Monthly Archives: August 2011

On My Mind – Arthur Holmes

Twenty years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine featured a series of articles in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Arthur F. Holmes (who taught at Wheaton from 1951-1994) began the series in the January 1991 issue.

When Wheaton Alumni asked me to tell alumni what I am thinking about nowadays, my mind turned to a recent best-seller that both Christian college and public university educators have been talking about for the last three or four years. Alan Bloom complains in The Closing of the American Mind that today’s students talk as if no such things as right or wrong exist; he adds that they have no world-view in which any such values might be grounded, and that as a result they lack a strong sense of personal identity. Instead we hear talk of “alternative lifestyles,” as if morality is simply a matter of personal preferences.

This is hardly new: many alumni will recall from college philosophy courses Sartre’s existentialist theme from the forties and fifties, that since God is dead we now must create our own values. Or the positivist’s claim that, if I say honesty is morally good or dishonesty is wrong, I am in reality just venting my emotions. Someone has called it the “Booh! Hoorah! theory.” Even Christians sometimes talk as if God imposes his law on otherwise morally neutral situations. This implies that morality has nothing to do with the essential nature of human beings and that ours is not in any sense a moral universe. On the other hand stands the claim that we do live in a moral universe, ordered in ways that bear witness to what is good and right. If this is the case, then we do not create our own values, for they are already inherent in God’s creation.

Recently, I have been researching the historical roots and development of our belief in a moral universe. For more years than I like to think, I have been teaching a year-long course on the history of Western philosophy. I am now retracing that story from the standpoint of this topic and, having come to the beginning of the Middle Ages, am hoping to complete the resulting manuscript–along with revisions to my history course–before retirement catches up with me a few years from now.

The story begins with the emerging idea of cosmic justice in Homer and Hesiod, Aeschylus, and Sophocles. A just person and a justly ordered city-state are but microcosms of an entire universe ruled fur just ends. The presocratic philosophers, speculating about such order in the universe, proposed that a cosmic Mind, a logos, lies behind both nature’s laws and the moral life. As a result, concern for the moral improvement of the soul naturally led Plato to his famous theory of forms and the belief that God must be good–a view Aristotle echoes in his claim that everything has purpose, a natural end that is good. And so foundations were laid for theories of natural law, natural rights, and objective moral values that have shaped Western civilization. From this standpoint Bloom is right when he claims that objectively grounded moral values point to an overall world-view, within which framework I can define my own identity.

Our history was, of course, shaped by the convergence of this Greek tradition with the biblical heritage of the Christian church. So my story must also include the interplay of philosophy and theology in the early church, the medievals, the Protestant reformers, and beyond.

But with the rise of modern science it takes a new direction. In an impersonal world of matter in motion, moral concerns seem alien. “Can I take a thing so dead,” Tennyson asks, “Embrace it for my mortal good?” Empirical methods had no way of getting from observable facts to intrinsic values. So ethics became a matter either of subjective feeling or else of predicting desirable consequences. In both cases, subjectivity ruled, relativism resulted, and there was really no such thing as right or wrong. The world-view was in effect that of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: God is dead, so “we must become the meaning of the earth.”

It is little wonder that voices arose in protest, and Bloom is far from alone. Forty years ago the British Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe wrote that for half a century the concept of moral law had seemingly been excluded from ethics. Yet, she continued, how could the idea of moral law survive without the idea of a lawgiver? In that sense, the Greeks were closer to the truth than are many of our contemporaries. Even Bloom fails to get that point.


Dr. Arthur F. Holmes is Professor Emeritus and former chair of the philosophy department. A native of England, where he received his early schooling, Holmes completed his education with a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1957. He has been the recipient of several awards, including Illinois Professor of the Year presented by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Dr. Holmes has authored several books, including, Shaping Character: Moral Education in the Christian College (1991), All Truth is God’s Truth (1977), and The Idea of a Christian College (1975).

Friday Night Lights

Wheaton High School Football team, 1920The school year has begun in many parts of the country and, despite record-breaking heat, fall is in the air. This means football! Football begins on Red Grange field as the Wheaton Warrenville South Tigers take on the Glenbard West Hilltoppers from Glen Ellyn. Over ninety years ago Harold “Red” Grange (first row, third from the left) donned a football uniform along with his fellow Wheaton classmates and made his way to the local field with its simple wooden goal posts. Before play could begin it was likely necessary that the field needed to be cleared of the many apples that had fallen from the trees around the field. The “Red” Grange collection at Wheaton College is the largest publicly available archival collection on this football great. It covers much of his life and career.

It doesn’t take brains – just perseverance

Arthur Schulert, born on a farm near Gladwin, MI, was third among eight children. He accepted Christ at age nine. A lad possessing determination, he conquered his stuttering in high school while participating in the debate club. From there he enrolled at Wheaton College, studying chemistry, squeezing four years into three. He then enrolled at Ohio State for one quarter before transferring to Princeton, pursuing his graduate degree while assisting with the Manhattan Project. Briefly pausing his scientific studies, he took theological training at Grace Seminary in Winona Lake, IN, while teaching part-time at Taylor University. Schulert earned his Ph.D in biochemistry at the University of Michigan in 1951. Downplaying his abilities, he insisted that “It doesn’t take brains – just perseverance.” In addition to acquiring a degree at Michigan, he also found a wife – Ruth Darling – while attending InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meetings. After marrying the couple moved to New York City. In 1955 he joined Lamont Geochemical Laboratory, researching the effects of often-lethal radioactive fallout, specifically “Strontium 90,” a man-made variant of the metal that seeks human bone, causing in large doses bone cancer and leukemia. During the late ’50s Schulert frequently appeared on television, discussing the danger of nuclear radiation and environmental abuse. His pioneering research was covered by Newsweek, Time, Life and the New York Times.

Though Schulert labored in laboratories among the variables of powerful natural and artificial forces, he offered comfort with this thought: “The One who made the world also gave us His Word, the Bible. In the Bible we find that Jesus Christ offers His power and very life to those who will trust Him. This power transforms man’s self-destroying nature and imparts eternal life to the believer’s soul. The Christian, in the face of nuclear perils, can confidently repeat after the Apostle Paul, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.'” He never felt that modern scientific advances discredited the Bible. If there seemed to be a contradiction, the difference may result from either misinterpretation of the scriptures or ascribing undue finality to scientific pronouncements. As evidence accumulates, he felt, science would more closely confirm the Bible.

In 1966 he joined the Vanderbilt University Medical School Biochemistry faculty, and four years later founded the Environmental Science Corporation where he served as president and CEO. Schulert and Ruth were active members of the Village Baptist Church, Gideons International and the Tennessee Organization of Professional Speakers. He delivered in 1968 an address entitled “Wheaton’s Survival Amidst Rapid Change and Rising Federalism” to the annual Wheaton College Scholastic Honor Society. Dr. Arthur Schulert died in 1993, survived by his wife, five sons and two daughters. Appropriately, his funeral, pre-arranged by Schulert himself, was “…a time of praise and thanksgiving.” Its theme: “It is well with my soul.” Schulert’s papers (SC-175), comprising correspondence and published articles, are housed at Wheaton College Special Collections.

Mending Fences

On October 30, 1997 Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) gave the third annual Kuyper Lecture entitled “Mending Fences: Renewing Justice Between Government and Civil Society,” sponsored by the Center for Public Justice and Wheaton College. During the economic prosperity of the late 1990s, Coats asked whether a growing economy, high employment, and low interest rates indicate that the citizens of the United States are thriving? In Coats’ published address and responses from three distinguished social activists, Coats applauded America’s economic prosperity and the more limited role of government, but was distressed by the moral crisis of the culture and the signs of a weakening “civil society.” There is a paradox inherent in the viewpoint of the American founders: In order to have political freedom, individuals must embody self-discipline and virtue. It is the responsibility of parents, church leaders, and nonprofit service providers to train each generation in democratic habits and manners: reasoned reflection, self-mastery, public spirit, and respect for the rights of others. Senator Coats addressed the need to strengthen the authority and economic well-being of those institutions that teach moral values. As author of the legislative package The Project for American Renewal, he argued that the government must use its authority to empower constructive actions in the nongovernmental sector. [ Excerpted from The Center for Public Justice ].

The annual Kuyper lecture has been held since 1995 and is named for Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), an influential Dutch scholar-statesman. Kuyper saw that religion was a the deep, driving influence of competing religions in human society and that Jesus Christ made comprehensive and inescapable claims on the world and these two were exemplified with the strength and influence of international bonds of Christian community. Kuyper believed that the Christian life cannot be confined to church life. Accepting Christ’s claim of authority over the entire world, he sought to follow the implications of that faith into politics, journalism, education, and other human endeavors.

The Daniel R. Coats Papers are available to researchers at the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections.

Audio icon LISTEN to Dan Coats 1997 Kuyper lecture (mp3 – 01:04:08, Coats begins at 11:10)

Beyond a rock and a hard place – Mark O. Hatfield (1922-2011)

Mark O. HatfieldMark Odom Hatfield (1922-2011), a friend of Christian higher education, passed away August 7, 2011 at the age of 89. Hatfield, a supporter of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, was a former legislator and governor for the state of Oregon and served his home state as a United States Senator for thirty years. His Christian faith informed his perspective on the world and the legislation that he wrote. While a member of the Oregon House he introduced legislation to outlaw discrimination in public accommodations after seeing his fellow students of color refused hotel rooms in Salem. A former soldier, he was an outspoken critic of war, specifically the Viet Nam and Persian Gulf wars, and was not afraid to take his fellow Republicans to task on issues close to his heart. In the early 1970s he teamed up with George McGovern to block funding for the Viet Nam War. He was proud of his efforts to enact legislation in 1987 that banned nuclear weapons testing. Hatfield’s friendship for Christian higher education extended to Wheaton College where he visited and spoke on several occasions. In 1960 Wheaton College bestowed an honorary doctor of humanities degree upon Hatfield. However, his political views later put him at odds with Wheaton College president Hudson Armerding, who rescinded an invitation to speak in chapel. It may be that Armerding feared an unruly response in chapel similar to what was received by McGovern several years before. This “hiccup” caused a great stir on the campus and among alumni. The turmoil was repaired and Hatfield was invited to speak on campus, though not in chapel during this visit. Hatfield felt drawn to Wheaton seeing it as a place of good work. He noted that he felt “uplifted and spiritually refreshed” after his visit. During his later chapel talks and discussions with student visiting Washington, D.C. Hatfield would speak about fusing faith and politics and his life exemplified this integration. He never shied away from speaking on behalf of the poor, homeless and others in need. Hatfield wrote Between a rock and a hard place in 1976 that expressed his views on the Scriptures and socio-political action. Hatfield believed that the solutions to worlds problems should be demonstrated by the Church and not solved through military solutions. Carl F. H. Henry noted that this book would challenge all its readers. Having never lost an election, Hatfield was known as someone seeking the center rather than the left or right wing. He modeled Christian political action and helped influence the lives of many who followed in his footsteps, leaving a legacy of Christian conviction and compassion.

Vigorous in health and purpose

Arthur E. Christy, born in Lo Ting, South China, to Emma and Fritz Christopherson, missionaries for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, spoke Chinese before he spoke English, receiving his education at a Chinese village school. At 16 Christy (he later legally changed his name) departed China for the United States, pursuing his education at Wheaton College where he distinguished himself in scholarly endeavor as well as nobility of spirit. Not confined to the library, he participated in track, glee club, baseball and several other activities. A profile from the 1923 Record offers a glimpse into his campus life:


“Kristy” hails from China were they throw the baby girls away. Whether or not the fact that he was a boy saved him, we do not know. Certain it is that they never realized in those days of his early youth the wonderful combination of ennobling elements that are manifest in his character today. They have found expression in his senior year in a variety of activities, including the office of Beltionian vice-president, senior council representative, fullback on the 1921 eleven, and editor-in-chief of The Record. “Art” expects to land in China eventually, where we predict he will again occupy an editor’s chair.

Graduating from Wheaton, he taught at St. John’s Military Academy, the University of Minnesota and New York University before enrolling at Columbia. Darien Straw, professor of Logic and Rhetoric at Wheaton College, wrote to the Dean of Columbia, advocating Christy’s academic fellowship:

Concerning Mr. Arthur E. Christopherson, who was a student of mine throughout his college course, I desire to write a word of commendation as bearing upon his worthiness to receive a fellowship. He is a sturdy character, vigorous in health and purpose…His habits are good, his ideals are Christian, his energies are superb, his self-enjoyment is ample, his record is good, so I commend him to your most favorable consideration.

Of course, he was accepted. Residing in New York, Christy published Images in Jade, translations from classical and modern Chinese poetry. His courses at Columbia led in 1932 to a doctorate in comparative literature. His dissertation, entitled The Orient in American Transcendentalism: A Study of Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott, appeared in 1932 with The Transmigration of the Seven Brahmans. From 1935-36 he was a Guggenheim Fellow; and from 1930 to 1945 he taught at Columbia University Department of English and Comparative Literature, supervising master’s theses in American literature. In 1945 he was appointed professor of American Literature at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

When his missionary mother died in 1941, Christy composed an obituary published in The Alliance Weekly: “Her heart quietly ceased its functioning and she moved unobtrusively as in all her earthly life, to her heavenly resting place.” Five years later, recently returned from a conference on the participation of higher education in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at Estes Park, Colorado, Christy’s own heart “quietly ceased” as he crossed a street on his way from the University of Illinois campus to his home. Shortly thereafter, admitted to McKinley Hospital, he was pronounced dead at age 46 from an entirely unexpected heart attack. His death was an incalculable loss to the field of letters. He left a widow, Gertrude Noetzel (B.A. University of Wisconsin, 1920 and M.A. University of Illinois, 1947), and a son, Bruce, born in 1928 (B.A. University of Illinois, 1950).

On My Mind – Dennis Okholm

Twenty 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. Professor of Theology Dennis Okholm (who taught at Wheaton from 1989-2003) was featured in the April/May 1992 issue.

Dennis OkholmThe first annual Wheaton College Theology Conference has been “on my mind” for the past year. (Just to make sure it can rightly claim to be “annual,” the second one will be on February 25-26, 1993, dealing with “Theology and Science”) The conference is now a fait accompli, but the issue it dealt with remains with us: the challenge of pluralism. My colleague, Tim Phillips, and I selected this topic for the conference because it is the crucial issue before the Christian community today. It is especially crucial for evangelicals who make exclusive claims such as “Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe–in a world that prides itself on letting each person have his or her own opinion when it comes to matters of religion, artistic expression, or moral behavior.

John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion is a key intellectual defense of this pluralism. His thesis is that “we always perceive the transcendent through the lens of a particular religious culture with its distinctive set of concepts, myths, historical exemplars and devotional or meditational techniques.” If Hick merely described the diversity of religious beliefs, his statement would be undeniable. But he insists that this plurality is not just a description of the world; it is a religious truth. All religions end up referring to the same ineffable transcendent Reality.

This will set well with many people– from academics to talk show hosts. The point of many discussions in the university and on the [Phil] Donahue show is not to arrive at the truth of the matter, if the “matter” has to do with religious beliefs and moral values; the point is simply to keep the discussion going and respect the divergent points of view, because, as one talk show guest said about pornography, “The great thing about our society is that you can have your opinion and I can have mine.”

How did we get to this point? Lesslie Newbigin helps us to understand in his book Foolishness to the Greeks. We have divided the world into two realms. One realm is the public world of scientific fact that explains everything in terms of cause and effect relationships; we have agreed that in this world some statements (such as “atoms exist”) are true and people would he fools to deny them. The other realm is the private world of religious beliefs and moral values, which are based on assumptions about the purpose of human existence. But as a society we do not agree what human life ought to be. So, statements like “Homosexual behavior is morally wrong” and “It is only through Jesus of Nazareth that a person can be saved” are relegated to the realm of private opinion. This is a democratization of religious beliefs and moral values. It makes for good ratings on the Donahue show. It should not be acceptable to the Christian who confesses her credo on Sunday.

The frightening thing for me is that so many evangelicals have bought into this agenda. We have trouble insisting that “Jesus of Nazareth is the only way to God” without adding, “At least, that’s my opinion,” But for a Christian, such a religious claim is stating a truth about reality itself. Jesus did not die for some general religious or moral conception that we can all discover by ourselves. When the death and resurrection occurred, the universe was changed.

The problem even gets worse when evangelicals buy into the bifurcation and put politics in the public realm and religion in the private realm. For example, one clergyman in the Chicago area recently said of Oliver North’s visit to his church: “I hope people can separate his politics from his personal faith.” As Newbigin points out, if we start doing that we are going to have to dismiss much of the Old Testament, for everything political that concerned Israel had to do with her claim that Yahweh is Lord over all life public and private.

What I have said is perhaps the easy part. The harder part comes in the second half of our conference: How does the church respond? Do we reconstruct an Anabaptist vision, not expecting the world to understand what we’re about unless they join in? This is what Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon propose in their provocative book Resident Aliens. Do we strategically try to challenge the world with a chastened Reformed agenda, such as Newbigin seems to propose in his book? Whatever we choose, it seems that the former methods (like rational proofs) will no longer convince people in our society of the truth of the gospel.

The discussion of pluralism is today’s hot topic. And it’s crucial. If evangelicals in the pew and in the academy do not grapple with this issue, we’ll either end up being mere reactionaries when segments of our society take issue with our exclusive religious claims and dogmatic moral values, or we’ll find ourselves among those who are merely entertained by the television talk shows.

The task will largely fall on my students’ shoulders. I pray for them a lot.

Dennis Okholm (B.A. Wheaton; M.A., M.Div. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Th.M., Ph.D. Princeton Theological Seminary) currently teaches in the department of theology and philosophy at Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University. Previously he was professor of theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and an oblate of a Benedictine monastery (Blue Cloud Abbey, SD). He has coauthored and coedited several books, including two collections of papers presented at the annual Wheaton Theology Conference and Welcome to the Family: An Introduction to Evangelical Christianity (all in partnership with Timothy R. Phillips).

Frederick Buechner – Spy

Frederick BuechnerIn 1953 after great success and failure as a writer Frederick Buechner left his post at Lawrenceville School to write full time. After leaving the security of his job he found he was unable to write a word. Needing to make a living he pursued several options. After his initial failed attempt as a professional writer Buechner sought employment in the advertising world but found that he needed a toughness that he knew he didn’t have to weather the rejection that can come in that business. So, in a complete roundabout he sought work with the Central Intelligence Agency. The United States had developed a hydrogen bomb and Khrushchev had become the leader of the Soviet Union. If there was to be another war Buechner would have rather been in the CIA rather than back in the infantry. Buechner had to interrupt his studies at Princeton to serve in the United States Army from 1944 to 1946. When asked in an interview if he could inflict pain upon someone to extract vital information in order to save lives Buechner realized he didn’t have the stomach to torture someone and discarded the CIA as an option. After these failed attempts at writing and finding gainful employment Buechner found himself feeling that much of his life was a farce. Finding himself on his own pilgrim’s progress — his own divine comedy. This comedy took him to church, simply because he had nothing else to do with his Sunday morning. After listening to sermon after sermon Sunday after Sunday Buechner was drawn to George Buttrick’s sermons. One sermon, actually one phrase, in particular struck him with great significance. Buttrick, in an off-the-cuff comment described Christ’s refusal of Satan’s temptations and the counterfeit crown he was offered. Buttrick said that the inward coronation of Christ as King takes place in the hearts of those who believe in him. The coronation occurs “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.” Buechner stumbled upon the open door of God’s grace that had been opened to him as he mulled over the pair of words, “great laughter.” In his 1985 chapel address at Wheaton College he recounted that “On such foolish tenuous holy threads hang the destinies of all of us.” The spy’s secret life was of little significance for Buechner as he realized that there was a life hidden to him. He found what he had half or partly-seen at other times in his life. He said he “found Christ.” All the poetic, psychological or historical words he knew failed to fully describe this event. Buechner found he had to rest simply in the name of Christ.