“I was the best religion professor we had, and also the worst … since I was the only one,” joked Dr. Charles McCall of his first year of teaching at Mount Vernon Nazarene College (now University).
Joining the faculty as professor of religion when MVNU first opened in 1968, the Texas native later became professor of Bible and Greek until his retirement in 1999. He continued as a part-time adjunct until 2005.
It was his studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) that prepared McCall for pursuing further education and then teaching at the university level.
‘A pastor ought to be a biblical preacher’
McCall, 93, graduated from high school just after World War II ended in Europe. A third-generation Nazarene, he enrolled at Bethany-Peniel College (now Southern Nazarene University) in Oklahoma in 1945, just before General McArthur accepted Japan’s surrender, bringing the world war to a final end.
After earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy in 1949 (and marrying fellow student Nota Whitaker), McCall and Nota entered pastoral ministry at Corsicana, Texas, on the Dallas District.
“I was torn between pastoral ministry and teaching for a long time,” he recalls. “But I felt that a pastor ought to be a biblical preacher, so my main focus in pastoral ministry was to be a sound biblical preacher. My interest has always been biblical studies.”
McCall’s zeal for biblical studies stems back to his high school days, when he read the Bible cover to cover, “but didn’t understand it all.” Even so, that reading experiment “had more to do than about anything in shaping my whole understanding of the Christian life.”
This passion for sound biblical preaching led the couple to move to Kansas City when he enrolled at Nazarene Theological Seminary to pursue a Bachelor of Divinity Degree. His experience at NTS has shaped and formed McCall in lasting ways.
Discovering Scripture’s role in worship
One of the most enduring influences was what he learned as he researched and wrote a paper on worship in the synagogue during Jesus’ time. It connected Christian worship with the corporate reading of Scripture.
“The earliest Christians were all Jewish to begin with, and the worship at the synagogue shaped Christian worship,” he said. “And later on, in Christian synagogues, they were using passages of Scripture that pointed to the role of Jesus as Messiah. So Christian worship grew through the reading of Old Testament passages, and later they would read the passages from what we call the New Testament. That has shaped my feelings and understanding of Christian worship.”
But it’s not just the role Scripture should play in worship that McCall is passionate about. It’s how Scripture leads believers to personal relationship with God and surrender to His authority.
“Jesus is Lord and his Lordship comes to us in a knowledge of Scripture, and we must make ourselves obedient to Scripture,” he said. “Unless we follow, individually, a role where Scripture is the authority in our lives, then we won’t be able to convey that to others if it’s not really true for us. Scripture has to be our authority personally in order to make Scripture meaningful.”
From pastor to professor
Following his graduation from NTS in 1956, McCall and Nota returned to Texas where, for more than a decade, he divided his time between pastoring local churches, including First Church of the Nazarene in Austin, and pursuing graduate study. He completed a Master of Theology Degree, a Master of Arts in History and Classics, followed by a Doctor of Ministry Degree.
McCall then applied for a variety of faculty positions. A close friend from Bethany, Lloyd Taylor, had become Academic Dean at the just-opened Mount Vernon Nazarene College, in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Taylor recommended that President Stephen Nease bring on McCall as the college’s first religion professor.
In the early years, MVNC was a two-year college, and McCall taught most of the religion classes until other faculty later joined the department. From then, he concentrated on Greek and New Testament studies until his retirement after 31 years of full-time teaching.
McCall drew on his experience at NTS, especially his studies of early Christian worship, to inform what and how he taught.
“I used to give students, in both biblical class and a class we called Christian Beliefs, the option instead of a paper to visit a Christian congregation outside of their own tradition, including a synagogue. I asked them to write up their visit and, particularly, the role that the Bible played in the worship service.”
Over the years, McCall led or co-led five student and faculty trips to the Holy Land, which helped make the Scriptures more real to students. He also led Word and Table liturgical worship services at MVNU, illustrating in practice the role of Scripture in a more traditional worship service.
Looking back on history
McCall and Nota were married for 66 years until Nota passed away in 2014. They raised two children together, Kaye and Mark. McCall now lives with Kaye and her family in Cleveland, where he is an avid reader of history and church history – subjects he first began to appreciate during a class in the History of Christian Thought at Bethany. There, Professor Jack Moore “encouraged us to read from the originals, so, for the first time in my life, I began to read Augustine’s works and read a lot of the other church fathers,” he recalls. “I began to read the church fathers for the first time. He pointed me to original sources, and it has been a lifelong joy to read from the sources and from the church fathers. I’ve been in love with the early church fathers ever since that time.”
Learn more about studying at NTS at www.nts.edu/info.