Billy Graham Center

Collection 389- John Abram Huffman, Sr. T2 Transcript

Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (64 minutes)

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the second part of the first oral history interview of John A. Huffman Sr. (CN 389, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.

... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.

.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.

( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.

[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.

This transcript, made by Robert Shuster and Katherine Graber and was completed in August 2014.


CN 389, T2. Interview of Rev. John A. Huffman by Bob Shuster on April 14, 1988.

SHUSTER: This is a continuation of the interview with Rev John A. Huffman was took place at Billy Graham Center on April 14th, 1988. One other question about Mrs. Sunday, Rev Huffman, you mentioned that she was on the board of Winona School of... Lake School of Theology...

HUFFMAN: And also of the Winona Lake Christian Assembly.

SHUSTER: What kind of board member was she? How would you say...?

HUFFMAN: Very active. She came to meetings, and she participated. She gave her two cents worth all the time.

SHUSTER: What kind of business person was she?

HUFFMAN: She was shrewd. Very good business person. She was careful with funds. The funds that she was most interested in dispersing to organizations were those to the city missions where Billy was saved of course like Pacific Garden Mission. But she...she did a lot of things that people never knew about. She, for instance, on our campus we bought the Bethany Girls Camp from the LeTourneau Foundation, and we did quite a remodeling job and putting it up from a Girls Camp, an exclusive Girls Camp to a Summer Theological Seminary Campus. And Ma Sunday [clears his throat], I went to her one time very hesitantly. I thought of her as a sort of a poor widow that was...she never lived high. She still lived in that home. She still gathered sticks off of the campus and so forth. And I said, “Ma, I’d like for you to do something permanently for us that we could have a marker for that people would know that you’re active on our board.”She said, “What do you want?” and I very timidly said, “Well, I thought maybe it would be nice if you’d take one of these little guest cottages and air condition it and give us some money to remodel it and make it a nice place for faculty, family,” and she said, “How much would it take to do it?” I told her I think it was thirty-five hundred dollars worth of money. Thirty-five hundred dollars was a lot of money in those days. She said, “I’ll do it. Okay” If I’d asked her for ten thousand I’d have gotten it. But she had insurance money left her that put her in good, but she was very generous. She made an offer at one time that she’d give five thousand dollars to the first organization that would fill the Billy Sunday Tabernacle, because after Billy left over years and years and it was never filled by anybody. And Youth for Christ was the first one to do it. We almost did it, but Youth for Christ did it, and she gave it five thousand. So she was generous. And she was a lovable person. Just an open, loving person.

SHUSTER: When she was on the board of the School of Theology, what seemed to be the kind of things she was mainly concerned with? What was her main interest?

HUFFMAN: She was concerned that we turn out preachers that preach the gospel. She was concerned that our curriculum reflected the fact that we were in business to win souls. Only the concern of soul-winning, and it was not much of a social emphasis. It was just a soul-winning emphasis.

SHUSTER: So how did you have that....[Huffman coughs] how did she....How did you have that emphasis?

HUFFMAN: Well, we had it. I mean, we had....we’d bring people like J. C. Massee the great evangelist to give courses. We always had a practical, I was head of the practical department during my days as a staff member, and from the beginning it was a, it was just a [pauses] high-class, Bible-training program for ministers who felt the need of getting further training, but we had a department of evangelism and courses on evangelism constantly in our program.

SHUSTER: Go back to your personal story for now. When did you come to know Christ?

HUFFMAN: As a boy. Eight years old. In 1920. On the, in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ camp meeting program at Yale, Michigan on the foot ground, football field of Yale, Michigan. My dad was the evangelist, one of the evangelists. He took our family up from Bluffton, Ohio to Yale, Michigan, which is on a port here in Michigan, and one afternoon I became desperately under conviction. Up to that time I had never had one sense that I was God’s child and a happy one too. No sense of conviction or of sin or anything like that. What caused that, what...because I’d been in camp meetings from the time they could carry me in a basket, basinet (they didn’t have basinets in those days), anyway, I was, I just simply was overwhelmed with the fact I was a sinner. I was a sinner because I’d never accepted Christ, and Dad came. He was, usually when he went to camp meetings he was the Bible conference teacher. And he would alternate with the evening evangelist. And I remember we were being entertained across the little creek from the camp, the tent, and I was lying on the bed there in the bedroom of the home where we were being entertained, and it wasn’t like me to be this lounging around. I was always active and running around doing things. And Father came in, and he said, “John, are you sick?”and I said, “No.” “So what’s wrong?” I said, “I’m not a Christian.” He said, “What do you mean?” “I’ve never been saved,” I said. And he said, “Well, let’s do something about it right now.” I said, “No, no.” So that night I went to the service. I don’t remember who preached. I don’t know whether my father preached or not. I simply remembered that as I was standing there, and the altar call was being given that I felt I should go. And the Devil was telling me, there was something was telling me I shouldn’t. The reason was (this is how a child’s mind works), “If you go forward to accept Christ publically, these people see you, and they’ll say, ‘Why’d that preacher come up here from Ohio with a sinner to try to get us saved?’” That was what was...I was battling. I went forward, I knelt down, and accepted Christ, and it was a pretty demonstrative group of people. Some loud praying, and once in while shouting, you know. But I was doing business with the Lord. And all of a sudden, the burden lifted, and I knew I was a Christian from that moment on. Never had any doubts I was from that moment to this. That’s when, and incidentally, that’s where I got my wife. My wife was at that same camp meeting. Two years younger than I. She was six years old. We had to be in the same children’s meeting. I don’t remember her. She isn’t sure she remembers me. She does remember that years later she thought that she used to see the son of the evangelist who was there, my dad. She got someone in mind that she spotted and always thought that that was me, but it was some other preacher’s son that looks sort of like me, but we were entertained that summer one in my wife’s parents’ home, country home for dinner. And on that occasion, Dad used to tell this story, that they lived in a nice country home out from Yale, 180-acre farms, something like that. And these lay people just invited the evangelist’s family to come out there. And Father spotted this golden-haired little girl who was six years old and called her over to him and sat her on his knee and said to my mother, “Wouldn’t you like to have a little girl like this?” They didn’t have any girls. They lost their baby girl. First child was lost, and Father always loved little girls. And Mother, I don’t know what Mother said, but anyway, it was Dorothy. Later on, (that was in 1920) in 1930, just ten years later, I met her at Marion College. Through my father’s recruiting, she came to College, and it was love at first sight so far as I was concerned. But we don’t claim that our romance started back there when we were six and eight.

SHUSTER: It was predestined.

HUFFMAN: I think it was predestined [laughs]. Yeah.

SHUSTER: You mentioned there when you talked with your father in the afternoon that he said, “Why don’t we do something about that now?” and you said no. Why...?

HUFFMAN: I thought, see I had it in my mind that you got saved by going forward to an invitation and kneeling publically before people, and that was my concept of the place to do it. John Jr., our son who’s a pastor in Newport Beach now, had a similar thing happen to him only it worked a little differently. He felt desperately under conviction in our home in New England as a boy, and I don’t know what his age was, but something approximate with my age, I guess, and he went to his mother (I think he was younger than that. Yes, he was.) and he just simply said, “I want to accept Christ in my heart,” said “Well, Daddy will be home soon and let’s just wait til he comes in.” “I can’t wait. I got to do it now.” He got saved right then and there. I had to wait til I got to a meeting and went forward, believe it [laughs].

SHUSTER: When did you start thinking that you would want to be a preacher?

HUFFMAN: Very, very early in life. My first, among my first memories was the fact that...two things: I (this is strange for a pacifist family to have a child do this) I loved military music and Kreitor’s[?] band was the band of World War number one, the military band, and Father had taken the family to Lima to hear Kreitor’s[?] band, strange enough, and I don’t remember being there, but I remember that we had records from that occasion, and I loved those records. And I would go in (and we had a music room in our house. We had a very lovely home. Father always provided a nice home for us), and there was always a music room in the home, and we kids all took piano lessons, and we had to take piano lessons, and then we had a phonograph or graphophone [sic, probably means a gramophone] whatever you want to call it. I used to get the Kreitor[?] records out as a little guy, just a little, tiny guy and close all the doors, and I would wave my hands and direct and that was my band. Every instrument was in perfect pitch, and I loved band music. Still do. And then I remember at times I would get my little New Testament out and preach. Always had to be up high when I preached. In the first home we had in Bluffton, I had to be not over three. There was a staircase going up and half way up there was a...some kind of a post, flat post, and I’d balance myself up there. I’d stand up there. I’d get on that. I had to be higher than my audience had to be, and a big audience I had to see them all, you know. And they tell the story that I was up there preaching one day, and I had my little New Testament inside out, upside down. It didn’t make any difference. I was preaching away, blah, blah, blah, blah, and I fell off. Talk about predestination [Shuster laughs]. My mother had done the wash that day and hadn’t ironed it yet and had a basket sitting right under and I went right head first right into that basket of clothing [laughs]. So it was a battle always between, in my mind, being a preacher or being a band master. And that was one of the biggest things settled that night when I accepted Christ. I knew from then on it wasn’t band master. It was...I don’t claim I was called to preach at eight years of age, but I was very,very sensitive and very....I never had any thought of doing anything else other than that after that.

SHUSTER: Do you think your father’s example had influence on you?

HUFFMAN: I don’t think he....I think it had great influence on me because I was youngest child and I went with him often when the other children didn’t go when he preached. And I always [coughs] would go up right after and stand as close to him as I could so people knew I belonged to him, you know, that kind of thing. But Father was very cautious about that because he didn’t believe anybody should preach unless they had a “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” And he used to tell us boys, “Don’t preach if you can keep from it” because he felt that the battles of the ministry were so great that unless you had a divine injunction and anointing for preaching, what he called the “ordination of the pierced hands”, you shouldn’t be up there trying to preach. And we were that way with our John too. We urged him not to go into the ministry just because Dad was a minister and his grandfather, and we came from a long range of preachers. My father had nine brothers and sisters, and seven of them were preachers, even our, even a sister was a preacher. And then on my mother’s side, there wasn’t a line of preachers, except that her father was a preacher. So my grandfather on one side, and a line of uncles and an aunt, and Father, and I had two brothers, and one of those was a preacher, and myself.

SHUSTER: You had an aunt who was a preacher?

HUFFMAN: Yes. Yeah.

SHUSTER: So it’s quite a family tradition?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. So the big battle I had, and the bigger battle our son John had was not to preach just because it was in the family. John almost became a politician. He was close to Nixon, and he was head of Marble Collegiate Youth department that the Nixon’s kids were in when he was out of office and they were in New York, and they attended Marble Collegiate Church, Peale’s church. And John was very close to Nixon, and when John went to....John graduated from Princeton. He was with Peale two years in Princeton and then he went on Sundays in New York City, and then he went to Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for one year during his seminary days in Princeton. Then he went to Tulsa. He was in Tulsa about five years. Then he went to Key Biscayne, and three months after John went to Key Biscayne, this pastor of the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, which was a small church of 350, 400 members, Nixon was made president, and then Nixon started coming to church, and John knew the girls and so forth. So there was a big influence on John. When John was in Princeton Seminary studying, well seminary studies, he was over at the (what was it called?), it was a school for...

SHUSTER: International affairs?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. The...

SHUSTER: Government?

HUFFMAN: Yeah, yeah. School of international relations studying to be a politician. So he didn’t accept the call to the ministry til his last year in seminary. That was a battle there.

SHUSTER: You mentioned how at Marion you met your wife.

HUFFMAN: Uh-huh.

SHUSTER: Or at least you started dating then.


SHUSTER: Started courting. Now what’s your wife’s full name again?

HUFFMAN: Dorothy Bricker.

SHUSTER: Bricker’s her maiden name? How did you meet?

HUFFMAN: Well, I had just become president of the woman-haters club on campus the year before. My dad being dean, I had a chance to look over the list and just about know who arrived on registration day. And Father was a great recruiter. He was out weekends incessantly, both for Marion and for Taylor and for Winona. He was on the go all the time recruiting and preaching and teaching and so forth. And he would do the Michigan camp rather regularly. And one day he wrote us and told us that there were three girls, Michigan, that he thought were going to come to Marion College. That was in the summer time. They’re going to come in the fall. And so he just told us, “There are three girls coming from Michigan” and that registered in my mind, and I, couple of my buddies, we had a habit of sort of looking the crowd over. We knew where the freshmen were corralled and where they stayed and got a good look at them every year. And I, though I had become president of the woman-haters club, I still kept a little interest in who was coming. So Father was off early registration day, and just before that they got word that one of these three girls was not going to be able to come. It was Depression time, and she just wasn’t able to come to college. And he showed such concern about her not being able to come to college, I got quite interested in this girl that couldn’t come. Didn’t remember anything about being in that home up there or anything like that. So I said, “Oh shucks.” I said, “ The girl I was supposed to marry isn’t even coming now.” So Dad went to registration, and he came back. We were within walking distance of the college, our home was in Marion. And he came back for lunch, and he said, “The strangest thing happened. This girl that wasn’t coming, I lied!” That’s the girl I wanted to see. So I got a hold of my chum who, boy chum who lived in the dorm and ate at the dorm and knew everything that was going on and went over there, and I said, “I want to see this Bricker girl that wasn’t coming. I think that’s my....that’s the girl for me.” So we placed ourselves early afternoon right at the bottom of the steps of Teter Hall where the girls lived and the freshmen were coming down get in the registration line, and I’ll never forget I saw her. I saw her. At one glimpse [snaps fingers] that was it [Shuster laughs]. So it took a long time to work it out. She had a boyfriend back home, farmer boy she liked and was going with rather regularly and then she wasn’t on campus long til the top athlete of the campus spotted her. It isn’t too popular to be a dean’s son on campus. So I worked pretty hard, but I got her [laughs].

SHUSTER: And you were married while you were still in college?

HUFFMAN: No. No, I was a junior. She was a freshman. She was there only one year. Then she went back to what was then Western State Teacher’s College. We got engaged that summer, and (up in Michigan) the camp, I went back up there. But then she went to Western State [pauses]. Let’s see. She went to Western State. She went to Marion one year. She went to Western State one year. She got a teacher’s training. In Michigan you can get a teacher’s certificate for two years course. And she taught her home school, one room school for three years. I finished my...the year after she left was my senior year. Then I went into evangelistic work for a year, year or so. I took a church in Dayton, Ohio for a year, the church my father had founded when I was a boy. And then we were married, and I finished up about three months of my evangelistic appointments, and we went to Boston for schooling. So she went to Boston University School. Well, first of all, we went to Boston University only because we couldn’t get in anywhere else. We were, I was registered, preregistered at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary that year, which was the year thirty...six, I think. That sounds right.

SHUSTER: It says you graduated from Marion in ‘33, and Winona Lake School of Theology in ‘35.

HUFFMAN: Yep. Yeah, this is ‘36. There was a big flood on in Kentucky, and the governor of Kentucky urged no one to come in from outside during the crisis. So it was mid-year, and I tried to get in Princeton, I tried to get in other schools. The only school I could get in, or did get in was Boston University School of Theology, which is a rank liberal school. I knew it when I went there, but...and, but she went to Boston University with me the first year. She was a straight A student. Valedictorian of her class in high school. And she was just a bright student. And one of the professors spotted her, and called me in and asked me if she was a college graduate, and I said no and asked why and I just told him we didn’t have the opportunity to go through college. He said, “If I can get the School of Education to accept the one year’s work that she did as an auditor at the seminary, would she go to Boston University and finish up?” He just felt she had great potential. So I told her about it, and, why, that was her cup of tea. So I graduated from Boston University School of Theology, and she graduated from Boston University School of Education the same year.

SHUSTER: And was the Louisville Seminary you were going to the Southern Baptist Seminary?

HUFFMAN: No, I was going to Louisville Presbyterian.

SHUSTER: Louisville Presbyterian. of course your father was Mennonite.

HUFFMAN: He was Mennonite.

SHUSTER: When did you switch over to Presbyterian?

HUFFMAN: Not until 1971 or ‘72. I kept my credentials in the church of my birth all that time, and I could do that well because in New England denominationalism didn’t mean that much. Ockenga was a Presbyterian most of the time that he was pastor of a Congregational church until the issue got so strong in Presbyterianism they said, “Look, either get out of Park Street Church and go to a Presbyterian church or....either get out of that church or get out of the Presbyterian denomination.” It became a denominational issue. So then he joined the three Cs, the Presbyterian, I mean, Congregational Church. Three Cs or four Cs, whichever it’s called, one of the conservative groups within the Congregational setup. Father, however, back to Presbyterianism, Father was an Arminian, but he was a very strong Arminian when it came to the acts of God and so forth. And it wasn’t...he was a very, very strong theologian, and when he was in McCormick Seminary, he taught the John Timothy Stone Bible class at Fourth Presbyterian Church. If he had gone to any other denomination, he would have gone Presbyterian, but he was just loyal to his roots, and I saw no need of going from one denomination to another. My school, which I became president of, was thoroughly interdenominational. My work at Boston was...Ockenga at the time I was there was Presbyterian in a Congregational church. That didn’t make any difference. So I didn’t change my....I was pastor of a Baptist church for a while, but I never joined the Baptists. But when John went to, John Jr. went to Princeton and became very Presbyterianish in his form and still very evangelical, and it wasn’t til I went to Florida, and went with John to Key Biscayne, and then Jim Kennedy up at Coral Ridge that I found it necessary to change church denomination.

SHUSTER: You mentioned about going to Boston University, a very liberal school.

HUFFMAN: Uh-huh.

SHUSTER: What was that like for you?

HUFFMAN: It was a test. I....It was at that period that you’ve been reading about probably where even at Harvard (and I went to Harvard after Boston University, some years after), but at Harvard the best students were not Unitarian students, they were our evangelical boys. And you name, I can name a whole lot of them, Harold Kuhl one of them, and Kenneth Kantzer another that went to Harvard, and they made a good record at Harvard. They were serious, and Harvard was low on scholarship, and for a period of ten years there the best students of Harvard, carrying the best records away were evangelical boys that didn’t change their beliefs one bit

SHUSTER: This was at Harvard Divinity School?

HUFFMAN: Harvard Divinity. So at that time, I was over at Boston University, which is Methodist of course. And I simply early on when I went there, I saw how not to do it, and that was not to correct the teacher in public, and tell him what, where he was wrong. I saw one devout evangelical in the first class I went to sitting up in front waving his hands and telling the teacher off and making a fool of himself. So I determined that I would think through it and pray through my decisions, and if it came to a point where I couldn’t accept with a good conscience what was being teached [sic], I wouldn’t reproduce it even in an examination paper. I would give them exactly what they wanted, the answer they wanted, and then I would say, “But this I do not accept personally. This is what we’re taught, and this is what I believe.” And I did that all the way through Boston University, and they respected it, and I was man of the year the year I graduated from Boston University. So it set up a principle in my own heart and I thought I carried it through in my preaching and in my educational work after that because I’m convinced that of all the students that I have seen that have capitulated to liberalism, very few have done it on an intellectual basis. They’ve done it on the basis of peer pressure, or incentives, and the fellows that have really believed something, and have the experience and weren’t afraid to graciously express that, went to the top. The others that sort of, like a little bird opened their mouth and put whatever worm was stuck in it, they just went to pieces theologically. I had no problem getting through Boston University. I had professors, the dean of Boston University the year I graduated called me and he said, “John, I regret that any person could be exposed to our teaching this long and not accept it as you have, but I respect you. There’s a place for you out there somewhere.” And then I stayed right on in that area for years, and I had a lot of students I moved from Boston. Okenga was holding fort at Park Street Church. I went to Cambridge and had the Cornerstone Church, which was a prominent location, had a lot of Harvard students coming and Wellesley students and Radcliffe students as he had down in the city. And I think we were able to steer a lot of people, save a lot of people just by letting them know that they don’t have to be ashamed in this Athens of learning in Boston, just get convictions that run counter to what’s being taught. The difference between Boston University in my day and Harvard in my day (and there was a period I was in Boston. I finished Boston in ‘38. I think ‘38. And then for a period of almost a decade I was in the ministry. Then I went to Harvard on a doctoral program. And in that period a person who graduate from Boston University, no matter what he believed, had a paid-up meal ticket for life because the Methodist Church took him on as one of their people. You graduated from Harvard, you had nothing because they had no churches to place you in. And Boston University was more dangerous than Harvard because it was more subtle. In my day, there were still hangovers from the old era, of people who really believed the gospel, or at least were exposed to it. The most dangerous person at Boston University in my day was David D. Vaughan who was parked out here near the, he used to say “The Slaughterhouse” in Chicago too long, and he saw the needs of the [clears throat] poor people and sympathized with them. But he would get up in class, and he would, he taught social ethics supposedly, and he would rant and roar at the evangelicals and at the Christians, and he would sometimes quote “ There’s power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the Lamb,” and go, “Baaah, baaah, baaah,” and he hissed this. But deep in his heart, he would respect a person who believed what he at one time professed to believe and lost. And I had many experiences with teachers like that who would....Now over at Harvard it was a form thing. It was Unitarianism, you see. And it, what Boston University used to have, why it was just the opposite. At the same time, when Harvard was out there it had gone Unitarian. So my attitude as a student at both places was to master what I was taught and reproduce it for them on examination papers or on papers, letting them know that I had learned what they believed but then to counter. And I used to say that an evangelical going through one of those schools had to work twice as hard as a liberal because he had to think both things through. If you got time for a story at this point, I’d like to tell it.

SHUSTER: Sure. Go ahead.

HUFFMAN: Harold Paul Sloan was a great Methodist preacher. He was editor of the Advocate for years (I think that’s what they called it), and he was a thorough going evangelical. He went to Temple University and became head of this, one of the departments there. Just a...he was a, on the Bible conference circuit, he was a popular and a very, very wonderful person among evangelicals circles. He hit the big, big Bible conferences. He had a daughter by the name of Ruth, and she was a psych student in the Temple University when he was a departmental head there, and Ruth came home one day and said, “Dad, I’m sick, I’m just sick. I can’t go to class tomorrow.” He said, “Why?” said, “Because they’re going to, young teacher’s going to give an examination. He’s going to have ten questions, and he said we can get all nine of them right. If we miss the tenth question, giving the answer word for word as he gives it, we’ll flunk the course.” Well, this riled Harold Paul Sloan up pretty much. He said, “Well, what’s the question? What’s the answer?” “Well,” she said, “it’s about behaviorism.” “What’s so dreadful that he’s teaching you that you can’t write it down?” “Well,” said [sic] “this teacher says that man is not responsible for his conduct, because man is born with certain kinds of genes that make him what he is. For instance, the Apostle Paul is not to be given credit for being loyal to Christ because he was born with a kind of genes that made him loyal and devoted to Christ.” I’m using the word “gene.” He didn’t use the word gene. There was another word he used, but this gives the idea. “And Judas is not to be held responsible for betraying his Lord because he was born with that innate something that made him betray Christ, and we’re just born being what we are.”

SHUSTER: B.F. Skinner’s...

HUFFMAN: Yeah. So [pauses] Paul Sloan says, “I’ll tell you what you do: you go to that examination, write the answer to all the other questions, and when you get that question demanding that you answer on behaviorism, say exactly what he said: ‘Man is not responsible for his conduct because he is born with a certain kind of substance that makes him do what he does. Apostle Paul is not to be given credit for being loyal to Christ because he was born to be loyal. And Judas isn’t to be held responsible for bring a traitor to his Lord because he was born to be a traitor.” Then when you’re all through, put that answer in quotation marks, and at the bottom left-hand corner put “P.S. Dear Teacher, I don’t believe a word of it. I was born with different kind of genes than you were” [Shuster laughs]. She did. Got an A on her course [Shuster laughs].

SHUSTER: He must have had a sense of humor anyway.

HUFFMAN: Yeah [laughs].

SHUSTER: Did you have professors at Boston who made a particular impact on you or had a strong...?

HUFFMAN: I had professors that made...I respected some of them very much. Some made an impact because of the dreadful, fierce opposition they had to the gospel like I mentioned. Elmer Leslie was an Old Testament scholar who was as liberal as they make, pious and devoted, and was as religious in his heresy as I was in my orthodoxy. And he’s the one that was acting dean when I graduated, and wrote a letter. If my grandfather had heard that I’d backslidden completely and he wanted to write me a letter about it, he couldn’t have been more sincere than Elmer Leslie was, and he said, “I regret that you’ve been able to go through this school and graduate from here without accepting (what he called) the truths of higher criticism.” But he said, “I respect you for it.” I respected him as a person who simply believed what he was taught, and that didn’t change and never had a conversion experience. I...there’s an incident that goes along with that: I was preaching in a Methodist church (I preached a lot during my days there), I was preaching in the Methodist church, and I was tipped off that Elmer Leslie’s mother would be there that day. And I was just preaching a simple message on faith, faith in Christ for salvation. She didn’t know who I was or where I came from. Gordon College was in existence, was then Gordon College of Bible and Missions or something like that, and if you wanted be, speak in disdain of a student, you said, “He came from Gordon. He didn’t come from Harvard or from Boston,” so I had my eye on Mrs. Leslie. I knew who she was. She didn’t know who I was. When the message was over, Elmer Leslie’s mother, she came up and in a very, very arrogant and Bostonian way she said, “My dear young man, I appreciated your message very much today. You must be from Gordon College.” I said, “Oh no my lady, I’m a graduate of Boston University School of Theology” [laughs]. “Oh my dear young man, you will make a great success in life.” So a lot of it was pretty superficial really.

SHUSTER: You should have said you were a student of Professor Leslie.

HUFFMAN: Yeah, well she learned it soon enough [laughs].

SHUSTER: I don’t want to keep you too long.


SHUSTER: I wonder if we might just conclude with how you met Dr. Ockenga.


SHUSTER: And became associate pastor.

SHUSTER: Okay. When we went to Boston, the very first Sunday Dorothy and I were newlyweds.

SHUSTER: This was in thirty...

HUFFMAN: This was in ‘36 or ‘37, and...whatever that says it was, and we went to Park, we were, well, let’s see....We went to Boston University, and we began hearing about this young Taylor University preacher who had, was assistant to Dr. Conrad (Arcturus Zodiac) at Park Street Church. My father was dean of Taylor University School of Religion at the time. But we didn’t know when we went to Boston that there was anybody there that knew anybody that we knew. We didn’t have any relatives there. No friends there. It was just a foreign country to us. So we started going to Park Street Church, and we saw and heard this young assistant of Dr. Conrad. Conrad was living. He’d been pastor of the church I think thirty-two years. Great evangelical man. Brilliant man. And Park Street was the preaching post of Boston in those days. It was the, it was, regardless of theology, it was the place to go. And it was called Brimstone Corner because of the theology and so forth. So I was, I don’t know why, one day I guess my wife had the car [Shuster coughs]. I was on a corner waiting for a bus to from somewhere into the heart of Boston, and a man picked me up in his car and gave me a ride. And on the way in he said, “Well, Boston has lost a great friend, haven’t they? Hasn’t it?” I said, “What do you mean?” said, “I’m talking about Dr. Conrad.” I said, “Who’s Dr. Conrad?” “Well, he’s pastor of the Park Street Church. He died.” Okenga has been his assistant. He’d came from Pittsburgh. He had been [Clarence] Macartney’s assistant at First Church of Pittsburgh where our son later became pastor He also went to Point Breeze where he was senior minister of a very high-brow Presbyterian church in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. And he came to Boston to be Ockenga’s assistant, I mean Conrad’s assistant. Conrad took very ill and was confined to his bed, and he was, he turned the pulpit over to Ockenga. Ockenga had only been there about three months. And Ockenga stepped into the pulpit and was doing a good job, and Conrad was piped into the service. He could speak, and he could hear. He could talk to the congregation, but he wasn’t able to preach. So Dorothy and I went to Park Street Church. The first time we ever went there was just about the time I’m describing here, just a week or two within this time. And we did know that a Taylor University graduate was preaching there. Well, when we walked up the steps to the church and it’s a beautiful old – do you know Boston at all?

SHUSTER: A little bit. I’ve been there a few times.

HUFFMAN: Well, it’s a good old colonial church, you know, and very formal, the ushers in cut-away coats, and turned down collars, and white gloves. As we walked up the steps and walked in, here was a portly man that greeted us, and welcomed us to the service, and I said to my wife, “Boy, I thought Ockenga was a younger man than that.” We went and sat down and got startled when we discovered this was the head usher [Shuster laughs]. It wasn’t the preacher and Ockenga walked in, handsome, young guy in his early 30s at that time. And so we went up and made ourselves known to him, we were, who we were, and he knew Dad being at Taylor, but he didn’t know Dad, he just knew he was there. And then he got his eye on us and he was at that time looking for assistants to....for an assistant. A guy by the name of Nye [?] was a classmate of mine who was Methodist had confided in me before this that he had an in-road to Park Street Church, and someone in the board was going to get him in as an assistant. I thought, “Why that’s great. I know somebody that’s on the inside there.” Ockenga got his eye on Nye [?] and got his eye on me and invited both, both of us to come to midweek service. Now midweek service was on Friday night, and it was a big service. I mean....

SHUSTER: The midweek service was on Friday?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. The prayer meeting was on Friday night regularly. And he’d have a prayer meeting and a Bible study. And they’d pack them in the hall, would seat (where they had the service) maybe five hundred. It was always packed. So he had Nye [?] do something, and he had me pray. And then he invited us out, invited Dorothy and me out to his home very soon after that and never asked me if I was looking for a job or if I needed a job, and one day maybe a month or two after this first time we met there, he called up the home and asked to talk to me, and I wasn’t there, and he talked to Dorothy, and he said, “I’d like for John to come in and see me Saturday morning.” I went in. He said, “I’m not asking you to reply. I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m simply telling you that our elders met last night and voted you in as my assistant if you accept it. Take it or leave it.” I said, “Well, I’ll have to talk to the wife about it and pray about it.” Called her up on the phone as fast as I could out there, and within a week I was installed as his associate. So it was a beginning of that. Can you cut that off just a moment? Is there...? [recorder turned off and on].

SHUSTER: We were just talking a little bit off-mic, and you mentioned that he didn’t, he didn’t ask you to be assistant pastor; he told you. What did you mean by that?

HUFFMAN: Well, he didn’t say, “We want you to apply, and we’ll consider you.” He said, “I recommended you to the board, and they voted you in. You’re in. Now if you accept.” Course I couldn’t hardly wait to keep from saying, “I’m coming,” but I did honor my wife enough to call her and we both were united in the fact that we’d come, so we didn’t waste any time getting there.

SHUSTER: Did you ever ask him or talk with him about why he chose you?

HUFFMAN: No. No, I just assumed that was pre-ordained, I guess. When I came in, he gave me my instructions. He told me what I was to do. I was in charge of young people’s work. I would assist him in all the morning services. I was to, he, of course, would do all the preaching normally, and he outlined, rather detailed, what my responsibilities were, and never once after that, except two exceptions maybe, one of which I remember, did he ever even check with me. He just simply....I came to the conclusion that with Ockenga if you did it right, you stayed. He heard nothing. If you it did wrong, you’d just disappear suddenly, and nothing was said, because he was not a nitpicking person. He was a big man who knew how to delegate authority. He knew how to keep his ship in course, but he wasn’t a person who...written reports, that kind of a thing he didn’t want. One time he told me that he was rather amused when he told me, he said, “I think when you visit in homes, it would be better if make notes after you get out of the house in the car away from the people than sitting there taking notes while you’re talking to them [laughs]. Another time I, we had a....Park Street Church was a very formal church from my background, standpoint. Everything was done in perfect balance. They had a choir, which was a quartet, and then they had–and they sang all the numbers, special numbers–they had another choir, which was purely for balance. They never sang, and they couldn’t sing [Shuster laughs]. They were dressed and robed and so forth. So I used to say–

SHUSTER: –so they just stood on the side?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. They called that the dummy choir. I mean, [Shuster laughs], that was the nickname for it. So I was the dummy preacher. You had to have something to balance. But he was a great person to work with. He challenged you because he worked so hard himself. And when a person works hard, you don’t mind working hard with them. When they sit back and do nothing and tell you what to do, then you have problems. But he at that time was climbing to a, in very short order, he succeeded Conrad. Conrad was a dynamic preacher. He was a powerhouse. He was a man of the cloth, but also he was mixed up in all kinds of community projects and the like and an author and so forth. Ockenga filled his shoes amenably and soon on his own was the peerless preacher of Boston.

SHUSTER: How would you describe his preaching?

HUFFMAN: He said he didn’t have, but I’d say he had, a [pauses] Dutch mind. What do you call it when you visualize things?

SHUSTER: Concrete?

HUFFMAN: No. Anyway, he had a keen mind, and he never used a note ever in the pulpit. On the other hand, he didn’t memorize his sermons. Pictorial mind – that isn’t the word. There’s a word that’s slipping my mind here. Anyway, but he was a person who, when he would see a page he could reproduce that page almost word for word. He was....

SHUSTER: So he had a photographic memory?

HUFFMAN: Photographic. I’m sorry. That’s what I’m trying to say. Yes. Now he says he didn’t have that, but I learned more from him as an associate in homiletics, in speech, in sermonizing than I ever learned in courses in seminary, college, and I was a speech major. And I remember one day after I was tremendously impressed with his sermon, I followed him up into his study. And he had, at that time he had a study in the steeple of the church, the base of the steeple. The church was a colonial church. The main sanctuary was on what we would call a second floor, high up above the streets, right on the main corners of Boston, right off the Boston Common and all the subways came to a focal point across the street beneath the church. And it had a high steeple, Christopher Wren-type steeple. And in the base of that steeple, was his study, up where nobody could get to him, unless they knew how to, very complicated way of getting up there. I found him up in his study, and there he had a big study, lot of books, and you could hear the noise of the street outside, but you couldn’t hear voices and you couldn’t, you felt like you were pretty much alone up there. He had a shower. He had a habit of after he worked very hard in preaching, and he’d take a shower and prepare to go out to dinner, lunch, whatever. And so that day I was so impressed, I followed him up there. I said, “Dr. Ockenga, some time when you’ve got time I want you to just tell me how you do it. How you stand up there without a note and you preach flawlessly.” He said, “Let’s do it right now.” So, in essence, this is what he told me: He said, “First of all, I seek to saturate my, first of all, I get the leading of the Lord as to what to preach about next. Then I just saturate my mind in that subject, and all the books together I can get on that subject. Read as much as I can. Just read, read, read. And then I make a rough outline. Just a rough outline of what I want to say. And then I write the sermon out word for word, and then I ask the Holy Spirit to impress me when I get up to preach to forget the things that shouldn’t go in that sermon, to add things to it.” And that was his answer. Yes, that’s a photographic mind. I said, “You have a photographic mind.” He said, “No, I don’t have a photographic mind.” But he read the manuscript over a few times, out loud a time or two, and he had it. So we went on, and my duties were to, I was always with him in the service. I remember one of the choir members (and they used professional choir members in those days. They didn’t necessarily have to be Christians. They didn’t get into that very much. They just had to have good voices), and one of the fellows was sort of an opera singer. He really was a night club singer, I think, and he would come to service in winter time with spats on. But he had a robe that covered a lot of things. He stood up there. So I thought, “Well, that’s the way,” and I had spats, you know. I came from the midwest. I remember one time on a snowy day coming out Sunday morning with spats on. I had my gown down almost, you know, to the shoe tops, but anyway I had my spats on. And he took me aside afterward. He said, “You know, it may be alright for that tenor to come with spats on to a service like that, but don’t believe it’s the best thing for you [both laugh]. Those were the only two criticisms I think I ever got all the time I was there. But we....I admired him. He was my mentor. He was my model and a great one. Now I taught homiletics and preaching for years after that, and something happened shortly after I went with Ockenga that set the pace for me for life. He came down with a serious throat condition. He started coughing blood. Little nodules on the vocal cords that were inflamed, and they thought it might be cancer, and he was really frightened. And this happened midweek, and he was a tireless worker. I mean, he was in that church early, and he was there late. And he went off on speaking engagements, but he never missed, he never missed a beat because he was out. He’d come right back and be right in the office. He didn’t take a couple days off because he had to go to Pittsburgh or something like that. He’d just go out there, fly there, fly back, and be right at his schedule [coughs]. And on this particular occasion, he was coughing blood. The doctor that took care of him said, “We got to get you in the hospital.” It was midweek now [telephone ringing in background], and that church was a church that, the moderator of the church was at the time the dean of Harvard Law School, the most New Englandish person you could ever, ever see [Shuster laughs] or hear of. Found out later he was born in Indiana and graduated from Indiana Law School [laughs], but he assimilated all that. But he was an old do-gooder type. And they got the board together, and they said, “Now we have to do something about Ockenga will not be able to preach Sunday. What are we going to do about it?” By that time I had mastered his system. And I was majoring over at Boston University pretty much in homiletics and had a very fine speech teacher there. And....

SHUSTER: When you say you mastered his system, you mean his...?

HUFFMAN: The thing I learned up in, after that service, how he prepared his sermons. Just the simple methods that he used. And that in my mind seemed right. So they said, “We got, we have to have a big name preacher here this Sunday. We can’t, just can’t do without it.” Harry Rimmer. Does the name Harry Rimmer mean anything to you?

SHUSTER: Yes, yes.

HUFFMAN: Well, Harry Rimmer was in town. Harry Rimmer was the most popular Bible conference speaker you could ever hear. I heard him preach once. The Bible in the hand of a man on Mars. He could preach a whole sermon on that. And he, what he didn’t know, he could invent. And he was just fantastic, you know. He called himself a scientist. He wasn’t much of a scientist, but he was a popular, popular author and speaker. Harry heard that Ockenga was down, came to the church and volunteered to come preach. I think they would have probably had him ‘til Ockenga heard about it and said, “No way. I don’t want that man in my pulpit.” Well, they were getting really hard up. They didn’t know of anybody they could call on short notice. They tried one after another, at least in their minds. Finally, somebody who didn’t know any better said, “Look, we got a...we got a young assistant here. Let’s give him a try.” And the moderator said, “Never. Never. We’re not going to have a....this person has to be an experienced person, a proven person. Bad enough to have Ockenga there, you know, just a greenhorn, but he was...he was at least through seminary, and he’d established himself.” Well, they over...they outpowered [sic] him and voted and asked me. I had about three days to prepare to preach, not knowing that Ockenga would be listening, but he was in the hospital I thought. So I decided, “Well, this is the time to try this system out.” I remember it was Mother’s Day coming up shortly, and it should have been a Mother’s Day sermon, so I tired a Mother’s Day sermon. I couldn’t get anywhere with a Mother’s Day sermon. And I thought of every kind of thing. I made two or three different attempts at different sermon subjects. Finally I said, “What is the real need? What is the real need right now?” And I felt it was the Holy Spirit. So I came up with the idea of preaching a sermon on the power that transforms, and I got my books together. I read frantically. Used his, I had his office. I had access to everything there. And I really worked at it, late into the night. All night almost one night. And finally I wrote my, I wrote the sermon out. I felt rather pleased about it. The power that transforms. And then I took one step further than Ockenga said he did, because I didn’t...

SHUSTER: Photographic mind?

HUFFMAN: No, I don’t have a photographic mind, and I haven’t a Dutch mind, and my memory isn’t too awfully good. But I knew I....this was sink or swim. There I was going to stand before a crowded church of twelve hundred people with a microphone that reached the most of New England on a powerful station that they always broadcast. And there I was a greenhorn. I’d had experience. I had been in evangelism. I’d had a church of my own, but I was still a greenhorn. I was still in Boston University as a student. Right up the hill, Beacon Hill, just a few blocks away, the professors were watching this, the students were watching what was going on here, and they knew that, well, anyway. So I stepped out there. I said, “Lord, you’re going, I’m not going to take a note with me. If I fall flat on my face, it’s your responsibility; if I come through, it’s your responsibility.” And I preached. I still have the letter that Ockenga wrote me. He was up in the mountains by this time recuperating. He had a home in the mountains. And he wrote a beautiful letter. And I prize it highly. But we had a good relationship. It wasn’t a long relationship in the church. I was there just a little over two years. I finished Boston University. I was...Ockenga was a great person to send his young men out in key posts. And a church at Amherst, a Congregational church right off the campus of Amherst contacted Ockenga about recommending a person. He recommended me, asked me if I would take it if I accepted it, if I was called. I said I wouldn’t for some reason. And I think that’s the last church he ever commended me to [Shuster laughs]. I felt it was too big and too something. Anyway, it was a, quite an experience, and my father who was a theological professor said, “John, you’ve done it once.” He said, “I can’t do this.” He, Dad used heavy notes when he preached. He said, “But you’ve proved that you can do it.” He said, “If I were in your position, I would never preach with notes. I would make that my motto.” And I made that my motto, and I still do that. But that was my relationship with him professionally. But all through the years, see, I stayed on. That was [clears throat], I stayed on til ‘53, and during that time is when Ockenga spearheaded...

SHUSTER: Stayed on?

HUFFMAN: In New England area. I was with Ockenga about two and a half years at Park Street Church. He recommended me to a church in Cambridge, Prospect Congregational Church, and I was there one year, and the, there was a merger of churches, and I became pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist, Cornerstone Church of Cambridge. And I was there for twelve years, something like that. But we, it was during this period now that Ockenga spearheaded the NAE [National Association of Evangelicals] in ‘42. It was during this period in ‘44, ‘45 Youth For Christ came, and Ockenga was very active with that as I, and I was....he was my mentor. I was sort of his gofer. I mean he would, when he was invited to have the National Pulpit on the National Broadcasting System, someone was to be his production manager, and he didn’t do it right, called me in and asked me if I would take over, and I did. I sort of....we worked together like that, and I was never the top man. He was always the top man. And I was very happy to just be sort of an errand boy for him for a while. So when NAE started, he...

SHUSTER: Well, we might want to...

HUFFMAN: You want to get to that?

SHUSTER: Stop at this point.

HUFFMAN: Yeah. Okay.

SHUSTER: Clear that up maybe in another interview, but...


SHUSTER: I want to thank you again...

HUFFMAN: Well...

SHUSTER: This has been a great interview and for your willingness to share your experience and your experience from your own ministry and what you learned from some other great men.

HUFFMAN: Well, I appreciate being able to talk with you about it.


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