Throughout the book we see that Young worked hard on Old Testament commentaries with a particular focus on the books of Genesis, Isaiah, and Daniel. He took generally conservative positions, usual at odds with other scholars of his time who were almost invariably critics of the Scripture. Young’s work was regularly praised and he became a much-desired speaker at churches and conferences. He also worked for years on what became the Trinity Hymnal and had great interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
For Me to Live is Christ, The Life of Edward J. Young by Davis A. Young, Willow Grove, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2017, 349 pp., $10
Edward J. Young (1907-1968), for those unfamiliar with him, was a longtime professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. That he may be a lesser-known WTS professor speaks not to any lack of his own accomplishments, but to the relative prominence and impact of professors J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, John Murray, and R. B. Kuiper who have each previously had biographies written of them.
The author of this volume is Davis A. Young, son of Edward J. Young, who is an accomplished professor in his own right. Davis, who holds a PhD from Brown University, taught for many years at Calvin College and has published at least eleven other books, largely on geology and the Bible. Davis had long desired to write a book on his father and it is good that he did so, for he was probably better positioned than anyone to write this volume. But while this book was generally well-written and filled in some details of OPC history, it is unlikely that it will find a large audience.
First some criticism. E. J. Young just doesn’t make for the most stimulating of biographical characters. The book is fairly lengthy, repetitious in places, and in the later chapters just alternates between comments on Young’s travelogue and explanations of his various publications. What only can be an error begins chapter 2 where E. J. “Dode” first comes into the picture. Davis first writes that “The State of California lost its birth record of E. J. Young in the 1906 Earthquake and fire.” But in the very next paragraph he notes “Edward Joseph Young was born on November 29, 1907.” Naturally, a birth certificate cannot have been lost the year before one is born.
On the positive side, there is much to be learned here about Young. The book chronicles how he came from a fairly upper-class family in California, had a mother who followed Christian Science, how he was influenced by his Princeton Seminary trained pastor, graduated from Stanford, preached in rural Nevada, and traveled the Middle East and Europe to improve his language skills. Young’s travel and work-ethic in learning languages would most benefit him later as an Old Testament professor. The book then tell us that Young went for one year to the PCUSA’s San Francisco Theological Seminary but concluded his seminary education at Westminster Theological Seminary. After more traveling and learning Young was hired on as a professor at WTS and did not earn his Ph.D. until later, taking doctorate courses at Dropsie College while teaching at WTS.
Throughout the book we see that Young worked hard on Old Testament commentaries with a particular focus on the books of Genesis, Isaiah, and Daniel. He took generally conservative positions, usual at odds with other scholars of his time who were almost invariably critics of the Scripture. Young’s work was regularly praised and he became a much-desired speaker at churches and conferences. He also worked for years on what became the Trinity Hymnal and had great interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For conservative Reformed Christians and Presbyterians today, however, it might be noted that Young was open to, if not favorable to, an Old-Earth view of creation.
One of the more moving accounts in this volume was of E. J.’s wife Lillian. She, we find out, had lost a fiancee to an automobile accident and then lost her first husband to a hunting accident. Young’s patience and persistence surely accounts for Lillian eventual willingness to try again with love. Young’s premature death at 61 years old left Lillian widowed again, for the final two decades of her life.
Young had an interesting relationship with the PCUSA. He not only went to one of their seminaries for a year, but also had some run-ins with some of their prominent pastors. He preached at the churches of Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson and Donald Grey Barnhouse but in both cases was pushed away for not being a dispensational premillennialist. Young’s sense of humor came out in a quip to WTS registrar Paul Wolley saying that while he had little hope of finding preaching assignments in his home San Francisco Presbytery he “had expected [prominent modernist] Dr. Fosdick to resign and to offer us his church.” Another comical episode features the PCUSA Board of Education asking Young for a seminary loan to be paid back as he did not continue to minister in their denomination but joined the OPC. In a series of letters, Young patiently tried to get them to say whether they believed that his work with WTS and the OPC was not an “evangelical ministry” as the loan requirement stipulated. Young’s own ordination in the PCUSA became basically a trial of his beloved Machen, the trial Machen himself never had the luxury of getting.
This reviewer, as author of Gordon Clark’s biography The Presbyterian Philosopher, was particularly interested to find any additional details about the ongoings of the OPC in the 1940s. Unfortunately, this was mostly lacking. Davis did include some sections about the Clark – Van Til controversy, but there was no reason given as to why Young added his name to The Complaint with Van Til. The book does, however, go into more detail with the Willow Grove congregation where Young attended and where Clark-supporter Robert Strong pastored. During the controversy Young and other families transferred away from Willow Grove. This may have been as much regarding a disagreement between Young and Strong about the status of Arminianism as it was about the Clark – Van Til controversy. Compared to the grilling Clark received at his licensure, ordination, and four-year controversy, the books notes, “There is no record that Young underwent a theological examination by the presbytery. Available records give the impression that key church leaders simply accepted his word regarding adherence to the Westminster Standards.” (p. 94)
The takeaway this reviewer got from the book is a desire to read E. J. Young’s OT commentaries. And if the book succeeds in getting others to read Young’s scholarly work then it will have served a good purpose.
Douglas Douma a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church – Hanover Presbytery, and the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017). This article is used with permission.