Category Archives: Books

E.E. Shelhamer and the “old stone walls” of Wheaton College

E.E. Shelhamer (1869-1947), prominent Methodist evangelist and author, writes of his early years at Wheaton College in Sixty Years of Thorns and Roses:

After earning enough to go West, I, for the first time, bade good-bye to home and friends. A day and night of travel brought me to the thriving city of Wheaton, Illinois (twenty-five miles west of Chicago), where preparations were begun for that long-cherished education. In order to lessen expenses four of us preacher boys kept “bachelors’ hall” the first year. One got breakfast, another dinner, I supper, and a fourth one washed all the dishes. In this way we were able to live at the rate of from thirty-five cents to $1.50 a week and grow fat. My first recitation came at 9:30 a, m., hence it gave me five hours (from 4 a.m. to 9 o’clock) for manual labor; then another hour in the afternoon and all day Saturday. I always kept several small jobs ahead for slack times, and averaged from $2.00 to $6.00 a week at fifteen cents per hour. The studying was done at night, sometimes 11:30 finding me poring over my books.

The other boys could not understand why they could not get work while I had more than I could do, but the secret was in leaving white collars at home and going prepared to take anything I could get. Sometimes I had the promise of only an hour’s work, but went at it with a relish and frequently got in a day or more at the same place. Any kind of work was solicited, such as gardening, whipping carpets, mowing lawns, trimming trees, sawing wood, unloading cars, cleaning out cisterns and sometimes other very unpleasant work that made my fingers bleed, but I was determined to make the best of it and not let my father borrow money or sell a cow, which would have been gladly done that he might assist me. I declared that if a boy at the age of eighteen could not educate and care for himself, he was not worth educating.

I well remember the first meeting in which I assisted. At the age of nineteen, I felt that I could no longer be caged up inside the old stone walls of Wheaton College, and accordingly joined a company of three young men at Atwood, Illinois. Souls were getting saved and interest was running high when the devil made his appearance in the form of the Justice of the Peace and other lewd fellows. Their first attempt was to cut down the tabernacle, but they succeeded in getting it only half down when we intercepted them.

Shelhamer usually signed his photos, “Yours for a clean, rather than a big work.”

The next night we remained after service, but well for us that we extinguished the lights, for we were shot at and missed but a few feet: we thanked God in that instance at least for “darkness rather than light.”

Had I applied myself as some of my colleagues did, I might have been a professor in an institution. What an elevation! In fact, when I left dear old Wheaton College it was intimated that I remain and teach. Thank God I escaped!…I remained that year and kept on top of public opinion. The next summer I entered evangelistic work and did not get back to Wheaton again. It was several years before I visited the place, and when I did I naturally inquired what had become of my old colleagues. One had died from the effects of bicycle riding, another was clerking in a little grocery store, another was driving a bakery wagon and still another was preaching for a worldly congregation.

Marked for Life: The Victory of Timothy Stoen

The Reverend Jim Jones, ordained by the Independent Assemblies of God and the Disciples of Christ, founded the Peoples Temple as a haven for the poor, the lonely and the forsaken. Unlike too many churches of the 1950s, the Temple was integrated and radically multi-ethnic. Fearing nuclear strikes during the Cold War in the vulnerable Midwest, Jones and his loyal congregants moved from Indianapolis to California, eventually settling in San Francisco, concentrating on aiding the oppressed and impoverished.

Timothy Stoen, a graduate of Wheaton College and Stanford Law School, met Reverend Jones in 1968 while employed as a deputy district attorney in San Francisco.

Timothy Stoen, 1960 Wheaton College yearbook.

Angry over racism and social disparity, Stoen was impressed with the large numbers of African Americans attending Jones’ church. He told an interviewer, “I had never seen such love between black people and white people — white people actually going up and physically hugging and touching black people and making them feel at home. I remember having seen Jim Jones go up to a little old black lady and just saying, ‘I love you, darling,’ and her eyes just shone.” Joining the People’s Temple, Stoen defended it against attack and offered free legal advice.

Reverend Jones, awash in bitter allegations and spiraling paranoia, relocated his congregation to the humid jungles of Guyana, establishing the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, also called Jonestown, where Stoen sent his six-year-old son, John Victor, to be communally raised. In 1977 Stoen resigned his job with the district attorney and moved to Jonestown to join John Victor. After Stoen returned to California for a short period, his ex-wife, the former head counselor for the People’s Temple, revealed to him that Jones’ “miraculous” healings were fake.

Pressure on the Temple increased as news agencies reported financial fraud and human rights abuses. Daily the tropical socialist utopia crumbled beneath Jones’ mental instability. Awakened to the mounting danger, Stoen fought to retrieve his son, but Jones refused. Members promised they would die before surrendering John Victor to Tim Stoen or the U.S. government. On November 18, 1978, Jones, desperate and totally unhinged, ordered his followers to drink grape Flavor Aid (not Kool-aid) laced with potassium cyanide. Sadly, they obeyed.

As hundreds of men, women and children dropped choking and vomiting to the ground, Jones, speaking calmly through a loudspeaker, exhorted his surviving disciples in San Francisco to “get” Tim Stoen. Continuing his rant, Jones ominously prophesied that the young attorney with “nobody else to hate” would finally destroy himself. By the end of the day, 907 people lay dead, including 304 children. John Victor was found poisoned in Jones’ cabin, and Jim Jones lay dead from a gunshot wound to the back of the head, delivered by an unknown assailant.

Jonestown remains the largest mass murder in history. Historians note with irony that were it not for this event,  Reverend Jim Jones would be remembered as a great civil rights leader.

In the years following, Timothy Stoen successfully resumed his career as a California prosecuting attorney. Despite professional success, he bore profound grief. He writes in his memoir:

But I also had deep guilt for violating the “moral code” — for sinning against God. Guilt for replacing the whole truth of God with the half truth — the idolatry — of ideology. Guilt for violating fidelity in marriage. Guilt for giving Jim Jones credibility while blinding myself by ideological passion to his emerging flaws. Guilt for making numerous untrue statements, and committing other moral compromises along the way.

As Stoen struggled with his haunted memories, it seemed that Jim Jones’ prophesy was proving true.

Reading several key books, particularly M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, Stoen began to somewhat comprehend the evil of Jim Jones and the psychological dynamics of the cult. He writes in his journal, “…This reading is making me see that I have a deep-seated passion for communion with God.” After hearing Alan Jones preach at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Stoen spent Good Friday, 1988, meditating on the stations of the cross.

In response to that utterly poignant Good Friday, I recognized the truth that Jesus Christ had suffered and died for me, that he had then conquered death, and that he was now offering — to all who asked — forgiveness for the wrong things they had done. I asked Jesus the Christ for forgiveness. Miracle of miracles, I was given it. The grief was assuaged. The guilt was gone. Mercy had triumphed. The curse — Jones’ further trespass into Satan’s dominion — was smashed. The prophet was vanquished.

On March 9, 1997, Timothy Stoen married Kersti (“Shesti”). On June 26, 2000, he resumed his career as a California prosecuting attorney. He was nominated in 2010 to the California District Attorneys Association as Prosecutor of the Year, and in 2014 was honored as one of the five top wildlife prosecutors in the state. Stoen tells his remarkable story in Marked for Death: My War with Jim Jones the Devil of Jonestown (2015).

This He Believed

Robert O. Ballou (1892-1977) achieved distinction in American literature as one of the sharpest editors in twentieth century New York publishing, accepting, among other accomplishments, the manuscript for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven (1932). Associated primarily with the Viking Press, his deeply ecumenical interests are reflected in the titles of the books he edited: The Portable World Bible (including selections from sacred volumes), The Nature of Religion, The Bible of the World and The Other Jesus: A Narrative Based on Apocryphal Stories Not Included in the Bible. In 1938 he wrote This I Believe: A Letter to My Son, relating his personal faith.

Though born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois, Ballou did not attend Wheaton College nor did he tread the well-worn evangelical trail. In fact, while maintaining a strong religious sensibility, Ballou cast an often scathing critical eye on his surroundings. Attending the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wheaton (now Gary Memorial United Methodist) with his mother and siblings, he recalls:

He [the pastor] was there to tell me what God was and what I believed about him, and so the next morning, when he asked me, “Do you believe in God?” before all of the people of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wheaton, Illinois, I said, “Yes,” just as I was supposed to. Probably my voice was very childlike and sweet and convincing…

As he matured, Ballou noted a few ironies:

After a few years the little wooden church seemed not good enough for us Methodists of  Wheaton. Then a very rich man named Elbert H. Gary, a man who was the head of a big steel company which took the iron ore…and made it into rails and locomotive wheels so that people could have “locomotion and transportation” gave us enough money to build a new church building of stone and cement and oak with stained glass for the windows. They called it the Gary Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, so that it would always bear the name of the man who had given money with which to build it. The way they named it made it sound as though Elbert H. Gary’s name was really more important than the name of Christ, whose church they said it was. And of course it was quite true that Christ had given us no money with which to build a stone church, and Elbert H. Gary had.

Continuing in this vein, Ballou pens few wry words about Wheaton College, or rather its then-president, Dr. Charles Blanchard:

I remember a man named Blanchard, who was president of Wheaton College. He felt that it was wrong to work on Sunday. He thought the railroads should not run on Sunday because that made the engineers and the firemen and the conductors and brakemen work. And so he would never ride a train on Sunday. Once he had to come visit some friends of ours named Steck, who lived about fifteen miles from Wheaton. He went there on Saturday, on the railroad. But he stayed all night and had to be back at Wheaton on Sunday. But on Sunday he wouldn’t ride on the railroad because he thought that making the railroad men work was not keeping the Sabbath day holy. So he asked Auntie Steck to drive him back to Wheaton and she did. I remember that it seemed to me that making Auntie Steck hitch up the horse (which was work) and making the horse run fifteen miles to Wheaton and fifteen miles back (which was work for the horse), was making the Sabbath day even less holy that it would have been if he had ridden on the train, for the railroad men were working whether he rode the train or not.

At the end of the memoir, Ballou concludes:

Seek your God quickly, my dear son. Never cease in your search — you, and all of your generation and those who are to come after you. Let you find quickly the glory of God which will lighten the world before it is too late, lest the spirit of man perish and the human race, proved futile, shall be wiped from the face of the earth by the God of Moses and Elijah, the God of Gautama Buddha, the God of Zoroaster, the God of Vardhamana, the God of Lao-tze, the God of Jesus, the God of St. Francis, the God of your grandmother, the God of Richard Wagner and Beethoven…the God of gentle spring rains, of growing flowers and singing birds, the God of flood and drought and earthquake…the God of peace and of war, of harmony and of discord, the one true God who is within your soul. My love for you and my faith in you be with you always in your search.

Laity Lodge, Holy and Healing

Laity Lodge, situated in the Frio River Valley near Leakey, Texas, overlooks a magnificent vista of forested hills and jagged rock. Far from urban chaos, this retreat stands as a haven for those needing to explore pressing questions, absorb the peace of the Spirit, or simply run into God.

Founded in 1961 by Howard Butt, Jr., the lodge welcomes its guests to encounter the sacred in privacy or community. Visitors to the canyon sing, walk, converse, eat and pray. Trusting every guest to engage all available resources, each retreat is opened with these words: “We have an agenda, but we don’t have an agenda for you.”

Frederick Buechner, author of Godric and The Sacred Journey, was a frequent speaker at Laity Lodge, where his recorded lectures have been transcribed and published as The Remarkable Ordinary (2017). He recalled:

On my first visit to Laity Lodge, when I was told not to turn left at the Frio River but in the Frio, I knew I had reached the land of Oz. After my first few days there I knew that, more even than Oz, it was a holy place. The high hills spoke of it. The river spoke of it. The “blue hole” where we swam spoke of it, as did Betty Ann Cody’s a cappella singing of “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” which left my face streaming with tears and which I will remember until the end of my days.  I don’t believe I have ever known a place as full of human kindness and openness and grace as I have found in virtually everyone I met there….I doubt I will ever get there again, but it will always remain part of the best of who I am.

Theologian J.I. Packer, author of Knowing God, said, “Laity Lodge…is one of the Christian world’s best kept secrets. Personal maturity in Christ is what it was and is about, and its ministry goes from strength to strength.”

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, spent one month each year for a decade at the Lodge. She began one lecture series declaring, “I am very blessed to have been here for this month in this place which, I believe, is holy and healing.”

Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw at Laity Lodge, 1997.

Eugene Peterson, pastor and translator of The Message, supported Laity Lodge’s efforts to erase the distinction between the “full-time” minister and the layman. He wrote, “…That seed quickly  matured into a lifelong determination to do whatever I can to abolish this expert/layperson division in the Christian community.”

Laity Lodge speakers whose papers are archived at Wheaton College include Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

The story of Laity Lodge is chronicled by former director Howard Hovde in A Dream That Came to Life: The History of the Laity Lodge Retreat Center (2007).

Gordon H. Clark and His Correspondents

Dr. Gordon H. Clark taught Philosophy at Wheaton College from 1936-43. As a committed five-point Calvinist, Clark’s unswerving Reformed theology ran him afoul of certain members of the administration, including President Dr. V. Raymond Edman and trustee Dr. Harry A. Ironside, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. Ironside wrote to Clark on July 13, 1942: “…I am thoroughly convinced that hyper-Calvinism is not consistent with a true evangelical attitude. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘evangelistic’ rather than ‘evangelical.'”

Though students like Ruth Bell (Graham) and others appreciated Clark’s precise, reasoned, self-described “cold” classroom presentation, contrasting the “warm” pietism popular at the time, pressure from various quarters resulted in Clark’s resignation. Leaving Wheaton College, Clark secured employment as the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Butler University in Indiana from 1945-73. After that he taught at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, from 1974-84.

Compiled by Douglas J. Douma and edited by Thomas W. Juodatis, Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (2017) presents an array of Clark’s exchanges with such prominent evangelical and fundamentalist leaders as J. Oliver Buswell, V. Raymond Edman, E.J. Carnell, Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry and J. Gresham Machen. The compilation uses many letters scanned from the College Archives of Buswell Library.

The Trinity Foundation in Unicoi, Tennessee, continues to republish Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s many books, tapes and pamphlets.

P.D. James (almost) at Wheaton College

P.D. James

Great Britain offers an abundance of superb mystery novelists, but after Agatha Christie, the reigning contemporary “Queen of Crime” was undoubtedly P.D. James, who published 22 books, fiction and non-fiction, and several short stories between 1962 and her death in 2014.

A committed Anglican and lay patron of the Prayer Book Society, James’s stories usually feature at least one religious character. In fact, her hero, Adam Dalgliesh, Detective Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard and poet, is the son of a vicar. The dynamics of good vs. evil are typically explored in her books. As such, P.D. James is often compared to another Anglican mystery writer from an earlier generation, Dorothy L. Sayers, whose papers are archived in the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College.

Perhaps some of the material in this 2009 book comprises what James might have taught at Wheaton College.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Barbara Reynolds, president of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, introduced Dr. Beatrice Batson, Chair of the English Department at Wheaton College, to P.D. James at a soiree in London. Batson and James immediately fell into a comfortable friendship, discussing books and faith.

Eventually Batson, ever seeking opportunities to expose her students to fine literature, boldly asked James if she would like to travel to the States to teach a course on creative writing for one semester at Wheaton College. To Batson’s amazement, James quickly agreed.

However, with Batson’s retirement encroaching in 1985, administrative plans fell apart and P.D. James never visited the campus.

 

 

Thumbprints in the Clay

Luci Shaw, in her newly released book, Thumbprints in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Roder and Grace (2016), traces the “thumbprints” of an endlessly creative, ever-creating God. ShawInterspersing poetry with autobiographical essays, Shaw writes, “I knew I had to make this writing the centerpiece, the birth announcement of my spiritual liberation and purpose in God.”

In addition to her reflections, Shaw includes moving reminiscences of her friendships with novelist Madeleine L’Engle, with whom she wrote several books, and mentor Clyde Kilby, her beloved and highly influential English professor at Wheaton College.

Thumbprints in the Clay is published by InterVarsity Press. The papers of Luci Shaw, Madeleine L’Engle and Clyde Kilby are archived at Wheaton College.

 

The Greg Livingstone Story

Greg Livingstone is a pioneer missionary to unreached Muslim peoples. His love for the millions of Muslims who had no opportunity to hear the gospel led to the founding of Frontiers, a mission agency specializing in church planting among Muslim nations and communities. LivingstoneFrontiers oversees 1,300 workers in 50 countries of Africa and Asia. Livingstone tells his story in You’ve Got Libya: A Life Serving the Muslim World (2014). The following passages relate his experiences as a student at Wheaton College in the late 1950s.

At Wheaton, I met for the first time real Christians who weren’t Baptists. I initially confused Plymouth Brethren with Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they used different church vocabulary than I’d known. But I figured that since Wheaton grad Jim Elliot, who had been killed two years earlier as a missionary in Ecuador, had been Plymouth Brethren, they couldn’t be that bad. Even more riveting to me was my discovery of Bible-believing Presbyterians. They seemed to love God with their minds!

Unlike me, most of the other students at Wheaton came from evangelical families. They’d heard it all before — sometimes ad nauseum. Far too many students were at Wheaton at the insistence of their families, who feared secular universities. Wes Craven, a suitemate during my freshman year, later became a director of horror films in Hollywood, despite spending his first twenty-two years imbibing sound biblical teaching.

In my quest to hang out with the spiritual guys, I got acquainted with an unknown Wheaton graduate, Bill Gothard, who was organizing Bible clubs in high schools. He asked me to oversee a group in Roselle, near Wheaton. Later, I became his assistant as he developed a new ministry. He would often use clever chalk illustrations to explain biblical concepts. Lugging his chalk board from church to church, we visited pastors to explain the principles that were later incorporated into his Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts. Gothard’s ministry was helpful to many young people.

My experiences at Wheaton College were certainly formative and preparatory for the rest of my life. Daily, we sat in chapel listening to some of the greatest bible expositors of the time. I was stunned when the British pastor Alan Redpath spoke on Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. I worried that I might be chaff — that I wasn’t really born again. I ran back to my room, dropped to my knees, and prayed, “Lord, if I am not really converted, if I am not really yours, I submit to you right now as my Lord and Savior.” I’ve never had to bring up the question again.

You’ve Got Libya is endorsed by George Verwer of Operation Mobilization, Don Richardson, author of Peace Child, Professor John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary and many others.

When You Reach Me

Miranda, the saavy sixth-grade protagonist of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (2009), continually references her all-time favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, as she faces her own baffling — and potentially deadly — time-travel conundrum in 1979 New York City. When You Reach Me is the 2010 winner of the Newbery Medal for Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for ChildrenStead. Stead writes in the Acknowledgments:

Every writer stands on the shoulders of many other writers, and it isn’t practical to thank of them. However, I would like to express my special admiration for the astonishing imagination and hard work of Madeleine L’Engle, whose books captivated me when I was young (they still do), and made me want in on the secrets of the universe (ditto).

Further commenting on the influence of L’Engle, Rebecca Stead says in an interview with Amazon.com:

I loved A Wrinkle in Time as a child. I didn’t know why I loved it, and I didn’t want to know why. I remember meeting Madeleine L’Engle once at a bookstore and just staring at her as if she were a magical person. What I love about L’Engle’s book now is how it deals with so much fragile inner-human stuff at the same time that it takes on life’s big questions. There’s something fearless about this book.

It started out as a small detail in Miranda’s story, a sort of talisman, and one I thought I would eventually jettison, because you can’t just toss A Wrinkle in Time in there casually. But as my story went deeper, I saw that I didn’t want to let the book go. I talked about it with my editor, Wendy Lamb, and to others close to the story. And what we decided was that if we were going to bring L’Engle’s story in, we needed to make the book’s relationship to Miranda’s story stronger. So I went back to A Wrinkle in Time and read it again and again, trying to see it as different characters in my own story might (sounds crazy, but it’s possible!). And those readings led to new connections.

The papers of Madeleine L’Engle are housed at the Wheaton College Special Collections in Wheaton, Illinois.

 

The Power of Self Command

Today it is common for public speakers to adopt informal methods of delivery. Contemporary audiences  might see the speaker slouching before them wearing bleached blue jeans with a loose, untucked Hawaiian shirt. In some instances, the speaker might even sit cross-legged on the stage, attempting to establish a friendly bond with his hearers.  Straw4However, the notion of excessively easygoing oratory delivered before an expectant auditorium was unfathomable when Dr. Darien Straw (1857-1950), Professor of Rhetoric and Logic and Principal of the Preparatory Department of Wheaton College, published Lessons in Expression and Physical Drill (1892), a consolidation of his classroom wisdom.

He emphasizes that proper posture, efficient gesticulation and precise elocution contribute immeasurably to the intellectual development and future success of the sensibly educated young man or woman. Outward order merely reflects inward stability. “Helping young people to discover ill temper in the voice, carelessness in the walk, selfishness in the bearing and laziness in the words,” writes Straw, “and giving them facility to avoid these, avails more than business proverbs and social precepts.” Throughout the book Straw offers helpful examples.

Straw2This gentleman stands in the drill position. “Heels together,” writes Straw, “toes turned out from 45 to 90 degrees apart, knees straight, body erect, head well back, chin slightly curbed, chest expanded, arms down at the side with the edge of the hand forward. A good test of erect positon is to stand with the back against a door or other vertical plane so that you can touch it in four places — with the heels, the hips, the shoulders and the head. If you find it difficult to do this there is the more reason for perservering in an erect position.  Once the drill position is properly maintained, the student can practice his vocals. Avoid any attempt at loudness,” warns Straw, “but listen to the tone to see if it is correct.”

Straw3Straw later discusses the calculated use of the prone hand and the supine hand. “The primary meaning of the Prone Hand is repression or covering. It is the reverse of the Supine hand, the palm is turned down. It has a great variety of uses, but all related to this primary meaning. The idea of the snow spread upon the earth contains also the idea of a covering. The idea of peace, quiet or stillness contains at the same time suppression of noise or movement and may be expressed by the Prone Hand. There is a gradual shading of this position to that of Averse hand, as we would repress an action or thought disagreeable. As our emotions shade into one another, so our action combines different expressions.”

 

“This, then,” writes Straw, “is an effort to help teachers in giving to pupils the power of self command.”