i

Meredith G. Kline’s Family Life

Meredith M. Kline[1]

Interest in my father, Meredith G. Kline, focuses on his academic and ecclesiastical involvement along with his biblical-theological writings. His linguistic skill[2] and artistic sensibilities strengthened his exegesis, while his global-systems thinking enabled him to perceive and elucidate both the theological forest and the exegetical trees. What role, however, did life outside seminary or church play in his academic career? The multitasking involved in juggling his family life and academic responsibilities helps us appreciate what he was able to accomplish.

Not much is known about Meredith’s family life growing up. His father, born Harry Klein in 1895, possibly in Austria, had emigrated from Latvia with his family and settled in Boston, Massachusetts by the 1900 census. Harry grew up in a Jewish household where his father supposedly spent the day immersed in Torah, so at a young age Harry was helping to support the family by selling newspapers on streetcars. When he dropped out of school at age fifteen, Harry abandoned Jewish culture and changed the spelling of the family name from Klein to Kline.[3] He spent much of his working life either painting Navy ships during wars or painting Boston area mansions and Fenway Park seats and concession stands while working with a couple of his brothers in a relative’s business. When my brothers and I were growing up, the only members of Harry’s family that our family interacted with were Harry’s brother Ben’s family; we would visit them in Dorchester, Massachusetts near Meredith’s parents to watch Friday-night fights.

Somehow, Harry ended up working as a machinist in the Coplay, Pennsylvania area, where he married Lydia Moyer in 1918. Their son Meredith was born on 15 December 1922, three years after his sister Gladys. Lydia had been born in 1900 and was a member at Trinity Reformed Church in Coplay. According to church records, Harry became a member months before Meredith was born. But most of his life he rarely attended church services, perhaps hearing Meredith preach once at Central Congregational Church in Dorchester. However, when he and Lydia lived in the housing for the elderly that his grandson Sterling designed for the Whitinsville (Massachusetts) Christian Reformed Church, he would attend services with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) folk. At Harry’s funeral, Robert Eckhardt, who served on the pastoral staff there and had been a Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) classmate of Meredith, comforted his fellow Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) pastor, saying he had perceived a spark of faith in Meredith’s father.

By 1930, Harry, Lydia, Gladys, and Meredith were living in Dorchester. Lydia took the children to nearby Central Congregational Church, which had an evangelical pastor, the Rev. Norman King. Even though church activities included putting on plays, which Lydia and Meredith participated in, by the time Meredith graduated from Boston Latin School he was nicknamed “Rev.” The spiritual life that bloomed while growing up under Pastor King’s ministry directed his career path. Before commencing classes at Harvard, Meredith determined his life would be better spent as a minister than as a dentist, so he withdrew and enrolled at Gordon College to study theology, on the advice of a woman missionary associated with Central Congregational Church. Pastor King mentored Meredith, passing on an emphasis on evangelism and church revival, encouraging his preaching,[4] and working to find him a Congregational pastorate in the Boston area as Meredith approached graduation from Westminster; while a Westminster student, although each of his two older sons were born in June, Meredith waited until Christmas vacation time when he could return to Dorchester in order to have them baptized by Pastor King.

Meredith seems to have had good relations with his family. His sister Gladys supported our family throughout her life. She came to Philadelphia to help Meredith and Grace when newborns arrived. Her home in Canton, Massachusetts was the place where Meredith M., Sterling, and Calvin enjoyed playing with their cousins during family vacations with Meredith’s parents. Gladys apparently was not aware of Kline’s career though, since she seemed surprised to learn at his funeral how respected he was by his academic and ecclesiastical colleagues and friends.[5]

Meredith was closest to his mother. When away from home, he communicated frequently with her by letter, whether from Camp Waldron in New Hampshire where he was a summer counselor during his college days or from wherever he was pastoring or teaching; unfortunately, almost all those letters have not survived. His mother showed keen interest in his career and was familiar with seminary happenings from Meredith’s letters and her personal visits to Philadelphia to help the family from the time Meredith was a student at Westminster until he began teaching at Gordon Divinity School.[6] One significant event in their relationship was the time Meredith differed with his mother about his future plans. A couple months before he graduated from Gordon College and just after Gladys had been married, Meredith was planning to be married soon and depart for Dallas Theological Seminary, where he had been accepted. The sudden prospect of being an empty-nester and having Meredith located in far-off Texas was too much for Lydia; apparently, she weepingly pleaded with him to change his mind. The next day he agreed to comply with her wishes, and they were reconciled; he then went to Burton Goddard for advice and was directed to Westminster!

The most significant factor for Kline’s own family life was the mental health of Grace, his wife. According to Grace’s sister Joan, a classmate of Kline at Gordon College who introduced him and Grace while they were counselors at summer camps for boys and girls near Meredith, New Hampshire, their family had been dysfunctional. Grace’s father, Arthur Lambourne, was a kind-hearted Six-Principle-Baptist pastor, but her mother, May, apparently suffered from undiagnosed emotional problems (her mother had hated her) that made family life miserable. She traumatized Grace at a young age by quoting a poem to her about a little girl who was either very good or horridly bad. Grace considered that occasion the origin of her paranoid schizophrenia (Grace thought of herself as a double personality, as reflected in her going by the name Grace in most contexts but going by Muriel, her first name, in medical institutions or when signing her paintings).[7]

Grace’s father was dispensational, believing Israel and the church were on separate tracks in God’s redemptive program. Our father told us that Grace’s emotional issues and the fractured relationship between our family and her family were theologically rooted. Perhaps Meredith had applied to Dallas Theological Seminary under the influence of Rev. Lambourne, who apparently arranged for Meredith to preach often during the last half of 1943 at a Six-Principle-Baptist chapel in Maple Roots, Rhode Island. And perhaps because Grace had fled her family a few months before her wedding and because Meredith changed his plans last-minute to study at a Reformed seminary, none of Grace’s family, who lived ten miles away in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended her wedding; memory of that fact at anniversaries in later years, Meredith felt, would bring on Grace’s bouts of depression.[8]

The seriousness of Grace’s condition did not manifest itself until Kline started teaching full-time at WTS in the fall of 1950, soon after the youngest of their three sons was born. The family had moved from Kline’s OPC pastorate in Ringoes, New Jersey to a rental near WTS, but, possibly to save money, in February 1951 he planned to move the family to seminary-campus lodgings while he attempted to construct a house which he had designed for property purchased next to E. J. Young. The stress of contemplating such a move with three young boys apparently triggered Grace’s inherited dysfunction, and she spent over six months in a CRC mental facility in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Initially, with the help of Glenside, Pennsylvania and Ringoes OPC friends, along with family, Kline maintained his WTS schedule and house-constructing activities, but he temporarily discontinued his PhD studies; Lillian Young started taking care of seven-month-old Calvin while, eventually, Meredith M. and Sterling were sent to Kline’s parents in Boston. Grace experienced additional lengthy hospital stays in the next several years; despite continual medical monitoring and various medications, she was susceptible to breakdowns of varying length during the rest of her life. One fall, a church pastoral search committee decision so upset her that she was unable to cope with life for months; when Kline managed to get her to Escondido, California so he could teach during the spring semester at Westminster Seminary California, instead of renting an apartment as usual, they lived with their son Meredith’s family so someone could be with her while Kline taught his classes at the seminary.

Dealing with Grace’s fragile condition resulted in Kline placing constraints on the family, primarily out of fear of how he could manage if something unexpected happened to the boys, thus adding cares to the uncertainty of Grace’s potential negative reaction to such events. The boys’ extra-curricular school activities were limited, they were not driven to libraries for research-report resources and, later for financial reasons, were not permitted to get driver’s licenses until late college years or beyond.

In addition to limitations on the activities of his three sons related to concerns about Grace, Kline’s ideas also affected what the boys did. While they were growing up, he had traditional views of the Sabbath. Kline did not work on his academic, even biblical, projects on Sunday. When healthy, family members regularly attended morning and evening services at the Glenside or Hatboro OPC churches, the boys attended Sunday School and Machen League, afternoons involved naps or reading or taking walks, and the family might socialize with church friends. Meredith M. and Sterling did not attend their high school graduations, which occurred on Sunday. Based on Kline’s views of church and state relations, the boys, along with their many Jewish classmates, did not participate in reciting the Lord’s Prayer during the school’s joint morning opening-exercises.[9] Kline’s strong Reformed convictions meant his boys did not affiliate with the high school Bible club.[10]

Kline’s desire to protect Grace contributed to his tendency to micromanage and do things himself. In academic life his desire to control an Old Testament department and curriculum was a significant factor in his switch from Westminster to Gordon Divinity School in 1965.[11] In family life he performed all sorts of activities related to building or maintaining the family’s houses and managing their yards, yet he never trained his boys to do carpentry or paint or shingle or mow the lawn, etcetera, but he had to do those activities himself so they would be done the way he thought they should.[12] Even in later life, Kline’s need to be in control led to trying, even if with good intentions and involving generosity, to make decisions for his grown sons.

Grace’s emotional instability might be a reason Kline never traveled outside the United States, except to briefly lecture in Canada; an additional factor might have been potential uncertainties associated with the fact that she was a British citizen (having been born in London before her parents moved to Rhode Island)—she did not become an American citizen until her seventies, probably for reasons related to Social Security. Grace’s condition was considered a major factor in the family not going to Basel for a possible sabbatical around 1957, though finances also played a role in Kline not fulfilling invitations to England or Switzerland for later sabbaticals.

Kline constantly had to include Grace’s requirements into calculations for daily living. She never learned to drive, so he had to transport her for family shopping or evening art classes and seminary wives’ events as well as medical appointments. Providing taxi service for family members was considered noteworthy in his date books along with writing projects or seminary meetings. He also supported Grace by accompanying her for walks in the woods on the Gordon College property, by canoeing in nearby Chebacco Lake, or by visiting the beaches and scenic locations of Boston’s North Shore as well as its art galleries.

Art was Grace’s therapy throughout her life. She had studied fashion design at Massachusetts College of Art, so she made her own clothes and hats and also knitted rugs. Her main concentration, however, was oil and watercolor painting. Meredith’s artistic talent, developed during high school days as evident in artwork done for Central Congregational Church and Boston Latin School publications, enabled him during college days to join Grace in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts classes and later in life to join her as an exhibiting member of the Beverly (Massachusetts) Guild of Artists. They also enjoyed frequent visits to art galleries in the Boston area. After Meredith died, the family was pleased with how Grace managed on her own in an assisted-living facility, spending many days, when healthy enough and despite limited eyesight, in drawing and painting or even assisting other residents with artwork. Grace as artist was the background to the punning dedication of Kline’s book Images of the Spirit— to “the grace of murielangelo.” Also, her painting of the mountains of New Hampshire graced the cover of Meredith’s last book, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon.

Kline was interested in architecture. He designed the family house in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania and additions to two residences in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. While engaging church or seminary acquaintances to do the bulk of the construction and utility work for his houses, Kline would help dig foundations, do carpentry, paint, lay linoleum, and shingle. He also served on faculty committees for the construction of new library buildings at Westminster in Philadelphia and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton.

Kline’s artistic gifts were exhibited in his academic work, since they enabled him to perceive aesthetic techniques in Hebrew poetic pericopes, symmetry patterns and genre forms in whole biblical books, and structures of covenant theology. He and Edmund Clowney were known as skilled practitioners of biblical theology, and both were artists constantly thinking in terms of the relationships of parts to wholes. In Kline’s case, he even sketched colleagues or designed houses during long Saturday WTS faculty meetings!

Kline liked classical music, which was usually on the radio at home, and he enjoyed going to local concerts. While in high school he had played violin in a Boston area youth symphony; he continued to play violin during his Westminster years, and the night he died he was talking with grandson Jonathan about a young violinist he had heard.

Kline passed on his interests to his sons. He dedicated his last book to them. Son Meredith continued his dad’s interest in ancient Near Eastern languages, the artistry of biblical texts, and covenant theology, especially in relation to Ecclesiastes. Sterling inherited an ability to visualize conceptual systems, which resulted in him being a prominent architect in the construction of pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, designing two churches, and volunteering as consultant for projects of the OPC’s Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, New Jersey. Calvin inherited the ability to perceive the structures of musical compositions, which enabled him to conduct musical groups, be a church organist, and play many instruments. In later life he has also been a lay preacher.

Kline was athletic and enjoyed participating in and watching sports on television. While attending Westminster he taught swimming for over a year and was a lifeguard at a local YMCA. In 1957 he was the speaker at the OPC New England Presbytery’s Deerwander Bible Conference in Maine, but the next year and many of the next forty years, along with teaching the staff class, he was the waterfront director! As a student at Westminster, he played football, and even as a faculty member he would play for the graduate student team. He enjoyed playing softball with church folk at picnics or weekly summer games on the Westminster campus; he and his three sons constituted half a team. He enjoyed playing tennis with other pastors and friends at Wildwood, New Jersey when the family vacationed at the OPC Boardwalk Chapel. After moving to Massachusetts, for many years he would try to run a mile most days. Having grown up in Boston, he was always a fan of its sports teams, and he enjoyed watching the baseball world series or, sometimes with Robert Knudsen, football bowl games on New Year’s Day.

Kline liked the outdoors. Though he grew up in Dorchester, a part of urban Boston, he loved the lakes and woods of New England. College summers were spent as counselor at a camp in New Hampshire canoeing on a lake and climbing mountains (even leading campers up Mount Washington at night, partly on the cog-railway tracks to avoid animals). When the family lived in Pennsylvania and traveled to Boston to visit family, Kline always cheered when we crossed the border into Massachusetts. He would often take his family and parents to the mountains of New Hampshire for a day trip or a week’s vacation. Later in life he was thrilled to have a house in evergreen woods overlooking a pond. He enjoyed the common grace of a beautiful natural environment provided by the Creator he loved, and he encouraged others to appreciate it also by the results of his biblical investigations. When Kline was a young boy, scientists devised means through terrestrial telescopes to prove there were multiple galaxies; by the time he died, orbiting celestial telescopes portrayed in splendid color an even more majestically glorious cosmos that produces a quantum-leap magnification of the unfathomable love of a Creator who also amazingly redeemed members of a rebellious species on a little blue planet, a theme Kline devoted his energies to articulate.

Endnotes

[1] In consultation with my brothers and our wives: Miriam Kline, Sterling and Karen Kline, and Calvin and Sharen Kline.

[2] Cyrus Gordon told me when I started studies with him in 1972 that up to that point in time Kline was the best linguist he had taught.

[3] Interestingly, we wonder what genetically is at play in the family. Consider Harry’s son (Meredith G. Kline), grandson (Meredith M. Kline), and great-grandson (Jonathan Kline) — each has written a doctoral dissertation dealing with the Old Testament text, and each has taught biblical Hebrew and other Semitic languages at seminaries and divinity schools.

[4] Meredith first preached at Central Congregational Church in November 1941 when he was eighteen and preached there occasionally through 1954.

[5] Gladys died two months after Meredith. We were surprised to learn from her children at her funeral that she had never informed them of their Jewish roots.

[6] Lydia and Harry’s visits to the family in Philadelphia also enabled them to maintain their lifelong relationships with their Coplay friends.

[7] Mair Walters (wife of Gordon Divinity School homiletics professor Gwyn Walters), who had practiced medicine in Wales and helped Grace over the years, said she was a “sweet” schizophrenic. Thus, many people were not aware of Grace’s emotional issues. She shared Meredith’s interest in evangelism and missions, constantly prayed for family, friends, and missionaries, and she would donate the proceeds of sales of her artwork to missions. After Meredith died, she bought large-print hymn sheets for residents of her assisted living to use when church groups came for services, and she visited church and resident-acquaintances during their stays at the next-door nursing home.

[8] Over the years we had little contact with Grace’s family.

[9] Kline spoke to Christian groups about supporting the attempt by parents of the boys’ classmates to take their case to the Supreme Court to have the Abington (Pennsylvania) School System stop the mandatory Bible reading and Lord’s Prayer-recitation practice.

[10] The boys already had Wednesday catechism classes, which like Sunday School involved homework. During high school Meredith M. had no interaction with classmate George W. Murray, president of the Bible club, who later became president of Columbia International University.

[11] Conwell Theological Seminary and Gordon Divinity School merged in 1969 to become Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

[12] He never attempted to work on cars though, relying totally, while teaching at WTS, on Charles Danberry, a Ringoes OPC elder and lifelong friend who had a Chevrolet franchise and operated a garage.

Meredith M. Kline is the former director of the Goddard Library, and was Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor of Oriental Languages, at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. His ThD thesis was on Ecclesiastes, and he is a member of First Presbyterian Church, North Shore (PCA) in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ordained Servant Online, December 2022.

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Ordained Servant: December 2022

Meredith G. Kline at 100

Also in this issue

Reading Meredith G. Kline: Where to Begin?

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 3.1–3

What Is Essential to the Doctrine of the Church? A Review Article

The Completion of C. S. Lewis by Harry Lee Poe

Profound Devotion: A Review Article

Magi Majesty

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