to listen to an audio file of this interview (63 minutes)
This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the first part of the second oral history interview of John A. Huffman Sr. (CN 389, T3) 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, T3. Interview of Reverend John A. Huffman by Bob Shuster on May 26, 1988.
HUFFMAN: But things were going very well at the church.
SHUSTER: Okay, this is an interview with Reverend John A. Huffman for the archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. The interview was conducted by Robert Shuster and took place on May 26th at 2:00 PM in the offices of the Billy Graham Center. Reverend Huffman, last time we were...just reached a point, I think, when you were starting to describe the founding of NAE (National Association of Evangelicals).
SHUSTER: How were you originally involved in that movement?
HUFFMAN: I was involved in that movement very much like I was in the other movements we’ve described, as sort of a footman for Dr. [Harold John] Ockenga, and as in every development, there’s always the inspirer of a movement and then there’s the dynamic leader who gives some kind of credence to that and then there are always the footmen that do the behind the scenes work. So by the time the thought of a national association of evangelicals began, I had already finished my time with Dr. Ockenga at Park Street Church, late ‘30s, and I was on the board of New England Fellowship, and Ockenga was on practically every board that I was on during that period of time: New England Fellowship, the Child Evangelism, and you name it. And there was just a growing feeling that the evangelicals were becoming strong enough that there should be a national voice of some kind.
SHUSTER: Growing feeling among whom?
HUFFMAN: Among the leaders of evangelicals across the country I would say, but particularly in New England. J. Elwin Wright had already been for a decade or two very much engaged in the New England Fellowship work, and the New England Fellowship was a loosely-organized organization that had been built around one major theological fact that was: there were evangelical truths that were very precious, and in New England which was...had been for some years pretty much Unitarian, very, very weak so far as the...even the large denominations were concerned. Presbyterianism was almost unknown in New England. It certainly didn’t carry any great weight. Congregationalism was the major Protestant group. Baptists fairly strong, but Congregationalism was the strongest Protestant group in the Boston area and through New England. And by 1940, Congregationalism was pretty watered down til it was more Unitarian than Trinitarian in certain places, and certainly very few places evangelical with the one major exception of Park Street Church, which was a citadel of evangelicalism, and Park Street Church was just under the shadow of the Congregational House which was the head of the entire Congregational system of the country, but Park Street Church was bigger and had a greater voice and impact on New England than the Congregational House itself. J. Elwin Wright was the inspirer, I would say, of the concept of NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). He didn’t have the equipment. He didn’t have the leadership ability nor the vision of creating a national organization, but he had demonstrated under the watchful eye of Dr. Ockenga who had all of those abilities that you could bring a very dynamic movement into being by broadening your theological base so you would include Calvinists and Arminians, all of a [sic] evangelical persuasion under one umbrella so to speak. So the New England Fellowship....
SHUSTER: Well, you say that...that he was the inspirer, but he didn’t really have the vision. What do you mean by that?
HUFFMAN: By that I mean he demonstrated in New England the fact that you could get Congregationalists and Baptists, and then.... The word charismatics was not the word, but it would...would be the Pentecostals and even the...the [pauses] some of the...less acceptable evangelicals together.
SHUSTER: Such as who?
HUFFMAN: And I’ll bring that up as I go along here in a little bit. But those who believed in the Five Fundamentals of the Faith, let’s put it that way, but had a lot of differences on the non-essentials.
SHUSTER: The Five Fundamentals?
HUFFMAN: Well, on the...the inerrancy of the Word, on the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the...the blood atonement, on the...the...even the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, and the pre-millenial view...return of Christ.
SHUSTER: And how were you involved in these early days of the beginning of the movement?
HUFFMAN: Well, I was by this time pastor of the Cornerstone Church of Cambridge, across the river from Boston. I was, of course, an understudy of Ockenga, very closely related with him. At that time...by that time we were doing together, and I was on the...on the...as I had mentioned before, on the board of the New England Fellowship. So I guess to answer that question more intelligently, I was actively engaged in the organization which the...was the forerunner of NAE, and that was New England Fellowship, of which J. Elwin Wright was the founder and the active head. Ockenga was the front man. He was the...the person that we’d all go to when we wanted to really get some backing for a project that would get attention in New England, and he was active in the New England Fellowship as was I. I was on the air daily on my own program Wings of the Morning, which grew from one station to some twelve stations in New England, closely working with Howard Ferrin and Howard Booth...Howard Ferrin and [F.] Carlton Booth, who had The Mountaintop Hour. And New England Fellowship had its own program. I was an occasional speaker in that also. So we were all doing our own thing but were cooperating in bringing in outstanding Bible teachers through the New England Fellowship to minister throughout the whole New England area, putting on rallies, sponsoring certain outstanding, outside-of-New England leaders such as Jack Wyrtzen, Percy Crawford, later on Charles Fuller, and so forth, in sporadic big meetings. But it got to the place where Dr. Ockenga and J. Elwin Wright...Gordon Brownville over at the Tremont Temple, and Howard Ferrin then of Providence, and some of the rest of us became convinced that we really needed a united voice in New [Rhode Island] England, which would certainly equal if not surpass the voice of the Federal Council of Churches. And Dr. Ockenga became convinced that the New England Fellowship had set the pattern for that, in its type of organization and its ability to appeal under the banner of “In essentials...” [pauses] Let’s see, what is the banner of NAE?
SHUSTER: “In essentials, unity...”
SHUSTER: “in nonessentials, freedom.”
HUFFMAN: Something like that. That’s...that’s the gist of it, yes.
SHUSTER: You said something...that was needed in New England...
HUFFMAN: Yeah, particularly....
SHUSTER: ...but you mean the United States?
HUFFMAN: No, I meant New England, because New England is a little country to itself up there in the northeastern part of the country. We didn’t think much beyond the bounds of.... Now wait, I get...I get your...the point of your question. Yes, needed throughout the United States, but it was...was already being demonstrated in New England.
SHUSTER: I see.
HUFFMAN: So a convention was called, and it was actually called by Dr. Ockenga. And I am just a bit hazy on this. It was in 1942. It was either in Cincinnati or Columbus, and I’m not sure which.
SHUSTER: Well, now the original letter had been sent out by J. Elwin Wright and Ralph Davis. What was Ralph Davis’s part in the operation? In the...?
HUFFMAN: Ralph Davis was not a factor in New England. He was a name countrywide as an author, but you say the original letter went out under those names?
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. Ralph Davis of AIM [Africa Inland Mission].
HUFFMAN: Yes, he was a name alright. But behind...the driving power behind this so far as New England was concerned was Ockenga. Do you remember the city? It was....
SHUSTER: It was Columbus.
HUFFMAN: It was Columbus. I was there. I just forgot which of the cities. Now, at this same time, while this was happening in New England, in other parts of the country there were other leaders that had the same kind of a vision. And Carl McIntire was the number one, other than Ockenga, who had this vision. McIntire was a very different type of man than Ockenga, but they were buddies in seminary up to a point. They were so close they were in each others’ weddings as best men, and they were very, very closely tied together in their very, very early days, in their seminary days. Ockenga was in Princeton, and I assume that McIntire was at Princeton. I’m not too sure of that. I think he must have been for awhile. Then the Princeton split came where Ockenga went to Westminster, and about that point he and McIntire became separated in their close friendship.
HUFFMAN: Geographically and in general philosophy of how to handle people and not so much theologically but in implementing their work.
SHUSTER: What was the...how so? How did they...?
HUFFMAN: McIntire was a separatist. Ockenga had a wider view. Ockenga was democratic. McIntire was autocratic. And they both agreed to appear at the meeting in 1942, I think it was, in Cincinnati. You...you said Cincinnati, didn’t...? You just...yes.
SHUSTER: No, Columbus.
HUFFMAN: Okay, that’s right. No, Columbus? Columbus. That’s...that’s different than Cincinnati. Yeah, that’s right. Columbus. They both agreed to come. Now McIntire came to that meeting with an organization of his own already set up partially. It hadn’t become nationwide yet, but it was a vision he had and it was rapidly becoming that. And Ockenga came, of course, with the thrust of the New England Fellowship and the experiment in the New England Fellowship which gave him what he felt was the pattern that could be blown up into a nationwide organization. This was very necessary and I can speak of it from the standpoint of a small area like New England. Just prior to that meeting in Columbus my own radio work had grown to the point that it went from WORL, which was the smallest station in New England to WBZ, which was the largest station in New England, a one...a five hundred watt station to a fifty thousand watt station, and that was over a period of a few years it came to that point. It came to the point where when I went to see the, during the war time, I went to see the manager of WBZ. I went on three or four occasions. I went to see the officials of WBZ with the challenge that it was pathetic that the finest...one of the finest radio stations in the nation didn’t have a gospel program on it. And they prided themselves on being the voice of New England, and I felt that they were missing one big segment. When I went to Cy Young [Charles S. Young] the last time...the last man I went to, the war was...was on, and I said it was pathetic that boys were dying on the battlefield, and we weren’t giving through his station...his station wasn’t giving any time to the only message that was needed in New England to these soldier boys and their loved ones back home. He said, “What do you mean? We have [Dr. Ralph W.] Sockman on the air? Doesn’t he give them the gospel?” I said, “No, he doesn’t.” He said, “What do you mean?” Then I had the chance to explain the difference between liberalism and...and evangelicalism. And he said, well, this was all new to him. He was an older man in the Westinghouse setup, and he could...he was brought to Boston to handle WBZ during the war period. Strategically he was...he was capable of inaugurating almost any kind of program he wanted to, so he took this as a dare. He said, “Explain to me, what is the difference between a conservative, an evangelical, and a liberal.” “Well,” I said, “It can be put very plainly. A [sic] evangelical believes that the Bible is God’s Word. A liberal believes the Bible is a good book, but not the book, not the Word of God. The evangelical believes that Christ is God. The liberal believes Christ was a good man, but he wasn’t God.” And I went right down the line. “The evangelical believes that we’re saved by grace, by the blood atonement of Christ. And the conservative believes we’re saved by good works.” I just went down the line like that. So he...it sort of haunted him, and he said, “Well, I tell you what we’ll do. We’ll allow you to circulate or we will circulate our mailing list for you all over...over my signature,” Young said, Cy Young. And he said, “To every name and address you give me I will send out at this Christmas time a letter stating that WBZ is going to have a different kind of radio program on for Christmas. And you put the program together, get the speaker you want, get the music want, and I’ll send the announcement out.” I came up with some twelve thousand names. And he said, “Where did you get those names?” I gathered them from all of the evangelical associates I had on other radio programs, Ferrin and the rest of them, Union Fellowship, and my own program, and so we came to the time of the program. We had Ockenga do the speaking. We got the finest quartet, the Eastern Nazarene Quartet. We got the chorus from a big Baptist church, and we had the...[F. Carlton] Booth from Ferrin’s work in Providence. And we put the program. When we came to the program he said, “Now, I will permit you to announce on this program that we...you want listeners to write in to the station, telling us if they like the program or don’t like the program. And if there’s a sufficient response to this program, we’ll take Sockman off and put you on.” By “me” he meant the evangelicals of which I represented. And so we put the program on. It was a half hour program, 8 to 8:30 on Christmas Sunday morning. They got over eleven hundred returns from New England, largely from New England. But it’s a fifty thousand clear channel station. It went out of New England too, but.... fifty...over...over eleven hundred responses, and all but one was a response saying, “We want this kind of a program on the air.” Cy Young’s....
SHUSTER: Going back...going back a second to the original NAE meeting...
HUFFMAN: Yeah. Can I finish this...
HUFFMAN: ...because this...this goes right into that fast. Cy Young said, “Okay, you’ve proved can produce. You can prove you have...you have the listeners.” He said, “We get a response of six...on an average of six letters from Sockman’s program. You had this. But what you don’t have is the backing of an organization. He has the Federal Council of Churches. What have you got?” I said, “Just give us a couple months. We’ll have national organization.” So now we’re in Columbus. Okay.
SHUSTER: Who... you mentioned that Ockenga and McIntire were there, and you were there as well?
SHUSTER: Who were some of the other people who attended that you recall?
HUFFMAN: You name them. All your outstanding leaders of the day were there of the evangelicals. I can name them because....more because I was in those days thinking in terms of New England. Gordon Brownville of the Tremont Temple was there, [James T.] Rider of the big Baptist...Ruggles Street Baptist Church was there, Ockenga of course was there, Wright was there, President Gordon was there. I guess at that time....Let’s see, who was the president at that time? President Gordon was there anyway. I don’t think....T. Leonard Lewis may have been in by that time. And of the Nazarene school in the....[Merrill] Tenney of...who later was from Wheaton, a great scholar, a New Testament scholar. All of the key leaders in New England were there, and that was pretty generally true throughout the rest of the country.
SHUSTER: Do you recall some of the people from the rest of the... country again?
HUFFMAN: I... I just can’t pull them out of a hat here, but....
SHUSTER: Was Herbert J. Taylor there?
HUFFMAN: Yes, I think Herbert J... Herbert Taylor was there. I’m pretty sure the pastor of Moody [Church in Chicago, H. A. Ironsides] was there. But I’m guessing at this. I just worked closely with this group, and I think in that term...in those days I thought in that term rather exclusively.
SHUSTER: Were Pentecostal or charismatic groups represented?
HUFFMAN: Yes, they were, and that became one of the issues and the...[pauses] I’m trying to think of the group that Gedney was a part of, and it became a factor at the NAE convention and I’m just sorry I can’t pull it out of my....
SHUSTER: Did you say Gedney?
HUFFMAN: Yes. E.K. [Edwin K.] Gedney. He was a professor at Gordon College. It was alright... it was the Advent...Christian Advent Movement. Now the Christian Adventists in New England were highly accepted as an evangelical group. They were not Seven Day Adventists in that they didn’t worship on Saturday, but they were from the Seven Day Adventist group, in which they did not believe in an eternal hell. They believed that God did punish sinners. They believed that that punishment was more like purgatory than hell. It was an ending. And just about this time, one of their outstanding leaders, and they had a school and they do have now... then called the New England School of Theology (I suppose it’s still called that) had come out with an article in their official paper: “Who shovels the ashes out of Hell?” It was an ironic way of simply saying the concept of hell was not acceptable to them. Now that was the extreme. That was represented at NAE, and they were accepted by the New England group as brothers in the Lord. And McIntire was there with his..his split-off of Presbyterian group. What did he call his group?
SHUSTER: The American...
HUFFMAN: American Council...
SHUSTER: ...Council of Christian Churches.
SHUSTER: ...of Christian Churches.
HUFFMAN: So the showdown came on the floor when they came to elect a president of the organization. And Okenga was put up as a nominee, and McIntire was put up as a nominee by their respective followers of course. And the question came: here were two that started out together, were buddies together, and now they are rivals in the national scene. Behind the scenes there had been a lot of things developing which indicated they were pulling farther and farther apart. Ockenga being more of a churchman, a far broader view of, not theology, but of fellowship, who he would accept and wouldn’t accept. And McIntire saying, “Here it is. This...it’s....this is my package. [train whistle in background] God called me to bring this... this organization into existence.” And when on the open floor the question came and was put to each of these two leaders, “Will you accept the vote of this group as authority as to who is to be the leader of this newly organizing movement?” Ockenga said, “I will accept the democratic procedure of electing a president. And if McIntire is elected president, I’ll serve loyally in the movement to help build it.” That sounded good. McIntire was called upon, and I’ll never forget his moving up into the platform with his briefcase under his arm and his hair standing on end practically, and he’s saying, “No, God called me to lead this movement, and I’ll leave...lead or leave it.” And of course....
SHUSTER: When he said “this movement,” he meant?
HUFFMAN: This new thing that’s being born here. And he...now they’re electing a president. Now it was to be called National Association of...National Association of Evangelicals. And it was organized now. And we that were there, there were hundreds of us there, we...we chose the name. Now we’re choosing the president. So Ockenga went in overwhelmingly as the president.
SHUSTER: The hundreds who were there...how...they had just been invited by the original group?
HUFFMAN: Every evangelical in the country was invited to come.
SHUSTER: Invited by...?
HUFFMAN: Just by the public press and by public announcements, radio announcements and so forth. And then they did. They responded.
SHUSTER: So essentially there were public announcements saying, “Anybody who wants to, come”?
HUFFMAN: There is a convention being held in Columbus on a certain date and all evangelicals who are interested (and it was announced as an organizing convention of a nationwide movement) should come.
SHUSTER: So anyone who wanted to could come and vote.
HUFFMAN: Anybody could come.
SHUSTER: One or two could come and be an official delegate and vote.
HUFFMAN: I don’t know how official they’d be, but they could have a voice, and they could vote. Yes.
SHUSTER: You mentioned of course there was the split between McIntire and Ockenga and also the question of...
HUFFMAN: There wasn’t really split, there was a separation.
HUFFMAN: There hadn’t been anything to split yet
SHUSTER: And you mentioned that another issue was about the Pentecostals?
HUFFMAN: Yes. I know this: that...that the Ockenga view, let’s put it that way, did...was...was inclusive enough to accept the Pentecostals. The McIntire view would not include the Pentecostals. J. Elwin Wright himself in background was a Pentecostal, but he didn’t play that up in New England. He was just very broad. I never knew of him speaking in tongues or professing to have spoken in tongues. But he was of that general background. Ockenga, of course, was not.
SHUSTER: Were there other issues or matters that you...?
HUFFMAN: Well, I already brought up...I was....Alright. There was of, I think there were 25. I think it was called “The Committee of 25” that was selected there to formulate the doctrinal...policies and other policies, and I was on that committee. I was on the doctrinal subcommittee of that and I already mentioned that the question of, “What are you going to do about hell?” in this. Are you going to... is that going to be an issue?”
SHUSTER: You mentioned that to the other members of the committee?
HUFFMAN: No, I mentioned it here, earlier in this broadcast.
SHUSTER: Oh alright.
HUFFMAN: That’s just an indication of some of the things. We had a doctrinal perspective there that was very broad within...under the canon of evangelicalism. Let me just say that it was worded sufficiently, careful that it did not exclude the...the Christian Advents [sic, meaing Christian Adventists]. They... they could accept the wording of it. Now that was the touchiest issue of all issues. Far more so than the... the Pentecostal issue. And there were fine points in doctrine. On the committee were...all right. Now we begin to talk about....
SHUSTER: So, you say the touchiest issue was the Christian Advents [sic]?
HUFFMAN: No, not Christian Advents [sic]. But whether evangelicals believe in a hell.
SHUSTER: I see.
HUFFMAN: An eternal place of damnation for the lost.
SHUSTER: So there were several at this organized convention
who did not believe in hell?
HUFFMAN: Yes, I mean, all the Christian Advents [sic].
HUFFMAN: They believed in hell, but they did not believe in hell as an eternal place of punishment and that...the radical of those was...would be represented by the one who wrote the article on “Who shovels the ashes out of hell?”
SHUSTER: So that was the...as you say, that was the touchiest issue?
HUFFMAN: Yeah. [J. Alvin] Orr was one... not J. Edwin Orr, but a great Presbyterian pastor by the name of Orr. He was on The Committee of 25. [Pauses] J. C. Massee, I believe, the great Baptist theologian was one. And it was...it was made up of a very cross section of evangelicals. The author of Spirit of the Living God, [Daniel] Iverson, was very active and was on that committee, and there were...the committee was pretty carefully chosen by leaders from all over across the country.
SHUSTER: Chosen by...?
HUFFMAN: Chosen by the group. Voted in by the... the body at the convention.
SHUSTER: But didn’t somebody draw a slate for them to choose from. Or was it just, people shouted out names and...?
HUFFMAN: I can’t answer that. I got on it somehow [laughs]. I don’t know, but it was the approved committee of that convention. They... they were serving under the name of the convention. Now, I went back to New England and said to Cy Young, “Now, we’ve got a national organization.” And he said, “You’re in.” But he said, “I’m not going to take Sockman off. I will give you a half hour (I mean, by “you” he meant the evangelicals). And the liberals a half hour.” And then the big thing then for years...and J. Elwin Wright wrote on this and Ockenga....J. Elwin Wright was more outspoken on this, but nevertheless. For years, you see, it was how quickly the NAE could equal in prestige and in...in effectiveness the Federal Council of Churches (as it was called then, called the National Council of Churches now) but it became the [pauses] the biggest rival the Federal Council of Churches had and soon out stripped it in every level, publications and broadcasting. There in New England it worked like magic. Now, as a result of that, rapidly there came (and again I speak about New England because that sort of pinpoints it doesn’t... it’s.... every other part of the country was as important to itself as New England was to us, but I was right there working when that happened). That NAE coming into existence [coughs] now gave credence to broadcasts. At this time, many stations like WZB would not sell any, any time for religion. They’d give the time free, but they wouldn’t sell it. The Yankee Network would not sell a moment of time for religion [train whistle in background], but would give the network and because Christian Science was so strong in New England, that’s where the mother church is, publishing house and so forth, the pattern for the big broadcasting set-ups would be, “We’ll give a half hour to Christian Science. We’ll give a half-an-hour to Protestantism. We’ll give a half hour to Roman Catholicism.” Now, it went they’d give a half hour also to evangelicals. Then came my own program which I started with NAE’s blessing, the... called The Evangelical Hour, and I started that right on the heels of this thing and was with it personally as the voice of it from 1942 to 1952. That was a half hour every week on a fifty thousand watt station. And we had guest speakers every week. But we had a permanent staff, and I emceed the thing.
SHUSTER: When....Going back to the organizing meeting a while... [train whistle in background] you mentioned the election for president. What was McIntire’s response when...?
HUFFMAN: He just walked out. He and his gang walked away.
SHUSTER: About how large a percentage of the convention were they?
HUFFMAN: Oh, probably [pauses] a small percentage. Certainly not over a fourth, if that. They made enough stir that you thought at one point it would carry the whole thing, but when it really came to showdown, there was no really serious threat of the...their taking over.
SHUSTER: Let me ask you a minor point. It seems like before that time, the customary name had been Fundamentalist. Why National Association of Evangelicals? Why not NAF, National Association of Fundamentalists?
HUFFMAN: Because fundamentalism, by and large, then meant superdispensationalism, certainly premillenialism. I am a premillenialist, but you couldn’t be a fundamentalist if you weren’t a premillenialist. And it also meant a...a much narrower [pauses] acceptance of people. More the...the signing of a creed type thing.
HUFFMAN: And Ockenga was certainly a thorough fundamentalist in the truest sense of the word. But he was an all-inclusivist, very much as Billy Graham is. Billy Graham doesn’t worry very much who’s sitting behind him as he preaches. He couldn’t have citywide revivals if he said, “You won’t have a person there that doesn’t believe in the Apostles’ Creed...I mean the virgin birth, or signs a statement that he won’t dance, smoke, or you know.” Billy’s attitude has been that he’ll go anywhere he can preach the gospel without any limitation. And that was the all-inclusiveness and the... the evangelical... the National Association of Evangelicals was built upon the fact that they would accept anybody who believed in....The Five Fundamentals of the faith, basically, were the things that were important.
SHUSTER: Now the NRB, National Religious Broadcasters got started not too long afterwards.
HUFFMAN: Quite a while after. Quite a while.
SHUSTER: Well, in the...in the late ‘40s.
HUFFMAN: Well, yeah, see this was ‘42. I would say half a decade....
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. Had you been involved... had you been involved with that?
HUFFMAN: Never. No, in all my broadcasting, I was never a member of that, and it was never a factor in my day until I got way down into the ‘60s. Then it was no... there was no... I never had occasion. Now, if I were acting and broadcasting now, there would be no question of what I would be in it and would need to be in it. It was not a strong organization to start with. It’s...it’s grown to be a very powerful thing. But it was not. The President’s Breakfast and so forth preceded that, and I was in on those, but never in my broadcasting day was it even a question whether we should be in it or not.
SHUSTER: Let me ask you about a few people that you had some association with over the years just to get your thumbnail description of their character and influence and some description of their personality. Here’s somebody that you perhaps knew slightly as a child or a young man: William Biederwolf.
HUFFMAN: Very closely I knew Biederwolf. Biederwolf was a classy man. He was a scholar. He could easily have chosen to be educated and would have become probably president of one of the big Presbyterian seminaries. He was a Presbyterian. He drove a custom-built car. He carried a gold-handled cane. He spent...he had a home in Monticello, Indiana, beautiful home on the river there... in the river town of Monticello, and he divided his time between Monticello, Winona Lake, Indiana, and Palm Beach, Florida where he was pastor of the Royal Poinciana Church... Chapel. He chose to be an evangelist. Biederwolf was a great world evangelist. He was a great American evangelist. But he was a world evangelist. He was the highest paid preacher in America at one time, and he used his money very, very cautiously. There was a leper colony in the Pacific that he founded and financed [The Biederwolf Home for Lepers in Soonchun, Korea, started ca. 1923]. He helped many, many people that nobody knew anything about. He got a thousand dollars a sermon in Depression days at Royal Poinciana Chapel and that was an issue with Billy Sunday who complained to my father, “Look at Bill Biederwolf there getting a thousand dollars a sermon!” [Laughs] But his philosophy...
SHUSTER: He complained because...
SHUSTER: ...he thought it was too high, or...?
HUFFMAN: Yeah, he thought he was getting too much money. And just neighborhood...little neighborhood jealousies. But he was a... he’s a deadly serious man. Powerful. He’s of German stock. He was...looked like a real pugilist. But he...he...he wasn’t a handsome man, but he was a very, very charismic [sic] man. He had tremendous personal power. Always dressed in neat Palm Beach suits, and he lived in style, but he was... he was a man of God. Wrote many, many books.
SHUSTER: How would you describe him as a preacher.
HUFFMAN: He was an excellent preacher. He was an orator. He had a strange mannerism. He had a little [mimics coughing noise] sort of a little cough always. But it worked into his sermons so majestically, you felt it was part of his divine unction. I mean he... yeah, he was a... he was also a builder of men. He picked Homer Rodeheaver out of the mountains, and Roderheaver became his songwriter.
SHUSTER: How do you mean he picked him out of the mountains?
HUFFMAN: I mean he found a cheerleader of a high school who played a trombone and had a good singing voice and said, “Come and join my staff.” And Billy Sunday took Rode heaver away from Biederwolf, but Biederwolf was always close to Rodeheaver.
SHUSTER: What was his relationship with Sunday? They both...?
HUFFMAN: Billy Sunday was... very independent, as I said when we talked before. He was very retiring and very...off the platform almost a recluse. Biederwolf was very open and very social. Just two different....One was an athlete. One was a classy statesman type. Both had the same fervor and the same... the same general beliefs, although Sunday was actually a Methodist. Biederwolf was a Presbyterian.
SHUSTER: They were both involved with the Winona Lake Christian Assembly?
HUFFMAN: Yes. Yes. Well, I say, “Yes.” Biederwolf was the director of the Winona Lake Christian Assembly for some thirty years. Billy Sunday was very cooperative. He set aside certain of his activities, the income from which he dedicated to the furtherance of... of the Winona work. There was no antipathy between the two. They were good friends. Good friends sometimes get piqued at each other a little bit. But Biederwolf was...was busy with the detail of building a program, bringing preachers, running a ten day Bible conference every year that had ten services a day and every service was... was packed out in his heyday. Sunday was big in just simply looking after his own... his own campaigns and his own personal affairs. Biederwolf was an organizational man. Sunday was an individualist, all the way through.
SHUSTER: How about Herbert J. Taylor? Were you acquainted...?
HUFFMAN: Yes, I knew Herbert J. Taylor very well. Perhaps undoubtedly one of the finest Christian businessmen I ever knew. He was sharp in business. I mean sharp. He knew how to make money. He knew how to hold it. He knew how also to spend it for the Lord’s work. He was a man that was too busy to attend board meetings faithfully or regularly, but he was so influential that I don’t know of a board decision that was ever made on the boards that I know he was on...and one particular that I was on, unless they consulted with him as to...kept him in touch with what was going on and wanted him on the side to win because he was powerful, and he could with one letter and one telegram change a whole board meeting decision.
SHUSTER: Why was that?
HUFFMAN: Partly because he put his money...his hand where his mouth was, so far as giving was concerned. He had a foundation that was generous. But more because he did get his convictions from the Lord and when he thought something was...was wrong, he wouldn’t quit, he wouldn’t leave the team if they didn’t go along with him. But he made them pretty miserable, and I’ve known him to not even attend a board meeting, write a letter, get drift that the thing wasn’t going the way he thought it should, send a telegram. And I’ve known the telegram to sway the whole board. I don’t want to get to pointed because I’m, as you know, writing a book right now, and I’m going to deal with a factor there where that happened where he... he convinced the Fuller Seminary board that they had done wrong and after four years of resisting what he thought was right, he got a conviction from the Lord that this had to be done. He didn’t make any threats. He simply said, “The Lord Jesus just told me today that I should get in touch with you,” and he sent a letter and it wasn’t...wasn’t sufficiently strong enough to change the board’s attitude. They sent a telegram, and they moved fast. And it ended after four years of fighting what he had contended all the time was right. Now, this was characteristic of Taylor. He didn’t use his wealth, he didn’t use his... his power of persuasion as I see it for any selfish ambitions ever, but for what he really believed, the Lord told him was his responsibility to try to bring to pass. He didn’t always win, but he didn’t quit if he didn’t win. He stayed on, and made the best of it. But not...his conscience was clear at least.
SHUSTER: What kind of impression did he make on you physically. When you would see him, how would you describe him?
HUFFMAN: Well, he was a sickly man. He had a disease that took his life and he... he fought that. I wouldn’t want to try to say what it was. I can’t use the technical term. But he did fight. Undulant fever I guess is really what it was. I shouldn’t say now that that took his life. But he fought this a good part of his active life. So, he wasn’t a man that had any tremendous... tremendous physical force like Biederwolf. But his presence was known. He was there. But he was a godly type of man. I’d put him in the same...the same category as...Allan Emery Sr. A man of few words, much prayer, deep conviction, and again I say a man who put his hand where his mouth was.
SHUSTER: Within Christian work, what was [sic] his main areas of interest?
HUFFMAN: Young Life, Fuller Seminar. He was behind so many, many projects. Child Evangelism, I think... that type of thing, and he and Bob Walker were very close. Bob Walker was very close with him, and projects that Bob would get into, he would usually back.
SHUSTER: How would you describe J. Elwin Wright.
HUFFMAN: J. Elwin Wright was one of the most humble men I ever met. He was a very mellow man, tenderhearted. He could easily be taken advantage of and it didn’t seem to bother him. I saw him lose more battles than he won, but I never saw him complain about it. I mean, for the moment. He would lose, and he wouldn’t fight things through. He knew his strengths. He knew his weaknesses, and he knew how to handle it. It didn’t bother him at all if... if Ockenga would say, “Look, Elwin. You can’t do this. Step aside and bring someone else in,” and he’d do it. That didn’t seem to bother him. He’d just keep going on. He was visionary, and he...he was a...he just was a godly man and a capable man.
SHUSTER: You say he could easily be taken advantage of. What do you mean by that?
HUFFMAN: Yes. Always in a meeting where Ockenga was present, even if it was his meeting, Ockenga would domineer He didn’t say anything... much, and he would refer to Ockenga and defer to Ockenga and in my relationship in New England, when I was Ockenga’s assistant and Ockenga wanted to get something done, and J. Elwin had been doing it, and Ockenga didn’t think he had been doing it as it ought to be done, time after time, he’d push him aside and push me in and ask me to do something, and I never saw any kind of animosity or even....it didn’t seem...it didn’t seem to bother Elwin Wright at all. But he was a big man, a godly man.
SHUSTER: You say he was a visionary. What did his....?
HUFFMAN: Yes. New England Fellowship was his vision, and it was a big vision. Going into the rural areas of New England and getting the Bible taught in the schools, and setting up these Bible conferences where big speakers like Elbert Day, you name them, big speakers, the biggest...would be brought to New England, and they would come for a week at a time and he’d set them up in circuits where they would go out. Sometimes they’d speak in little tiny groups in New Hampshire or Connecticut, wherever. Maybe they’d have fifteen people present. They’re used to crowded auditoriums, and he saw that those people out there in the sticks were treated royally, and then he also had the vision of radio. They also had their own Fellowship Hour, one of the best radio stations. I came along and was their speaker on Saturdays for a while, and started my own program, and it soon equaled their’s, if not eclipsed it. He was always just as generous and as gracious and as kind and cooperative as though it was his own..his own program. He was a good, wonderful man.
SHUSTER: He seems to have been instrumental in getting many things started.
HUFFMAN: Well, he got them finished by the Evans girls finishing them.
SHUSTER: What do you mean by that?
HUFFMAN: I mean his right arms were Katherine Evans and Elizabeth Evans, and what he could envision, they could produce. I mean they were devoted disciples and co-laborers of his. Loyal to the last inch.
SHUSTER: Can you think of an example of how that worked out?
HUFFMAN: Yes, writing of the biography of Charles E. Fuller. They did that. Katherine Evans. I mean, Elizabeth was I guess mostly. But J. Elwin Wright’s name was on it and....He just had the ability to attract to himself underlings who were capable and dedicated, not primarily to him, but to his Lord and had the vision he had as to what that meant, and they just worked themselves overtime to do it.
SHUSTER: What about his physical appearance? How would you describe him?
HUFFMAN: He would not be picked out in a crowd as being an outstanding personality. He was neat. I mean, he was...he was a nice looking man. But physically, he wasn’t overly impressive. His voice was not particularly good speaking voice. And again he started a youth program at Park Street Church. It wasn’t a part of Park Street Church, but it met in the church and after I became Ockenga’s assistant, Ockenga just felt that the church...that particular program needed a young person and he just put me in where...where J. Elwin Wright had been, and J. Elwin moved out, no complaints, no...nothing but cooperation. He was a good man.
SHUSTER: You mentioned briefly that Percy Crawford came up to preach in New England and other places. What were you impressions of him?
HUFFMAN: [Clears throat] Percy Crawford was a very talented [clears throat], very brilliant, very flashy, and a very successful...entrepreneur I guess I’d call him. And you probably... probably would be or should be asking about Jack Wyrtzen, so I’ll talk about the two of them together here.
HUFFMAN: And Jack Wyrtzen, I believe, was converted under Percy Crawford’s ministry. But...I think that’s true... but he certainly was under it and was an understudy of Percy’s and then went out on his own.
SHUSTER: You mean he used...he at one point worked for Crawford or...?
HUFFMAN: He was sufficiently close to Crawford that he knew everything Crawford did and whether he was ever on Crawford’s staff, I don’t know. But he was...I would say Crawford was an ideal that he saw, and so Jack Wyrtzen then started the great work in Times Square which soon equaled and then surpassed Percy Crawford’s work and as Percy Crawford faded out of the picture, Jack Wyrtzen came into the picture. Now, Jack Wyrtzen....Percy Crawford was a very...he...was at times sort of a haughty person, sort of a high brow person, sort of a rash person. He was a very, very astute businessman. Business was very much in his...
SHUSTER: Crawford was?
HUFFMAN: Crawford. And he was a hard-hitting, hard-driving person. He had probably the first nationwide radio program. Young People’s Church of the Air, I think he called it. And it came on with a trumpet fanfare, and it was a fast-moving, highly motivated, exciting program. Very few secular programs could...could equal it. And Jack Wyrtzen, who...whose work paralleled for a considerable time Percy’s. Percy was moving out, Jack Wyrtzen was moving in to the national picture, but they... they worked at the same time. A good part of that time, they were both at their various fields, Jack in New York and Percy out in Philadelphia. But Jack Wyrtzen was a homey, friendly (and is), open person. Percy was a very closed, high brow person. Jack was a humble type of person. And I think I can get them both pictured pretty well by showing how they worked. Being at Park Street Church, being the associate in charge of the youth department, I was... and having already gone into youth work, having founded the National Conference of Christian Youth back in 1936, and now we’re talking about [pauses] 1942, ‘43...when...or the early 40s at least...I was interested in getting youth work going in New England among the Evangelicals. So I insisted with Dr. Ockenga that we bring Percy Crawford to New England and later that we bring Jack Wyrtzen to New England, and they both came. When we invited Percy Crawford, he said, “Okay. I’ll come, and here are my demands. My demands are that I want X number of dollars for coming. I’ll bring my staff. I want you to furnish so much advertising, and I want you to furnish this and this and this and this. So far as the auditorium is concerned and the program is concerned, and I want so much newspaper coverage and it’s cash in... it’s cash in advance. I mean, down or I won’t be there.” And he wouldn’t. If you didn’t do it he wouldn’t be there. Well, he came and that was one of the big thrusts of an outsider coming....New England was and still is a tight little country all of its own up there pretty much, and it’s like the heiress of the Boston Shoe Company (Mamie Jones as she was favorably known) told me one time that she was brought up at her mother’s knee to believe that nobody had a right to live in Boston unless they had at least been born somewhere in New England [Shuster laughs]. She said there were two exceptions to that. Harold John Ockenga was one. That was her radio pastor. She was not a member of his church, but he was the radio pastor. And she was kind enough to say that I was the other person. Well anyway, a couple years later, we wanted to have Jack Wyrtzen come, and he was now running a big program, as big as Percy Crawford certainly [clears throat] in Times Square. Jack said, “ Well, sure I’ll come.” But he said, “I’ll come on one condition. Don’t make any advance to me. I’ll make an advance to you. But when I come I want the privilege of taking the offering. You tell me how much your weekly offering normally is in your Youth for Christ rally, and then you add as much to it as you want to and tell how much you added to it, and I’ll tell you what advertising should go in the papers and what we want in the way of...of stage setting and so forth, and we’ll add it up and I’ll send you a check in advance...in advance. But I’ll take the offering.” Now he knew what I didn’t know: he could get four times the money out of my own crowd that I could get. Well consequently, Jack Wyrtzen became a regular thing in New England. He’d never been there before. Before I brought him there with Ockenga, Ockenga said, “I don’t think we can have Jack Wyrtzen here. Nobody knows him.” I said, “Let’s try it.” We brought him... the first time we brought him there, we brought him to Park Street Church. Packed it out. Second time we brought him there, we brought him to Symphony Hall. As we got closer and closer to the time of the rally (Symphony Hall seating, what, 2,200 people, something like that. Park Street Church 1,100), Jack said, “I don’t think we’re going to have enough room for the people.” He said, “Get over to New England Conservatory of Music. They’ve got an auditorium across the wall...hall...street there...Massachusetts Avenue [clears throat] and rent their hall as an overflow.”
SHUSTER: Why don’t you stop there, and I’ll put on the next
tape. I think we’re just about at the end of this one [clears throat].
END OF TAPE