A Note From Our Editor: Yale: Why Christian Institutions Go Secular -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 07:2 (Jul 2009)
Article: A Note From Our Editor: Yale: Why Christian Institutions Go Secular
Author: John Warwick Montgomery

A Note From Our Editor: Yale: Why Christian Institutions Go Secular

John Warwick Montgomery

When I held a professorship at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois (1964-1974), I organised a conference at which Roland H. Bainton of Yale spoke. Bainton, a Quaker, was probably best known for his wonderful biography of Luther: Here I Stand. But the weekend conference was sheer agony for me, owing to Bainton’s somehow learning that I am bilingual. He insisted on speaking nothing but French with me, and his accent was perfectly terrible. I thought that I would end up with permanent brain damage.

Recently, in my bibliophilistic (bibliomaniacal?) wanderings, I came across Bainton’s history of the Yale Divinity School: Yale and the Ministry (2d [posthumous] ed.; San Francisco: Harper, 1985). It recounts the Yale story from the founding of the College in 1701 to l957, when the first edition of Bainton’s book was published. There is a powerful lesson to be learned from this history, though it is hardly the lesson Bainton’s commemorative volume presents

In the early 19th century, Yale’s theological perspective was concretised by its great President Timothy Dwight, who supported massive revival at the College during the second Great Awakening. Here is Bainton’s accurate description of Dwight’s perspective and approach:

“Infidelity was rife. . . . Dwight’s method in the College was a head-on attack. . . . In addresses and college sermons he smote the English and the French Deists with whom he had a firsthand acquaintance. He was not unfair to their arguments and when Tom Paine scoffed that if Satan had shown Jesus all the kingdoms of this world he ought to have discovered America, Dwight replied that the word in Greek used for world comprised only the four tetrarchies of Palestine. And equally with Hume on miracles” (p. 76). Dwight’s appeals to the College left no ambiguity: “Will you enthrone a Goddess of Reason before the table of Christ? Will you burn your Bibles? Will you crucify anew your Redeemer? Will you deny your God?” (p. 77).

By the 20th century, the Yale Divinity School was hardly the same place. One of its leading and most influential systematic theologians was Douglas C. Macintosh. Here are a few of Bainton’s comments on his approach: “He was fully abreast of that radical Biblical criticism in which the humanist science of historiography had issued. . . . Macintosh maintained that Biblical scholars must be absolutely unimpeded, even should they come out with a demonstration that Jesus had never lived at all. . . . Faith, therefore, must be emancipated from history” (p. 228). Quoting Macintosh directly: “It is the systematic thinker’s task to lead faith to a sure foundation, independent of the uncertainties of historica...

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