In every age, I suppose, there are incongruities. It is not unusual of ours to have them, however odd they may be. And things are judged differently depending on where you happen to be located.
Our guide was a nice person, and perhaps a deep thinker. He is not a quick thinker, at least not if he thinks at the rate he speaks. I’ve had several phone conversations with him (that is not something I can say about many people–outside of my job); and quick and to the point they were not. So the first hour was listening to him. No coat, no name tag, no commercial patter, no attempt to sway me. I was glad of that incongruity (for as such, of course, it comes across in this age to us), and of his wit which flashed forth in his somewhat labored dialogue from time to time, all unexpected.
On our first arrival we wandered in to a largely abandoned Machen hall and caused some slight dismay in the lobby by asking for directions. Apparently the desk there is manned (or womaned) largely as an effort at interior decoration. It is not a big place and there are friendly people there, but they do not seem to be in charge. In fact, Westminster does not seem to be a place where anybody is in charge at all. That will, come time for administrative necessities, no doubt be a drawback; but I find it warms my heart at the moment. A bit fuzzly, shall we say they are? Allow me to coin the term. A bit fuzzly about getting things done, but I am not in the mood for high efficiency at this point.
Some stories about Machen and about Murray there were, under their portraits (the genial Machen’s resolve and fidelity, the severe Murray’s cigar smoke and incarceration). These notables for some reason do not have the honor of the paneled lobby that Van Til’s chilling portrait surmounts–of whom no stories were told whatever. The ugliest building on a campus not distinguished for its architecture is named after Van Til, which I found satisfying, though he probably did too, the blighter.
There were many people studying in the library. The more frivolous portions of the place were desolate, but the library was full of industry and quiet. One likes to see that in a library. No incongruity. I understand in this world there will be incongruities, but things are going as well as can be expected under the moon if they can be at least kept from the library.
They have to many Korean students that they offer a degree in Theological English to help those who haven’t quite TOEFLd their way to sufficient fluid command. Apparently, Westminster means to Koreans what a place like Oxford would mean to us: a storied university of splendor, glory and ancient dignity. That is what was confided to me, at least, when making inquiries. This degree, the activity implied by it at least, is something that interests me, having taught English and dealt a little with the problems of getting things across to people in Spanish. And as the Protestant age passes and perhaps the torch of leadership leaves the Anglophone world, it seems a worthwhile consideration: how to get the resources we now have to where they are needed.
We attended a class consisting of a mostly clear explanation of the philosophy behind Rudolf Bultmann. I should like to have asked When? a lot more, but I shall have time anon. It was not uninteresting, though the quality of the discussion could not have said to have been penetrating. But, after all, penetrating discussion, I am sure every teacher will tell you, is not something you get every day.
Philadelphia has a lot of precious white people places with organic ketchup and other such logical fallacies. Because we were in a hurry, with apologies, our host took us to Chili’s. I like Chili’s, personally, and Applebee’s for that matter, or Cane’s. Apparently, there are persons who think such places are uninteresting, which was the point of the apology. I had far rather get something worth eating than organic turnips fried in craft beer and sprinkled with seasonal pickled crab grass. Highly satisfied with my club sandwich and cup of southwestern chicken soup, stuffed copiously, I suppose, with pesticides, hormones, gluten and stuff that renders the immune system more robust but which white people now fastidiously avoid, we arrived late to Trueman’s class, which is something I can regret.
He is not ceremonious at all. Did not greet us, did not come over to speak, nothing (I realize how many persons are likely to take that so let me just say it is not a negative statement I make). His lecture on of all things the Synod of Dort was good, with insight afforded and quite a bit of banter. He is an ugly man to look at, with a devilish pointiness to eyebrows and nose when he smiles, which I’m glad to say he is not reluctant to do. He knows what he’s talking about and that makes you pay attention to him readily.
He lectures sitting down, which I wish he didn’t. He sometimes walks around, which I wish he would do more. He’s more animated, but then he’s more extemporaneous when he’s walking around. So I listened to him, watching him. There is nothing to remark about his habiliment, I am glad to say. Sometimes these professors are shabby or have bad taste. His hands are small and pale, and delicate and I wished he would gesture more. He doesn’t. He’s a very still person, with his dark, burning eyes (from a distance; not so dark up close). I didn’t think he would be such a white person as to have a Macintosh computer, but he did. Absolutely trendy. There’s your incongruity.
Afterward we shook hands, settled on a mostly deserted place to talk, and he was generous with the few questions I managed to fumble at him. I found out what I wanted to know, but no more, and this is largely due to the fact that speaking with people is not something I do very naturally, and with perfect strangers not at all well. I didn’t want to say more than a few words about anything not to the point. (Often a good impression can be marred by overmuch in the way of things said, I have noticed. And if I am to have him as my adviser I’d rather he thought of me as one who tendeth more to brevity than otherwise. I feel that when it comes to scheduling time with him in the future that would be more advantageous.)
I’d be able to push back into the middle ages with him, and that has its attractions. So there’s that. As far as living here (being on location for this special edition of my blog), Philadelphia has its attractions. It is expensive to live here, but we’ve managed before in two big cities and also in the semi-rural rustic environs of Columbus, OH (Oh, it is good to be back in a big city for a few days, and the consideration of moving instead out to the hinterland of KY is a bit of an off-putting consideration). I walk among the quaint old buildings that white people are good at keeping up, though they fill them with their precious restaurants and fair trade soap and gormless pottery shops and overpriced boutique hotels furnished by T.J.Max and Target, and think how good it is to clap eyes on a decent structure made of stone and with the traces of more than a few generations on it. The grounds of venerable colleges are here, the tangled roads of human passage rather than the wanton grid, the air from the Atlantic Ocean, the eastern seaboard which is among other things the locus classicus of Reformed Baptists in America.
But as Trueman himself put it to me, if you want to study Plotinus and Origen and Early Church stuff, Michael Haykin is your man. And that is the question. Do I? Here is my dilemma: until I’ve been there for a while, gotten to know the adviser, figured out more about the thing I’m getting into, how can I possibly know?