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Catherine Marshall’s “A Man Called Peter”





November 1, 2017

Of our 70 previous book selections, eight have been biographical:

Laurence Bargreen’s Over the Edge of the World

     Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast

     Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth’s Cheaper By the Dozen

     Ralph Moody’s Little Britches

     Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk

     P. R. Reid’s The Colditz Story

     Thoreau’s Walden

     David Wyss’s The Swiss Family Robinson

It’s time for our ninth.

How well I remember the one-two punch of Catherine Marshall’s biography of her minister husband’s life: A Man Called Peter (1951), followed by the profoundly emotive movie in 1955. This 20th Century Fox film featured a stellar cast, including Richard Todd, Jean Peters, Marjorie Rambeau, Jill Esmond, Lee Tremayne, and Robert Burton. It was directed by Henry Koster. It was nominated for a Best Color Cinematography Academy Award.

At the time the book and film came out I was of an age where I was seeking values to live by, thus the book so deeply moved me that it has been a significant part of me ever since.

Marshall, a native of Scotland, emigrated to the U.S. in 1927, literally destitute. But what a meteoric rise he had! Pastoring churches such as Atlanta’s Westminster Presbyterian Church and Washington, D.C.’s prestigious New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (the Church of the Presidents, including Lincoln), and finally his last ministry: Chaplain of the United States Senate.

But it was not for the prestigious pulpits that we remember him today, but for the love story with his wife and biographer. But other reasons are recounted in a McGraw-Hill dust jacket:

It is a record of love and faith that has few equals in real life and is a book which brings alive the magnificent sincerity with which Dr. Marshall brought God into the affairs of men. No intellectualized theologian, Peter Marshall was a dynamic individual who drew many of his ideas for prayers and sermons from his own life and experiences. His approach to life was broad and the enthusiasm that characterized his approach to religion was equally strong in his enjoyment of football and baseball; his irrepressible good humor cropped up as often in his sermons as it did in his vigorous participation in games of all kinds.A collection of his sermons and prayers titled Mr. Jones, Meet the Master was on the best-seller lists continuously for several years. Scenes you will never be able to forget: his providentially falling on the edge of an abyss in fog so thick one more step would have meant death; a church sermon in which Catherine was so love-struck she walked out of the sanctuary, her heels clicking with every step, and Peter staring at her almost in a trance, unable to speak until she passed out of sight; that unforgettable cruise to Scotland, and his introducing his bride to his birth-country; the way youth followed him as though he were himself the Pied Piper; Catherine’s years in bed fighting tuberculosis and the beginning of her personal relationship with her Lord—and so much more. And Peter Marshall’s way too short life, dying at the peak of his career of a heart attack—he was only 46!

This much I can promise you: when you complete the book, you will not be the same person you were when you started.

And if you know of a young person who is searching for answers, for values, for a spiritual mentor, gift that person with a copy of this one-of-a-kind-book.

Do let me know what you think of it.


2 thoughts on “Catherine Marshall’s “A Man Called Peter”

  1. Marshall was very practical. He prepared his congregation for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. He was down to earth, and his presentations were easy to understand. Preachers today can learn to be more successful by emulating Peter Marshall. So many of them after graduating from the Seminary become Theologians and have a tendency to speak over the people’s heads. I once had a professor who said: “If you want to be a successful preacher, keep your subject short, keep it simple, and keep it sweet.” This is what Marshall did. He could present a deep subject but make it simple. It takes a lot of skill to do this. Marshall was a great narrative preacher. There may be a few people in a congregation who want to hear sermons that get into deep Theology, but most want to hear down to earth messages that help them in their daily lives. A sermon without stories and practical illustrations is like a hollow log or an empty bucket. Oh, if only pastors would preach to needs rather than to the intellect. Give people something to think about, but simplify it so that even a child can understand. Every pastor should read this book by Catherine Marshall.

    I would be interested in hearing what others think about preaching that teaches them.

    1. My last sentence should read: “preaching that reaches you”, not “teaches you.” We have a lot of teaching pastors.

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