Monday, January 19, 2009


G. Bromley Oxnam had a dream. He wanted to have a United Methodist seminary in the nation's capital. There was a seminary at Westminster College in Northern Maryland, and he wanted it moved. In the mid-1960's, he got his wish - being a Bishop of the United Methodist Church had its advantages. He also managed a real coup. He stole L Harold DeWolf from Boston University as a center around which young scholars - J. Philip Wogaman, James Logan, and later William B. "Bobby" McClain would congregate.

DeWolf was famous as the last great exemplar of the school of thought known as personalism. A kind of realist religious philosophy started at the end of the 19th century, it was a vigorous, lively, and by the mid-1960's withering form of philosophical reasoning. DeWolf had another claim to fame as well; he had been the dissertation adviser to a young Baptist minister from Georgia named Martin King (DeWolf's role in the plagiarism scandal that would haunt King after his death has never been revealed fully). When DeWolf died, he donated his personal library to the library of the seminary he was called to help create - Wesley Theological Seminary.

One day, perusing the stacks at the library, I came across a small copy, in German, of Immanuel Kant's Kritik Der Reinen Vernunft, The Critique of Pure Reason. On the inside cover was a book plate; this copy had been DeWolf's. I stood and flipped the pages. It had been well-read; there were many underlinings in pencil, different colored pens, and margin notes that were barely legible. One, however. leaped out at me. In very clear letters, a section had been bracketed, and next to the brackets were the words, "Show Martin".

I stood there in the library and thought, "In my hand I'm holding a book that was once held, and read, by Martin Luther King, Jr." There is a sense of awe and wonder in that, even after all these years. It's such a human connection, a small thing, perhaps. Yet very real. It is a memory I shall always cherish.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More