Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Merry Merrill Tenney Christmas

This fine bit of Christology from Dr. Merrill Tenney, former Dean of the Wheaton College Graduate School, appeared in the December, 1958, Alumni Magazine.

Merrill TenneyIn the obscurity of a stable in a cave in Bethlehem of Judea there occurred one of the most ordinary events of history: a baby was born. Nothing could be less spectacular; it is as common as mankind. Every one of us who now lives entered this world by that same gateway, so that this baby was no exception. He did not come from an aristocratic family. Mary, his mother, though of good ancestry, was of Galilean peasant stock, and her husband, Joseph, was a village carpenter. Both were well known to all their neighbors as good but ordinary people, probably neither better nor worse than the average. They had neither power, nor wealth, nor influence. No particular notice was taken of the baby’s arrival, and there was no celebration in His honor. The populace of Bethlehem did not know that He existed.

Nevertheless, His birth was a landmark in the history of the world that marked a change in the very method of reckoning time, and that changed the course of empire. While the fact of His birth was not extraordinary, the nature of His birth most certainly was, for both of the Gospels that describe it assert unequivocally that He was born of a virgin. Mary, His mother, officially betrothed to Joseph, but the marriage had not been consummated before He was born. The accounts tell us that His birth was announced by an angelic messenger, and that the Holy Spirit so came upon Mary that her child was called “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and the celestial hosts who appeared to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem sang of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” when He entered the world.

This mingling of the supernatural and the natural, of deity and humanity is the miracle of Christmas. God has entered into the experience of humanity not as a casual visitor, but as a partaker of our flesh will all its limitations and sorrow. “He was in all points tempted like as we are.” Nevertheless, he was not just a victim of fate, for through the vehicle of the human body He labored, taught, died and rose that He might reveal the nature of God to men, and that He might fulfill God’s purpose in saving them. The miracle of Christmas is that in the coming of Jesus, God made himself our Redeemer, and that in the ordinary process of birth a new and supernatural power entered human life. Because He is both God and man, He is able to destroy death and to give eternal deliverance from fear and failure.

The Third Man Factor

We know the names of the great. But there are those who, as influential as any statesman, author or inventor, step in and out of history. Amazingly, their identity remains totally unknown.

One such figure appears in the Bible, Daniel 3:16-28. King Nebuchadnezzar did not appreciate the fact that his captives, “certain Jews,” Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, refused to worship the golden image he had provided, so he ordered the boys bound and thrown into a blazing furnace. Looking into the pit, the king saw another figure. “Lo, I see four men loose,” he told his confused counselors, “walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” The king concluded that God had sent an angel to protect the three Jewish boys.

One day in the mountains of Tibet missionaries Bob Ekvall and Ed Carlson (both graduates of Wheaton College) were riding their horses. Fully aware that larger packs of marauders might overtake a smaller groups, both carried rifles and knew how to use them. Though Ekvall never killed a man, he stated that he had shot the horses out from under a few. As Carlson and Ekvall rode up a remote pass, they saw in the distance several men on horseback galloping toward them, obviously plotting an assault. Suddenly the would-be bandits stopped and retreated. Later, Ekvall came across one of the men and asked why they had ridden away so hastily. “You outnumbered us,” he replied. “We weren’t afraid of you. We weren’t afraid of your friend. But who was that shining one with you?” Ekvall was understandably baffled.

Encountering apparitions was new to Ekvall and Carlson, but it is not so to the human experience. John Geiger, author of The Third Man Factor (2009) chronicles several such visitations. A few instances from the book illustrate:

Sir Ernest Shackleton, during his 1916 expedition to the South Pole, ordered his crew to abandon their ice-battered vessel, Endurance, and trek across breaking floes and frozen tundra, desperately searching for the shelter of a whaling station. Traversing mile after agonizing mile over glaciers and unnamed mountains, Shackleton and his starved, exhausted men at last reached their destination. Later, the explorer admitted that he and his companions, each without telling the other, had experienced the acute sense of a comforting, protective presence guiding them. In lectures he spoke of the event, but declined to elaborate. “None of us cares to speak about that,” he told an interviewer. “There are some things which can never be spoken of. Almost to hint about them comes perilously near to sacrilege. This experience was eminently one of those things.”

During his historic 1927 transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, Charles Lindbergh, piloting the Spirit of St. Louis, flew into explosive thunderstorms and blinding fog, drifting with each mile ever closer to sleep. To keep awake, he doused himself with cold rainwater. During the twenty-second hour of his voyage Lindbergh sensed other presences aboard the craft. These “phantoms,” he wrote, were there to assist, “conversing and advising on my flight, discussing problems of my navigation, reassuring me, giving me messages of importance unattainable in ordinary life.” The famed aviator did not discuss this until nearly three decades after the flight. He remembered “transparent forms in human outline,” but stated, “I can’t remember a single word they said.”

On 911 during the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, at least one documented report told of an unknown rescuer suddenly appearing amid the chaos to lead desperate office workers to safety through thick smoke and falling debris.

Though necessary to survival, Geiger says, the Third Man is not “real” as a physical manifestation. He believes that each human brain carries an “angel switch,” a brain response activated by extreme and unusual circumstances. The Third Man may be explained neurologically, he suggests, but this does not answer “why” he appears. Ultimately, the Third Man is an instrument of hope.

The prophet Daniel, Robert Ekvall, Ernest Shackleton, Charles Lindbergh and many others throughout history would surely agree with Geiger that the Third Man is an instrument of hope, but would wholeheartedly disagree that he is not real. Something unreal cannot lead a dying man to safety, just as a starving man cannot eat unreal food that suddenly appears on his plate. Who or whatever the identity of the Third Man, he religiously keeps his appointments.

A painting depicting Ekvall’s encounter, “Who Was That Shining One?” by DeWitt Whistler Jayne, is displayed in the Special Collections reading room on the third floor of the Billy Graham Center.

“The union of all who love in the service of all who suffer”

Chicago has always been seen as a rough-and-tumble kind of place stuck in the center of this country’s vast agricultural region and far short of the glories of the refined cities of either coast. The former stockyards of Chicago reinforced this. It is said that Chicago’s name can be traced back to native peoples and their name for the wild onions found locally. Onions are grown and mired in mud and muck and this is not too far from an apt description of Chicago’s history.

In the dozen or so years around the turn of the twentieth-century several individuals and writers sought to chronicle and clean up the filth of Chicago. The key event that afforded the opportunity for much of the work was the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Having worked in Chicago for several decades during his worldwide evangelistic ministry, Dwight Lyman Moody held evangelistic meetings for six months during the “fair.” His campaigns have been detailed in Moody in Chicago (1894).

Whereas Moody was the evangelist, William T. Stead was the journalist. His chronicling of the religious needs of Chicago were quite different. Though Moody garnered the public’s attention it was never through outlandish acts or prurience. The same cannot be said for Stead’s provocative work If Christ Came to Chicago. Stead had come to Chicago from London as the fair was closing up. He was known as a great reporter and social reformer and had come to Chicago to study its newspapers, but the exposition’s great White City caught his attention. The thought of its destruction seemed too much and Stead sought to preserve the glories created there. As Stead remained in Chicago his eyes caught sight of another Chicago. Rather than the gleaming purity of the White City he saw the filthy darkness of the Black City that was in need of social and civic regeneration. In all his travels he had never encountered a city with greater promise, or problems.

Map - If Christ Came to ChicagoThe closing of the fair had left many out of work and the economy of Chicago, previously propped up by the fair, tumbled into an economic depression. The great needs that emerged also facilitated an environment filled with licentiousness and debauchery. Stead wrote If Christ Came to Chicago to document the specifics of this environment and mapped it out with great specificity in Chicago’s First Ward. This laid the groundwork for future ethnographic studies of Chicago, most notably the work conducted by Hull House.

By writing this book Stead hoped to enlist the help of Chicago’s churches, the labor unions, and millionaires, many of whom, he felt, had neglected their Christian duty to the poor. His jeremiad was written to incite action. It certainly incited a public response, especially the book’s map of the location of bordellos, saloons, and pawn brokers.

The Octopus on the LakeDespite Stead’s goal of bringing together a “union of all who love in the service of all who suffer,” the dirt wasn’t easily shaken from the wild onion. The roots of the onion are many. Nearly a decade and a half after the close of the Columbian Exposition it was still quite easy to document the problems of Chicago. The Social Evil in Chicago (1911) was a study conducted by the city’s Vice Commission and served as it’s report to the Mayor and city Council “of exciting conditions” in Chicago. The conditions of Chicago had not improved and in some ways were normalized and facilitated as can be seen by the official licensing of prostitution within the bounds of Wentworth and Wabash avenues (p. 38).

Chicago can still be described in many of the same ways as these texts from a century ago. The corruption of Chicago’s First Ward has been the fodder of newspaper accounts in recent decades. It still could use a “union of all who love in the service of all who suffer.”

Edgar C. Bundy

Edgar C. Bundy was a strident opponent of left-wing politics and one of the supremely colorful personalities inhabiting Wheaton. A retired Air Force former Staff Intelligence Officer, serving in every major theater of operations during World War II, he was also the Chief of Research and Analysis, Headquarters Intelligence, of the Alaskan Air Command after the war. He testified frequently as an expert witness in both open and executive sessions of both houses of Congress and state legislatures. An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Bundy preached at conferences and churches across America. Opposing the incursion of theological compromise and radical leftism, he spoke on hundreds of radio and television talk shows, debating such figures as Bishop James A. Pike and spokesmen of the Communist Party. He was a member of the Mayflower Society, The Order of Founders and Patriots of America, the Sons of the American Revolution, the American Legion, The Military Order of the World Wars, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and was past president of the Miami Beach Symphony Orchestra.

For decades he and his wife, Lela May, resided in the Jesse Wheaton home, built in 1838, given to them by a Wheaton family member as an inheritance. At their home the Bundys entertained doctors, attorneys and politicians. They had no children, but Lela May worked alongside her husband in his endeavors, including raising German shepherds which they often brought into their offices at the right-wing Church League of America. As president of the organization, Major Bundy (as he preferred) maintained a far-reaching mailing list for the distribution of his newsletter and books. His roommate in officers training school was Senator Lloyd Bentsen, and during drill exercises he marched with actor Clark Gable. Bundy’s collection of books, maps and file cards was occasionally used by the FBI for research. World-traveled and widely connected, he enjoyed friendships with powerful conservative voices like Robert Taft, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan. Bundy, single-minded, fearless and irascible, was a Cold War warrior who undoubtedly loved his country and did not deviate from his principles. Bundy perceived that certain evangelical leaders and institutions had been co-opted by unfriendly forces through the slow, steady poison of compromise. In books such as How Liberals and Radicals are Manipulating Evangelicals and How the Communists Use Religion he presents his expose of their tactics, chronicling the evangelical drift toward liberalism and Communism. “Great moral damage has been done to the United States as a result of this neoevangelical compromise,” he writes.

Pearl S. Buck

In recent days a collection of four Pearl Buck manuscripts have been placed on deposit at the Wheaton College Special Collections. These include a hand-written “Son of Fate” manuscript, “Cultural Contacts of the West with the Far East”, a typed speech given to the Cooper Union on February 1, 1944, and a signed autograph manuscript of her “Asia Column” from 1940. The featured “Asia Column” is five pages on 8.5 x 11″ three-ring paper with heading in Buck’s hand, and includes Buck’s signature, with cross-outs and rewrites by the author. In April of 1935, Buck took charge of the “Asia Book-Shelf” column for Asia Magazine, assigning books for review and writing many of the notices herself. In this five-page manuscript she choose four books for review that were incredibly significant and have been reprinted and still available since first published in 1939: In Stalin’s Secret Service (Krivitsky), British Diplomacy in China, 1880-1885 (Kiernan), A Japanese Village (Embree), and Five Miles High (Bates).

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), author and activist, was an ardent feminist and multi-culturalist. The first American woman to win a Nobel Prize for literature, she was acknowledged by most of her peers as one of the leading authorities on China and Asia. She had gone to China with her missionary parents at age three months in 1892. She was educated in the United States but returned to China afterward. Upon her return to the United States in the 1930’s, Buck found a country isolationist in thinking and parochial in world-view. With a characteristic energy, Buck and her second husband Richard set about making east and west better known to each other. Her work at Asia Magazine went a long way to assist in that task. (Conn, Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, p.181).

The Blanchards on the Bible

As a child the Bible intrigued Jonathan Blanchard. He would carry one to school to read enough times that he soon was given the name “Bible Blanchard.” (Minority Of One, p. 20) In his latter years, Jonathan lamented the secularization of the American educational system. He said that “the ‘modern method’ of education is constantly cropping out. So far as we understand it, the modern method means no Bible and no religion of Christ.” The champions of the new method divorced “education from God and His Word …. Christianity speaks now in whispers in common school associations and state universities.” (Minority of One, p. 200). The influence of Jonathan Blanchard’s view of the Bible can be seen in a Wheaton College student’s response to one of his assignments when he wrote “What has made America? … We answer in a word–the Bible. . . . Yes; it is the Bible that gives America her greatness.” (Christian Cynosure, May 1, 1873.)

Charles Blanchard shared his father’s perspective on the Bible in education. He commented on the place of the Scriptures within Wheaton’s education system when he said “Our College is not an experiment …. The Bible is not only considered the ultimate authority in morals and religion, but is taught as a branch of learning, needful to all well-educated persons.” (Fire on the Prairie, p104-5) In his book, Getting Things from God, Charles wrote that “An age or land in which the Bible is neglected will be a time when, or a country where, all sorts of evils prevail.” (p. 145) Jonathan Blanchard said that “the principles of the Bible are justice and righteousness.” (A debate on Slavery, p. 328)

Svetlana, the Little Princess

While living in Russia, Svetlana Stalin, the only daughter and last surviving child of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was “the little princess.” A perfume and many Russian girls were named after her. At the end of her days in Wisconsin, far from her homeland, she died in obscurity on November 22, 2011, at age 85. Between those points Svetlana rode the soaring ups and dismal downs of an extraordinary life.

Defecting in 1967 from Russia, she moved to India, then to Europe, then to the United States. Already widowed and divorced, she married American William Wesley Peters, a former son-in-law to Frank Lloyd Wright, and took the name “Lana Peters.” Returning to Moscow in 1984, she moved to Soviet Georgia, than back to America, then to England, then to France, back to America, then to England again, before finally settling in Wisconsin. During her U.S. sojourn, Svetlana espoused deeply conservative causes, financially supporting William F. Buckley’s National Review. In Russian, she seemingly denounced these views, stating that she had been a “pet” used by the C.I.A. Residing again in the U.S., she retracted her former anti-conservative sentiments, accusing the press of mistranslating her statements.

In 1982 the BBC aired “A Week with Svetlana,” documenting her visit at the Sussex home of Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge. The famed defector discussed her experience as Stalin’s daughter and the growth and stability of religion in the USSR.

The program was positively received. One woman wrote to Muggeridge, “…It was so very interesting to meet Svetlana, whose faith has sustained her through her joys and sadness…Her conversation, riveting and evocative, reminded me of my young days…Eager to create a brave, new world…” Another wrote: “My heart has been set singing after watching on the television yourself and your guest Stalin’s daughter…The pictures of your house, the garden and the dear English countryside was a feast indeed. Even more, was the unwavering faith of your guest. ‘Christ is alive!’ Hallelulah, my heart replies…”

“You can’t regret your fate,” Svetlana once remarked, “although I do regret my mother didn’t marry a carpenter.” She authored two autobiographies, Twenty Letters to a Friend and Only One Year.

The papers of Malcolm Muggeridge (SC-04) are maintained at Wheaton College Special Collections.