Thursday, November 26, 2020

6. Houghton and World War II

Luckey Memorial Building
1. When Paine became president, there were 406 college students and 52 high school students. There were 31 faculty members. Five buildings were on campus--the Old Admin (Fancher), Gaoyadeo (women's dorm), the Bedford gym, the science building (Woolsey), and the new music building.

Having a charter with New York state had already doubled enrollment under Luckey from 1923-28. When Paine retired, there would be 16 buildings on campus, some 1200 students, and almost 100 faculty.

Houghton train station
behind Three Bums
So Houghton would grow to its largest size under Paine. But it would also face its greatest threat during the World War II years, when it was not entirely certain it would survive. In a portent of the days to come, the last train left the Houghton station in 1937.

2.  In the last year of Luckey, an "Arcade" had been built to connect Old Admin (Fancher) and Old Science (Woolsey). This is where the library, the print shop, and some new classrooms would go.

Then in 1941, ground was broken to begin construction on the Luckey building, which as then continues to this day to house the President, Academic Dean, and CFO. [This is where my office and advancement are currently also.] Not every student was excited about the new building. It was, after all, taking away a baseball diamond facing Bedford gym. (There were also tennis courts at that time about where the Chamberlain parking lot is now.)

The night of the groundbreaking, some students took an outhouse and put it over the hole that had been dug by Bob Luckey. They put the sign "Luckey Memorial Building" on the latrine. Let's just say the Dean of Men (Stanley Wright) was not particularly happy about it. Luckey would be the first building on what is now the "Quad," which had also served at one time as a track of sorts. 

Old Admin chapel
(now MarCom in Fancher)
I might note that there were plenty of pranks in those days, mostly by the male students. There's something about a nineteen-year-old male brain that usually isn't quite fully cooked yet. For example, more than one prank was done in the late 30s with Stanley Wright's cow. They once somehow got it up to the second floor of Old Admin (Fancher) where the chapels were held (current MarCom). They were ministry students, of course. [1]

At another point, some boys set a crate of chickens loose in the girls' dorm, terrifying one of the single faculty members when the lights came on. [2] A particularly recidivist pranker named "Red" Ellis turned the power off in Gaoyadeo one night and then turned all the radios on highest volume that he could find in the dorm. He put cigars purchased in Fillmore into three pop-up toasters and pushed the lever down, then turned the power back on while exiting the building. Let's just say everyone soon woke up abruptly once the vacuum tubes in the radios warmed up and the whole dorm began to smell of cigars.

Chester York
3. Pearl Harbor would happen eight months after ground-breaking on the Luckey building. The construction manager from 1932-47, Chester York, had the brilliant idea of using creek stone for the outer facing of the building, a practice that became the signature feature of Houghton buildings around the Quad thereafter. A young man by the name of Paul Mills, son of the grounds-keeper, helped collect that stone from the nearby creek bed.

When it was all done, a building that was projected to cost $75,000 only cost $39,000, largely due to the ingenuity of Chester York and the grace of God.

4. Enrollment did not immediately decline after Pearl Harbor. Most male students finished out the 1941-42 year (482 students). The next year declined to 432 students. Then from 1942-43 it was 392 students. The lowest year was from 1943-44, when there were only 292 students.

The students and faculty that remained on campus did their part. Some faculty taught courses without pay. Ten Houghton alumni were killed in the war. Many more served (371 in fact), including Warren Woolsey. Students rolled bandages, gave blood, wrote letters. Instead of corsages, those men still around might give a "warsage" made up of war stamps.

As far as male prospects for the women, later history professor Kay Lindley (Michael Jordan's grandmother) remarked that it was mainly ministerial students and 4F men that were around. [3] :-) On Sadie Hawkins Day, it was three women to every one man.

By God's grace, however, Houghton would survive. And like a comet swinging around the sun, the war would soon accelerate the college almost beyond its capacity in the other direction.

5. A final thing that should be mentioned during the war years was a second revival on campus in 1942. The first had been in 1926. A boy had drowned after falling through the ice of the Genesee River. At that time, the Houghton church was already in the middle of two weeks of special services. It was during that revival that Warren Woolsey, then a junior, became a Christian.

[1] It is apparently quite difficult to get a cow to go down stairs. Willard Smith, whom we will soon meet, apparently assisted in the cleaning of evidence left behind.

[2] Alice Pool, French, Spanish, and English teacher.

[3] 1996 chapel address. Read President Mullen's 2018 eulogy of Lindley's service to the college here. In February (2021) we will be dedicating the Katherine W. Lindley Center for Law and Constitutional Studies.

Previous posts in this series on the story of Houghton:

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

5. Stephen W. Paine--America's Youngest President (1937)

President Stephen Paine
1. God can take the worst of situations and use them for good. The tragic death of Dean W. LaVay Fancher in 1934 probably made it possible for Stephen Paine to stay at Houghton and, thus, to become its president in 1937. Frieda Gillette went so far as to say, "The way he went was traumatic, indeed, but perhaps the Lord was in it." [1]

Paine would become the second president of Houghton upon the death of James Luckey and would be the youngest college president in the nation at the age of 28. Paine would have the longest presidency of any Houghton president--35 years (1937-1972). In that time, Houghton would grow from about 300 students to just over 1200, its peak! In that time, the college would become a mature academic institution.

2. Wing's account indicates that there were tensions from time to time between a holiness church and an evangelical liberal arts college. He mentions that Luckey, "wanted the best Christian liberal-arts school possible and was willing to battle the Wesleyan Methodist hierarchy to achieve that goal." [2] One alumnus of the Luckey years remarked, "I got the impression from his attitude that he was not always in accord with the strict rules he had to enforce." [3] Remember we're talking about matters of dress and clothing and whether a boy and girl could walk down together to the village.

Paine was a Wheaton grad. His evangelical and Wesleyan Methodist stock was obvious, with one grandfather a founding member of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection in 1843 (George Paine) and the other the founding president of what would become Wheaton College (Jonathan Blanchard). [4] Still, the New York church feared he was "on the liberal side," from the Illinois district, you know. [5] It's a little ironic given that he is the man who more or less put the term inerrancy in the Wesleyan Discipline in 1955.

Roy Nicholson, who later would be General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (1947-59), noted that, to settle all doubts, they read a passage from the Discipline to see if Paine would pass muster. I assume it was the passage on entire sanctification. "I can answer in the affirmative," was the response. On the other side, some from Allegany county were concerned that the church, "would put in some tactless preacher" as president.

Paine's goal as president was to make Houghton, "the outstanding Christian college in the East." The fact that Houghton is usually put next to Wheaton and Westmont in the yearly national rankings suggests he achieved his goal. It is not too dissimilar from Willard Houghton's goal, which was that Houghton Seminary be "high in standards, low in expense, and fundamental in belief." [6]

3. The workings of God are a mystery to me. I believe that God could easily arrange for just the right person to take someone to a train station. So it was in 1933. John Willett goes to Michigan to a district conference. Paine, just having finished a PhD in classics takes him to the train. Willett asks him if he would consider teaching for Houghton. Paine says he would.

At the time of Fancher's death, Wheaton had offered Paine a professorship at three times the salary. His fiance lived in Illinois too. From a human perspective, he would be crazy not to take it. But Fancher's death opened up the dean's position in 1934. Three years later he would be president.

4. I've already mentioned that Paine would have a Greek textbook published by Oxford in 1961. I have wondered if almost everyone who teaches Greek for any length of time eventually wants to write their own Greek textbook. I have over 220 pages of my own attempt lying around. Paine used his work to teach until it was finally published as A Functional Approach to Beginning Greek.

Paine played a key part in the founding of the NAE, the National Association of Evangelicals in 1941. He would serve as its president from 1948-50.

Using the language of the mid-twentieth century, Paine and consequently Houghton were mainstream evangelical. Paine was there when neo-evangelicalism was born of individuals like Harold Ockenga, C. F. H. Henry, and Harold Lindsell. Paine was there when Billy Graham started his evangelistic crusades. In fact, George Beverly Shea, who sang in those crusades, attended Houghton in the late 20s, and the Shea family continues to have strong connections to Houghton College and the Houghton community.

We can distinguish the evangelicalism of that day both from what it called "fundamentalism" and what we call evangelicalism today, which are actually more or less the same. The neo-evangelicalism that arose in the late 1940s distinguished itself from groups like Pentecostals, dispensationalists, and, indeed, holiness folk. It called these groups, "fundamentalists."

The difference was not entirely theological, although neo-evangelicalism did tend to be more Calvinist. Neo-evangelicalism was more cognitive, while many of these "fundamentalists" were more experiential in orientation. "Fundamentalists" tended to believe in a tribulation and were pre-millennial. Evangelicals tended to be more post-millennial.

But these were not the only differences. You might argue that the most significant differences had to do with social status. Neo-evangelicalism had more money. It had more education. It had a higher social status.

Christianity Today and Fuller Theological Seminary were founded as (neo) evangelical institutions, underwritten by significant funding. Billy Graham stayed with Lyndon Johnson in the White House and knew every president personally. Evangelicals produced the Lausanne Congress and the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. In short, it was a somewhat elite movement and, of course, thoroughly white.

I wonder if some of the tensions that Houghton has experienced over the years with the surrounding church can be explained in terms of this evangelical-fundamentalist contrast. If so, the tension would in part be one of both social class and education. Could it be that Houghton has often had more the flavor of Wheaton evangelicalism than holiness fundamentalism?

5. Stephen Paine was the key player behind the creation of the NIV. In 1957, Paine was given the task by the NAE to examine the new RSV for its accuracy. The Christian Reformed Church wanted a group to unite to create a different translation to replace the King James Version, one they deemed more faithful than the RSV. Although his wife disagreed, Paine himself saw the ultimate publication of the NIV in 1973 as the most important contribution of his life. [7]

As I mentioned, the statement on inerrancy in the Wesleyan Discipline was largely the result of Stephen Paine's efforts in 1955. It was important for him that the statement would say, "inerrant in their original manuscripts." This statement made it clear that "lower criticism" was permissible, namely, the textual criticism that has led to modern versions of the Bible like the NIV. The Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts, so there can be errors in copying. Therefore, the King James Version may not be correct in its sense of how the original Bible was worded.

[1] Wing, 121. I won't stop to ponder how shocking a statement that is!

[2] Wing, 118.

[3] Wing, 101.

[4] Wheaton was originally founded by the Wesleyan Methodists as the Illinois Institute. Financial problems led to its transfer to Congregationalists.

[5] Wing, 122.

[6] Recorded in Houghton College's first Constitution in 1948. Wing, 155. "Fundamental in belief" was equated in that Constitution with the approach to Scripture of the rising neo-evangelicalism.

[7] She thought it was his influence on students (Wing, 128).

Previous posts in this series on the story of Houghton:

Sunday, November 22, 2020

4. A Growing Houghton Campus and Faculty (1912-1936)

Brick from Seminary and Bedford
now in Nieslen
1. At a 1912 alumni meeting, H. Clark Bedford urged the need for a gymnasium. It was one of those spark moments. Someone moved that they start taking pledges right then and $1000 was promised by the end of the meeting. When the building was finally dedicated in 1917, it was named after Bedford, who had been chairman of the project. [1]

Cleverly, they used "every brick, board, stick of timber, every bit of trim, doors, and windows" from the empty thirty-year-old seminary building down the road. When a new gym was built (now the Nielson Center), some of those bricks were put in the second floor wall where the running track is. In the picture, the bit in the middle is from the original seminary building. The surrounding bricks are from Bedford. This building would even have a small swimming pool added in 1926!

Bedford Gymnasium
2. When Luckey returned as president in 1908, the new campus was in need of some significant improvements. When students moved in 1906, all the drinking water came from a spring below the hillside, pumped up by a one-cylinder engine that Bedford himself kept running most of the time. Others were paid $3.50 a week to keep it running.

In 1912, Luckey and Bedford searched around for a better source. They found one about a half a mile west of campus, a spring from which gravity could bring the water down. Once again, Bedford was charged with making it happen. Eventually, the college sold the water to some of the surrounding houses too.

In 1910, telephone reached Houghton. A rented hand-cranked phone connected the seminary on a party line to the phone of the village. In 1920, electricity came to the campus. Up to that point, they had powered the campus with acetylene produced on campus. There was an acetylene generator behind the girls dorm.

In 1912, the denomination approved indoor toilets in the girls dorm. It was not until the early 1920s that an adequate number were installed. Chamber pots and Houghton's "great brick privy" behind the girls dorm continued to be used until then. In the early 1930s, Allegany County "insisted" that a central sewer line be extended to the campus, and FDR's WPA installed it.

Affordability was an important value of the early Houghton, something I am incredibly excited to see President Mullen achieve again this year both for residential and online students. In 1916, elementary school students paid $10 per semester. High school tuition was $15 per semester. College tuition was $20 a semester.

3. During Luckey's presidency, other buildings went up.
  • Bowen/Old Science/
    Woolsey Hall
    In 1922-23, Woolsey Hall went up next to the old admin building (Fancher). It was used primarily for high school students, but it housed the library and science classes too. [2] 
  • The girls dorm (Gaoyadeo) had dining bits added to the back in 1922, then living bits added to the north in 1931, and more rooms to the south in 1935.
  • In 1932, the Music Building went up. [3] I smiled to read that the Trustees authorized this building "at a maximum of $6,000." By the time it was done, it had cost $14,000, "the number of doors being a major expense." [4] The Music Department itself was supposed to raise $2,000 of the $6,000, a third. :-) Apparently, the odd mixture of sounds that emanated at the same time from the building earned it the nickname, "Cacophany Hall."
  • In 1934, the current Houghton Wesleyan Church was built. 
memorial for WW1 fallen
4. I have not mentioned World War I. World War II was to have a dramatic impact on Houghton College, both during and especially after the war. World War I does not seem to have impacted the campus as much.

Nevertheless, there was "wild rejoicing" when news of war's end arrived in Houghton. "People went crazy with joy. There was shouting and laughter. The bells were rung. People rushed into the streets."

Three Houghton alumni did lose their lives in the war. Three trees were planted at a memorial service in the spring of 1920, two years after the war and after the influenza pandemic had subsided. They were planted on the hill just to the east of where Fancher is today.

5. Houghton, like many Christian schools in the holiness tradition, has had several spiritual outpourings. The first was in 1926. The Houghton pastor at the time felt that it was needed to counterbalance Houghton's academic advancement. It needed a "corresponding advancement in spiritual life." He counted 259 seekers at the altar and noted with approval that "professors are having prayer services in their classrooms instead of lessons." [5]

6. In the previous post, I mentioned that Houghton received a provisional charter with New York state in 1923, then a permanent one in 1927. Around 1930, Luckey upped the ante. He began to apply for Middle-States accreditation. This type of regional accreditation is what the world really looks for when they want to know if a college is legit.

The first application was "postponed"--not enough funds, not enough graduate training of faculty, too low of salaries to keep good scholars long term, loose administration in the admission of students.

He tried again in 1933. Action deferred. Financial resources still not good enough. Although when looking at the requirements, Houghton was really pretty much reaching them.

Finally, with trips by both Luckey and the young Dean Stephen Paine to the Middle States chairman and to Albany, Luckey successfully made his case.
Today in Fancher, marketing is where
chapel used to be
News reached Old Admin (Fancher) during chapel. The students were all upstairs and VP LeRoy Fancher was in the outer room of the president's office at the bottom of the stairs waiting for the call.

[I'm trying to figure out if I was actually in Luckey's office my first year at Houghton. There was an outer room to my office, and I was at the bottom of the stairs on the left as you come down. But the office in the picture on Gillette 91 looks to be the office by the front door.]

The bell was rung. Luckey could hear it over the phone. Houghton was now regionally accredited!

7. Like Willard Houghton, running the college wore Luckey out. Six months after accreditation, Luckey was hospitalized and underwent major surgery for cancer while traveling with the A Capella Choir. [6] He was never the same after that. In late 1936, he managed to come to chapel to confer the first honorary degrees of the college. He would die April 7, 1937, just shy of a year after his wife's death. [7]

[1] By then he had been president for two years of what is now Southern Wesleyan University.
Groundbreaking for Chamberlain

[2] Named after Warren Woolsey's dad (Pierce Woolsey) and built the year of his birth. It came down in 1988 to make way for the current Chamberlain building. Forgive me but I wanted to slip in this picture of President Dan Chamberlain at the groundbreaking because in it is Bud Bence, who hired me at IWU in 1997. He was the academic VP at the time.

[3] It stood until 1998, when the current Center for the Arts was built.

[4] Gillette and Lindley, 117.

[5] Wing, 107.

[6] Wing notes that "Many of the individuals interviewed for this book [2004] cited their opportunity to hear a Houghton musical group as being a prime factor in their decision to apply for admission to the college" (109). This would not at all seem to be the case now. Probably the appearance of ministry teams at summer youth camps has taken its place.

[7] Another sad note at Houghton in this decade was the suicide of Dean W. LaVay Fancher in 1934, who had been the likely successor to Luckey. He had a doctorate from Cornell. He had been a key player in getting Houghton up to academic standards for accreditation. He was even denominational director of Youth in 1931. Apparently, in addition to overwhelming stress, he was suffering from a horrible tooth infection in the days before pain medication and good surgery.

Previous posts in this series on the story of Houghton:

Saturday, November 21, 2020

3. James S. Luckey, First President of Houghton (1908-37)

J.S Luckey
This is now the third post of my notes on the story of Houghton.
1. In the second term of the school's existence, in December 1884, a "tall, thin, rather awkward" farmer's boy from Short Track made his way to Houghton Creek. This was the seventeen-year-old James S. Luckey, the second graduate of the school and its first president.

The school would never have existed without Willard Houghton. Who knows what would have happened if Silas Bond and A. W. Hall had not moved the campus to a better location. Similarly, the school might have gone into the ash heaps of history if it weren't for Luckey. The current administration building is aptly named for him, and there is a special group of donors to the college today who are known as the James S. Luckey Society.

2. Luckey worked to pay his way through. He did four terms at the seminary and then, to make money to continue, took a job as a teacher at a school for a year. He returned to Houghton in 1886, working on campus. In 1887 at the Houghton Church he went forward to the altar to consecrate his life to God. He thought at first God might be calling him to ministry. But in the end, God did not. 

He then finished his degree in 1889. In 1892 he came back to Houghton to teach math and Greek. He tutored one student in Latin until she married him in 1894. "amo, amas, amat," you know. 

3. He would become the principal of Houghton Seminary in 1894 and continue until 1896, during which time they switched from calling the head of the seminary, "principal," to calling them, "president." He thus was, in this first respect, the first president of Houghton.

Luckey was a math person. It is interesting that both he and President Stephen Paine continued to teach classes while they were president. Luckey was known to write a math equation on the board, pause to look at it, and then remark, "Isn't that beautiful?" Paine taught Greek and even wrote a Greek textbook published by Oxford Press. 

4. Then in 1896, Luckey continued his education and worked. A master's degree in education in 1898 from Albany State Teacher's College. Four years as principal of a high school. Then they moved to Oberlin College, where he got a BA in 1904 and an MA in 1905.

Oberlin was an important piece of the early Houghton equation. Before Houghton College was accredited, Houghton students would sometimes do three years at Houghton and then finish up at Oberlin. Oberlin had been a key institution in the evangelical revivals of the 1800s, a place that stood on a similar path as the Wesleyan Methodists on abolition and woman's suffrage. Luckey would actually teach there for two years (1905-1907).

He then studied math for a year at Harvard (1907-1908). He had a scholarship to continue to get his Ph.D. Then Houghton called. The hardest decision of his life, he forewent his Ph.D. in math at Harvard and returned to Houghton as president again, in 1908. Wheaton would finally give him an honorary doctorate in 1933.

4. Beyond question, the most significant of Luckey's accomplishments was to get Houghton accredited by New York State. It was not an easy feat. On the one hand, it was not easy because of New York state requirements for accreditation like $500,000 in assets, eight distinct departments with distinct heads, and faculty with the appropriate degrees and salaries. 

Meanwhile, the church wasn't sure it wanted anything more than a Bible college. Looking back, our colleges in the 1920s scarcely seem very liberal. But in the snapshot of a moment's time, some in the surrounding church may imagine that they are. Imagine the late 1960s when the church surrounding Houghton consisted of the two parts of the Wesleyan Church that didn't go with the merger over things like jewelry and hair length--the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodists and the New York Pilgrims.

Luckey, tireless in purpose and undaunted by resistance, pushed through to the goal. The state requirements, while difficult to achieve, did provide greater stability. Except for OKWU, none of the Pilgrim Bible colleges survived, and OKWU arguably survived because it went on to become a state-accredited liberal arts college. 

Many people won't try something because they don't think it's possible. They need to see someone else
do it first. Who knows what would have happened to Wesleyan higher education if Luckey had not shown that secular accreditation was possible--and without losing spirituality? Luckey showed the way. 

H. Clark Bedford
5. As a side note, in this era Houghton was the education dynamo for the Wesleyan Methodist Church. I've already mentioned that Silas Bond left Houghton in 1908 to be the founding president of Miltonvale. But perhaps the most interesting figure in this regard is H. Clark Bedford.

He was an early Houghton grad, one of those that went on to finish at Oberlin. He was then a math and Greek teacher at Houghton in the early teens. I'll mention some of his work with Luckey to develop the Houghton campus in the next post.

In 1915, Bedford went to be president of the recently established Wesleyan Methodist College in Central, South Carolina (SWU) for four years. Bob Black tells me that he was one of the best presidents of that era. In keeping with lessons learned at Houghton, he facilitated the building of "Grimes Hall" in 1916 at Central. Black says it was the building that legitimized the college, having electricity, running water, and steam heat. [1]

Then after a year back at Houghton, in 1920 he became the first president of the newly founded Marion College (IWU). His two years were not without turmoil. First, there was tension between the theological students who had come from Fairmount Bible College and the liberal arts students that made up the rest of the college. Marj Elder reports that Bible college students thought the other students were too worldly, and the liberal arts students thought the Bible college students were uneducated. [2] Bedford got up in chapel and pleaded for both sides to be charitable to each other.

It wasn't too long before Bedford himself was in the cross-hairs of the surrounding district. He was said to have a faulty view of entire sanctification. [3] The denomination vouched for him. His own statement affirmed full salvation and an experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the end, the district said they wouldn't support Marion College, and he resigned to keep the peace. He went on to be president at Penn College in Iowa.

6. In 1929 James Luckey actually commuted once a week to act as temporary president of Marion College as it continued to struggle in its first decade. It was still only 9 years old (it's celebrating its centennial this year). His youngest son Robert Luckey would actually go on to be president of Marion College from 1976 to 1984, and again as interim from 86-87. The old gym at IWU is actually named for him.

There's a fun story about father and son in 1934. Robert was apparently a bit of a "lucky" surprise when the senior Luckey was fifty years old. In 1934, alumni and friends raised the funds for the president to take a trip to Europe as a much-deserved vacation. He left from the train station in Houghton only to return the next day to pick up his son. He figured that if he went second class, he could afford to take the seventeen year old Robert with him.

7. Luckey danced through the landmines to see Houghton provisionally accredited in 1923. Now he truly was the first president of Houghton College! He raised funds both within the church and in the surrounding region. In 1925, there was the first group of accredited graduates. Then in 1927, the charter was made permanent. I'll save the quest for Middle States accreditation for the next post. 

8. Luckey was apparently a very positive and friendly face. But he was also highly detailed and quite a micromanager. Frieda Gillette, whose arm he twisted to come as a history professor in 1923, called him a "benign dictator." If one of his proposals did not pass, he would simply bring it back again and again until it did.

The students apparently had a ditty they said about him: 

Head full of brains,
Brains full of knowledge,
Rather go to Luckey's school
Than any other college

[1] Bob wrote a history of Southern Wesleyan for its centennial in 2006--How Firm a Foundation: Southern Wesleyan University 1906-2006.

[2] Marjorie Elders, The Lord, the Landmarks, the Life (1994), 76. This book commemorated the 75th anniversary of Indiana Wesleyan University.

[3] We can imagine the level of debate they might have had in those days about the nuances of entire sanctification. We probably wouldn't even recognize the minute issues of debate today.

Friday, November 20, 2020

2. Houghton Seminary adds four-year college (1899)

1884 Seminary Building
 1. From 1884 to 1899, Houghton was only a Christian high school or "seminary" as they called it. Then a full college program was added in 1899. This is the second post in some notes on the story of Houghton.

For more than one reason, we think of James S. Luckey as the first president of the school. More on him in the next post. But there were a number of principals before Luckey came to stay in 1908.

Except for Luckey, all of the first leaders of the school were preachers. William H. Kennedy was the first, apparently a very dynamic teacher (1884-86). The red-haired A. R. Dodd was principal for six years while also pastoring the Filmore Wesleyan Methodist church (1886-92). E. W. Bruce was principal for a year and pastor of the Houghton church. He would return to teach theology from 1905-11.

Luckey did take a stint as principal from 1894-96 before going on to do further study. It was in his second year, with around 60 students, that they started calling the leader of the school a "president." But there were still no college students yet.
Silas W. Bond
Luckey Building

2. The most significant of these other early school leaders was Silas W. Bond, who was president from 1896-1908. During his time as president, Houghton would start offering college classes. During his time, Houghton would move from its original site to its current one. One of the buildings constructed during his time still stands, albeit in a different location. My office was in that building my first year at Houghton (Fancher).

I have a hunch that Bond was a little peculiar. But he must have been very capable. He ran for office unsuccessfully a number of times for the Prohibition party. In any case, in 1908 he went to be the founding president of Miltonvale Wesleyan College, which would eventually merge with Bartlesville Wesleyan College. He was the only one other than Luckey to be called a president in those early days.

3. The first graduate of the seminary came in 1887. [1] The second was the great James Luckey himself in 1889. Programs were added one by one. In 1886 the principal's wife started a complete course in drawing, crayoning, and oil painting. In 1885 a business course was added for both men and women. I've already mentioned the Bible Training class in 1888. In 1890 a music department was added. In 1893 a two-year elementary teacher course came. Notice how late formal Bible training was added!

Then in 1895, the denomination approved the addition of college-level courses, an "Advanced Department" or "Academic Department." In 1899, they voted to raise the level of the seminary to that of a college as soon as possible. A four-year college curriculum was implemented that fall, with John Willett as its first graduate in 1901.

At first, the curriculum was very prescribed (Wing describes it as "imaginative"). [2] Five faculty taught everything. There was German. There was all sorts of Greek and Latin literature, and they assumed you would already have learned the Greek and Latin languages in high school. There were multiple philosophy classes, the histories of England, France, and Germany. Chemistry, physics, biology, and more.

When Luckey came back in 1908, he would follow the Harvard model and incorporate a new concept known as "electives."

4. The original site of the seminary was a bit of a haul up the hill, particularly in winter. There was a plateau even further up the hill, but few had the stomach for expansion there.

memorial to
Houghton's birthplace

So practical minds began to eye the property where Houghton College now sits. This is where the house of Willard J. Houghton's birth was, in the grassy lawn where Fancher is now. In 1914, the remains of the last Seneca native American, Copperhead, were moved across the street and given a boulder to commemorate him, a gift from Houghton's son Leonard. Thus the student yearbook of Houghton was named The Boulder. [3]

I smiled a little reading the account of this campus move in the Gillette and Lindley story of Houghton's first fifty years. [4] One gets the impression that there were people in 1902 who did a lot of talking about moving. Then there were a couple doers who got things done.

The first doer, if I am reading correctly, was the Reverend Sylvester Bedford. He bought the land where the current Nielson Center and art building are. The intention, at least in part, was to use it as a camp meeting site. To this day the annual camp meeting of the Wesleyan Church is held on the Houghton College campus. [5] At that time, the Wesleyan Methodist conference was called the "Lockport conference." 

The second doer was A. W. Hall, who bought the southern part of Bedford's land for the seminary/college (for $547.27). This is where the central Houghton College campus now sits. Still, conflict with an out-of-state brickmaker delayed groundbreaking on "Jennings Hall" till 1905.

5. Hall was the financial agent of the college at that time, just as Willard
A. W. Hall

Houghton had been. I see his name as one thread in this key period. I might add that he went on to work with the funds of the denomination but was eventually removed from denominational service for shifting funds around between accounts without permission. I don't mean embezzlement. I mean using money designated for one purpose for another. He thought this was his prerogative. The trustees of the church disagreed.

Two buildings constituted the new campus. The first was "Jennings Hall," now known as Fancher Hall. [6] The second was a girl's dorm, started in 1906. It was first known as Besse Hall and then as Gaoyadeo.

Besse and Jennings Halls
Of course, these buildings are different now. In 1987, Gaoyadeo was torn down. Fancher was then rotated 90 degrees and moved to where Gaoyadeo had been. In the picture to the left, you can also see in the back the "plumbing facility" for the dormitory (read, brick outhouse) and the heating building for the dorm.

6. Another one of Hall's legacies was the relationship between the Wesleyan Methodist Church and Sierra Leone, Africa. In 1889, the church sent Hall there and the report he returned was the spark that made the connection permanent. [6] The first missionaries of the church were to Sierra Leone, and most of those missionaries were Houghton grads.

Mary Lane left Houghton in 1900 for Sierra Leone and married George Clarke, whose wife died there after four years in Africa. Marie Stephens went in 1901, dying there also in 1904. John and Lizzie Ayers married and left in 1905. He died back stateside by year's end. James Luckey's old roommate, William Boardman, died in Sierra Leone less than a month after arriving with his new wife in 1902. By 1949, eighty-eight Houghton alumni had served on the mission field in sixteen different countries.

[1] Melvin Warburton.

[2] A Vine of God's Own Planting: A History of Houghton College from Its Beginnings Through 1972 (Indianapolis, 2004), 76.

[3] A contest was held and Keith Farmer of the class of 1925 won with this name.

[4] Frieda A. Gillette and Katherine W. Lindley, And You Shall Remember... a Pictorial History of Houghton College (1982), 67.

[5] I suspect this past year was the first time since its founding that it did not take place, because of the pandemic.

[6] A.k.a. "Old Admin."

[7] His reflections were published as Three Hundred Miles in a Hammock or Six Weeks in Africa.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

1. Willard J. Houghton and the Founding of Houghton College

site of the original "seminary"
1. I've been at Houghton now for over a year and have been meaning to write down some notes on its story for some time. It has a rich history. You don't always know the history of a place, even when you go to school there, even when you work there. You know your part of the story.

original location
For example, it would be easy not to realize that it was actually started about a half-mile south, down the road, as "Houghton Seminary" in 1883. The word seminary is misleading because it was really just a high school (Houghton Academy also considers 1883 the year of its founding). And very little of the curriculum was Bible. The classes were much like any public high school today, except every student took a lot of Latin. Cicero, Caesar, Virgil, Chemistry, German, Botany, Rhetoric, Physiology, and so the list goes on.
Willard J. Houghton
2. Willard J. Houghton wanted the youth of this very rural county to have an education, and he wanted them to have a Christian, holiness education. He was a farmer, perhaps with the equivalent of a third-grade education. A revival in 1851 led him to rededicate his life to God. From then on he was a Christian force to be reckoned with.

In addition to farmer, now he became a preacher and a reformer. He was grieved at the sin brought to Houghton Creek by the traffic on the Genesee Valley Canal. The main drag of town was "Jockey Street," where on Sundays they raced and bet on horses.

When the Wesleyan Church building was constructed in 1876, [1] Houghton had a hand put on on the steeple to point individuals coming out of the tavern across the street to God. It gives a good sense of the piety of this man. He carried cards with Scriptures on them around with him. If he ran into any child of any color anywhere, he would stop his horse, jump off and give one to the child.

He became a lay preacher and evangelist. He often signed his letters, "yours for fixing up the world." The Wesleyan Methodist church of that day saw no division between what we would call social justice and personal holiness. It was founded against slavery. It played its part in the women's rights movement. They opposed drinking and card-playing and gambling and secret societies. And they preached personal holiness and entire sanctification. The first president of the seminary struggled with wearing a tie for several years. These issues all blurred together.

3. In 1882, Willard Houghton had seen to the rededication of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Short Tract, not far from where he lived in Houghton Creek. While there, a denominational official put a burden on his heart to start a "first class seminary" in Western New York. The Wesleyan Methodists had started Wheaton College a few years previous, but had not given it adequate financial support and it was turned over to the Congregationalists.
ca. 1890, women, men, black, white

Now it was time to try again. The church wanted a school "away from the cities and large towns where it would be free from the environment of evil." It would be for all students, male and female, regardless of race. The school was to be a moral "lighthouse to this dark world," a "strictly Christian school." Only firm believers in Christ "and we hope partakers of the divine nature" would teach there. And "we want to make this school one of the easiest for poor children in the county."

Houghton started raising funds in February 1883. The incorporation papers were completed in April. The charter approved by May. Ground was broken in August, 1883. The first students arrived in the almost completed building the next year in September 1884. It had a principal (W.H. Kennedy), three teachers, and 70-80 students on both the elementary and high school levels. In 1888 they added a "Bible Training Department" to the high school.

Houghton became its financial agent, traveling to raise money for the new school. He would work himself to death raising money for the school. He wrote the year the school opened, "I have lifted and lifted, runn and runn night and day until it seems to me that I shall die... Please remember me in your prayers. And pray especialy for our school work."

He would live, work, and preach another eight years, finally passing in 1896.

[1] The church stood till 1989.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sermon Starters -- "But if not"

Title: "But If Not"
Date: November 14, 2020
McCrae Brook Wesleyan Church, Eldred, PA

Text: Daniel 3


  • We know the story--Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
  • Central verses: Daniel 3:13-18
  • Thesis: We don't always know what God is going to do. (We know he'll do what's best.) We just need to be faithful.
1. Sometimes we don't know for sure what God is actually calling us to do.

  • The current evangelical divide -- two groups, both of which with spiritual, godly people, who are totally convinced they know what God wants to be done.
  • C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle -- the Ape and the Donkey. Confusion -- after all, "Aslan is not a tame lion."
What should we do?

  • Seek God's face. Prayer, Scripture, Christian community
  • Love and listen to the other side of the church.
  • Be faithful. Step forward in faith. You have to live by your own faith (Rom 14; Isa 30)
2. Sometimes it works out.

  • The 3 Hebrew men of Daniel 3.
  • Beware victory -- "power corrupts." The fake Spurgeon quote about the Baptists not burning anyone at the stake.
  • The story of Jehu -- the tension between 2 Kings 9-10 and Hosea 1 -- a tale of two prophets with a different vision. Those in 2 Kings want decimation. Hosea sees a basis for the fall of Israel.
  • At least to some extent, Jehu must have done the right thing for the wrong reason.
  • We need to be faithful even in victory.
3. Sometimes it doesn't work out.

  • God can allow defeat or persecution for some greater purpose.
  • Job -- it's a heavenly bet
  • The strangeness of God's blessing, when loss turns out to be victory
  • Hebrews 11:32-39

  • "One step at a time"
  • Love and listen to others in the church who disagree with you.
  • Seek God's face and be faithful.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle

We read two pieces this week for the C.S. Lewis webinar with Peter Meilaender at Houghton College. Yesterday I posted my notes on his essay, "The World's Last Night" on the second coming.

Other works we have read so far include:
1. The Last Battle (1956) was the last of the Chronicles of Narnia both in the story world of the series and the last of the series to be written. On a popular level, this series is what Lewis is most known for, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (hereafter LWW) being the most famous.

Since I am a Philistine, I had not read any of these. I saw the 2005 movie of LWW. The lampost allegedly was modeled off a lampost down on Prebends bridge in Durham, just a few strides down on the Bailey from St. John's College where I lived and worked during my doctoral program. Man, those are pleasant memories.

I am not much one for novels, and I find it difficult to get momentum on those rare occasions I have read them. However, I will say that my pace quickened as I got about halfway through this one. I had divided my reading of the book into four days, 60 pages each. The first and second days were tough to keep myself going.

But the last two days of reading flew, and I was genuinely moved at the end.

2. I did not realize how rich a story world Lewis had created. I kept wondering if J. K. Rowling had taken some pointers from Lewis. There is a richness to a series of novels that creates a world. The hardest part is to get the world going. But once a group knows the backstory, a momentum exists that is very forceful.

When a series like Star Trek reboots, there is genuine excitement and richness when you meet old characters you know so well again. That's Uhura. That's Scotty. You can hear clapping as each familiar character takes the stage. Same with Avengers.

Despite how little I knew of the Narnia world, I felt this emotion to meet Reepicheep at the gates of heaven. I knew he had separated from the group in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There is Mr. Tumnus from LWW. I genuinely didn't know that The Last Battle would culminate and tie together the entire series.

The Magician's Nephew involves the creation of the world of Narnia. In the same way, The Last Battle is the end of Narnia. It is not exactly the end of the world, and I was left with questions about Lewis' understanding of the second coming, even after reading "The World's Last Night." Those who are there at the end are those who have died in the material world. Spoiler alert--a train accident kills the whole lot at once.

I think Lewis believes in the actual return of Christ to the world. But in the story world of Last Battle, the material world still continues on. It is the material Narnia that has ended. Nevertheless, "all worlds draw to an end, except Aslan's own country" (111).

3. Let me get out Lewis' metaphysic here. Lewis' Platonic tendencies are in full display in Last Battle. The physical Narnia they have known, "it was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world" (211-212).

There you have it. I saw the 1993 movie Shadowlands about a part of Lewis' life. Now I know where the term comes from and what it means. It's Plato. The physical realm in which we live is a shadow of the real, heavenly realm. We are currently in the "Shadowlands" (228). In heaven, "you are now looking at the England within England, the real England just as this is the real Narnia" (226).

Digory puts its very clearly when he realizes what's going on--"It's all in Plato, all in Plato" (212). "This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now" (213).

So Lewis seems to have a sense that the material world will be destroyed and will cease to exist in the end, and we will all go to live in heaven. This is the view I grew up with as well. In fact, I read it into the book of Hebrews in my scholarly work. Although I haven't published my change of understanding, I have increasingly realized over the years that this understanding simply wasn't existent at the time of Christ. Language of the world's destruction always involves a new creation.

So we have rightly seen a recapturing of the importance of embodiment these last twenty years. The New Testament seems to focus on a new earth and not merely a "cut at the dotted line" and remove the inferior creation.

4. There are a number of fascinating, possibly brilliant, and also some cringe-worthy elements in the story. I'll mention them in order.

The initial "bad guy" in the story is an Ape named "Shift." On one level does he symbolize shallow progress or evolution, as Lewis addresses in "The World's Last Night"? He is smarter than the donkey, but not morally. The donkey (named Puzzle), although not too smart, has the right moral intuitions. He lets himself get talked out of the right courses of action by the Ape.

There are of course moral lessons here. Lewis is exalting a less intelligent person with the right moral instincts over a more educated moral fool. As it turns out, the Ape himself is a pawn in an even higher level evil game. The Ape thinks only of himself and is thus weak, susceptible to the manipulation of a much viler--and cleverer--cat and the Calormene from the south.

5. The depiction of the Calormenes from the south will cause a contemporary person like me to cringe. Lewis makes the bad guys black, and King Tirian disguises himself in black face. At least the black men are bearded. There would be no thought of the imagery this reinforces in Lewis' day. His world was a thoroughly white one. I mentioned in the previous post that Lewis seemed to have no interest in racial justice or "the great campaign against White Slavery."

He thinks nothing of creating a world where the realm and servants of Satan (Tash) are aligned with black-skinned individuals from the south (Africa), the "Darkies" (150).

6. An interesting feature early in the story is the repeated mention that Aslan is not a tame lion. It is perhaps ironic that the unpredictability of God can make it difficult sometimes to discern whether something is the work of God in the world or the work of the Devil! Repeatedly, the "good guys" question their true moral intuitions by overthinking it. "Aslan after all is not a tame lion."

Nevertheless, it can take some time even for the righteous to figure out the difference between what is God and what is not, between what is right and what is not.

7. The proximity of the truth to what the Ape and the deceivers say is sobering. The Ape says, "You think freedom means doing what you like? ... True freedom means doing what I tell you" (39). This would be true if God were speaking. The Ape "apes" the truth.

Indeed, the Ape and his lot innoculate the Dwarfs from the truth. When King Tirian shows them that the donkey is not Aslan, they do not rally to the cause of truth. They are less likely to believe anyone now. "Tirian had never dreamed that one of the results of an Ape's setting up a false Aslan would be to stop people from believing in the real one" (92). "By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger" (127).

This is a truly sobering statement and one worth some series reflection. One of the reasons it is important to disciple our children and the children of the church is because faith is much more easily instilled in a child than in a person who is already set in their intellectual ways. College students are often still very malleable when they are encountering ideas for the first time.

But a word of caution. If we set them up with something flimsy, flimsy faith, it will not be so easy to reinstall something more sturdy if it falls apart. And fundamentalist faith is very flimsy. The evangelical church right now is pursuing conspiracy theories and an alternative reality that will blow away with a puff of wind. And what will come of the faith of the children growing up right now in those homes? Will they become "nones"?

8. Lewis uses the cat Ginger and the Calormene Rishda to take faithlessness to a higher level. The Ape is simply out for himself. He is a selfish individual acting only for himself.

The Dwarfs have a group selfishness. "The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs" (91). This is a slightly higher level selfishness because they are for each other. The Ape is just looking out for number 1. The Dwarfs are out for their group. They will fight any other group that threatens their herd independence.

But the cat and the Calormene leader are out for a higher level evil. This is, by the way, a fear I have for America. What if an Ape comes along, a bit of a buffoon just out for himself. He has no long-term strategy. He's just out for himself, but is clever enough to deceive a lot of good people to his ends. After all, Aslan is not a tame lion.

But what if after the Ape comes a cat with a more strategic and pervasive cunning. What if someone comes behind with the tools of the Ape but a more devastating end? We had been sort out what Aslan is really like before a day like that should try to come.

9. The Dwarfs are quite fascinating. Near the end of the story they appear to be in the same heavenly space as the kings and queens of Narnia. But they think they are in a dark shed eating horrible food (180-86, chapter 13). I'm sure more penetrating reflection has been done on who they symbolize, but I thought of humanism. The Roman Seneca once said in the first century, "The proper study of humanity is humanity." "The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs."

Perhaps Aslan gives us the key to them. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in they cannot be taken out" (185-86). I wonder if Lewis had some of his Oxford colleagues in mind here, so clever, and yet so imprisoned.

This scene also reminds one of Lewis' thesis in The Great Divorce. In that story, those in hell could in theory transfer to heaven, but they don't want to. They are blind to their own situation. They are the person whose immediate reaction to heavenly things is disgust rather than longing.

10. The cat and Calormene leader do not believe in Tash any more than they believe in Aslan (98). This is another striking thing about the story. Tash is real (103). The Devil is real.

We had an interesting discussion of this question in the webinar last night. Are the gods that the Romans or Norse people worshiped real, like Tash? If you're like me, you grew up thinking, "Those nice but stupid Romans actually thought Zeus was real."

But at some point I took home 1 Corinthians 10:20. Paul believed that the Greeks of Corinth were sacrificing to demons. So it is not that Athena was real, but there were demons associated with every temple to Athena. We would call them demons rather than gods, but Paul certainly believed there were real, evil spiritual powers associated with pagan temples. Tash is real.

11. Another mistake Lewis exposes is that of pluralism. The cat and Calormene merge Aslan and Tash together into one being--Tashlan (e.g., 126). Of course they don't believe in either. But Lewis is exposing the believe that all gods are more or less the same. You call him Zeus. I call him Yahweh.

Notice that this is different than what happens with the Calormene soldier Emeth ("truth" in Hebrew). Emeth believes in Aslan but calls him Tash (201-205). This is a problem of Emeth's mind rather than heart. Aslan very strongly rejects the hypothesis that he and Tash are one.

"Is it then true," Emeth asks, "that thou and Tash are one?" "The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but it was not against me) and said, 'It is false.'"

So Lewis soundly rejects the idea that all religions are the same or that all gods are the same. What Lewis is arguing is the concept Karl Rahner called, "anonymous Christians." These are individuals whose heart believes in Yahweh even though their head doesn't think so. In Emeth's case, he thought he hated Aslan. But it turned out that it was Aslan that he was worshiping.

"If any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted" (205). This statement by Aslan reminded me of a statement in Mere Christianity: "We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him" (II.5).

Bottom line is that Emeth "did not believe in Tash at all" (202).

12. Susan does not make it. "My sister Susan," Lucy says, "is no longer a friend of Narnia" (169). Then we have a cheap shot at lipstick, nylons, and invitations. I experienced this comment as a bit sexist.

Then eternity begins for them. "For them it was only the beginning of he real story... now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before" (228).

Friday, November 13, 2020

C. S. Lewis "The World's Last Night"

I have been posting my reflections on Lewis as we read selections for Peter Meilaender's C.S. Lewis webinar. Thus far:

This week we read The Last Battle and the essay, "The World's Last Night" (1952). The key theme in both is eschatology, the first with heaven and the second with the second coming. This post is on the essay, "The World's Last Night.

1. Lewis suggests two basic categories for why some moderns find the idea of the second coming of Christ embarrassing. The first group involves theoretical objections, the second practical.

The first theoretical objection has to do with the fact that Jesus' teaching on the second coming sits against the backdrop of Jewish apocalyptic. A harsh critic might say, "Jesus was really the same sort of crank or charlatan as all the other writers of apocalyptic" (101). In other words, that Jesus was a lunatic.

Lewis has a number of objections to this line of thinking. First, the fact that there have been apocalyptic whackos would not negate legitimate apocalypticism. William Miller who founded the Adventist movement is mentioned. Lewis counters, "A thing does not vanish--it is not even discredited--because someone has spoke of it with exaggeration" (101). 

There's a Latin expression here, abusus non tolit usum--"Abuse is no excuse." You can't automatically disqualify an idea because someone abuses it. 

2. A softer push back would say, "Every great man is partly of his own age and partly for all time. What matters in his work is always that which transcends his age, not that which he shared with a thousand forgotten contemporaries" (102). Lewis rightly notes that in this view, "we are assuming that the thought of our age is correct."

Let me leave Jesus out of it for a moment and say that I do believe that there are items of progress in which we do have a better understanding--or at least more useful one--than in ages past. The laptop I am typing on is better than anything anyone from Lewis back to Adam ever had. Obviously our understanding of science is superior--or at least our constructs are far more useful--than any place or time before in history. It is simply the case.

I am/we are not smarter than the people of the past, but how could we not be at a great collective advantage to be able to stand on the shoulders of the smartest people from all over the world throughout all of history? How could not the average understanding not be more likely to be more insightful, over time, when we have everything from the past to start from?

That's assuming we listen. No generation is smarter than the previous ones. It may only be a remnant at any time that benefits--the majority may drive us all to perdition at any time. The twisted may blow us all to a nuclear Armaggedon at any time. But the "insightful remnant" at any time should in theory stand on ever higher heights in any field that affords a collective wisdom. 

There will be fits and starts, regress and progress. But I continue to believe that this insightful remnant reached a new level of historical consciousness in the late 1800s. The current generation sees plenty of regress, but there is an intellectual remnant.

So I reserve the right to critique Jewish apocalypticism. For example, the world is not flat. The dead are not in a cave with four hollows in a mountain somewhere. Heaven is not a series of skies straight up to God. I am not smarter than the author of 1 Enoch, but I am right and he was wrong on many things. My understanding has progressed from 1 Enoch's apocalyptic worldview.

3. With regard to Jesus and the earliest generations, Lewis says some curious things. Lewis says that Jesus got it wrong in Mark 13:30 and 9:1--"This generation will not pass until all these things come to pass." Moreover, "they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime" (104).

He considers this a great sign of the authenticity of the Gospels, on the one hand. He also points to Jesus claims to be "ignorant" in Mark 13:32. His bluntness is a little jarring. I don't like using the word ignorant in relation to Jesus. 

However, he expresses a position that I often have in a more tactful way: "The God-Man was omniscient as God and ignorant as Man" (106). Jesus was unconscious when he slept. He did not read Plato as an infant. And Lewis says he was "merely organic life in His mother's womb." Lewis says we must "asquience in mystery." "It would be difficult... repellent, to suppose that Jesus never asked a genuine question" (107). 

4. He continues to rail against a progressive view of history. He and his generation lost this view after WW1 smashed it to bits. "The modern conception of Progress or Evolution... is simply a myth" (108). He is not talking about biological evolution--"I am not in the least concerned to refute Darwinism as a theorem in biology" (108).

He does note, however, that the myth of evolution preceded the biological theory (109). Nor does biological evolution have a straightforward sense of progress. I have described it as "survival of the flukest." Most importantly, even if evolution did imply inevitable biological progress, it would not suggest "any law of progress in ethical, cultural, and social history" (111).

I do not disagree with Lewis here. However, I do believe that egalitarian culture is morally superior to the colonialist world he grew up with. The values of a contemporary American public school is morally superior to the "concentration camp" school so typical of England in his childhood (see Surprised by Joy). 

He makes a snide remark against "the great campaign against White Slavery" (120). I squarely reject comments he makes in more than one place as if to say we shouldn't worry about trying to make the world a more just and equitable place. I'm a Wesleyan, after all.

5. There are some good warnings here though. We should not assume we know where we are in God's story. "How can the characters in a play guess the plot?" (112). "We do not and cannot know when the world drama will end" (113). "We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows."

6. We should not fear the second coming. But "at every moment of every year in our lives Donne's question, 'What if this present were the world's last night?'" (117). At the same time, while perfect love casts out fear, "so do several other things--ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity."

God's judgment "will be infallible judgment" (121).  

Monday, November 09, 2020

Science, Scripture, and Faith

This fall I am teaching "Science and Scripture" for the second time. The structure of the week is a recorded video on the science and then a live session engaging questions of Scripture and faith. After each week, I have been making the science lectures public. I plan to deposit them here. 

Perhaps eventually I will also independently record the lectures on the Scripture/faith side of the equation. Or maybe I'll write it all up into a book someday. In any case, here are the lectures on science as they come out publicly.

1. Science and Faith: A Mixed History

2. The Big Bang and Creation

3. Quantum Indeterminism and Faith

4. Adam, Eve, and Genetics

Friday, November 06, 2020

C.S. Lewis -- "Transposition"

The final installment in our reading this week for the C.S. Lewis webinar with Peter Meilaender is Lewis' sermon, "Transposition," published in the same collection of sermons as "Weight of Glory." We have also read Surprised by Joy, and Books I and II of Mere Christianity.

"Transposition" was delivered on May 28, 1944, in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford. Apparently, Lewis broke down in the middle of reading it and had to sit down before he could finish. I think it would be fair to say that it is the most profound piece of his thinking that I have read.

1. Perhaps the best way to slide into the sermon is to say that he is arguing against reductionism. But I also think he would be dissatisfied with that description. He is arguing for the transcendent. His basic tact, quite fascinating I think, is to note that the same visible "sign" can relate to more than one "signified" (102). He is using here the language of Ferdinand de Saussure.

So some instances of individuals speaking in tongues may just be gibberish, but many of us believe that on the Day of Pentecost something transcendent was happening, something truly spiritual. To put it a more convincing way to outsiders, the same acts can reflect both revenge and justice. The same vowel letter can reflect different sounds. The same sensation can reflect different emotions.

"Transposition occurs whenever the higher reproduces itself in the lower" (103).

2. What if there were a symphonic piece that was put into a purely piano piece. The person who had heard the symphony would know that the piano version was a reduced version, but the person who knew only the piano piece would not know this.

He gave a couple examples that were reminiscent of Plato's myth of the cave. It seems beyond question to me that he is a kind of Platonist (he uses the word archetype more than once). I'm also reminded that some of the Romantics, for whom I believe Lewis had great sympathies, considered themselves neo-Platonists.

One illustration is that of a Flatlander to whom you might try to explain three dimensions. He might say, "Isn't it very suspicious that all the shapes which you offer me as images or reflections of the solid ones turn out on inspection to be simply the old two-dimensional shapes of my own world as I have always known it?" (101).

Also, say a mother and son were in a dungeon, but he too young to remember the outside world (109-110). She, an artist, draws the outside world for him with a drawing pad and a box of pencils. She thinks he understands until, one day, she realizes that he actually thinks the outside world is made up of pencil marks.

The bottom line is that "spiritual things are spiritually discerned" (105). In other words, if you do not have an awareness of the spiritual, the world will inevitably seem materialistic.

3. There is something beyond a sign that signifies something. A picture of a sun or lamp, for example, can be seen because the sun or a lamp is shining on it. "Pictures are part of the visible world themselves and represent it only by being part of it" (102). This relationship, where the sign not only points arbitrarily to something but "the thing signified is really in a certain mode present" goes beyond the symbolical to what he would cal the "sacramental."

What he calls transposition is of this sort. "The heavenly bounties by Transposition are embodied during this life in our temporal existence (111).

4. He ends the sermon with four points. First, "transposition" is not development. It's not growing into the spiritual out of the material, like evolution. "The Spiritual reality... existed before there were any creatures who ate" (112). "Real landscapes enter into pictures" rather than real trees and grass grow out of pictures. This also feels a little Platonic on Lewis' lips, but it can be read in a non-Platonic way.

Point two has to do with the incarnation. Lewis has no problem with the words of the Athanasian Creed that the incarnation worked "not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of Manhood into God" (113). His fourth point is similarly on the resurrection. We may feel with our senses the transcendant experience of the Spirit. Not entirely sure what he is getting at here.

Finally, his third point deals with the reductionist, the one who can see "all the facts but not the meaning" (113). He likens the materialist to a dog that can't understand pointing. "A finger is a finger to him, and that is all" (114).

Thursday, November 05, 2020

C.S. Lewis -- Mere Christianity Book II

Earlier in the week I posted some thoughts on Book I of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Today we move on to Book II. This is as far as we are reading in the book for the C.S. Lewis webinar.

1. Book I was titled, "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." In it, Lewis basically argues that we can discern the existence of a moral standard in the universe and that such a standard is best explained by something like a mind placing demands on us. However, though this law exists, we find that we thoroughly fail to achieve its demands.

Book II is titled, "What Christians Believe."

2. As Book II begins, Lewis characteristically begins working his way through a decision tree, at each step honing in on a more refined understanding of the moral situation of the universe and on the character of its God. For example, the Christian can accept that there is partial correctness in all the other religions of the world. By contrast, if you are an atheist, then you must conclude that the majority of humans that have lived have been wrong about the existence of deity. Score one for theism.

Then he moves to the question of what kind of God we are likely talking about. Is the deity such that there really is no right or wrong? Is the deity beyond good and evil? Or is there definite good and a God who takes sides? He has already argued that good exists. 

So now he contrasts pantheism with a God who is distinct from the creation as creator. If God is identical to the universe or if the universe is part of God, then the moral ambiguity of the universe also applies to God. "If you think some things really bad, and God really good, you cannot talk like that" (40). I do agree with Lewis that God is distinct from the creation. But I argue for this distinction on the basis of ex nihilo creation rather than from a moral perspective because I am more Aristotelian than Platonic. [1]

3. This leads to the problem of evil. "If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong?" (41). Lewis now makes an argument that works with people but I don't think works with logic. It amounts to this. If there is no God then what are you complaining about? "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line" (41). Here is again his sense that an innate human sense of right and wrong implies it exists. "If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning" (41).

Now I think it was in Surprised by Joy that Lewis remarked that some people who don't believe in God are very angry with God. I think this is a fair observation. It also is self-contradictory. So Lewis rightly points out, I think, that you cannot fault God for evil and suffering if you don't think God exists. I believe Lewis correctly points out that if there is no God, then there is no evil. This is a reason to want to believe in God--if God does not exist, then evil and suffering have no ultimate significance. We're just road kill waiting to happen.

However, there are plenty of atheists who are ok with being road kill. Not very pleasant, but at least consistent.

4. In the second chapter of this Book, he argues that "this is a good world that has gone wrong" (43). He addresses the person who would say, "That's just odd" or "That's too complicated to be likely." He calls such objections "boys' philosophy" (42). "Reality... is usually odd" (43). "Reality... is usually something you could not have guessed." I'm not real fond of this "credo quod absurdum est" argument (I believe because it's absurd), but it's really a side note anyway.

If God is good and the world has evil, Lewis has argued God must be apart from the creation. (I'm good with this point, but I suspect there is a tinge of Neoplatonism here in Lewis' mind.) So is this a situation of a world that has gone wrong (orthodox Christian position) or is there something like a dualism of good and evil in the universe?

In this section Lewis drips Augustine. "Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way" (44). "No one ever did a cruel action because cruelty is wrong--only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him" (45). "You can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted."

Dualism thus does not work because evil is the twisting of the good. The good is the standard and default. "We have no experience of anyone liking badness because it is bad" (44). This fits, by the way, with his comments on pederasty in Surprised.

Now I am not a dualist either, and I am sympathetic to Lewis' argument here. But I am not a moral ontologist like Lewis either, who almost sees good as something like a thing with its own existence. I am more like that great nominalist the apostle Paul when he said, "Nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean if someone thinks it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14). 

So for me our intentions make an act evil in a particular context, not the act itself. It is the nature of our choices in particular contexts, not the acts or even the consequences, although consequences are important to God because people are important to God. There is a difference between evil and suffering.

At the end of chapter 2, Lewis introduces Satan and the "Dark-power in the universe." He is not arguing for dualism so I don't think he would say Satan's existence is in some way necessary. Nevertheless, "Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war" (45). "Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong."

5. Chapter 3 largely presents the free will theodicy (Augustine strikes again). I am sympathetic to this argument. "Free will is what has made evil possible" (47). "If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad." "The better stuff a creature is made of--the cleverer and stronger and freer it is--then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong" (48).

"God designed the human machine to run itself" (49). This human machine was made to run on God-fuel. "God designed the human machine to run on Himself." But human civilization doesn't use the right gas. "That is the key to history." "Each time something goes wrong." We do not run on the right fuel. "They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans." [3] 

But God has sent in help. The first is the human conscience. See my previous post. The second is Jesus, "a man who goes about talking as if He was God" (49).

6. Here then at the end of chapter 3 and into chapter 4, Lewis presents his signature "Lord, liar, or lunatic" argument. The train of thought goes like this:

  • Jesus claimed to be God. Therefore,
  • Either he was telling the truth (which makes him Lord) or
  • He wasn't and knew it (which makes him a liar) or
  • He wasn't and he didn't know it (which makes him a lunatic).

I suspect that twenty-first century Brits are more open to the other options than they were in the 1940s. Lewis says you cannot chose the option that says, "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God" (50). No, if he isn't Lord, he must either be a liar or a lunatic.

Now of course if you read someone like Bart Ehrman, he would deny the first premise. Ehrman would deny that the historical Jesus actually claimed to be God. I've also noted that Josh McDowell has added "legend" to the list of options, addressing mythicists who claim that Jesus wasn't even a real person.

7. Chapter 4 addresses the question of atonement. Here I love the phrase "deep magic" from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but Lewis doesn't use that phrase here. Lewis insists that Christians do not have to believe one particular theory on how it works. "My own church--the Church of England--does not lay down any one of them as the right one" (53). But "a man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him."

But Lewis gives his sense of one such theory, penal substitution. He does not take punishment here in the sense of the "police-court sense" (54). Rather, it's about getting humanity out of a hole it got itself into. Humanity is a "rebel who must lay down his arms." "This movement full speed astern is what Christians call repentance."

"Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly" (54). So God becomes human. "He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God" (55). My Western individualism has always made this argument difficult for me to follow. I think Jesus death makes sense broadly as a satisfaction of the justice and "moral order" of the cosmos. 

But the detailed logic of penal substitution seems forced to me, and ultimately I do believe God had the authority and sovereignty simply to pardon humanity. The cross was far more for us than for God. In the end, there is a deep magic done here, but I'm not sure we can put it into a tight syllogism.

He helpfully adds, "Such is my own way of looking at what Christians call the Atonement. But remember this is only one more picture" (56).

8. The final chapter of Book II anticipates the next Book on morals, which unfortunately I will not be covering at this time. In chapter 5, Lewis makes an altar call for a decision. I thought of Billy Graham, whose ministry began in earnest at about the same time. 

"The Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him" (59)... or her. "There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names--Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord's Supper. At least those are the three ordinary methods" (57-58). 

I am always fascinated in such contexts by the fact that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned so often (e.g., in Richard Peace's, Conversion in the New Testament). The Holy Spirit is the indication that a person is a Christian and the only means to the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is the juice on which baptism, faith, and communion run if they run at all. Nevertheless, I do believe in means of grace.

He ends the chapter and Book with two fascinating side notes. One is that "God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him" (60). I am deeply sympathetic to these statements because of the revealed character of God in Scripture.

The final side note has to do with why God doesn't just invade the world to end evil. "Well, Christians think He is going to land in force." (The allusions to WW2 are interesting, which was in process at the original time these lectures were given on the radio). 

"Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it" (61).

[1] And I am more "nominalist" than Aristotelian. Or shall I say Wittgensteinian? I prefer to think of groupings of things by commonalities, "family resemblances," rather than by essences. This third answer to the problem of universals and particulars also fits with what we might call pragmatism.

[2] I doubt Satan has genitalia.

[3] I remembered here that my old colleague Steve Horst is quite fond of Greg Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil. I believe Horst likes Lewis, and Boyd points to Satan as the biggest explanation to the problem of evil.