Post Written by Gloria Hague
Much interest has been generated about Lynnewood Hall, where Faith Theological Seminary was located (1952-1997), since the Associated Press released an article covering the mansion last week. It was an amazing property that has been called “an American Versailles.” The owner’s son, grandson, and servant were on board the Titanic and perished when the ship went down. On the ocean, at the same time the Titanic was sailing, one of the founders of FTS, Dr. Allan A. MacRae, was heading to Europe to study theology on a different ship. Of interest is that the fountain at the 110 room mansion held sculpture of mythical creatures, Tritons and Nereids, whose function was to protect sailors and ships in trouble. Currently, the property is in a state of disrepair and neglect but is much loved by locals, a preservation group, students who went to seminary there, seminary faculty and their families who lived there, and those who keep Lynnewood Hall alive on Internet sites. The outside of the building and its ruins are the only visible remains to onlookers who are denied access to the inside of the building. Who, except the ultra practical and pragmatic, are not intrigued by abandoned mansions?
As appealing as the history of Lynnewood Hall is with its tales of art treasures, wealthy guests at parties, Presidential visitations, ornate architecture, and French gardens, for the Christian, Lynnewood Hall during its seminary years contained a vastly different history and treasure. For some onlookers, treasure from those years is overshadowed by the large personality of the man who bought the building, Carl McIntire. This is unfortunate because Faith Theological Seminary was at one time a premier seminary whose focus was not on any particular individual but rather on rigorous theological education based on the Word of God. Some students who studied there put off marriage until after seminary because of the focus needed to study. Conversely, one student arrived at Faith from California with his large family because he had recently become a Christian. His search for the best seminary in America had led him to Faith. The seminary attracted many internationals who to this day cannot speak of their experience at Faith without deep appreciation and respect. A noted scholar and former FTS professor, Laird Harris, told me that at one time “Westminster Seminary was going to have to close because Faith was drawing the majority of students.” So, thankfully, there is a rich theological history that can be uncovered because many who were trained there are still using the tools they received in their training.
Regrettably, there is only a very small space here to make mention of the beautiful lives and witness of the aforementioned FTS President, Dr. Allan A. MacRae (right), his wife, members of the faculty and staff and their wives. Much should be written about each one. It is more than safe to say that the world was changed for the better because of the lives of those who gave sacrificially to serve at the seminary. I had the opportunity to interview some of the faculty wives about their time at Faith when I was President of the Women’s Prayer Fellowship at Biblical Seminary in 1992. They were asked to provide descriptions of their life there. A few highlights include the President’s Reception hosted by Dr. and Mrs. MacRae, FTS community life, how they taught their children to trust God by demonstrating trust for provision, praying for provision for seminary students, and praying through the entire student directory for each student by name. The panel of five wives interviewed were then asked about why their husbands looked up to Dr. MacRae. Mrs. Taylor’s answer referred to his scholarship, low-key leadership, his humility and quiet example, and the way he carefully thought through things. Mrs. Vannoy said that men learned from his example, that he took everyone seriously, and exuded wisdom. The wives should be honored for the way they contributed practically at the seminary washing bookshelves, making hoods, saving coupons to buy curtains, encouraging students, and living frugally as wives of professors and mothers of children. Their example, along with the example of their husbands, is a rich and uncommon heritage for all who had the privilege of knowing them, watching them and learning from them.
In the same file as the interview of faculty wives was a faded sheet of pencil notes from a sermon Dr. MacRae had given at Biblical Theological Seminary when he was in his late 80’s. It was titled “Love out of a Sincere Faith” from 1 Timothy 1:5. The text reads, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He refers to a book by Machen called “What is Faith?” and describes faith as a quality of the soul. My notes read, “A sincere faith is one without hypocrisy based on content (that is, knowing certain things are true), assent (which is agreement that facts are true), and trust.” Dr. MacRae added that “true faith loves the exultation of Christ and is a matter of mind and heart. Faith, as a result of a pure heart and a good conscience is a gift of God.” He said that God uses scripture to produce faith and then added, “real faith is when we act, God meets us in the doing” (James 2:18-20). As I write this, I am struck by the description of faith preserved in my files from the last sermon I heard Dr. MacRae preach. That the sermon notes rematerialize in this article about Faith Theological Seminary reminds me of when Francis and Edith Schaeffer prayed before throwing out some of their early correspondence only to find the letters they had saved, the “chance handful” out of it all, as Edith writes in The Tapestry, had an amazing sequence covering an almost “selected” history!
Obviously, God is a God of details! Many people know that Dr. Schaeffer graduated from Faith Theological Seminary, but many do not realize that he worked tirelessly alongside Dr. MacRae and the founders to help get the seminary started. This led to a lifelong friendship and correspondence between Dr. MacRae and Dr. Schaeffer. On a personal note, it was Francis and Edith’s works that led me to faith in Christ and eventually to L’abri. It was also their mutual influences that led me to earn a Masters in Old Testament at (old)Biblical Seminary before it charted a new course into postmodernity.
As we return to where we started in the beginning of this article, those of us who have visited Lynnewood Hall to gaze respectfully at a stately mansion where great worldly treasure once had a home are also left to ponder the immense wealth of treasure in the lectures and the lives lived there when Faith Theological Seminary was in residence. For the non-Christian reading this article, I would ask who he or she would like to have been with on the ocean the night the Titanic went down. Would they like to have been the manservant to the son of the owner of Lynnewood Hall or would they like to have been on the ship that carried Dr. MacRae? Two different pictures of what is most treasured in life are shown in sharp contrast. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his soul?” We all have a choice. The allure of wealth, prestige, and status are tempting to the eyes of one who walks in this world judging things only by what one can see. The Bible scholar who tries to walk by faith, and not by sight, possesses the manifest riches of the life of knowing the Savior, who loves us with the love of one who paid with his life to communicate this tremendous, deep, and costly love.