The University And Contemporary Thought

Religion and the State University, edited by Erich A. Walter (University of Michigan Press, 1958, $6.50) and Religion and Learning at Yale, by Ralph H. Gabriel (Yale University Press, 1958, $4), are reviewed by W. Stanford Reid, Professor of History, McGill University.

The university in Western society for the past millennium has probably been one of the best mirrors of thought to be found anywhere within the communities it has operated. What is more, it has helped from time to time to mold the thought of its day. Thus, if mid-twentieth century Christians in America wish to understand the origins and direction of contemporary thinking, they would do well to study the history and present state of the universities on this continent. And in their pursuit they will be greatly aided by two recent books: Religion and the State University, and Religion and Learning at Yale.

In the first book some 20 authors have endeavored to explain the present position of religion in the state universities and how religion might be fostered within their walls without contravening their basic principle of separation of Church and State. According to their basic constitutions as land grant colleges, most state universities are obliged to maintain a position of religious neutrality and give no support to any ecclesiastical organization or body of religious dogma. Yet at the same time it is becoming increasingly apparent that these institutions, even on social grounds, cannot ignore religion. Nor apparently do many teachers in them wish to be irreligious. This is the basic problem.

All the writers in this symposium are in favor of religion. To them it is “a good thing,” and some have very pertinent remarks to make on the subject. At the same time they are faced with the basic difficulty that religion is not something merely to be studied but to be believed. It is that which calls for self-committal. Therefore, they are forced to adopt the position that the university should foster ‘religiosity” without itself taking any stand. The state university’s religion is neutralism or agnosticism. Just as Gladstone tried this plan in Ireland in the nineteenth century without success, so it has been done in mid-twentieth century America to no satisfaction.

How America has gravitated to this position of religious neutralism in its state-supported universities, when in the beginning its schools were committed to Christianity, is made clear by the second book. Yale like all the early educational foundations had a strongly religious basis that was predominantly Calvinistic in the New England Puritan tradition. Moreover, this Christianity was obviously not something which formed a cloak for the school but was the warp and woof of its very existence. In fact Yale was a church as well as a college, and as such it represented the general outlook of New England society in that day.

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The interesting thing about Gabriel’s book is that it shows very clearly how Yale gradually came to reject its fundamental Christian principles. Rationalism, romanticism, and Darwinism following at each other’s heels eventually destroyed any general belief in the reliability of the Bible as divine revelation. The result was that Yale has been left with a kind of general religiosity strongly resembling the points of view expressed in Religion and the State University. Secularism has taken over, leaving whatever religion is officially recognized as a formality. To the author of this book such an outcome seems to be acceptable, but it presents to Christians of more orthodox interests certain basic problems.

One thing both of these works seem to emphasize is that modern universities, or at least some of the teachers in them, are coming to realize that men cannot live by science alone. There are still the questions of right and wrong, the questions of death and ultimate survival which men must face. For this reason even the modern intellectuals are beginning to feel that perhaps religion is necessary—as a type of fire insurance. Thus religion is acknowledged to be of some importance, but it does not mean a revival of interest today in Christianity as such. This comes out very clearly in the latter part of Religion and the State University. Let no one say that the universities are becoming Christian because of an increased concern for religion.

As one looks at the religious history of Yale, he will also observe that no one ever made an effective attempt, in the days Christianity was emphasized, to set forth a Christian philosophy of life capable of dealing with new developments of thought. The philosophy and science of orthodoxy was, and to a considerable extent still is, Aristotelian, which was really incapable of dealing with the intellectual movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Christians, having no solid philosophy with which to approach new discoveries, found themselves forced either to surrender to the current rationalism and materialism or to withdraw from the intellectual field. This seems to be the reason why religion today in the universities is being studied primarily as an aspect of society, and also why it is regarded as something really extra-curricular to the university. It has remained separate from the academic intellectual endeavors of the scholar.

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Largely because of this state of affairs Christianity, at one time dominating intellectual activities particularly in universities of the Western World, has gradually retreated from the arts and science pursuits of the university. The present situation also explains why many Christians today regard science, and in some cases education, as dangerous if not inevitably destructive of Christian faith. And this in turn indicates why Christian students attending the so-called “secular” or “neutral” university often regard their studies as of little importance except to obtain a degree wherewith they can get a job after graduation. It is not surprising, therefore, that with some exceptions the average Christian student at the neutral university is not among the intellectual leaders.

The attempted answer to this problem of irreligious education has been the founding of more evangelical colleges. (No one on this continent has yet succeeded in establishing an evangelical university.) But even these institutions, while they have been of some help to the Christian student, have generally been unable to provide a specifically Christian interpretation of reality except in theological terms. A certain amount of work has been done by individuals and groups to satisfy the need. Nothing really useful, however, has appeared. And owing to a lack of money, and to a primary emphasis upon evangelism or the sanctification of students by a myriad of regulations, few if any of these Christian colleges have demonstrated any effectiveness as research bodies.

Our present need is not more chapels and more religious centers in the universities. Christians who are in academic positions ought to be endeavoring with all their powers to produce a Christian interpretation of their own fields, and to demonstrate that it is the Christian faith alone that makes sense out of this universe in which we live. What is more, every effort should be made to encourage young people to enter the academic field and to teach in the neutral university. Since materialists, atheists, and the like set forth the facts of their fields according to their own philosophies, why should not the Christian do the same in order that men may have the opportunity to see what Christianity offers, and to reckon with it?

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Chance and Providence, by William G. Pollard (Scribners, 1958, 190 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Lewis B. Smedes, Professor of Bible, Calvin College.

The terms chance and providence will strike most people as involving two contradictory notions. The providence of God means, for one thing, that all things are planned and controlled by God, which thus excludes the possibility of chance and accident in history. The thesis of this book, however, is that only a scientific description of the world in terms of chance is compatible with the Christian faith in providence.

The author, Dr. William G. Pollard, is a scientist of considerable rank as well as an Episcopalian priest. His book is an account of his search for unity between the two worlds of thought which he inhabits. As a scientist he is bound to the conviction that natural events are subject to scientific investigation and experimental verification. As a believer, he is equally convinced that God is at work providentially in every event. As he puts it, “I had come to know two realities, each all encompassing and of universal scope, which were so firmly rooted in my own experience that it was unthinkable to give up or deny either of them.” Rather than forcing him to give up either of his worlds, Dr. Pollard is convinced that modern physics has shown him how he can hold to both. Wholly apart from his conclusions, the author puts us in his debt for sharing his thought with us.

Dr. Pollard rests his case on the conviction that all scientific explanation is statistical in character. The structure of physical reality is such that for every event occurring in nature there are a varying number of corresponding possibilities that could have occurred. Scientific explanation is statistical, therefore, because it deals with the probability of certain events occurring out of any number of other possibilities. This is true of physics as well as of other sciences. All scientific explanation is statistical because the basic structure of the universe is such that all future events are indeterminate. The laws of nature do not determine one and only one possible effect in response to any given cause; the laws of nature only limit the number of relative probabilities. In other words, events that actually occur are not the only events that could have occurred. Chance, thus, becomes a basic ingredient of nature and history. Every instant, a great number of possibilities are opened up as a result of each causative factor. All this is a wide application of Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminancy. It provides the key for Dr. Pollard in his attempt to harmonize his faith in providence with his commitment to the scientific method.

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The world so structured as to be open each instant to many possibilities is the kind of world in which the biblical doctrine of providence has a real place. “Only in such a world could the course of events be continuously responsive to the will of its creator” (p. 73). Science reveals the world of nature to be the kind of place in which, at every point and at each instant, almost anything can occur. Providence, however, is not concerned only with the things that do. The actual events take place as they do because God willed them for his own purpose. The many possibilities that science understands to be present at each instant provide a field in which God is continuously at work bringing about those things that are. In other words, the world as now understood by modern physics is precisely the kind of world in which the providence of God can be a reality. The now outmoded mechanistic determinism had room for providence at most only as an occasional invasion of nature. The modern view of quantum mechanics and the principle of indeterminancy (or chance) leaves the whole field of nature and history wide open for the continuous operation of divine providence.

From a theological point of view there are several reasons for gratitude with Dr. Pollard’s book. We may be grateful, for example, for the author’s intent. He specifically is not trying to demonstrate from modern physics that providence is a reality. His faith in providence is a matter of belief in the biblical revelation. He is not writing an apologetic for providence; he is only trying to relate his faith in providence to his scientific convictions. We may also be grateful for his rejection of a providence understood as a supplementary explanation of history alongside of the scientific explanation. That is, he does not try to demonstrate that some things in history are accountable only by providence, though most things are explainable by science. Providence embraces all things, all events. The reality of providence is knowable only within a community of faith; it is never attainable through scientific observation. Though it is true on the other hand, that science can never disprove the reality of providence, this is not significant to Dr. Pollard’s argument. What is important to him is that a proper scientific view of nature opens up to him a world in which his faith in providence is not an anomaly.

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This reviewer is not competent to make a judgment on Dr. Pollard’s thesis. It sounds both reasonable and exciting to him. But he is provoked to one question. Is it not dangerous to insist that one and only one view of nature allows for the possibility of providence? Dr. Pollard writes that “the one characteristic of the scientific description of the world which we require in order to have the kind of world in which the biblical view can be true is the description of phenomena in terms of chance and probability” (p. 97). I am wondering whether this strict exclusion of all other possible views of nature is not too binding for the doctrine of providence? Are we so sure that we have now reached the final state of scientific description? Is it impossible that a future era could “disprove” the indeterminacy principle? And, should a future science “disprove” chance in nature, think of the embarrassment of Christians who tied the possibility of providence to the reality of chance.


“Whom God Hath Joined”

Christian Marriage, by Rolf L. Veenstra (Guardian Publishing Co., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 1957, 180 pp., $2.90), is reviewed by David W. Baker, Assistant Professor of Religion, Ursinus College, and Physician and Surgeon at Lankenau Hospital, Philadelphia.

In his preface the author admits that there is very little if anything in his book that is “more than a poor echo” of what has already been said “better and before.” And that is true. He might also have added that his book will have no appeal to those who are not Christians, and will offer little help to those who are. This is regrettable because the need for a good book on Christian marriage is great, and because much was expected from this particular book. It was selected as the first volume in a series of books designed to deal with some of the broad aspects of the Reformed faith and their practical application.

The author, the Reverend Rolf L. Veenstra, a minister of the Christian Reformed Church, has written loosely and inaccurately. This is quite surprising in view of the high standard of scholarship we have come to expect of the clergy of that denomination.

Mr. Veenstra devotes an entire chapter to the subject of marriage and sex. But after reading the nearly 6,000 words which he has written in this chapter, one comes to the conclusion that he has actually said nothing at all about the subject.

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Other evidence of the looseness and inaccuracy of his writing is as follows: on page 146 he notes that physical adultery is “the one ground which Scripture permits as a reason for divorce.” But what of desertion? There is a solid body of scholarly opinion to the effect that desertion is also a scriptural ground for divorce. Though many disagree, including all Roman Catholic scholars, the constant Reformed tradition is that there are two scriptural grounds for divorce: adultery and desertion.

Mr. Veenstra also does not hesitate to go beyond the Scriptures. On page 146 he says: “A man who does not love his wife, or a wife her husband, is living in adultery, no matter how indifferent he or she may be to members of the opposite sex.”

A shocking case of authorial infidelity to Scripture is Mr. Veenstra’s comparison of marriage to the Trinity, found on page 18: “Through the ‘miracle’ of marriage two separate individuals become basically one, and these two, in turn, bring into being a third individual who is one with them, flesh of their flesh, and yet a separate person. Herein is a faint but real reflection of Him who is at once three, yet one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

For generations Jews and Moslems have been shouting at Christians that they worship three gods. And for as many years we Christians have been crying back: “Not so! Whatever be the relations between the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are not three gods, but One God.” We have been as insistent as Israel that “the Lord, our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4). And the oneness of mind and will which characterizes the relation of the Son to the Father (John 5:19, 30), to give but one example, finds no likeness whatsoever in the relationships of marriage and parenthood. Anyone who has ever been a party to the full expression of personality in these relationships knows this full well! Spiritual, mental, and volitional unity between husbands and wives and their children simply does not exist in any manner which can be compared to that which the Holy Trinity has in these things. If the Trinity is like a man and his wife and their child, in even a physical sense, then we do worship three gods. But the facts are, they aren’t and we don’t.

We are inclined to the opinion that such statements as we have quoted are due to carelessness rather than conviction. For it is difficult to believe that any serious student of the Bible and the Reformed faith could be guilty of such obvious errors on any other basis.

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There is also much carelessness in presenting non-scriptural matters. For example, in speaking of polygamy, Mr. Veenstra says: “There are more men in the United States who marry more than one wife than there are in countries which permit it” (page 143). This may be true, but Mr. Veenstra gives no evidence to support it.

“Lack of sexual adjustment,” he says on page 150, “is almost always a symptom rather than a cause of marital failure.” Again, there is no supporting evidence, and no recognition at all of a very large body of differing opinion that is supported by a considerable amount of therapeutic and psychological evidence.

His words in favor of celibacy are well taken. The world has been enriched by the sacrifice of marriage on the part of a few rare individuals. But Mr. Veenstra’s examples, taken as a group, are poorly chosen: Beethoven, Handel, Chopin, Brahms, Schubert, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Emily Dickenson, Charlotte Bronté, Florence Nightingale, and Jane Addams. Persons informed of the perversions and gross immoralities which stained the celibacy of some of these celebrated persons would better conclude than Mr. Veenstra: “It is better to marry than to bum” (1 Cor. 7:9). And in such a conclusion they would find ample support in the dean of the Reformed faith, John Calvin, as well as St. Paul.

Mr. Veenstra’s chapter on the Divine Organization of Marriage is altogether superior and excellent. It is the best we have seen anywhere. Here he gives evidence of being informed, scriptural, and wise, and he writes with great care and conviction. In this chapter he makes a valuable contribution toward the solution of some of the really basic problems of modern society. It is worth the whole price of this otherwise unfortunately written book. Would that Mr. Veenstra would take this chapter and expand it into a small volume! Such a book is greatly needed, and would be almost alone in its field. Perhaps the author and his publishers will favor us in the near future with a further effort directed along these lines.


Kingdom In Parable

A Guide to the Parables of Jesus, by Hillyer H. Straton (Eerdmans, 1959, 198 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Frank A. Lawrence, Minister of the Graystone United Presbyterian Church, Indiana, Pa.

Why another book on the parables of Jesus? Because, answers the author, every man in every generation needs to feel the joy and glow of these matchless stories and to get into the heart of the mind and message of Jesus.

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Dr. Straton, pastor of the First Baptist Church at Malden, Massachusetts, has been studying and preaching our Lord’s parables over a period of six years. Anyone reading this volume will agree that it bears the marks of careful study and deeply devoted scholarship.

The introductory chapter on “Parables and Their Meaning” is worth the price of the book. Here the pastor can take a refresher course in Parables and the layman will find a down-to-earth discussion of what a parable is plus a clear distinction between parable, fable, allegory, simile, and metaphor.

The author accepts and follows Julicher’s axiom that a true parable has but one point. He gathers our Lord’s parables under four headings, “The Kingdom is at Hand,” “Entrance into the Kingdom,” “Conduct in the Kingdom” and “Judgment in the Kingdom.” The book is rich in illustration, research, and application, and combines the historical with the fresh. This is another wave in the tidal bore which is surging back to biblical theology and biblical preaching.


Divine Revelation

The Study of Old Testament Theology Today, by Edward J. Young (Revell, 1959, 112 pp., $2), is reviewed by R. K. Harrison, Hellmuth Professor of Old Testament at Huron College, London, Ontario.

The four lectures which comprise this book were delivered when the new buildings of the London Bible College (England) were dedicated in May 1958. In approaching his subject, the author is not so much concerned with contemporary attempts to systematize the study of Old Testament theology as with those elements which any competent treatment of the subject must consider.

Dr. Young assesses the present interest in Old Testament theology in the light of his own conviction that the Old Testament is a record of the divine revelation to man in history. The nature of Old Testament theology is discussed with reference to recent archaeological findings, and its content is examined in terms of the Covenant and the Messianic prophecies. The final lecture demonstrates the manner in which the Old Testament undergirds the New with regard to the incarnate Christ.

Lucid and scholarly, this book covers admirably a neglected area of biblical study.


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