Bassam M. Madany
Five years after Paul Faris’s studies at RPTS, Rev. Bassam M. Madany arrived, the first to come from a Reformed Presbyterian mission, although not the first student from overseas. His view of the seminary, therefore, was unique. Not only was he able to master the English language, but also he achieved a solid foundation in the Reformed faith.
After serving briefly in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Bassam became the Arabic minister of the Back-to-God Hour (1958-94). Together with his wife he continues his ministry through Middle East Resources. God has blessed Bassam Madany and his wife, Shirley, with six children.
From Syria to Pittsburgh
September 1, 1950, will always be a memorable day in my life. I arrived in the USA after spending three weeks on an American Export Line ship that had left Beirut on August 8, with stops in Alexandria, Naples, Genoa, Marseilles, Boston, and New York. Two weeks later, after visiting my relatives in Bridgeport, Connecticut, I left by train for Pittsburgh, arriving late on the night of September 17.
From my first moment at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, I felt welcomed. The rest of the student body had arrived some time before and were already settled in their rooms. I was shown to my place, which was in a rather large bedroom that housed several other seminarians. Fellow student Norman Carson drove me the next day to downtown Pittsburgh, where I made my first purchases of theological textbooks at the United Presbyterian Bookstore.
The atmosphere at 7418 Penn Avenue was very friendly. My fellow students were eager to offer advice regarding academic or other topics. Having lived all my early years in Syria and Lebanon, almost everything now seemed new to me. American meals were quite different from the Levantine cuisine to which I was accustomed. Also, the English I knew and spoke was mostly of British origin, so now I had to learn American pronunciation and spelling.
I am very grateful to the Lord for having guided me to the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. When I felt called to the ministry in 1948, I applied to study at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon. Thanks to advice from the Rev. Tom Semple, a missionary from Northern Ireland who was teaching at the mission schools in Latakia, I did not pursue steps to enroll at that school. Rather, I began the process of enrolling at RPTS. Thanks also to the help of Kenneth and Marjorie Sanderson and Eunice McClurkin, who were teaching at the Mission Schools in Latakia, and my uncle Henry of Bridgeport, who provided the Affidavit of Support; I obtained the student visa to come to America. My theological training at the seminary proved to be of invaluable help in my lifelong radio ministry to the Arabic-speaking world.
At first, it was not easy to be in the same class listening to lectures with seniors, middlers and juniors. During the first semester in 1950, the combined class was dealing with the last part of Systematic Theology (the doctrines of the church and the Last Things)! What made it even more difficult was that all my previous studies had been in French and Arabic. I had taken English but only as a third language, which simply included grammar and literature. Now I had to listen to lectures that were predominantly theological, sprinkled with Hebrew, Greek and Latin expressions. By the end of the first academic year, however, I was quite at home in theological English.
All the members of the faculty were committed to the supreme and final authority of the Word of God. The basics in a theological curriculum were given by these men who had faithfully served the Lord for many years. They would share with us anecdotes about some of the theological struggles that were going on within Protestant denominations. I shall never forget the pathos in the words of Dr. McKnight while speaking about the last days of Dr. Machen. This great defender of the faith had sent a postcard to Dr. McKnight from his hospital in South Dakota ending with, “Saved by grace.”
Around two decades had passed since the reorganization of Princeton Seminary, but that tragic event was still fresh in the mind of Dr. J.B. Willson. He would recount the plight of the widow of Robert Dick Wilson of Princeton Seminary. She was in a difficult financial situation, as her late husband had lost all rights to his pension upon leaving that institution. When Dr. Willson heard about my special interest in learning more about the errors of Dispensationalism, he arranged for me to meet with Dr. Oswald Allis, one of the founders of Westminster Seminary. Having gone several times to preach in RP congregations in Philadelphia, I used one of those opportunities to visit with Professor Allis. He was a model for the depth of his learning and his total commitment to the historic Christian faith. I treasure his book, Prophecy and the Church, which details the errors of the Dispensational hermeneutics. Studying this book encouraged me to audit a semester course on Dispensationalism taught by Dr., John Gerstner of Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary, who dealt with the subject from a historical-theological perspective.
I remember Dr. McKnight’s comments on my first student sermon that I had delivered the night before at the Connellsville Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was not easy for me to preach in English for the first time in my life! Dr. McKnight remarked that I had done well in my delivery and exhibited an evangelistic spirit throughout my message.
In my junior year Dr. Park suggested that we write a major paper on a subject in Church history. I chose the correspondence of John Calvin. I learned that the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh had several volumes of Calvin’s letters in French, published during the nineteenth century. I borrowed those tomes and, working on the project, I discovered that the Genevan Reformer was much more than a theologian; he was a pastor with a warm heart. I was extremely touched by his comforting words to the mother of several sons who were imprisoned in France on account of their loyalty to the Reformed faith.
The study of systematic theology had a special place at the RP Seminary. I am very thankful to have sat at the feet of Dr. Roy Fullerton. While he was not an original thinker, he did an excellent job in imparting to us a keen sense of seeing the interrelationship of the various doctrines of the Christian faith. He led us through the three volumes of Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof’s one volume in this discipline. And with further readings of major theological works, Dr. Fullerton left us well prepared to meet the challenges of the fifties and the sixties. He showed his wisdom in making us study Cornelius Van Til’s The New Modernism. Thus, we realized that, great as their reputation was, neither Emil Bruner nor Karl Barth was leading the church in the right direction through their neo-orthodoxy. The history of the rest of the century would vindicate Van Til’s thesis.
It would be hard for me to say who influenced me the most during my three year stay in Pittsburgh. I would credit the entire faculty and the student body for the strong impression they made upon me in their devotion to Protestant, and specifically Reformed, orthodoxy. Furthermore, their loyalty to the Covenanter heritage was very clear.
As we approach the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, it is worth asking what has kept it loyal to orthodox Protestantism. Ultimately, it is by God’s grace and wonderful providential guidance that He enabled the seminary to cling to “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3b) But human factors must not be discounted. I would like to suggest two:
1. A close link between the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the seminary. The seminary has always been very dear to the hearts and minds of the membership of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. I experienced that in my travels to many parts of the country, and in Winnipeg, Canada, where I spent two summers working at the Covenanter Church in that metropolis. Not only Synod, but the whole church remained vitally interested in the life of its seminary. That was quite tangible even in small things, as when we received food gifts every fall from the nearby constituency.
2. An awareness of current theological trends. The Reformed Presbyterian Church and its theological seminary were quite aware of the tremendous theological upheavals that were taking place within the mainline Protestant denominations. The decades of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s witnessed the triumph of Modernism in the Presbyterian Church USA. The Covenanters were adequately forewarned about the disastrous consequences of relinquishing the fundamentals of the Christian faith. If they were to preserve what had been handed down to them across the centuries, they were to cling to the authority of the Bible and maintain their confessional heritage by adhering to the Westminster Standards, as well as their own particular testimony. The seminary has remained faithful across these two hundred years. The church and the seminary will continue to receive the Lord’s blessings as long as they keep faithful to the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, and Soli Deo Gloria.
Taken (with permission) from Chapter 3 of To God Alone be Glory
Celebrating 200 Years
2008 RPTS Press
Edited by Norman M. Carson
All rights reserved.
RPTS Press, 7418 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15208 U.S.A.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007938199