Reformation Anglicanism is a treasure trove of the best of classic sermons and resources relating to the Reformation, principally Anglicanism and Calvinism.  D Philip Veitch served his country in the United States Marine Corps and in the Navy. He has degrees from Presbyterian and Episcopal seminaries. He is now retired and enjoying life.

It has taken some time for a portrait of Mr Veitch to emerge.  As I am not a member of Facebook, I have, until recently, relied on his prescient and sometimes anecdotal comments on Dr R Scott Clark’s inimitable Heidelblog along with a few here on Churchmouse Campanologist, which are always welcome.

However, in his post of September 1, 2010, ‘Updated Reflections on R C Sproul by Donald Philip Veitch’, he gives us a glimpse into his youth and his friendship with Reformed pastor, R C Sproul.  Although it is a lengthy post, you won’t want to miss it for reasons enumerated below.

We learn the importance of taking meals together as a family and the value that conversations over dinner hold for youngsters in the house.  Mr Veitch explains:

By way of family lore on my father’s side, the “Princetonian Presbyterians” were dinner table names to me from youth, an “an august and scholarly breed” I was told. Mother listened, but as a cardiology nurse she more often than not spoke about “PQS-waves, arrhythmias, and defibrillators” (and she was constantly studying books and journals on issues of the heart and attending medical conferences). But to the point, Dad had read the Princetonian titans and spoke of a different heart, the spiritual “heart and mind,” if I may. Dad’s treasure-trove of one-liners, quips, snippets and asides remain. “The Princetonians have a better handle on God, sin, the Cross and the atonement,” I was advised. “Yes, they have a better picture of man and reality,” was solemnly stated. The Hodges, B.B. Warfield, Henry Green, Robert Dick Wilson, J. Gresham Machen, and John Murray were familiar names to me in 1974, even if I had not digested their writings. “Henry Green forever answered Wellhausen in the 1890′s,” a phrase that meant a whole lot more to me in later years. Dad also had an high regard for the old Anglicans. “Very scholarly and careful” was the phrase. After all, that was my paternal patrimony. But, what did I know? I was a lad. “Dad, could you pass the potatoes, please?”

The effect of hearing about Reformed theologians as well as his mother’s service as a specialist nurse no doubt influenced the lad to dedicate his life to God and service, namely through the Marines and Navy accompanied by theology degrees.  Mr Veitch is a resolute churchman and is blessed in living near churches which offer orthodox services and preaching.  The general upshot for parents is to gather the family together for regular dinners and edifying conversation.  Your children will walk away from the table sated not only in body but in mind.

We also find out what Dr Sproul was like 35 years ago — perhaps a bit insecure because, although in his 30s, he was still a young theologian:

I first encountered the Rev. Dr. Robert Charles Sproul, or RC, at the “Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology” (for brevity, hereafter called PCRT) in April, 1974 …

In 1974 and throughout the earlier years, R.C. had the disconcerting if not distinctive air of a “smug, collegiate frat boy” with an ever-faint yet off-putting trace of hubris. Ah, but we all are sinners as justified saints … simultaneously clinging to Christ’s righteousness alone … Just perhaps–the young RC saw the gravity, grandeur and importance of the context and, in elemental insecurity, summoned a youthful courage which was but a masquerade for the inner reality. Whatever the case, it did not play well from a godly playbook … It was off-putting by contrast with the other established dignitaries in the grander context. RC’s lectures were surely scholarly and understandable, but this trace of a slight smugness remained and, candidly, ill-befitted the context. How did this piety square in a theologian? In this context? On this point, fortunately, RC’s expression of a smug hubris–if it was that–receded in later years. Who ever could abide a backward-tilt of the head with an air of smugness, veiled or otherwise? …

Over the years, Dr Sproul’s hubris of the early years vanished. He had a way of appearing to know the answer to the questions he was posing — not unlike, as Mr Veitch says, Peter Falk’s Lieutenant Columbo.  As with the television detective, RC’s audiences were drawn in by the sense of discovery.  See for yourself as Dr Sproul explains the origins of sola Scriptura.

During this time Mr Veitch attended more conferences, read Dr Sproul’s many books and listened to his audios.  From there, a friendship developed between the two:

This rising star of 1974, and an “unknown” for several years thereafter, was firmly in the Presbyterian and wider evangelical orbit by 2010. Beyond these things and more personally, RC had become a friend …

Over the years, a literary friendship developed as snail-mail letters were consistently exchanged. I wrote from deserts, fields and places afar and afloat—the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf to mention a few. My ships’ names had one common theme and name: USS NEVER DOCK, or USS ALWAYS GONE. Despite the movements, RC never missed a port; he always wrote back; I never will forget one letter received while sitting in an 120-degree desert with thousands of Marines around; each letter was source of encouragement with further points for reflection.

Then:

In 1996, twenty-two years after my first encounter with him, I shared dinner with RC and Vesta, his wife, in the historic town of Amalfi, Italy, a coastal hamlet about seventy miles south of Naples …

Here we were in Amalfi, Italy, with heavy waves crashing ominously against the jagged rocks below where we sat. It was a defining moment for this scribe. Here was my friend and mentor, AKA “Lieutenant Columbo,” scratching his head thoughtfully as we dined over Italian spaghetti and bruschetta, asking questions, giving astute observations on American evangelicalism and its literature, naming names, making strong assertions and—in the meanwhile—asking, “Isn’t this meal delightful? Another glass of wine, Phil?” It was vintage Columbo. It was vintage RC, whether private or public, the past to 1974 or the present until 1996. It was Sproul himself without editors. It was RC “on screen and off screen.”

At the end, Mr Veitch writes that he carries on the traditions of his early home life with his own family:

Though time and questions haved changed, RC remains a beloved friend, mentor and leader. These conclusions and observations will not change until the death of this scribe. Although separated by 700 miles from RC, the Covenant God of the Veitchs over the generations, “RC” himself, PCRT, and the Confessional contexts live daily with this student–and with my children too. The children grew up on RC.

This is a fine example of the significance of established distal relationships as well as of the importance of dinners together with families and mentors.  Mr Veitch alludes to Martin Luther’s famous table talks with his students as have other Reformed commentators, such as Carl Trueman.

As a footnote, also in 1974, the late veteran broadcaster and polymath Irv Kupcinet had an intellectual late-night talk show on Chicago’s PBS station, WTTW.  Every week he introduced it with the words, ‘the lively art of conversation’.  Mr Veitch’s post illustrates this concept perfectly.

Phil — thank you for this insight. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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