The Holy and the Ivy
Compared with the immaculately preserved buildings to its south and the enormous library to its northwest, Dartmouth's Rollins Chapel has fallen on hard times over the last 50 years. The chapel's gloomy interior hosts few events, mostly chamber music performances, Jewish holiday observances, and graduation baccalaureate. About 40 years ago, the chapel's stained-glass windowssuspected to depict Christian sceneswere boarded up, and haven't been seen since.
Nevertheless, the faith is alive and wellif still smallat Dartmouth. More than 100 students actively participate in the Navigators, a discipleship training ministry. One of their leaders won election as student body president in April. I spoke with many students who embraced Jesus Christ after arriving at Dartmouth. Many others told me how their faith has been strengthened by the loving community of believers there. Recent graduates have gone on to combat HIV/AIDS in the Sudan, serve orphans in Honduras, and build clinics in remote Kenyan villages.
Their stories mirror others from around the Ivy Leaguea conference of top American universities, comprising Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale. Despite occasional anti-Christian hostility, vibrant faith communities are growing by reaching the nation's next wave of leaders with the gospel.
Out with Faith, In with Enlightenment
The Ivy League has always attracted America's best and brightest. Three centuries ago, that meant rising generations of clergy. Harvard's Puritan founders intended "to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches." Yale was started in 1701 by Puritans who thought Harvard was going liberal; Princeton in 1746 by those who thought the same of Yale.
Dartmouth's motto"a voice crying out in the wilderness," taken from Isaiah 40:3reflects the school's beginnings as a frontier outpost for missionaries to Native Americans. Dartmouth's current interpretation of the motto, however, reflects the spiritual state of these schools today: "Although the college is now secular," Dartmouth's chapel website says, "the motto is still symbolic of the college's voice of intellectual enlightenment in our beautiful natural surroundings."
This secular trend goes back a long way, as the Ivy League cleared a path toward the new American nation's prosperous, pluralistic future. Among the founding fathers, Princeton alum James Madison helped frame the Bill of Rights. American independence had no bolder advocate than Harvard grad John Adams. Aaron Burr didn't take to theology at Princeton the way his grandfather Jonathan Edwards had at Yale. But he distinguished himself as a Revolutionary War officer and vice president to Thomas Jefferson.
The alumni rolls of Harvard alone read like Who's Who in American History. Both RooseveltsTheodore and Franklinalong with John F. Kennedy, graduated from there. Besides politics, Harvard fostered groundbreaking thought during America's early years. Harvard grads Ralph Waldo Emerson (1821) and Henry David Thoreau (1827) pioneered transcendentalism.
It's no different today. The last two presidential campaigns have pitted Ivy League grads against each otherGeorge W. Bush (Yale) against Al Gore (Harvard) and John Kerry (Yale). Seven of nine current Supreme Court justices obtained either their undergraduate or law degrees from Ivy League schools. Bill Clinton met Hillary Rodham in law school at Yale. Steve Forbes and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos graduated from Princeton. Bill Gates didn't earn a Harvard degree, but he did write a computer-programming language while studying there.