Accompanied by a film crew, four faculty from the Korean school stopped in at McCormick as part of their video biography of Arthur Tappen Pierson (1837-1911), prominent preacher and evangelist who served on McCormick’s Board of Directors from 1870-1883.
Dr. Yoon Jong Yoo, Dean of Pierson School of Theology, and Associate Professor of Old Testament, Dr. Kwang Hee Lee, Director of the Pierson Memorial Bible Institute, and Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Dr. Dang Youl Cho, Executive Director of the Pierson Memorial Bible Institute, and Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Dr. Won Ryul Ryu, Assistant Professor of Preaching, visited Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Boston, each a significant stopping point in Pierson’s remarkable life.
Joined by Rev. Michele Edwards, current student Peter Shin, and McCormick graduate Dr. Dae Sung Kim, along with V.P. Sam Evans, the day included an interview with Ken Sawyer, and an introduction to the Hyde Park seminaries and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.
For McCormick Seminary, Arthur Tappan Pierson is important because he embodied the values of New School Presbyterianism well into the twentieth century, he served McCormick Seminary during crucial years, and he was a forceful advocate of women’s ministries and lay ministries. He was also instrumental in the formation of organizations (YMCA, Student Volunteer Movement, and faith missions) so important to the life of the seminary and the broader Church. He is credited with the "watchword" of "evangelizing the world in our generation."
A.T. Pierson was named for Arthur Tappan (1786-1865), who, along with his brother Lewis Tappan, were great agitators and philanthropists in the antebellum period. The Tappans were part of many of the movements of protestant social engagement in the antebellum period. Among other projects, they were founding funders of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati in the 1820s (Lane Seminary would later merge with McCormick Seminary in the 1930s). Living in New York City, and attending an abolitionist Presbyterian Church funded by the Tappans, the family of A.T. Pierson also worked for Arthur Tappan, and the family named their son in Tappan’s honor.
The boy grew up in a "New School" Presbyterian home, notably revivalist and socially engaged, quick to join the struggles against slavery, including the Amistad case, the wholesale rejection of the Fugitive Slave Law (1850) and the revulsion toward the Dred Scott Case (1857). A.T. Pierson experienced conversion while attending a revival during his boarding school days. He attended Hamilton College, and then went on to Union Seminary in New York. The revival of 1857 had a deep influence on Pierson. He was one of the founding members of the YMCA in New York, and he began a life-long participation in student work and in the organizational life of the YMCA.
He served in pastoral ministry in Binghamton and in Waterford, New York during and immediately after the Civil War. In these years he came to be fully committed to the cause of missions. The Waterford congregation had a culture which was "mission minded" and supported missions in the U.S. and abroad, and even had a full time missionary in its care. Pierson gained a perspective on the global reach of the gospel.
Pierson was called to the Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit, where he served for a dozen years. Beginning in 1871 he was appointed to the Committee on Theological Education, and appointed as one of the Directors of the Presbyterian Seminary of the Northwest -- our school (McCormick) which was later named for the benefactor who had funded the relocation of the school from Indiana to Chicago in the late 1850s. McCormick had been very clear about his theological values and his intentions of establishing an "Old School" Presbyterian seminary here in the predominantly "New School" Chicago region.
Pierson was clearly a New School person in his commitments and his spirituality, and in keeping with the New School views, he was a very cooperative person who could get along with others from other perspectives. Also, in the years of the 1870s and 1880s, he saw the benefits of institutional reach for missions. Pierson was always wary of clericalism and status -- he was a strong advocate for the leadership by women and lay people in mission work.
The experientialism at the center of Pierson’s piety rendered him attentive and open to new prospects and possibilities. This is a key to understanding the multiple conversions Pierson experienced and relates in his writings. In the years Pierson served on the Board of Directors for the seminary, revivalism and missions became a central institutional emphasis.
Pierson was a prolific writer and an effective editor. In fifty books and hundreds of pamphlets, in collections of sermons and of talks at conferences, he showed his great skills. In the mid 1880s, he became co-editor of the Missionary Review of the World. His prominence is shown in his international preaching tours and in the invitation by Charles Spurgeon himself for Pierson to step in to preach at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. In those years Pierson became convinced of the propriety of adult baptism, and was baptized. Though his formal status among the Presbyterians ended in the 1890s, his deep friendships and preaching campaigns with Presbyterians continued. Pierson pursued a prolific publishing and preaching career until his death in 1911. In the last year of his life Pierson visited Japan and Korea, inspiring the founding of the school which bears his name.
In addition to so much of Pierson’s writings which are in the public domain and available online, his collected published works, and archival collections at Moody, Wheaton, and Princeton, there are two essential biographies: Arthur T. Pierson: A Spiritual Warrior, Mighty in the Scriptures; a Leader in the Modern Missionary Crusade by Pierson's son, Delavan Leonard Pierson, published in 1912, republished by Garland, 1988; and the insightful biography by Dana Robert, Occupy until I Come: A.T. Pierson and the Evangelization of the World. (Eerdmans, 2003).