reviewed by John H. Sinclair
The grandson of the beloved John A. Mackay has written a monumental bio-graphy of his grandfather. He has set the story within the historical context in which Dr. Mackay lived out his life on three continents and within two cultures: the Anglo-Saxon and the Hispanic.
The author has tapped into family archives to which previous writers did not have access. He has made good use of two extensive bibliographies. This biography presents a much fuller picture of the man and his times. The title, The Hand and the Road, was chosen by Mackay for the autobiography he never found the leisure to write. As an adolescent in the Scottish highlands, caught up in the warmth of Scottish evangelicalism, Mackay felt a loving “Hand” on his shoulder guide him down a path of faithful service.
The biography is divided into specific periods of his life in Scotland, Latin America, and the United States. The author has compressed into four hundred pages an amazing amount of detail.
Mackay traveled to Madrid to learn Spanish at 25 years of age. He was determined “to get the Scottishness out of me!” He not only learned to speak the language impeccably, but to embrace a new culture to such a degree that he is lovingly remembered by Latin Americans as “that Scot with a Latin soul.” (El escoces con alma latina)
Mackay found lodgings in Madrid at “La Casa de Residencia,” a mission institution of the American Congregationalists for university students who came from the Spanish provinces and Latin America to study in Madrid. The friendships with several of the future leaders in Latin America that he cemented during the brief year in Madrid served him well as he moved in university circles in the 1920s as the Secretary of Evangelism for the International Committee of the YMCA.
The author might have lifted up the great impact that resulted from the publication of Mackay’s “opus magnum,” The Other Spanish Christ (1933). That book gave further and unquestioned legitimacy to the presence of Protestantism in the Iberian world.
The months Mackay spent in Bonn as a student of Karl Barth left a deep impact on the young missionary (1930). Barth helped Mackay transition back to the institutional church after his sojourn with the para-ecclesial YMCA. The months in Bonn helped him develop a missiology always intimately bound to the organized church.
Mackay experienced many challenges in the long tenure as president of Princeton Theological Seminary. The author does a good job of lifting up the many advances made during his administration. However, the reader would like to know more of the administrative problems Mackay faced beyond giving the seminary a fresh theological orientation.
The biography by John Mackay Metzger will stand the test of time since the author has painted an abiding portrait of his grandfather.
JOHN H. SINCLAIR of Roseville, Minn., is a former mission board executive and author of a biography of Dr. Mackay in Spanish.