Aside from being “Ivy League” institutions, what is it that elite schools all share at a foundational level? Some might say, tongue-in-cheek, “education.” But what type of education was at the heart of these institutions at their original founding? Harvard was founded in 1636 by New England Puritans for the purpose of training clergy in preparation for a “church in the wilderness.”1History of Harvard University Yale was founded in 1701 by Congregationalist clergy in “an effort to create an institution to train ministers and lay leadership for Connecticut.”2Yale University In 1746 the New Light Presbyterians founded Princeton in New Jersey, as you might guess by now, “in order to train ministers dedicated to their views.”3History of Princeton University The common purpose for these and other early institutions of education was driven by fidelity to Scripture and the passing on of the faith – Christianity to be exact – to the future pastors, missionaries and leaders of the colonies. Most of the United States Founding Fathers were educated in six of the nine pre-Civil War universities.4“Revolutionary Colleges: The prominent academic institutions at the time of the Revolutionary War and their notable alumni,” by Isaac Makos; American Battlefield Trust By the late Nineteenth Century, however, there was a growing realization that these institutions were drifting away from their founding purpose – and the “Bible College movement” began:
The first Bible schools in North America were founded by Canadian Pastor A. B. Simpson (Nyack College in 1882) of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and D. L. Moody (Moody Bible Institute in 1887). Many were established as a reaction against established theological colleges and seminaries, which conservatives believed were becoming increasingly liberal and undermining traditional Christian teachings, such as Biblical inerrancy. 5Wikipedia; Bible college
In the early Twentieth Century, Christian parents and churches were becoming concerned with the growth of liberalism, Marxism, Darwinism, and secularization within the universities. Out of that concern, the Bible college movement gained momentum:
The American Bible college movement developed in reaction to the secularization of U.S. higher education. The “Bible institute/college movement” has been described as “a protest to the inroads of secularization in higher education and as a base for the education of lay workers and full-time Bible teachers, evangelists, and pastors”. As one historian put it, “It is not a coincidence that the Bible institute movement grew up during the very period when the philosophy of naturalism became prevalent in American education”. Between 1882 and 1920, 39 Bible schools were founded in the United States.6Wikipedia; Bible college
In 1980 Kenneth Gangel wrote, “Today there are well over 200 Bible colleges and Bible institutes in North America.”7“The Bible College: Past, Present, and Future,” Christianity Today, Kenneth Gangel; November 7, 1980
The parents and churches were not wrong in their concerns. Armed with collectivism (Marxism), Darwinism and Liberalism, the professors in the halls of academia had embarked on what Antonio Gramsci’ termed in the 1930s, the “war of position” or what was later dubbed Gramci’s “March through the institutions.”8“Antonio Gramsci: the Godfather of Cultural Marxism,” by Bradley Thomas; FEE Stories It was proving to be an effective strategy with very few voices standing against it. The institutions of higher education were training the minds of the future educators for the public school system, politicians, journalists and of course, the future professors in the halls of academia. In 1945, as George H. Nash, author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 points out in, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Then and Now”:
At the close of World War II, no articulate, coordinated conservative intellectual force existed in the United States. There were, at most, scattered voices of protest. Some of them were profoundly pessimistic about the future of their country and convinced that they were an isolated remnant on the wrong side of history. History, in fact, seemed to be what the Left was making. The Left — liberals, socialists, even Communists — appeared to be in complete control of the 20th century.
Nash goes on to outline the three streams of growing conservative opposition:
- “classical liberals and libertarians”
- “the so-called “traditionalism” of such writers as Richard Weaver, Peter Viereck, and Russell Kirk”
- “a militant, evangelistic anti-Communism, shaped by a number of ex-Communists and other ex-radicals of the 1930s”
A young, 25-year-old firebrand by the name of William F. Buckley Jr. made a very public impression in his 1951 book, God and Man at Yale. In “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Then and Now” Nash writes:
In the 1950s and early 1960s the three independent wings of the conservative revolt against the Left began to coalesce around National Review, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955. Apart from his extraordinary talents as a writer and public intellectual, Buckley personified each impulse in the evolving coalition.
Buckley had done something in his book that had not been done previously. He exposed to the Universities’ donors the fact that the institutions they were heavily supporting were teaching against the very beliefs and economic practices of the benefactors. The current edition of Buckley’s book has an additional contribution titled “The Revolt Against the Establishment: God and Man at Yale at Fifty” by Austin W. Bramwell. In it he gives a context of the times, the man, and the success and failure of the book.
Less than a generation after Lionel Trilling famously opined that “in the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition,” Buckley had in large part caused the liberal consensus to unravel. For all its fame, however, God and Man at Yale is as noteworthy as a failure as it is as a success. Buckley’s call for Yale alumni to withhold financial support until Yale ceased to undermine her students’ faith in Christianity and the free market went almost entirely unheeded; today Yale is more secular and left-wing than ever.9Buckley, William F.. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ (p. XI). Regnery Gateway. Kindle Edition
The universities never denied Buckley’s accusations but instead took the high intellectual road of the fine art of vicious name-calling. Buckley was painted as perhaps the most evil man on the face of the earth after his book was published. Bramell highlighted samples of the many names the universities called Buckley.
Buckley’s three arguments are easy to follow:
His arguments in God and Man at Yale were straightforward: first, Yale was undermining students’ faith in Christianity; second, Yale was promoting economic collectivism; and third, alumni should exert their influence to reverse the course of pedagogy at Yale.10Buckley, William F.. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ (p. XIII). Regnery Gateway. Kindle Edition
As Buckley set forth his challenges, some claimed he opposed academic freedom. He addressed that accusation in his book before his detractors ever made it. Perhaps they hadn’t bothered with the work of reading the book before rendering judgment. Buckley outlined a hypothetical situation where Yale might create an independent research section, and those interested could financially support it with full knowledge of what they were supporting. Those not in favor would not see the funds they contribute going to that project. Buckley concluded:
One thing is clear: it is time that honest and discerning scholars cease to manipulate the term academic freedom for their own ends and in such fashion as to deny the rights of individuals. For in the last analysis, academic freedom must mean the freedom of men and women to supervise the educational activities and aims of the schools they oversee and support.11Buckley, William F. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ (p. 169) Regnery Gateway. Kindle Edition
Although the Conservative Intellectual movement slowed the progress of Marxism and the assault on Christianity, it didn’t stop it, much less reverse it. The universities and even the public schools are less accountable today than they were in 1951 as they educate their students of all ages away from the beliefs of their parents and the founding principles of these schools. Yes, even public elementary and high schools were at one time in relative step with the Christian worldview, as people who attended school in earlier decades can attest, even if the schools did not openly “preach” it.
This failure of Buckley’s (and others) effort to turn the tide was very recently demonstrated as rabid anti-Semitism was put on public display at universities and even high schools across this country, and really, around the world. We collectively witnessed a sort of God and Man at Yale 2.0 moment, but this time, the mega-donors were shocked and took very public stands, withdrawing their financial support to these institutions, resulting in headlines such as, “US universities lose millions as donors pull funding over Hamas stance.” In addition:
some heroic citizens in the corporate world have issued a response. Students may have the right to openly support murder, but hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman explained that he and his fellow business leaders have a legitimate interest in knowing their names so they never inadvertently hire any of them.12Mark Goldfeder, “Opinion: People shocked by student support for Hamas shouldn’t have been;” CNN
We have no illusions this current defunding will be any more than a bump in the progressive road away from God and sanity. However, it is our prayer that God will use this very public stand to challenge the believing church to fully recognize we’re not in Kansas anymore, but truly are ambassadors and missionaries to a thoroughly pagan culture. Western culture — to say the least — does not have a kindly inclination toward Jews or Christians and will do all within their power to eliminate both. As citizens, it is our task to hold educational institutions accountable — to be honest and straightforward about what they are teaching. There needs to be a spotlight trained onto the darkness that is modern American educational culture, at all age levels, which is adversely transforming our nation — and quickly. However, as believers it is not our task to transform or even redeem culture. Our task is to focus on Christ and the redemption of souls. Indeed, it is often the great darkening of a culture which gets the attention of the lost and points them toward the God they have lost sight of, and the redemption He offers to them personally. We are to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. If culture is transformed by such an effort, it will be because of a growing movement of spiritually transformed disciples living within the culture. The Apostle Paul put it well:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)Ω
© 2023, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.
|History of Harvard University
|History of Princeton University
|“Revolutionary Colleges: The prominent academic institutions at the time of the Revolutionary War and their notable alumni,” by Isaac Makos; American Battlefield Trust
|Wikipedia; Bible college
|“The Bible College: Past, Present, and Future,” Christianity Today, Kenneth Gangel; November 7, 1980
|“Antonio Gramsci: the Godfather of Cultural Marxism,” by Bradley Thomas; FEE Stories
|Buckley, William F.. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ (p. XI). Regnery Gateway. Kindle Edition
|Buckley, William F.. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ (p. XIII). Regnery Gateway. Kindle Edition
|Buckley, William F. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ (p. 169) Regnery Gateway. Kindle Edition
|Mark Goldfeder, “Opinion: People shocked by student support for Hamas shouldn’t have been;” CNN