Christian Exhortation in the Friendship of Madeleine L’Engle and Marilyn Unruh

This past year, Buswell Library Special Collections had the privilege of having Wheaton College senior Jenna Watson help us process some significant donations we received in the last few years. One such donation was from Marilyn Unruh, a dear friend of author Madeleine L’Engle. Jenna writes a reflection on what she found below:

Buswell Library Special Collections recently received a donation of correspondence from author Madeleine L’Engle to one of her dearest friends, Marilyn Unruh. This correspondence spans nearly thirty years (1972-2000) and paints a portrait of a deep, unbreakable friendship. These letters feature everything we would expect from Madeleine: creative theological reflection, affirmation of love as the strongest force in the world, and unwavering belief in the power of story as a vehicle for truth. They affirm that the Madeleine who wrote A Wrinkle in Time, Walking on Water, and Meet the Austins is her true self. However, this correspondence reveals that Madeleine depended greatly on those around her for inspiration and correction. Her friend Marilyn’s challenges to Madeleine’s theology shaped the contours of Madeleine’s books we read today. This makes an understanding of Madeleine and Marilyn’s friendship essential to anyone who seeks to truly know Madeleine.

The clearest example of Marilyn challenging Madeleine’s theology is in their correspondence about Bright Evening Star, a nonfiction book reflecting on the mystery of the incarnation. On September 16, 1996, Marilyn wrote Madeleine with her impressions after reading an early draft of Bright Evening Star:

Essentially, I saw your premise as being that Jesus had a dual nature, divine and human, and that he elected to stay within the limits of the human throughout. He refused to do “godness” things, “godness” meaning performing supernatural acts of power, the spectacular, the sensational, but chose rather to stay human in order to show us how to be human.

Based on this, I doubt that the Jesus you are presenting here is a person I would be able to trust with my life and be willing to follow heart and soul. I will try to articulate what I found confusing about your manuscript.

Marilyn then articulates three problems she sees with Madeleine’s Christology. First, she writes that Madeleine’s explanation of Christ’s ability to perform supernatural acts of power is incompatible with the image of God as total love. Second, this Christology does not allow Marilyn to relate to Christ because his options are different from human options. Third, this Christology does not teach Marilyn how to be more human.

“In short,” Marilyn writes, “I need a Jesus who brought his god-nature, (not a god-nature perceived by our finite minds as supernatural power, but god-nature as divine total all-encompassing love) into my human dual (good and evil nature)…Show me this Jesus in your manuscript and I will gladly love and serve him.”

Madeleine’s response, characteristically scrawled on the back of a book cover she wanted to show Marilyn, said: “Many thanks for the thoughtful letter. What you asked me to do was what I was trying to do! But I think the problem was that I was trying too hard to prove points and so forgot the winsome lovableness of the human Jesus! I have already put a new disc in the machine and started again.”

Marilyn replied with further encouragement and exhortation. “People listen to you, Madeleine, so it’s terribly important that you not sell them short. I’m relieved that you are willing to work at revision. You don’t have to be didactic. You don’t have to take a position and argue your point. Just show clearly where Jesus will lead us if we follow him.”

In addition to a more robust understanding of Madeleine’s theology, this collection is a strong testament to the power of Christian friendship that affirms, challenges, and unconditionally loves. Marilyn’s loving Christian exhortation and Madeleine’s grateful acceptance of it suggests that their friendship truly was as unconditional as they frequently assert. As Madeleine writes to Marilyn in June 1992, “We make a terrific combination, and I think together we do the Lord’s work in a stronger way than either of us does singly.” (June 1992, Item 2, Folder 16, Box 6, SC-03).

Heroes of the Faith

The Rotunda of Witnesses, located in the Billy Graham Museum on the campus of Wheaton College, displays elaborate tapestries featuring notable representatives of Christianity. The individuals originally featured in the early 1980’s included the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Justin Martyr, Gregory the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, John Wycliffe, Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, and Oswald Chambers. John Sung, Festo Kivengere, and Pandita Ramabai have since joined their ranks.

During the 1983-84 academic year, nine Wheaton College professors each delivered a chapel message honoring the accomplishments of these heroes of the faith. Recordings of their talks are below.

Dr. Julius Scott speaks on the Apostle Paul
Dr. Arthur Rupprecht speaks on Justin Martyr
Dr. Thomas Kay speaks on Gregory the Great
Dr. Charles Weber speaks on St. Francis of Assissi
Dr. Dean Rapp speaks on John Wycliffe
Dr. Herbert Jacobsen speaks on Martin Luther, Pt. 1
Dr. Mark Noll speaks on Martin Luther, Pt. 2
Dr. Arthur Holmes speaks on Blaise Pascal
Dr. Mark Noll speaks on Jonathan Edwards
Dr. Donald Lake speaks on Oswald Chambers

Dr. Thomas Howard, 1935-2020

Dr. Thomas Howard, whose thoughtful journey from Protestantism to Catholicism became emblematic for others struggling with similar questions, died on October 15, 2020 — which happens to be the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila.

Born into an influential, Bible-believing fundamentalist family, he was the son of Philip Howard, president/publisher/editor of The Sunday School Times, and brother of missionary Elisabeth Elliot, author of Through Gates of Splendor. As Howard explored the diverse dimensions and traditions of Christian worship, he discovered in liturgical churches a beauty, order and historicity that he felt was lacking in his home assembly.

Dr. Thomas Howard chats with students after Wheaton College chapel, 1975.

Immersing himself in literature by philosophers, theologians and novelists like C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Adam and Romano Guardini, Howard converted to Anglicanism, relishing its sacramentalism and formality; but realizing after a few years that “the ground had shifted under me,” he converted to Catholicism, sensing in Rome the climax of his quest, the fullness of the faith. When asked if he ceased being an evangelical by becoming a Catholic, Howard replied, “Quite the contrary. Evangelical and catholic are, or ought to be, synonymous. I will never be anything but an evangelical.”

He chronicles his pilgrimage in Christ the Tiger, Evangelical is not Enough, Lead, Kindly Light and On Being Catholic, in addition to innumerable essays written in prose marked by honesty, wit and elegance.

In a phone interview with Christianity Today, Howard affirmed, “I’m a fundamentalist when it comes to the scriptures,” but added that the Catholic Church “is the appointed guardian of the scriptures.” Howard did not deny his Protestant, Bible-based heritage, but saw it as a necessary and admirable foundation for his movement into Catholicism.

Howard attended Wheaton College, where his appreciation for myth, symbol and story was nourished by Dr. Clyde Kilby, professor of English and founder of the Marion E. Wade Center. Howard taught English at Gordon College and later at St. John’s Seminary.

Dr. Thomas Howard spoke several times at Wheaton College:

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Wheaton College Chapel, 1979

Gladys Aylward at Wheaton College

One night in London a petite English parlor maid named Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) attended an evangelistic meeting, where she accepted Christ as her savior. Joining the Young Life Campaign, she was deeply impressed to serve as a missionary in China. Surmounting one obstacle after another, she made her way to that vast land and briefly connected with established missionaries. Caring for Chinese orphans while leading both children and adults to Christ, Aylward briefly returned to Britain in 1949. Ten years later she returned to China and founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage. Her astounding story is related in The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, but far less reliably in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), starring Ingrid Bergman, a much taller Swedish actress. Aylward despised the Hollywood film because it so egregiously misrepresented her ministry.

Gladys Aylward (center) chats with students during her 1959 visit to Wheaton College.

The Wheaton College Record, October 22, 1959, announces Aylward’s visit during an international tour sponsored by World Vision:

…Miss Gladys Aylward is guest speaker at SFMF next Wednesday evening at 7:15 in Pierce Chapel. Her [biography] has been published by Reader’s Digest in condensed form and also served as the basis for the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness. In 1930 with less than eight dollars in her pocket, Miss Aylward traveled across what was then “impossible” Siberia to northwest China to begin missionary work. When war broke out with Japan her loyalty to Nationalist China caused her to spy on the invaders. As a result of this she was ruthlessly beaten, and then as a fugitive without food or money, led 100 homeless children across the mountains to safety. Illness forced Miss Aylward to return to England after more than 20 years of service, but she has returned to Formosa for more work among the nationalists.

Later commenting on her tour and its effect on her audiences, Aylward said, “There is much to do [in China] and I still have no one to help me except my own children. What I would do without them I do not know. I often wonder where all the young people  who go through Bible colleges go to, for they do not come here.”

During an era that produced such extraordinary missionaries as Amy Carmichael and Jim Elliot, Gladys Aylward, however short in statue, surely stands tall among the the most dedicated and bold ambassadors for Christ.


Perfect Order Must be Maintained

Students and visitors using the Wheaton College gymnasium (now called Adams Hall) in the early nineteenth century were required to sign a card with the following stipulations:

1) The Gymnasium is for the benefit of students of Wheaton College and others.

2) It will be open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. of each school day in the Fall, Winter and Spring terms, and at such other times as may be arranged.

3) The fee for students will be $1.00 per term: for non students, $2.00 per term. If paid for the year in advance, for students, $2.50: for non students, $5.00.

4) Baths will be accessible during the hours when the Gymnasium is open. Members using them will furnish their own soap and towels.

5) The dress will be, for men, dark blue sweater with orange W on breast; grey trousers, black Gymnasium shoes and belt: for women, dark blue blouse waist and Turkish trousers trimmed in orange; black stockings and shoes. The suit must be used when in class work.

6) No persons will be allowed to practice except as assigned by the Director, and perfect order must be maintained in the building. Tobacco may not be used in buildings or on College grounds.

Young men perform gymnastics in the Wheaton College gymnasium, early 1900s.

Freedom to Flourish

What is the connection between economic freedom and poverty?

Thirty years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Seth W. Norton is currently the Jean and E. Floyd Kvamme Professor of Political Economy and former Director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics & Economics. Professor Norton has taught at Wheaton since 1995 and was featured in the Autumn 2010 issue.

Seth W. Norton
Seth W. Norton

Poverty rates are customarily measured as the proportion of a country whose income is beneath a low absolute level such as one or two dollars a day. Poverty can alternatively be measured in non-pecuniary terms, such as the percentage of the population that survives infancy, or the percentage of the population that has access to basic life-sustaining benefits like safe water.

Economic freedom exists where there are consistent institutions and policies in place to ensure a voluntary exchange coordinated by markets with free entry and freedom to compete, as well as a protection of persons and their property.

The last two decades have seen a promising decline in poverty levels. The average population living on $1 a day fell dramatically from 32 percent of the world’s population in 1980 to 16.5 percent in 2004. Similarly, infant survival and life expectancy are on the rise.

While much of the non-industrialized world has flourished in this period, the good news has to be tempered with a grim exception–sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the non-industrialized nations of the world have become economically freer, while economic freedom in Africa has stagnated or even declined during the last quarter century. Understanding this exception requires exploring the connection between the world’s poverty and economic freedom. Simply stated, for non-industrialized nations, economic freedom reduces poverty.

Countries that are not economically free have about 30 percent of their population living on $1 a day and nearly 60 percent living on $2 a day, while countries that are economically free have less than 8 percent living on $1 a day and 39 percent living on $2 a day. About 74 percent of the population has access to good water in countries that are not free, while almost 100 percent of the population has access to good water in most economically free countries.

The various measures of poverty all point in the same direction–more economic freedom means lower poverty rates. Some might question whether lower levels of poverty are in fact the cause of economic freedom, rather than the result of this freedom. This interpretation is plausible, but not likely. Further statistical analysis shows that increases in economic freedom lower poverty rates regardless of the measure of poverty, even after accounting for other factors such as geography and the levels of urbanization in a country.

Studying links between economic freedom and world poverty is fascinating yet depressing, given the ties between poverty and human suffering, frailty, and depravity. If so many people would benefit from free economies, why do we not observe more economic freedom around the world?

Dr. Seth W. Norton has made research contributions in the fields of government regulation, franchising, telecommunications, and world poverty. He studied the links between economic institutions and poverty; public policies toward business and the economy; as well as government regulation, property rights, and the role of culture in framing economic institutions. From 1996 to 2008, he was also head wrestling coach at Wheaton.

Exalt Christ, not Wheaton College

Guests invited to speak in the Wheaton College chapel during the 1940s were given a card  with the following instructions sometime before their scheduled message:

Unidentified speaker leads worship in Pierce Chapel, 1944.

You will be speaking to young MEN and WOMEN who are COLLEGE STUDENTS, from 45 different states and 20 foreign countries.

We will appreciate it if you will:

Feel at home with us.

Preach the Lord Jesus — and seek to point students to deeper truths of the Word.

Exalt Christ, not Wheaton College.

Avoid controversial subjects.

Be sparing in your use of humorous stories.

You will have approximately 20 minutes for your message.

Close your message on time (within 2 or 3 minutes after the red light goes on).

Close your message with prayer.

Come again.

Chapel begins at 10:30am, closes at 11am.

When God Moves

25 years ago this week the Wheaton College Revival of 1995 transpired on campus. The following historical account was transcribed from the Wheaton College Alumni Magazine, Spring 1995.


by Dr. Stephen B. Kellough ’70, Chaplain

Our Lord has poured out his love in a dramatic way.

Throughout the history of Wheaton College, God has chosen to he present and active in this place. There have been times of spiritual awakening, and during the week of March 19-24, we received another special visitation of God.

It would be incorrect to say that it all began at 7:30 P.M. on Sunday, March 19, in Pierce Chapel at the weekly meeting of the World Christian Fellowship. There had been a significant stirring of the Spirit in the lives of individuals and in groups on campus several weeks before that, throughout the semester, and well before that.

But something unique and important happened on that Sunday evening when James Hahn and Brandi Maguire, students from Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, described a recent “revival” on their campus. Following their presentation, the microphones were open for students to share their burdens and confess their sins.

Confessions were heard throughout the night. There were tears and there were smiles. There was crying and there was singing. People confessed their sins to God and to each other, and there was healing. It was biblical. It was Christian, It was orderly. It was sincere. It honored out Lord. Finally, at 6:00 A.M., we adjourned the meeting, with students still in line who had waited hours to speak.

We reconvened on Monday in Pierce Chapel with about 900 students and adjourned at 2:00 A.M. with 400 students listening to the last confession. Still, many were unable to reach the microphone. Tuesday’s meeting was held at the College Church, a larger facility which accommodated the 1,350 people who arrived at 9:30 P.M. Because lines still remained at the microphones at 2:00 AM., another meeting was set for 9:30 P.M. on Wednesday.

College Church of Wheaton

That night a capacity crowd of about 1,500 assembled. The program included worship and testimony along with some specific instruction and direction concerning the biblical method of dealing with temptation and sin. The group was addressed by President Duane Litfin, and Professors Lyle Dorsett and Tim Beougher. The confessional stage of the week’s meetings ended at 2:00 A.M.

The final plenary session was held on Thursday evening at 9:30 P.M. at the College Church, the largest assembly of the week with many faculty, staff, and members of the community attending. The theme of the evening was praise and testimony. It was a dynamic celebration.

The challenge was issued to move on to new levels of commitment to loving and serving God. The closing moments included an invitation for people who were sensing the call of God to Christian ministry to come forward for a prayer of dedication. Many knelt at the front of the sanctuary to commit themselves to bringing the gospel to the world.

Is this something that has been humanly contrived or manufactured? The personal sharing within the body of Christ here at Wheaton College has been spiritually sensitive and biblically grounded. The depth and breadth of the confession, repentance, and reconciliation point to a divine initiative. Every factor seems to confirm that we are experiencing an authentic work of the Sovereign Lord.

As President Litfin has said, “God has prompted a wonderful surge of conviction and confession sin, genuine repentance and forgiveness, and the restoration of broken hearts and relationships.

“Our challenge now is to see the results of this renewal tilled into the soil of our lives. Our desire is to move from this mountain top to a new plateau of obedience and fellowship with the Lord, and renewed relationships with one another.”

We trust that this incredible movement of God’s Spirit will continue on our campus and beyond. We believe that what we have seen here at Wheaton is only a small piece of what God is doing worldwide.

The Allure of the Little Old Lady

An advertisement for power tools might feature burly men in a noisy workshop. An ad for luxurious perfume might feature sultry film actresses or pop divas posing in exotic locales. But what if the product is an annuity contract? Naturally, the advertisement will display a kindly-visaged matron in her rocking chair, serenely contemplating her sunset days.

The following ads, placed by Wheaton College in Moody Magazine throughout the 1950s, unashamedly brandish the heartwarming images of genteel elderly women, wondering exactly where they might securely, Christ-honoringly allocate their monies.

If these precious, irresistible old dears can trust Wheaton College with their funds, surely you can too!

Camp Wecolldac

HoneyRock in Three Lakes, WI, has long served Wheaton College as both a recreational getaway for staff and faculty as well as an educational facility for students. Lesser known in the annals of history is Camp Wecolldac (Wheaton College day camp), which operated from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. Whereas HoneyRock accommodates visitors in furnished cabins and other comfortable facilities, Wecolldac’s activities, designed for much younger adventurers, mostly occurred during daylight hours, with an occasional overnight stay at a forest preserve. Bob Dresser, Classroom Technology Support and former Wecolldac attendee, fondly recalls his participation in the the program from 1961-63:

Because I had working parents, my mom enrolled me for all the summer sessions for two years. I recall she got special permission since I was under age my first year (age 8?)

When I think of my time at Camp Wecolldac I first think of Coach Pooley (as we campers called him) – otherwise known as “Big Jim” to the staff. James Pooley was the camp director and man in charge of all the daily activities. He spent each day with us and was directly involved with the kids – organizing games, leading the craft sessions, leading in prayer and lunch time. Of course, he had helpers in the form of “counselors” who were college students.

James Pooley, Assistant Coach at Wheaton Academy, 1962.

Coach was a big, tall man (over 6’ 6”) – but he was never intimidating. He was kind, fun loving, and very tolerant of us wild kids. I remember he enjoyed telling us “war” stories and he teased a lot !

The Camp was organized into two week sessions and met Mon–Fri, 9am to 5pm or so. At the end of the two weeks, an optional overnight camp-out was held at White Pines State Park in Oregon, IL. There were maybe three or four sessions in the summer overall. And it was a boys only camp – maybe about 40 – 50 kids. I think a girls camp was also running elsewhere.

A typical day started with a bus ride to North Central’s pool for swim lessons. I hated the water (over my head) and was not a happy swim student. The counselors would often just throw me in – to at least get me wet. I think next we climbed in the bus and would head to some county forest preserve for lunch and activities. Rocky Glenn, McDowell Woods, Wayne Woods, etc. We brought our own bag lunches, but the camp provided “bug juice” – lemonade, etc. After lunch followed activities/crafts on the picnic tables. I still have some of my bracelet weavings! Just when the boys were getting antsy there would be game time, Capture the Flag, football and other outdoor games that would wear you out. I also recall free time, or time to explore the parks we were visiting, wading in creeks, climbing trees, whatever came up. Then the long bus ride back to Centennial Gym. I recall some of the songs the whole bus would be singing: “B-I-N-G-O,” “Ants are Marching 2×2,” “This Little Light of Mine,” etc. Sometimes the bus would be rather late, and parents’ cars would be all lined up in the parking lot, waiting to pick up their kids after a long, fun day at Camp Wecolldac.

This diorama, probably displayed in the Memorial Student Center, advertises HoneyRock and Wecolldac, 1954.

I don’t recall if the overnight campout at White Pines was Friday or Saturday. There were shared pup tents, nighttime bonfire, group sing, serious “capture the flag” games in twilight, morning breakfast with “egg-in–the–hole” and, of course, bug juice. I also vividly remember when a certain (not Coach Pooley, who was probably leading an early morning hike) counselor’s tent stakes were loosened at midnight, such that his tent caved in. It really got fun the next morning when that counselor grabbed the prime suspect by his ankles and slowly descended him – head first – into the pit of the outhouse (no modern bathrooms at that time) – until the stake puller cried “Uncle” and “I’m sorry!” Most of the whole group witnessed the trial and punishment.