Daily Archives: January 19, 2010

Whither Wheaton? — Further insights into Wheaton College

Plumb bobAndrew Chignell’s article, Whither Wheaton?, appearing in SoMA (The Society of Mutual Autopsy), is proving to be rather provocative, especially as it garners attention for its content as well as its “backstory.” In attempting to provide a guide for the future by looking to Wheaton’s past (more accurately, “near-past”), Chignell reviews the presidency of A. Duane Litfin and his near 17-year tenure. Chignell’s efforts at dissecting Wheaton College’s history is not new, though his particular focus is. Histories and studies of Wheaton College have been written — some official or semi-official, Fire on the Prairie (1950) and Wheaton College: A Heritage Remembered (1984); some very specialized, Edwin Hollatz’s The Development of Literary Societies in Selected Illinois Colleges (1959), Randall Dattoli’s The Wheaton Graduate School (1936-1971): its history and contributions (1980), Lori Witt’s More than a ‘Slaving Wife’ (2001) (examining women at conservative Protestant colleges) and David Swartz’s The Evolution of Creationism at Wheaton College (1999); some focusing upon students and student culture, John Furbay’s Undergraduates in a Group of Evangelical Christian Colleges (1931), John Swanson’s The Graduates of a Midwestern Liberal Arts College Evaluate Their Experiences (1957) and Kevin Cumings’ Student Culture at Wheaton College (1997). These dissertations are also accompanied by numerous masters theses research on Wheaton College. Each title sheds light on what appears to be a monolithic institution; but as Chignell illustrates, Wheaton College exhibits a breadth of perspective involving nuances too often lost on “outsiders.”

Other historical works helping to reinforce Chignell’s article are found in Wheaton’s Archives & Special Collections. Each of the following are doctoral dissertations, representing research conducted prior to the installation of Litfin as president.

Tom Askew’s 1969 dissertation, Liberal Arts College Encounters Intellectual Change: A Comparative Study of Education at Knox and Wheaton Colleges, 1837-1925 investigates the intellectual life of two colleges led by Jonathan Blanchard, Wheaton’s founder. Blanchard had been Knox’s second (and now relatively little-known) president and Wheaton’s first (though the Illinois Institute had been around for seven years). Askew analyzes how Knox and Wheaton reacted to the tides of intellectual change. His work clearly shows how the president can be a defining and, at times, a polarizing figure, as so with Knox.

Examining Wheaton College and two other colleges, David Larsen’s Evangelical Christian Higher Education, Culture, and Social Conflict: a Niebuhrian Analysis of Three Colleges in the 1960s (1992) discusses Wheaton’s efforts to preserve “elements of the organization’s culture and history in the face of social change” (p. 201). Larsen notes “the place of tradition and the unusual power of the Wheaton presidency for shaping the organizational culture and history” (p. 202). Larsen documents the emergence of public dissent and the growth of underground publications at Wheaton College. The writer also analyzes views on social conflict and justice at Wheaton.

Michael Hamilton, former director of the Pew Young Scholars program that birthed Chignell’s graduate career, wrote The Fundamentalist Harvard: Wheaton College and the Continuing Vitality of American Evangelicalism, 1919-1965 (1994). Hamilton, using Wheaton College as an exemplar, charts its course as the modernist controversy catalyzes the fundamentalist movement, then discusses its emergence and solidification during post-war Evangelicalism as the pinnacle of Evangelical higher education, advancing the principles of faith(ful) integration.

An interesting addition to these dissertations is Citadel Under Siege: The Contested Mission of an Evangelical Christian Liberal Arts College by David Lansdale, a 1990 PhD graduate of Stanford University. Based on archival research and personal interviews (conducted on-site, while supposedly living in his van). An oversimplification, Lansdale’s thesis advances that tensions exist (at any college) between faculty and trustees. This occurs because faculty hold a responsibility to broaden the vision of its students, while trustees must chart and maintain a course. At times these two functions conflict, though not necessarily so. Lansdale’s thesis suggests that Wheaton’s faculty were a liberalizing force and that the trustees would need to counter that force in order to maintain a path of its choosing. This dissertation was circulating on Wheaton’s campus around the time of the presidential search process in the early 1990s.

Chignell’s article tells one aspect of Wheaton’s history over the last twenty years. The works mentioned above further illuminate Chignell’s work and the college’s past. This is certainly not the last word on Wheaton. May Truth ever be sought as scholars engage the historical record.

Wheaton’s Charisma

The modern Pentecostal movement emerged in 1906 during a revival conducted at 312 Asuza Street in Los Angeles. As the meeting progressed, worshipers received an entirely unexpected “baptism in the Holy Ghost,” wherein nearly all present spoke with other tongues, proclaiming heartfelt praises in “heavenly” prayer languages, presumably understood by God alone. Miraculous healings and prophetic utterances accompanied the event. Following the Asuza Street revival, Pentecostalism remained for years on the fringe of evangelicalism, confined largely to its own local assemblies and schools.

But in 1959 the movement shed its relative obscurity when Reverend Dennis Bennett of Van Nuys, California, rector of the “old-line stuffy” 2600-member St. Mark Church, heard about a mysterious “baptism in the Holy Spirit” experienced by a young couple in a neighboring parish. Bennett’s congregation was not troubled with heresy or divisions, but he fully realized that they – and he – needed a boost of additional energy, a blast of holy power to ignite dormant potential. So, curious but cautious, he visited the couple at their home, noting their extraordinary peace and evident stability. Praying with them at their behest, Bennett suddenly received his Baptism. There in the living room, utterly shocked amid an overwhelming flood of joy, he did indeed speak in tongues, issuing a torrent of unknown words, the supposed heavenly language. Later as he witnessed of this event, several members of St. Mark’s also spoke in these strange tongues, praising God with renewed vigor. As news of Bennett’s experience traveled – covered by both Newsweek and Time – other mainstream denominations investigated his claims. Consequently, pastors and lay people across the nation received a similar Baptism; and soon the Pentecostal blessing invaded the pews of not only most Protestant denominations, but spread throughout the halls of Catholicism as well. The widespread dissemination of Pentecostalism (now known as the “Charismatic Movement” because of its openness to the charisms, or gifts of the Holy Spirit) across denominational lines is usually documented as beginning with Bennett’s ministry.

Father Winkler and Leanne PayneHowever, Leanne Payne, founder of Pastor Care Ministries, explains in her autobiography, Heaven’s Calling (2008), that charismatic renewal within Episcopalianism had ignited as early as 1956 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wheaton, Illinois, under the rectorship of Fr. Richard Winkler. She writes:

People, including well-known leaders (clergy, physicians, nurses, theologians, professors and teachers, authors, and lay leaders), traveled to Trinity Episcopal Church from the ends of the earth to visit, learn, and receive prayer for restoration and freedom from whatever chains bound them. Indeed, Fr. Winkler laid hands on, anointed, and prayed for countless numbers of priests to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and they in turn ministered to others. One of them was the Reverend Dennis Bennett who took the ministry forward in wonderful ways but especially through his book Nine O’Clock in the Morning and his ministry to orthodox priests.

Christian leaders who visited Trinity Episcopal to consult with Winkler include Agnes Sanford, founder of the School of Pastoral Care, author Catharine Marshall and missionary R.A.Torrey III, grandson of Reuben Archer Torrey, third president of Moody Bible Institute.

Leanne Payne’s papers (SC-125) are maintained in Special Collections at Wheaton College.