This is a move in the right direction. However, evangelicals ought not support an “evangelical chair” at Harvard University for the wrong reasons.

First, Harvard is not so much interested in having an evangelical on its divinity school faculty as in increasing its foundation by a million dollars or more. If its faculty and administration really wanted an evangelical, they would get him.

Second, Harvard Divinity School knows that nearly half the church population in America is evangelical, so its graduates cannot function effectively as leaders in the church unless they understand this movement. Harvard has a felt need not for an evangelical, but for a sociological understanding of the current evangelical movement so that the divinity school can prepare its graduates to become more effective church leaders.

If Harvard were really concerned to provide a voice for evangelical theology, it would secure an evangelical faculty member in Old Testament, New Testament, or systematic theology, for the crucial distinctives lie in these areas. Convictions here make or break an evangelical. Interestingly, the two evangelicals on the Harvard Divinity School faculty at present teach church history and comparative religions. The proposed chair would still not place an evangelical in a position where his voice would be decisive for a distinctly evangelical viewpoint.

Third, it is extremely unlikely that Harvard will pick a person who truly represents the vast body of evangelicals either in the mainline denominations or in the newer small denominations, or among independents. It will certainly select the person it thinks can give it the best interpretation of the evangelical movement; it is not after the best representative of a consistent evangelical theology. For example, any genuine representative would have to be committed to a Chalcedonian Christology, to an inerrant Bible (one not just true in some portions, but in all), and to a consistent view of the origin of the Hexateuch, the authorship of Isaiah, the date of Daniel, and the apostolic authorship of the pastoral and Petrine epistles. If Harvard establishes a chair of evangelicalism, it is extremely unlikely that it would call any professor committed to these positions.

Fourth, evangelicals will not be able to select who represents them on the Harvard Divinity School faculty. Harvard development officers are extremely hard-nosed, and such a procedure would fly in the face of long-standing Harvard principles. Harvard will choose the Harvard faculty—it will not be done by Billy Graham, or the Southern Baptist Convention, or by any “advisory committee” of representative evangelical leaders. And it will choose an evangelical congenial and useful to it, not one who would most effectively advance a distinctive evangelical position.

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Fifth, if by divine providence Harvard should choose a consistent evangelical to inaugurate this chair, it would not permanently maintain a person of such convictions in the post. The best evidence of this arises from what happened to the chair of Roman Catholic thought at Harvard. The present incumbent, appointed by the university, is a liberal Roman Catholic as unacceptable to official Catholicism as Hans Küng was at Tübingen.

Sixth, no will or legal document is likely to be devised that will guarantee a permanent commitment to evangelical theology by the person who holds this chair. The courts have consistently set aside such provisions. That is the way Harvard got its Andover theological library. The library of old Andover Seminary was protected by a very explicit stipulation requiring commitment to a fully orthodox Protestantism. The courts, however, simply ignored the evangelical convictions and legal safe-guards of those who had provided the financial resources for the library, and handed it over to Harvard Divinity School, which, at that time, was at best Unitarian in theology and not even consistently theistic.

Finally, all these benefits would accrue significantly even though the Harvard appointment is not a consistent evangelical who will adequately represent the evangelical movement. It will still make the point that this movement is not dying out. It may even jolt other universities to recognize that in a pluralistic but just society, evangelicalism too deserves a hearing.

Response by Richard LovelaceRichard Lovelace is professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Wenham, Massachusetts.

What benefits, then, could evangelicals gain by the founding of such a chair at Harvard? They are not of a tangible sort, and their value is not easy to calculate in ordinary terms.

First, the founding of a chair of evangelical Christianity at Harvard would signal that evangelicalism is not about to join the dodo and the dinosaur as an extinct species. Professor Sidney Ahlstrom of Yale, dean of American church historians, would have to rethink his doleful prediction that America is now at the end of a 400-year cycle dominated by evangelical or Puritan thought. Evangelicalism may no longer be dominant (if it has ever been since 1750), but it is certainly alive and growing. Harvard University is not in the business of funding professorships for dying religious movements.

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Second, and even more important, the founding of such a chair would also signal loudly that evangelicalism is reversing its 100-year retreat from the cultural centers of our society, and is moving back into the fray to battle for the minds of men and women.

Third, if Harvard does it, other universities will do it too. For several decades, colleges and universities, with no integrating theology or philosophy beyond a vague commitment to American democracy, have built philosophy and religion departments so as to make sure Protestantism and Roman Catholicism would be adequately represented. Protestantism was invariably understood in a liberal, or at least, unevangelical, sense. Harvard’s chair will set a precedent in America’s most prestigious university that evangelicalism deserves to be represented, and that liberal Protestantism or just any type of Protestantism won’t substitue for it. Such a chair at Harvard will call attention to the serious religious discrimination practiced at most American university departments of religion. It may, indeed, provide a major impetus toward a more just attitude toward evangelicalism, especially in such places.

Roger martin’s article provides some helpful background on the projected chair of evangelical studies at Harvard Divinity School. Many have been wondering if this project signals a change in the spiritual climate of New England, which has given evangelicals some rough weather since Harvard turned Left in the early 1700s. Others wonder whether this move indicates that evangelicalism has become respectable in mainline Protestant circles. Let me respond to these questions by contributing more data.

A debate at Harvard last year, in which I participated, drew a responsive overflow crowd. One student estimated that one-third of her classmates are committed or sympathetic to the Evangelical Movement. One professor said he was teaching on the Second Evangelical Awakening using materials generated by evangelical scholars. Another told me, “I’d like to teach at Gordon-Conwell, if it weren’t so far to commute.” And of course, one Gordon-Conwell professor, Stephen Mott, is already coteaching a course in social ethics at Harvard.

A meeting at Union Seminary in New York last spring, initiated by President Donald Shriver, brought six members of the Gordon-Conwell faculty into dialogue with almost double that number of Union professors. Dr. Robert Handy, a respected church historian, gave a tentative assent to my suggestion that evangelical scholars may be occupying the central ground between fundamentalism and liberalism that neo-orthodoxy seized during “America’s Religious Depression” in the 1930s. Another Union dialogue is coming in the near future. It is clear that seminary administrators, at least, have grasped the fact that evangelical schools have something that draws students—and they are eager to see if it can be caught, or taught.

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It is this flow of evangelical students during the last dozen years that has changed minds in mainline seminaries, perhaps more than the arguments of evangelical scholars. The youth revival and the parachurch campus works have flooded the schools with ministerial students. One recent study estimated that the number of Protestant candidates is up 30 percent from the norm. Many of these have entered mainline seminaries, where they have proceeded to change the minds of some professors and administrators through their witness—and their simple presence, which is concrete evidence that God is at work in evangelical and charismatic circles.

Mainline seminary administrators are aware that the supply of students may be contracting. They know that the independent evangelical schools have a competitive edge. They are responding to this pressure by hiring evangelical scholars. A number of seminaries have evangelicals teaching in evangelism, theology, and the biblical disciplines. Others are developing programs in spirituality to meet the popular demand for spiritual nurture.

The hunger in the churches for solid biblical teaching has also brought pressure on the seminaries in the area of funding. Mainline denominational schools have begun to interview evangelicals for the office of president.

As an observer in one denomination’s Counsel of Seminaries, I can testify that the challenge and the example of evangelical schools have been taken very seriously. The recent Lilly Foundation study on spiritual formation in seminaries has pointed mainline seminaries toward evangelical models. President James McCord of Princeton, for example, helped institute conferences on Reformed Piety in all United Presbyterian seminaries in the 1970s, and has advised the church to study the expansion of mission in the evangelical awakenings of the nineteenth century.

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Having said all this to confirm Dr. Martin’s thesis, I must diverge from him in a few points. I doubt if many evangelicals would agree that “a solid [undergraduate] education, especially in Bible” can be obtained at most nonevangelical schools. The biblical departments in many schools persist in dogmatically teaching speculative critical theories that younger evangelicals perceive as exploded or outmoded. These induce or imply a pick-and-choose approach to biblical authority that is healthy for neither theology nor spirituality. Schools that do not allow students to hear the evangelical side of the case, at the level of basic required courses in the biblical departments, cannot be expected to command the trust of referring evangelical churches or agencies.

Evangelicals are enthusiastic about the graduate curricula of liberal and mainline seminaries as broadening, technically enriching programs for those who already have their roots down in Reformation theology and in biblical studies that are consistent with the Reformation approach. They can also understand the desire of some churches to have their students spend a year in a denominational school in order to get a better understanding of the climate of pluralism.

But unless a seminary includes evangelical voices in all the basic disciplines—an option Dr. Martin seems to allow for—evangelical client congregations and agencies are likely to send their fledgling candidates to more conservative schools for basic grounding, and recommend schools like Harvard only for graduate training. A seminary, after all, is a lot harder to reform or renew than a denomination. Because of the requirements of tenure, it is almost necessary to “shoot it in the head, and raise it from the dead,” a treatment someone actually suggested for one school.

It would be preferable, also, if nonevangelical seminaries would go beyond adding an evangelical as additional bait on the hook, and beyond sprinkling evangelical language like perfume, and instead get their faculties to read the material being produced by evangelical writers! Nonevangelical scholars can be incredibly dated and parochial in this respect, while their evangelical counterparts usually have mastered all the literature, liberal and evangelical alike. Alan Heimert, a noted Harvard authority on the Great Awakening, once remarked that in every age the evangelicals run circles around liberals theologically, although the latter are too dense to recognize this, or too enmeshed in technical pseudo-profundity.

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But most of Dr. Martin’s points are well taken. The Harvard chair of evangelical studies would be a significant mark of greater respect toward biblical, Reformational Christianity in the intellectual center of America. It would not mean that an upwardly mobile evangelicalism has “sold out to the liberals.” Rather, it would show that the chasm between the Enlightenment stream and the descendents of the Great Awakening is narrowing because there is a mutual recognition of truth and ethical values on the opposing sides.

Response by Norman L. GeislerNorman L. Geisler is professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, Texas.

Most evangelicals will greet the new attitude expressed in Dean Martin’s article with great joy. The long overdue desire of liberals to take evangelicals seriously will not be the least of the reasons for this joy. It is also appropriate that Harvard is now acknowledging its evangelical roots in Puritanism. Certainly most evangelicals will agree with Dr. Martin that the lack of evangelical representation on the Harvard teaching staff is an unfortunate omission that should have been cared for long ago.

However, not all evangelicals will accept the claim that hitherto they could have attended Harvard “without feeling pressured to conform to a liberal theological point of view.” Even fewer evangelicals will be prone to believe that Harvard Divinity School has never had a faith test for appointment—at least not in the de facto sense. Indeed, Dr. Martin admits that by 1850 Harvard “had become de facto a Unitarian school,” and that the lack of evangelical representation on the faculty to date has been “an unfortunate omission.”

Be this as it may, let bygones be bygones. Let evangelicals accept with gladness this new attitude of acceptance by liberal leadership. Harvard is making a bold and commendable overture. Let us give them a belated opportunity to demonstrate their “long-standing commitment to toleration and freedom of thought.” Let every evangelical be grateful that one of America’s leading theological institutions is willing to “reject two unfair stereotypes that have been used over the years to describe evangelicals … that all evangelicals are narrow fundamentalists, and … that evangelicalism and good scholarship are mutually exclusive.”

Furthermore, let us accept the desire to have a chair of evangelical Christianity at Harvard as a bold step in the right direction. But with this step let Harvard take seriously what Dr. Martin has acknowledged, namely, that (1) Harvard was founded by evangelicals, (2) that evangelicals helped rebuild its destroyed library, (3) that some one-sixth of its present students are evangelical (and there would have been more had there been evangelical faculty members), (4) that Harvard is committed to tolerance and freedom, and (5) that the time is long overdue to implement this belief in terms of evangelical faculty representation.

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Of course, in view of all this, some evangelicals are sure to ask why we should pay one million dollars for a minority reentry into a school we began, helped rebuild, and still stock with students. I would think that an even greater token of Harvard’s sincerity toward evangelicals would be to hire several evangelical scholars without instituting a special chair. A special chair for evangelicals may only serve to represent evangelicalism as a minority oddity, which would again perpetrate a myth about the true role of evangelicalism in America.

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