Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Big Al Freundt: An Appreciation

 Dr. Albert H. “Big Al” Freundt, Jr.: An Appreciation

Big Al
It was Charley Chase who first called the Rev. Professor Albert H. Fruendt, Jr., “Big Al.”  We would never have called Dr. Morton H. Smith by such a name, though (or perhaps because) his whispered nickname was “Snortin’ Morton.” Nor O. Palmer Robertson (OPR) though some referred to him as “Opie” (OP).  But “Big Al” was “Big Al” to that generation of Reformed Theological Seminary students. Far from being offended, he seemed to be honored by his name.

Seminary professors still smoked their pipes in their offices, and you could never draw near Mr. Freundt’s door without encountering the pleasant smell of tobacco (usually with the distinctive Latakia aroma). Professors could still get mad and walk out of classes, as Al once did when we boys in a History and Character of Calvinism class got out of hand. It was a different time, and, oh, what a different place.

He was a Reformed conservative, a founding member of the faculty of RTS. He was the Stated Clerk of Central Mississippi Presbytery, the PCUS’ most conservative. He played key role in the infamous 1962 Mac Hart Case which went all the way to the PCUS General Assembly. But he was different, a contrarian with a healthy cynicism, an historian’s perspective, a quick wit, and insightful sarcasm. He also would prove to be the kind of conservative who got along with liberals. He subscribed to the seminary’s doctrinal statement, though he did not necessarily believe the 1640s represented the golden age of the Reformed tradition. He, I think, preferred the age of Calvin.   

He was a churchman in the good sense, and taught us more about churchmanship than any other professor. His churchmanship was a help to me when I sought ordination in Florida Presbytery. The recommendation of the Committee on the Minister and His Work was that, because I was a graduate of RTS, I should be ordained under the “extraordinary clause.” But, one of the factors that overturned that recommendation was that one presbyter spoke of his respect for Al from their work together on church committees.

When the division in the PCUS occurred, he did not go and would preach a moving sermon on 1 Corinthians 10: 14 – 17 at the last united meeting of Central Mississippi Presbytery The reaction to his staying by those who left and the acceptance of those among whom he remained, pulled him in a more moderating direction the years that followed, as was the case also with the Seminary’s first President, Dr. Sam Patterson, who also remained in the PCUS.

When on July 30, 1972, I was ordained Dr. Freundt was the preacher at the invitation of the Presbytery. His sermon was “The Sower Went Forth to Sow.” It was solid exegetical sermon. It was a great encouragement to us to have Al and Alene with us in the manse that weekend.  It is a sadness to me that our tracks at the time of the division from the PCUS and the emergence of the PCA, while not rupturing the friendship, put a certain strain on it.  Yet his door was always open to me and his counsel continued to be welcomed by me.  A picture that remains special to us is of Al and Alene with our baby son Calvin in the manse of my first PCA congregation in Union, MS.

Al taught me something about church politics. He was an insider in old Central Mississippi Presbytery but with a detachment that enabled him to see the inside in a way that other insiders could not and still can’t. He attended the conservative caucuses that took place before every Presbytery meeting where the business of the meeting was discussed and strategies devised. But once, upon returning from a caucus meeting, he remarked with his characteristic wry smile and soft voice, “It’s wicked you know.” While the caucus no longer exists, the dynamics and modes of operation are present still in the PCA successor to Central Mississippi, and Al’s comment remains insightful and true.

A couple of his comments helped form my understanding of Baptists. When Herbert Carson preached at the Pensacola Theological Institute, and his book, 
A Farewell to Anglicanism, was promoted Al said, “It’s farewell to a lot more than Anglicanism.” I think it was the same year, as Al and Alene and Susan and I were skipping the evening meeting to go to dinner, a carload of Baptists passed us, late for the meeting, and Al observed, “It’s OK; they've just missed the ‘preliminaries’.”

He showed us that thinking in terms of principles could complicate as much as simplify. When I skipped out on the Lord’s Supper at the meeting of the Synod of Florida because a female minister administered the sacrament, he rebuked me pointing out that in the Reformed tradition the validity of the means of grace was not tied the ministrant. It made me think, a good thing for me then and now. The lesson of thinking in terms of principles and letting the principles complicate as they will is a lesson much needed by a generation of ministers whose default thinking is simplistic.

Al was a great lover and reader of books and had an extensive library. He read many books while travelling back and forth to classes at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, propping them on the steering wheel of his VW. He was generous with his “extras.” From him I received my copy of Girardeau’s Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism and the Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647 – 1897 containing addresses given in a PCUS commemoration of the 250th anniversary. I am extremely sad that I no longer have them.

Al’s office was seldom closed to students. Within it took place humorous and serious discussions and from it came forth the sound of laughter. He never lacked for the gossipy anecdote, historical or contemporary. He was an accessible professor who had a lasting impact on “his boys.” His affection was genuine and genuinely reciprocated.

One evening in November of 1971 my wife who was pregnant suddenly and uncharacteristically cried out in pain. We ended up in an emergency room where a kidney infection was diagnosed, and we were sent home. In the wee hours of the morning she awoke me with a blood curdling scream, and we were on the way to find a hospital where she could be admitted. Within a short time of being admitted, she was rushed into surgery for an exploratory operation which revealed a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. She was literally bleeding to death, but God was gracious, and she was spared. Alene Freundt was at the hospital that morning in no more time than it took to get ready and drive from Clinton. And, when the day before Thanksgiving Susan was released, at the insistence of Al and Alene it was to their house we went where Susan’s physical and emotional wounds could begin to heal.This story has found its way into quite a few sermons. That, my friends, is what Christian compassion and mercy look like.

He was my kind of saint, one to whom I could relate.

Al and Alene with Sons, Calvin (with wife) and Chip


Lee said...

Bill, this blog brings back great memories and almost brings a tear to my eye. I, like you, learned more about being a "churchman" from Al than from anyone else in my time in ministry. One of his most important quotes for me was one I had to remember over and over: "Just because you are a teaching elder does not mean you get 2 votes on the session. All the REs are equal in votes to you". He was also so much fun to be around. I never had a class with him for some reason but I spent more time in his office than most professors whose classes I did take. Thanks for the great memories

Lee said...

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