Dr. Warren Vanhetloo was one of the more influential individuals in fundamentalist higher education. He was the founding dean of both Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, Pennsylvania). He was taken home to his Lord in the fall of 2010.
A couple of years ago, I sent an enquiry to “Dr. Van” about a matter of historical interest. He responded with a series of letters which chronicled much of his life and career. He knew that I was a historian and he knew that he would die before long. I believe that he meant these letters to be a final summation of certain aspects of his ministry.
Dr. Van’s writing tended to be stream-of-consciousness. Some of his observations were never intended for public consumption. Nevertheless, the parts of the narrative that address his life and ministry are both interesting and instructive. They give a glimpse into a bygone era of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, preserving some of the atmosphere of those days.
I have taken the liberty of editing some of this correspondence, grouping sections of text by chronology and topic. Of course, I have tried to correct misspellings and typographical errors. In a few cases, I have inserted or deleted a few words to smooth the text. The substance, however, and almost all of the wording are Dr. Vanhetloo’s own.
One word of caution: these were informal communications. They were not proofread by Dr. Van. As you read, please remember that any of us may be thinking one thing, but writing something else. I suspect that this has happened once or twice with Dr. Van’s narrative. For example, I am not sure whether he was saved and ministered in an ethnically “Armenian” church (as he writes) or in a theologically Arminian church.
I do not mean to make an ongoing series out of Dr. Van’s correspondence. From time to time, however, I do hope to publish some of his collected reminisces. In this selection, I begin where he himself did: with his testimony of conversion, baptism, and preparation for ministry.
I have often wished I could just chat with you about things from the past. I will take this opportunity to do so—unless you stop me.
In response to your questions, I did not grow up Conservative Baptist. I grew up in the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. The entire Conservative Baptist and hardcore environment was very puzzling, and it still is in some ways.
As a child, I attended Sunday School only until I was old enough to participate in the youth group of a Methodist-like church. After high school, I attended one semester at Calvin College in Grand Rapids before being drafted.
I was saved in an Armenian church. After I was saved, I carried a Gospel of John and read it over and over during free time at school.
On a ship, 45 days from San Francisco to Bombay, a few of us met almost daily to consider the Bible. Through that, I knew that I was not in agreement with most major denominations. This is where I had an initial acquaintance with dispensations and compared a great deal of Scripture with Scripture.
After accepting the Lord, I had the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Two would have to be done elsewhere, so I thought it best to be “baptized” before the congregation as a testimony. While yet in India, I became convinced that immersion was the only acceptable way, and was immersed in the Jorhat Baptist Church, Assam, India.
While I was in India in the Army, I enrolled in a correspondence course at Moody. The material was very simple and the exam just ten questions with brief answers. For one answer I used a synonym. That was marked wrong. I didn’t go any further.
After I returned home, I worked with the youth of my home church for a year, and then was recommended to be licensed and serve a rural circuit of 3 country churches for two years. During that time a professor from the denominational seminary in Naperville, Illinois clearly objected to anything miraculous about the ministry of Jesus, and so I knew for sure that I would not even consider going there.
When I was discharged, I had four years of veterans’ training coming. I decided to go to Moody for two terms (January through August of 1945), paying my way and later using the Government money for college and seminary. With my one semester at Calvin prior to service, I managed to finish with majors in pre-seminary and secondary education (49) in three years and to have help for two years for seminary.
From its beginning, and still largely when I was there, Moody was promoted as Bible study for those not able to handle college or complete high school. Almost meaningless rote memory was the pattern of class instruction. I went there to get some practical experience, but really did better the next year working in my home church.
I sent an indication to Calvin that I expected to return there, and also made application to Wheaton. They accepted me, but indicated there would be a four year wait before I could begin. Courses were taught at Calvin and Grand Rapids Baptist College, only dictated at Moody.
As I graduated from college, I sent $10 application fees to Fuller and Northern and went over to visit classes at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. One day there convinced me. Plus I could teach English and evening Bible institute classes.
By the time I graduated, I was thankful I had not gone to Fuller. From conversations with those familiar with Northern, I considered faculty and content better at Grand Rapids than Northern. We had a course in dispensations at Grand Rapids and were assigned typical reading. I was impressed that the men at Grace in Winona did not refer to Dallas or Dallas men to Grace. I was not really convinced of several details, and never knew wherein the two differed.
As I mentioned, I was saved in an Armenian church. I served two years as a pastor there after military, then attended Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. It was a strong GARBC training institution. After graduating, I served three years in a GARB church near Ann Arbor.
During my third year at Ann Arbor, a few trustees from Cedarville came to interview me. They wanted me to teach German (which I was not qualified to do). I did not fit at Cedarville, but the president there recommended me to R. V. Clearwaters when he heard Clearwaters was looking for an Old Testament man.
Mrs. Clearwaters was from Kalamazoo. They were coming on the first of August to visit. I drove over and met with Doc. I recall that he used one remark from W. B. Riley: “It’s better to hire a man that’s too strong than one that’s too weak.” Within two weeks I learned that I was hired.
When I arrived in Minneapolis, I learned that I was also assigned a course in theology and as acting dean. Almost immediately I was asked to be an interim at a small church. A few months later, I was asked to do the same at a large church where there had been some trouble. During my 20 years in Minneapolis, I probably attended Fourth Baptist Church less than 100 times on Sunday. I was in the building, at prayer meeting, and I taught in Bible Institute.
Probably this is enough right now. More maybe in a day or two.
God Is Known Among His People
The Psalter, 1912
God is known among his people,
Every mouth his praises fill;
From of old he has established
His abode on Zion’s hill;
There he broke the sword and arrow,
Bade the noise of war be still.
Excellent and glorious art thou,
With thy trophies from the fray;
Thou hast slain the valiant-hearted,
Wrapped in sleep of death are they;
When thine anger once is risen,
Who can stand in that dread day?
When from heaven thy sentence sounded,
All the earth in fear was still,
While to save the meek and lowly
God in judgment wrought his will;
E’en the wrath of man shall praise thee,
Thy designs it shall fulfill.
Vow and pay ye to Jehovah,
Him your God for ever own;
All men, bring your gifts before him
Worship him, and him alone;
Mighty kings obey and fear him,
Princes bow before his throne.