March 22: Charles Gregg Singer

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I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gregg Singer, but he will always hold a special place in my life. His papers were the first collection that I ever attempted to process. As I confidently opened the box and opened one large envelope, the first thing I saw read:

I might as that I amtill mysitifed ax  p why you noukdfinnd my feeble efforts and writig of value to the Church But I wllstill try to coopeate as be t Ican. I may be able to sendyou a copy of over ure whichIhave drfated for a commite of Central CArolina Presbyery for the BCO.

Dismayed and defeated, I put Singer’s papers back on the shelf for some braver day.

But where I thought it was because of his age, it turns out his foibles in typing were a life-long affliction. His friends would tease him about it. Aiken Taylor once replied, “I was able to read your last letter with the help of a ouija board and a crystal ball.”

Charles Gregg Singer was born in Philadelphia on June 3, 1910. His parents were Arthur Gregg and Edith Elizabeth Singer. He graduated magna cum laude from Haverford College in 1933 and received his Masters (1935) and Doctorate (1940) from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point during his years at the University, he served as chauffeur for Dr. J. Gresham Machen, when Machen was speaking on campus.

During World War II, Dr. Singer was the director of the War Manpower Commission in Illinois, and later was appointed to serve on the staff of the US Senate Commission investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dr. Singer was a highly skilled historian and an excellent teacher. His academic career included posts at Wheaton College, Salem College, the University of Pennsylvania, Belhaven College, Montreat-Anderson, Catawba College, Furman University, and the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. He was also among the founding faculty at the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and he was teaching there at the time of his death, on March 22, 1999.

Dr. Morton H. Smith, first Stated Clerk of the PCA, said of Dr. C. Gregg Singer, that he “was committed to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. He sought to live his faith as well as to teach it. He was a loving and faithful husband, and a loving father to his children. …[H]e was always a warm friend, and an example of what a teacher should be. He was the dean of church historians. His loss will be greatly felt by all who knew him.”

Dr. Singer taught history with a moral purpose. Another account of his life remembers that he would typically lecture using a tall stack of 3 x 5 cards, supplying students with lengthy quotations, often involving original languages, all touching on the major themes and personalities of church history. Whether he was covering Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther or Calvin, it was clear that he had a close familiarity with the works of each of his subjects. More than simply relating dates and events, Singer’s teaching culminated with interpretation. On that note, it should be mentioned that Dr. Singer’s book, A Theological Interpretation of American History remains in print to this day. [http://www.solid-ground-books.com/detail_1362.asp?flag=1]

It should also be noted that Dr. Singer had long been active as a ruling elder in the context of the old Southern Presbyterian denomination. Singer was also active in the renewal groups which worked to stem the tide of modernism in that denomination and he was the last president of the Concerned Presbyterians organization, staying to man the ship after most left with the formation of the PCA. He was himself received into the PCA in 1987, with ordination as a teaching elder under the authority of Central Carolina Presbytery.

A Sample of his Writing:

A Cultural Intrusion
by C. Gregg Singer

The intrusion into Christian life and thought of cultural influences originating in a non-Christian environment has been a continuous factor in the history of the Church. At no time in its history has the Church been free from the effects of its necessary contact with various forms of pagan culture, and the more highly civilized the paganism, the more insidious have been the results of these contacts.

The Church was brought face to face with the almost overpowering influences of Greece and Rome when it was most zealous for the purity of the Gospel message and when it was most acutely aware of the great chasm between the message of the Scriptures and Greek-Roman thought.

…Today in the contemporary Church modern paganism may well be invading Christian thought and practice in much the same way as its ancient counterpart infiltrated the early Church. The ecumenical movement stands in relation to Christian orthodoxy today in many respects as cultured paganism in its Greek trappings stood to the Church of the first four centuries. This movement represents a kind of synthesis between Christian and non-Christian thought.

The ecumenical attack on the pure Gospel is much more dangerous because it is more subtle. Although some who are active in the movement would openly sacrifice the supernaturalism of the Gospel in the interests of religious inclusiveness, they are in the minority.

The great majority would prefer a blend of Christian and humanistic elements with a synergistic conception of redemption exalting the value of human effort. In either case they resort to Christian verbiage, thus concealing from the unwary the non-Christian elements in their thinking.

The contemporary invasion of paganism into the Church is not confined to doctrine, it includes government and polity. In fact, there is a curious and remarkably close similarity between the rise of the papacy as the embodiment of absolutism within the Christian community during the Middle Ages and the increasing interest in the ecumenical movement of the present day.

Both developments are but the lengthened shadow of the theory of the corporate state and society over the life of the Church. It was against this heresy that the Reformers brought forth the Biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.

The ecumenical movement reflects the dual trend in modern society toward a consolidation and centralization of power. No sphere of American life has been immune to this disease.

In the area of politics it has taken the form of the constant attempts of the federal government to claim for itself those powers reserved to the states by the Constitution. In the realms of business and commerce it is seen in the continuing trend toward mergers and combination. In the field of labor it has been signaled by the emergence of huge organizations which claim jurisdiction over large numbers of trade unions.

In this country there is an inclination toward bigness for its own sake, to look upon bigness in government, industry, labor and the Church with awe and to regard it as necessarily more efficient. Whether arising in the state, the labor unions, business or education, corporations must inevitably snuff out liberty in the interests of some form of absolutism.

However disastrous its appearance in government may be, its entrance into the life of the Church must be regarded as even more dangerous. The intrusion of absolutism into the Christian community under the guise and cloak of the ecumenical movement is not only the entrance of an essentially pagan political philosophy into the government of the Church but also of paganism itself into the Church’s doctrine and practice.

[excerpted from The Presbyterian Journal, 32.5 (30 May 1973): 7-8. There is more to this article, but it is too lengthy to reproduce here.]

Words to Live By:
Dr. Singer knew the value of history for the Christian. The Christian faith is historically based, being particularly founded on the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is eternally the Second Person of the one Triune God. History matters, as it is the unveiling of God’s redemptive and providential plan.

For Further Study:
I did in fact get back to the arrangement and description [aka, processing] of Dr. Singer’s papers. There are still some items to add to that collection, but the bulk of it is described here.

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  1. archivist’s avatar

    The Rev. Vaughn Hathaway has sent me the following interesting background note:
    “I first encountered the Reverend Dr. C. Gregg Singer via the book referenced above, A Theological Interpretation of American History. I was a Junior at Bob Jones University. My job as a Work-Loan Scholarship student was a somewhat privileged postion, that of the night operator at the university’s telephone switchboard. In the 1960s, cell phones had not entered American life. America’s telephone system was a hard-wire point-to-point system. On campus at Bob Jones University, all telephoning was channeled through a switchboard. Student use of the telephone system ended at 10:30 PM. Faculty and staff access to this system was theoretically unlimited but generally ceased around 11:00 PM. Someone had to be available to answer the phone at BJU throughout the night. That was me. There was a roll-out bed available for my use. However, if I had wanted, I could have remained up all night. I could use that time to study or to read books of my own choosing.

    Singer’s Theological Intepretation was one of those latter. It had come into my hands from the Reverend Dr. Robert Reymond who had recruited me during my sophomore year as a representative of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. Back then, P&R had a reading club in which it annually offered students one of a selected list of the books P&R published ten months out of each academic year for a $1.00 a book. My task as a P&R student representative was to distribute to my friends and acquaintances at BJU a flyer describing the book club and offering a membership form. My remuneration was in kind. In the three years or so that I served P&R, I eventually received one of every book P&R then published. A Theological Interpretation was among them. Singer was a very interesting and persuasive writer. The book influenced this young mind tremendously in its developing grasp of the Reformed faith.

    A few years later, while I was a middler (2nd year) student at Faith Theological Seminary, the Revered Dr. Gary Cohen hired me to assist him as editor of Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia of Christianity. My tasks were varied but included what was really a privilege as that of a correspondent with potential contributors to the encyclopedia. Dr. Singer was one of those contributing editors. I don’t remember how many letters we exchanged nor do I know what became of the letters I received from the various authors. Those files were surrendered to the National Foundation of Christian Education, the sponsors of the encyclopedia, when Volume 2 was completed.

    Years later, after both of our lives had traveled varied paths, the mentor and the student were finally brought together face-to-face through our membership in the Presbyterian Church in America. We were both, for a time, advisory members of the PCA’s Administration Committee. The Administration Committee met regularly at appointed times in a suburb of Atlanta. Out of town members were housed in a convenient hotel which also provided a room for our conference meetings. We were to obtain our meals at restaurants of our choosing. Several times, I found myself in a small group which included Dr. Singer and Dr. Morton H. Smith. The conversations at those tables were very interesting — and the memories of them, as dimmed as they are, are treasured. By the way, the first time I sat at table with Dr. Singer, I thanked him for the influence of his book, A Theological Interpretation of American History.”

    Then a bit later, Rev. Hathaway wrote back to add:

    “When I was well into the book, knowing that the “preacher boys” at BJU were expected to read an assigned book each year, I recommended A Theological Interpretation of American History to Dr. Gilbert Stenholm, then Dean of that Department. Stenholm responded, “Isn’t that a little too Calvinistic?” I said, “I do not think so; but what if it is?” None-the-less, the book was not assigned to the class.

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