slightly cocky feeling that I already knew American history.

A few minutes into Mr. Wood’s stentorian lecture he used the word “Weltanschauung.”  That is a still obscure German word meaning “world and life view.”  I did not totally realize it at the moment, but that first powerful right hook from Professor Wood had put me on the mat.

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By 1974, the lecture notes Henry had developed through years of reading and delivering his talks were in top form.  I found myself trying to write every word, every anecdote, book reference, humorous aside that he mentioned.  I was in a continual mental whirl in his classroom.

Through the next couple of years, I read several of the books that Henry assigned in his classes:  John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits and A Theological Interpretation of American History by C. Gregg Singer,  This Independent Republic and Freud by R. J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the Problem of Origins by Philip E. Hughes,  Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen, and Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.  Then after he gave me a sale sheet from a place called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, I ordered a book called Studies in Theology by Loraine Boettner.  My mother saw me reading it and asked, “Are you changing your major?”  I was a history major, English minor, and No, I was not changing my major, but still my major and minor and everything else was changing.

I have referred to The University Without a Campus.  That university did not have a campus at Texarkana College, but it had a chair.  Henry should have been designated the John Calvin Professor of American History and Western Civilization Studies.  The research library for those studies existed in his home on Main Street on heavy laden bookshelves weighed down with theological and historical resources.  There was no other such collection of books in Texarkana or probably anywhere in a hundred or two hundred mile radius.

Distilled in his notes were the thoughts of the Princeton theologians, Gordon Clark, R. J. Rushdoony, Gregg Singer, and others.  While Henry admired Cornelius Van Til and Herman Dooyeweerd (and owned works by them), he was not drawn into the intramural debates between Clarkians and Van Tillians or the Amsterdam philosophy, as far as I could tell.  He had also read deeply and widely in the leaders in the emerging conservative movement, and this involved his reading of William F. Buckley, M. Stanton Evans, and others.  Among his labors, Henry had worked for the futile Goldwater Campaign in 1964.  He remains a Republican voter and political conservative, but he always found the Republican Party to be a small stepping stone on the path to the wider Reformed worldview.

Many students took Henry Wood’s history classes.  Many students grumbled about his style, his lectures, his religion, and his academic standards.  They were losers.  Others enjoyed getting good solid teaching.  Some appreciated that he was conservative, or scholarly, or Christian.  A few of us embraced the whole package.

It would be the mid-to-late 1970s before Henry and others were able to start what has been an abiding Reformed Baptist church in Texarkana.  At the time, Texarkana had no local churches that shared its theology–either of Baptist or Presbyterian variety.  It was a pioneering work, a lonely work, and a battle against all manner of odds.

Now, there are far more churches, pastors, and individual Christians who are committed to Reformed theology or who have at least borrowed heavily from it.  And there are those who have embraced the world and life view that  Reformed theology contains.  Henry and Melba Wood are moving to North Carolina to be closer to their children and grandchildren.  Henry allowed me to recklessly plunder his library and to get books I had long coveted.  He just sat there and commented on this book or that while I was building stack after stack of books.

Several times in the past, Henry gave a series of lectures for the Sunday School hour on the history of Christianity in America.  This was prime material.  I heard portions of the series several times.  I hope that a quality set of recordings exist.  An era is coming to an end and a great mission has been accomplished.



4 thoughts on “Reformed Theology Takes Hold in Texarkana circa 1959

  1. I hope you will not take offense. (Wonderful article by the way!) But you (like myself) have gotten to be old men, and Henry looks to me about like he did 30 years ago.

  2. What a privilege it is to live in times such as these. Most people are unaware of the arcs of two quite separate religious movements in America over the last 50 years. One is the highly visible growth of humanism through the flower children of the 60’s who have flowered into our Marxist university professors, and who are leading the Progressive movement into the toilet bowl of history. The other is the much more modest, but I contend much more powerful, re-nascence of Christianity through the rebirth of Reformed Calvinism. The incipiently humanistic Arminianism which had swamped Christianity in the wake of German higher criticism and Liberal Christianity has revealed its spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy (and essential dishonesty) and is finding itself irrelevant in the backwash of the two large historical arc intersecting at this time. To be actively engaged as frontline troops in this great battle is indeed a rare privilege. Soldiers fight; soldiers retire or die; other soldiers take their places. God wins!

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