Written by James Street | Reviewed by Anonymous
James Street (1903-1954), who was a Baptist minister for a few years in his 20s, wrote two books about the career of a Baptist minister, London Wingo, in Missouri. The Gauntlet (1945) takes place in the 1920s, at First Baptist Church, in Linden, “halfway between St. Louis and Moberly” on the Wabash Railroad. The High Calling (1951) occurs in the late 1940s when Brother Wingo returns to Linden after a twenty-year absence to help establish and then lead a new congregation at the Plymouth Baptist Church.
In the first book Brother Wingo has just graduated from Southwest Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth and at the suggestion of his best seminary friend Page Musselwhite, London applies for the minister’s position at Page’s hometown church in Linden, Missouri. He is accepted and he and his wife Kathie, whom he had met at Baylor, move to Linden in 1923. Their daughter Paige is born there in 1924.
The book has a number of spiritual highlights. For example, before he and his friend Page have graduated, we are given a most moving account of Page’s call to the ministry. And one of his student friends says, “Page, I just heard a better sermon than I’ll ever preach.”
Brother Orville Honeycutt, the retiring pastor at Linden Baptist Church, is a wise old minister who becomes Brother Wingo’s mentor and one of his chief supporters in the church at Linden. On first meeting Honeycutt at the train depot in Linden, Brother Wingo came to feel like Timothy before Paul, and the older minister calls Wingo Timothy for the rest of the book. And when Pastor Wingo’s congregation goes astray, Reverend Honeycutt preaches like an Old Testament prophet in his remonstrances to them.
Reverend Wingo pastors the Upjohns, who are on the fringes of church life at Linden.
But great sadness both at home and in his church lead Brother Wingo to take his daughter to Kansas City to pastor a large church there.
In the late 1940s, in the second book, Brother Wingo returns to Linden with his daughter to a new congregation being formed on the outskirts of Linden, the Plymouth Baptist Church. And there is Cliff Carter, the undertaker, who was at Brother Wingo’s former church, was instrumental in his being called back to Linden, and will be his deacon and one of his chief supporters at the new church. Brother Cliff wants to hear his minister preach the old-time gospel, he wonders why seminary students study Greek when the King James Version is good enough for him and was good enough for Paul, and he wants the editor of Life magazine to know, with respect to an article on a revival at Wheaton College, that Red Grange was from there and that Cliff’s church in Linden, Missouri, is having a revival too. Cliff’s favorite book is The Robe, which he has read twice.
Another chief supporter is Forrest Roberts—Paige tells her father that Miss Roberts spells her name like that of the Confederate general, not like the tree forest. Forrest Roberts is educated, thinks that Roger Wiliams, about whom Pastor Wingo is writing a book, is greater than Thomas Paine and equal to Thomas Jefferson in importance to American history. She is a forceful speaker, and London chooses her, even though a woman, to read the covenant for the new church at the congregational meeting considering that document. She is a strong reader like a teacher—pauses for commas and long pauses for periods.
And there is Vance Andrews, about 25, a seminary student whom Brother Wingo takes under his wing. Pastor London advises him to learn Latin: “There are more religious works in Latin than any other language. You should study them.” When Andrews stands up before the congregational meeting that is considering the covenant, London is hopeful for him as a minister, for Pastor Wingo comes immediately to see that the Bible verse applies to him: “Wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
The longest and most powerful scene in the book is the congregational meeting to consider the church covenant. To Brother Wingo’s surprise, the question of whether the covenant should be closed—shutting the door on Black Christians—or open is brought before the community. This 14-page scene makes the book unforgettable.
The Gauntlet and The High Calling are full of characters and memorable scenes. London Wingo’s concern and love for those who come before him are strongly presented, even for the atheist in his midst. These books are exceptionally rewarding for Christian readers.