Harold J. Ockenga

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Harold J(ohn) Ockenga (1905-1985), was a pastor, educator, and evangelical leader. Ockenga was born in Chicago, the son of a Methodist transit worker and his wife. He attended Taylor University in Indiana, graduating in 1926. Looking to the ministry as his calling, he enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary but in 1929 joined with students and faculty that followed fundamentalist theologian and scholar J. Gresham Machen to his secessionist Westminster Theological Seminary.

Upon his graduation in 1930 he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and by 1931 was the pastor of Point Breeze Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. While the pastor there he began work at the University of Pittsburgh on a doctorate in philosophy, a degree he completed in 1939. In 1936 Ockenga was tapped to be the new pastor at the most prestigious fundamentalist church in New England, the Park Street Congregational Church in Boston. He quickly proved to be the ideal man for the position: with his superb intellect, scholarly sermons, and beautiful socialite wife Park Street Church prospered in both attendance and finances.

A gifted networker and organizer, Ockenga played a major role in the 1942 creation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which sought to cobble together a coalition of more progressive, culturally engaged elements from within the old fundamentalist movement, serving as the NAE’s first president from 1942 to 1944. In 1947 he was approached by radio evangelist Charles E. Fuller about the presidency of a new seminary that he envisioned as a flagship theological school for the evangelical movement. While he continued in the pulpit at Park Street Church, Ockenga headed Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena from 1947 to 1954, and again from 1960 to 1963, leading the school into its role as the leading seminary of the evangelical movement. During this period he continued to play a major role within the larger evangelical movement, inviting the young evangelist Billy Graham in 1950 to Boston for one of his first “crusades”, and later working with Graham in establishing the evangelical periodical Christianity Today (1956). In 1969 Ockenga stepped down from the pulpit at Park Street Church to take on the leadership of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a position he held for a decade.

For further reading see George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1987), and Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford, 1997). 

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