Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Worthen: The Drive to Accreditation (6)

On to chapter 5 of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American EvangelicalismMan, I wish I were a faster reader. Or maybe I shouldn't try to read too many things at once?

Reviews of previous chapters include:

Introduction
Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)
Chapter 4 (Mennonites and Nazarenes in the 50s)

Now chapter 5, "The Marks of Campus Conversion."  This chapter gives another angle on the collection of social groups and forces we might call fundamentalist and evangelical in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It's the evangelism and education angle.

If you look at some of the great revivalists of the late 1800s, the great evangelist D. L. Moody founded Moody Bible Institute (Chicago Bible Institute) in 1886. Pastor William Bell Riley started Northwestern in St. Paul in 1902. The first Dean of Biola was a revivalist (R. A. Torrey) in 1912. The radio evangelist Charles Fuller helped found Fuller Theological Seminary in 1947. Bible colleges had a way of being founded by evangelists, it seems, as places to train more evangelists and missionaries. These evangelists also had the people skills to attract the students that made such institutes and colleges financially viable.

As much as we may hate the stereotypical divide between the thinker and the doer, history has often played into the stereotype. So Fuller's goals and the goals of his Machen-trained elite faculty pulled against each other from time to time. In 1962, Sam Sutherland, president of Biola, was a "Bible Institute man" who may not have been interested in theologians like C. F. H. Henry or in engaging the public forum. Sutherland was not interested in academic prestige but training people to be evangelists.

But he needed students too. In the first part of the twentieth century, the institutes and Bible colleges of fundamentalism weren't interested in things like accreditation. Self-described professionals invented clubs that conferred on each other status, or so it seemed. Academic acknowledgement seekers like Wheaton were the outliers initially. "Early Bible college leaders were unimpressed by a self-policing, credentialed elite. They exalted the common sense of the layman whose faith was unmuddled by the mystifications of so-called experts" (102). So what else is new.

The fundamentalists had their own accrediting system of sorts. They invited each other to come speak at each other's campuses. They gave each other (unaccredited) honorary degrees.

Then came the GI Bill after World War 2. Expectations for standard of living increased--standards that couldn't be met as a typical pastor or missionary. As is almost always the case, money was the decider. And although the leaders of the Bible colleges and institutes bemoaned the fact that the church was losing its spirituality, they began to pursue accreditation and broaden into liberal arts colleges. Although they believed their students were becoming materialistic, they knew well enough that they needed students to survive.

They applied for secular accreditation so that students could receive aid from the federal government. They started offering more than just ministry and missionary majors.

But before that, a collection of Bible colleges set up their own accreditation organization, what is now called the Association for Biblical Higher Education. It would eventually drink from the same well of academic standards of the age. For example, it would turn down Columbia Bible College for accreditation renewal in the 1960s because of low standards, irregular grading, and not teaching much beyond Christian beliefs.

As much as they might disdain academia in general, Bible institutes also longed for outside recognition. They valued professors with PhDs. There were ways to get PhDs without being infected by secular research institutions, particularly if you worked on them while you were teaching at the Bible institute.

Academic freedom was a problem, as was the increase of students in the late 60s who were thinking outside the box. Sutherland, president of Biola, would try to defend Biola to donors as being 80% Republican and would first gently try to encourage students not to write articles opposing the Vietnam War or in favor of Bobby Kennedy.

Wheaton in particular seems to have pushed the limits of student freedom of expression. Worthen ends the chapter arguing more or less that every generation thinks the next is spiritually losing it and becoming more liberal. Every older generation, as young people grow up, clamors for revival to get back to the good old days, when we were a Christian nation and everyone was spiritual.

Rather, in her opinion, "the history of Christianity... is one long story of the mutual accommodation between sacred tradition and new cultural contexts, needs, and threats" (122). It is not secularization but the continual "reenchantment of earthly life" in the light of an ever changing world.

The chapter ends with the fascination of evangelicals and fundamentalists with C. S. Lewis. Even Bob Jones, puzzled by his pipe and liquor, had to conclude he was a Christian. C. S. Lewis was the patron saint of intellect for evangelicals, proof positive that you could be smart and be a believer. Colleges like Wheaton and Westmont treated his artifacts like medieval relics, and Taylor University reconstructed his favorite pub in the basement of its library--minus the alcohol of course.

Lewis proved that you could have an imagination and love the arts and still be a Christian, unlike A. W. Tozer, who suggested that fiction had nothing to do with Christianity. Similarly, Clyde Kilby of Wheaton could puzzle at the propositionalism of his long acquaintance C. F. H. Henry, "How can the Psalms be propositional?" he posed in disagreement with his ever rational, fellow alumnus.

The chapter also mentions Wheaton professor, Arthur Holmes, whose short, classic work, The Idea of a Christian College, remains to my mind an excellent model of the integration of faith with learning. He suggests levels of integration, ranging from the attitude of the professor to the element of ethics in applying a discipline to to foundations to worldview. It was Holmes who popularized the truism, "All truth is God's truth."

To my mind, Holmes was a giant when it comes to what it means to be a Christian liberal arts college, at least in terms of the principles. Obviously the person who knows the trick on how a liberal arts oriented college can thrive in the current climate will also be mentioned in the history of education. We are in a time of transformation in education not unlike that facilitated by the GI Bill, IMO.

2 comments:

Susan Moore said...

Do you know if D.L. Moody himself taught cessationistic beliefs, or were those beliefs from the founders of MBI? Been looking for that info for a few years and haven't found it.
Also, in reference to an earlier 'conversation', it occurred to me that the 'good news' that Jesus proclaimed is different than the 'good news' that we proclaim.
Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God was near. And the Kingdom of God proclaims the risen King.

Susan Moore said...

Because if D.L. Moody didn't teach cessationsitic beliefs, then surely there is a Christian lawyers association that can figure out a way to sue that cult for defamation of character, libel, fraud...something like that.
It's like naming a cessationistic, Calvinist, Evangelical school, "Ken Schenck". If I was you, I'd want someone to stand up for me.
I think Jesus who is God would like someone to stand up for Him, too.

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