Tuesday, December 11, 2012

John Cawood's "Exegesis of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas'"


John Cawood (center), with Gordon Ceperley (left) and my dad (right)
 in Jerusalem, July 1976


Those of us who were fortunate enough to have studied at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University) in the 1960s and 1970s knew instinctively that we were mentored by giants. Those of us who continued our education in graduate school and/or seminary had our instincts confirmed the minute we commenced our further schooling. The three men pictured above, all now present with the Lord, comprised the core of PCB's Bible and Theology department during the years I studied there. And to this day I remain profoundly grateful for their influence both as teachers and as people (indeed, the picture wonderfully conveys what these men were really like). In a previous post I recalled my own father and his massive influence on my life, both at home and in the classroom. Today I would like to remember his friend and colleague, John Cawood.

Even though I was only a child, to this day I remember my dad's elation when PCB hired Dr. Cawood in 1963 away from a small Christian school in Florida. The two men had known each other from seminary days in Dallas, and Dr. Cawood would be only the second (after my dad) Bible professor at the school with an earned doctorate. Later, I became acquainted with him and his family when we both lived in the western Philly suburb of Havertown and attended Grace Chapel there. Like my dad, Dr. Cawood loved sports (indeed, their ping pong matches on the 8th floor of 1800 Arch were legendary, though neither of them could beat Sam Hsu with any regularity), and I always looked forward to the times he would preach from the pulpit at the Chapel. But one day stands out in my mind. In August of 1972 I was about to enter the 11th grade. Yet, for some reason, I decided to go with my dad to his faculty workshop at America's Keswick in Jersey. Dr. Cawood rode along with us, and I was spellbound by the conversation in the seats in front of me. The discussion was wide-ranging, but I was especially impressed by their mastery of the Bible and what were to me, at that time, arcane theological subjects. I instinctively wanted to be like these men. Indeed, all these forty (!) years later I can honestly say that, ever since that day, I have never wanted to do anything other than teach the Bible.

Dr. Cawood was a wonderful communicator who wed serious content to a winsome and, at times, humorous delivery. One classic of his was an "exegesis" (a fancy term meaning "interpretation" used by Bible scholars) of Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "'Twas the Night before Christmas." I heard him do it for the first time back in 1974 while a freshman at PCB. I must say that I have never heard a more effective send-up of so much "serious" Bible teaching than in this mock "exposition," from its outline of the story into three parts to its ultimate description of St. Nick as a "senile, dirty, one legged man who is an alcoholic." Thankfully. I have just been made aware of a copy of one of his performances to be found at http://www.ancientpath.net/. If you want a good laugh, check it out. You'll be glad you did.



13 comments:

  1. that is hilarious! absolutely love that. I wish more professors had that type of attitude when teaching. you can sense he loved what he did, that he loved the students, and he appreciated the craft of teaching.

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  2. He sure did. He was one of the best teachers I ever had, along with my dad and John Hannah and Harold Hoehner from seminary. Taken from us too early at the age of 61 in 1992.

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  3. Never had these three guys in the classroom, but if they were anything like Hannah and Hoehner, I affirm the assessment!

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  4. Classic. My mom and I, both Bible college grads, found it hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I many fond memories of Dr. Cawood, and your dad and Mr. Ceperly as well - studied under all 3 during my years at PCB. Thanks for this reminder of his great sense of humor!

    Perry (1972-76)

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  6. My wife Marge attended PCB at the old Center City campus. One of her classes was taught by Dr Cawood and we still have an audio casette of his famous Night Before Christmas presentation. She also was involved with a post grad fellowship at 10th St Presbyterian and remembers Dr Everett Koop as being a member of 10th back in the late 1960's and early 70's. Dr James Boyce - another great Philly teacher and preacher - was pastor of "10th Pres" for many years. We have an autographed copy of one of Dr Boyce's books. They were all great men of God

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  7. The 3 Amigos, Drs. Cawood, Ceperly and McGahey were great skillful teachers in Biblical Exposition. Dr. McGahey ministered to my family years ago when we lost our 7 year old son. I praise the Lord God in Christ for HIS glory.

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  8. thanks james for sharing this. john was my grandfather and I certainly remember this as we have it on casette. I very much enjoyed every thing you wrote. even though john died when I was 6 I remember alot about him.. what a man of God. im sure I have met your father at some point.. and im sure my parents and grandmother pat could tell me all about him. i meet people all over who knew john... its amazing.

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  9. The 3 Amigos, CC & M, Drs. Cawood, Ceperly and McGahey, 3 of the best at the Old PCB. All 3 loved the Lord, and all 3 are with the Lord Jesus in Glory.

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  10. I loved Dr. Cawood. He was a hard professor but I always learned so much from his classes. He always treated me with kindness and respect. He would affectionately call me Lady and attended my Mom's funeral when she died rather suddenly. He encouraged his students to follow God with all their hearts. I also loved Dr. McGahey. Everyone
    who took his classes will always remember his phrase..."Israel is not the church". It was so sad when he died so suddenly. Dr. Ceperly was a great teacher as well. He taught us so much about Israel and he was a sweet man. I hear that now the college isn't as strong on the Dispensationalist view of the Scriptures taught so strongly by these three godly men. Well I still believe !!!! - Laura Leonhauser Godshall

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  11. The link is dead!! Anyone else have the recording anywhere to listen to? I'd love to hear it again. I remember Dr. Cawood sitting on a stool in the candle-lit, holiday-decorated, downstairs cafeteria at 18th & Arch right before Christmas break (1975) and he recited his Exegesis of "The Night before Christmas" - what a hoot! It was even better watching his facial expressions while telling it! He was a very very funny man! My first time hearing him was at America's Keswick Youth Week. He would have us all laughing at the lake with his funny stories!

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  12. Hi Jim - I'm glad I ran into this post, but I know it's a little old so you may never see this! I was at PCB 1966-68 and was privileged to sit under all three of the men in the pic including your dad. What a privilege! Let me know if you get this.

    Ted Roche

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