Winter 2000
Volume 4 Number 4


Rivera-Pagán has himself taken up Mackay’s challenge to engage in the dialogue between theology and literature. He contends that some of the most important theological work being done in Latin America is found in the richness of its literature and finds great theological insight and truth in Latin American novels, both recent and past. Rivera-Pagán’s main sources of research on utopian and apocalyptic visions in Latin American culture include Latin American novels, colonial histories, and several classic books about cultural history, like Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude. He is also interested, "in an amateur way," in the search for the historical Jesus.

Rivera-Pagán and his wife have enjoyed getting to know the Hispanic community at PTS, and they celebrate the recent relocation of the Hispanic Theological Initiative to Princeton. They also enjoy attending events sponsored by the Program in Latin American Studies at Princeton University, where they have met colleagues, heard interesting lectures, and seen great movies. Rivera-Pagán owns a keen interest in the world, a zest for meeting people, and a gift for enjoying life, traits he shares with the man for whom his chair is named.

The John A. Mackay Chair of World Christianity was established in 1991 to bring to PTS theological scholars from beyond the North American and western European contexts. The visiting scholar teaches at the rank of full professor for up to three years; however, the logistics of academic leaves dictate that most hold the chair for either a semester or one academic year. Since 1991, the Mackay Chair has been graced by ten distinguished scholars from all parts of Christendom, including Karoly Tóth of Hungary, the first Mackay Professor, Yasuo Carl Furuya of Japan, and Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru. To date, Mercy Amba Oduyoye of Nigeria is the only woman to hold the chair. Milan Opocensky, the past general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), will be the 2000–2001 Mackay Professor.

The Mackay Professor, usually a historian or a theologian, is nominated by a faculty committee chaired by James Moorhead, the Mary McIntosh Bridge Professor of American Church History. The nominating committee receives potential names of candidates, researches their scholarly interests, and reviews the needs for upcoming course coverage. The committee is also interested in the provenance of the candidates under consideration, to ensure that the Mackay Chair is held by scholars from varying parts of the world. The nominating committee brings the candidate to the curriculum committee and then to the full faculty for a vote, and the invitation is then extended by the president. The Mackay Professor teaches two courses per semester, gives at least one public lecture during the year, and participates fully in the life of the Seminary community.

John MackayJohn A. Mackay, one imagines, would be pleased with the arrangement! He was a citizen of the world, and was blessed with a rare ability to enter into the mind and heart of another culture. Mackay’s first journey abroad, from his home in Scotland, was to Princeton Seminary, where he knew early on that he was interested in the mission field. When he graduated with a fellowship to study in Europe, he went to Spain and had opportunity to study with Miguel de Unamuno. He also came to know Juan Ramos Jimenez and other members of the Spanish intelligentsia, which later gave him entrée into Latin American intellectual circles. While in Spain he began his journey into the Spanish language and into Iberian and Hispanic culture.

In 1916 Mackay and Jane Logan Wells married and were sent to Peru by the Church of Scotland to serve as educational missionaries. They administered a Protestant school for boys, el Colegio San Andres. Mackay was also invited to occupy the chair of philosophy at the National University of San Marco, having received a Litt.D. from that institution for his thesis on the personality and work of Unamuno. Being a Protestant missionary in a Roman Catholic culture led Mackay to write The Other Spanish Christ. His ministry continued with the Latin American YMCA in Uruguay and Mexico, and he later served as a member of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, with the portfolio of Latin America and Africa.

Although he had to be nominated twice before agreeing in 1936 to serve as president of Princeton Seminary, Mackay proved to be a remarkably effective president at a challenging time. He created a healing, nurturing climate at PTS after the Machen controversy in the late 1920s. He increased the size of the student body and built Speer Library, in tribute to his mentor, Robert A. Speer, and the campus center, now named for Mackay. Never satisfied with excelling in just one arena, Mackay also flourished on the world stage as an ecumenical leader. He served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, as president of WARC, and as chairman of the International Missionary Council. In 1953 he was elected moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. After "retirement," he taught as an adjunct professor of Hispanic thought at American University in Washington D.C.

Mackay was renowned as a powerful speaker, but was said to be even "more eloquent in Spanish than in English," reminisces academic dean James F. Armstrong. "He was a theologian, a pastor, and a visionary." One of Mackay’s favorite images was that of the balcony and the road. He said it was better to be on the road, in the middle of the action, than up on the balcony looking at life instead of living it.

The Scotsman turned citizen of the world and the Puerto Rican churchman he never met but who now holds his chair graced Princeton with their vision. Both thinkers and doers, they were and are men who make dreams realities. The John A. Mackay Chair of World Christianity is a fitting tribute to both. 

Special thanks to the PTS archives staff for background for this article.

Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp, PTS Class of 1987, is an at-large member of New York City Presbytery and lives with her husband and two sons in Princeton.

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