Category Archives: Books

Tragedy and Faith – Scott & Janet Willis

Sixteen years ago on November 8, 1994, Scott and Janet Willis were traveling outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the six youngest of their nine children. Scott was a pastor at the Parkwood Baptist Church in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side and Janet schooled the six younger children at their home on the second story of the church. In an instant their lives were forever changed as a piece of metal debris on the road punctured their gas tank and their minivan erupted in flames. The couple barely escaped with their lives as the inferno blazed throughout the van, instantly killing five of the children still buckled in their seats (Joe, Sam, Hank, Elizabeth, and Peter, ages 11 years to 6 weeks). Thirteen year old, Ben escaped the burning van but later died at the hospital with third degree burns over 90% of his body.

This horrific tragedy would throw this Chicago pastor and his family into the international spotlight and eventually lead to the imprisonment of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. The deaths of the Willis children came to symbolize the infamous licenses-for-bribes political scandal during Ryan’s tenure as Secretary of State before his election as Governor in 1999.

A year after the accident, the Willis’ bravely spoke before the Wheaton College chapel on November 17, 1995, to share their personal story of tragedy and testimony of faith. In subsequent years, they moved to Tennessee in 2004 and have been blessed with 25 grandchildren from their surviving three older children.

Audio icon Listen (mp3 – 00:28:29)


Heiko Oberman at Wheaton – Lutherfest

As Reformation Sunday approaches it is good to recall the work of God in the life of Martin Luther. In 1983, Wheaton College celebrated the quinquicentennial of the birth of Martin Luther with a semester of festivities. man between God and the devilDubbed Lutherfest, it included an Lutheran worship service in Edman Chapel with local Lutherans as well as an organ recital featuring Professor Warren Schmidt of Wartburg College. The pinnacle of the Lutherfest was an academic conference from September 19-21 that featured international scholars speaking on topics relating to Luther and Lutheranism.

The centerpiece of the conference was the renowned Reformation historian Heiko A. Oberman (1930-2001), who gave three plenary addresses during the conference. One of the greatest intellectual historians of the twentieth century, Oberman revolutionized Reformation studies by urging for interpretation of the Reformation especially in its late medieval context. In 1982, he published what has become a classic of Luther studies: Luther: Mensch zwischen Gott und Teufel, published in English in 1989 as Luther: man between God and the devil.

To commemorate Reformation Day, we’ve provided MP3 audio for all three of Oberman’s plenary talks.

Audio icon (The Formation of Martin Luther – mp3 – 01:04:47)


Audio icon (Luther in the Reformation – mp3 – 00:59:12)


Audio icon (The Influence of Martin Luther – mp3 – 00:59:32)

Rite on!

the Bible and ceremony in selected Shakespearean worksGenerally, on alternating years Wheaton College Special Collections has hosted a conference examining the influence of Christian faith and traditions in the poetry and plays of William Shakespeare. Dr. Beatrice Batson, Professor Emerita of English at Wheaton College and Coordinator of the Shakespeare Special Collection, has invited accomplished scholars from all over the world to present papers exploring a suggested theme. These specialists typically address such issues as whether the Immortal Bard of Avon was Protestant or Catholic, or the presence of Christian reconciliation and other scriptural elements woven throughout his plots. After each conference Dr. Batson, acting as editor, collects the lectures into a book.

The most recent title, Word and Rite: The Bible and Ceremony in Selected Shakespearean Works (2010), produced by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, attempts to show something of the ways in which the Bible and Christianity intersect the language of Shakespeare. Word and Rite also focuses on the matter in which rites are efforts to illuminate mysteries: the mystery of marriage, the mystery of baptism, the mystery of confession, the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of funerals, and even the mystery of words in their relation to the Word. Holy objects such as the Fountain of blood are also considered. Contributors include Dr. Leland Ryken (“Shakespeare and the Bible”), Dr. Brett Foster (“‘Each letter in the Letter’: Textual Testimonies in Shakespeare”) and Dr. Jack Heller (“‘Your statue spouting blood’: Julius Caesar, the Sacraments, and the Fountain of Life”).

Reviewing the contents, Dr. Maurice Hunt, author of Shakespeare’s Romance of the Word and professor at Baylor University, states: “This book amounts to a fitting capstone of the several previously published Institute volumes of high-quality papers. Deserving special mention in this latest volume are Jeffrey Knapp’s fresh reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets as confessional autobiography, Grace Tiffany’s comprehensive analysis of the triumph of the English language over the French tongue in Shakespeare’s plays, Christopher Hodgkins’ eloquent account of Christian apocalyptic thought in The Tempest, and David George’s persuasive linking of the abbreviated rites and interrupted ceremonies typical of Shakespeare’s plays to the wars of religion waged in the playwright’s lifetime…Here we have a banquet – a smorgasbord – of commentary on Shakespeare’s art.”

The Shakespeare Special Collection (SC-34), housed at Wheaton College, is considered the premiere holding of secondary literature pertaining to the use of religion in the plays of William Shakespeare.

Living on the Edge

Calvin MillerAs the final section of his autobiography, Life is Mostly Edges (2008), Dr. Calvin Miller, pastor, poet and professor, asks the reader what he or she would do differently, if life could be repeated. At age 72 he answers the question for himself:

1. I would put more emphasis on being a better husband and father. To the church or the university I would whip out a lot more noes, and a lot more yesses to my family. I would eradicate almost all of the “Daddy’s-too-busies,” and the “later, darlings,” from my vocabulary. If the church suddenly came up with a critical meeting on circus night, I’d go to the circus.

2. I’d celebrate my mother in her presence. She was a simple woman whose humility kept her from seeing just how great she was. This adherence to her modesty I would shatter with the sledgehammer of praise. How would I do this?…I would write her a check for all the times she struggled to keep the family together…I would walk her to work in the morning and carry her lunch, and meet her when the day was over to tell her that I loved her…If anyone had maltreated her, I would get their address and visit them with an axe at midnight…For every time when I had made life hard for her, I would do seven years of penance…I would be there all the more for the woman who was always there for me.

3. I’d build a monument on Golgotha. I would build myself a replica of Golgotha, an Everest of Calvary, so high that the empty cross at its summit would be hidden by the mist of sheer altitude. I would keep a shrine at the top of my giant Calvary, with no sugary idols where the dying was done. I’d have no icons there, for the living Jesus who has been the central icon of my life would meet me there. When he came at sunrise, I would be there with the bread. And when he came at dusk, I would be there with the wine. And I would reverse my prayer life. I wouldn’t talk to him so much; I would listen more. I still wonder after a lifetime of chatty prayers, if I had not been so noisy in his presence, would he have told me more of his giant heart?

4. I’d babysit. Could I pass this way again I would take seriously a little girl in our church with whom I was hugging and laughing and having a great time, when suddenly she stopped my teasing her and asked point-blank, “Dr. Miller, do you ever do babysitting?” I told her I was too busy. But if I had to do all over again, I’d do more babysitting. In general I’d take more time for children and perhaps less for deacons.

5. What am I doing to be sure that I am a good steward of the years I have left? First, I am determined that this question will not drive me. One thing I do not want for the years I have left is to be so preoccupied with an agenda that I will not have time for anything but the drive…Such a tight little squinting of the eyes gobbles up our peripheral vision. It steals the panorama of what we might have seen if we had laid down some of our busy agenda and looked around a bit.

6. I’ll stop looking ahead and look around more. Looking around more will be my focus in my final years. I will smell the roses of Versailles and count the scent as sweet as those on the altar of the church. I will bypass a great many Christian novels and go on reading Pulitzer Prize winners just as I have always done. And I will not be so bent on my writing that I have no time to look around. I will not type my manuscripted way into the grave, staying so busy that I cannot take a walk with my wife, work the New York Times acrostic, go to a movie, or see a play…Looking around more means walking in a good direction but with an unhurried step. I would like to begin each day with God and then, coffee cup in hand, go out into the world. I don’t want to try and dissect it. I don’t want to figure it out. I just want to walk about in it. I also want to celebrate the simple things.

Miller, formerly pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, is currently Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He has written over 40 books, including novels and poetry, notably The Singer and The Symphony trilogies. His papers (SC-24), comprising manuscripts, correspondence and watercolor artwork, are archived at Wheaton College (IL) Special Collections. He has lectured at Wheaton College on several occasions.

Francis Schaeffer papers

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC, announced yesterday that the Francis Schaeffer Foundation had selected the seminary to serve as custodian of the Francis Schaeffer papers. It is interesting that Schaeffer’s papers will reside at a Baptist institution, despite Schaeffer’s life-long relationship with the Presbyterian tradition. Reinforcing this relationship is the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. In response to questions about the paper’s new home, Deborah Middelmann, Schaeffer’s daughter, stated that

“My father was a very odd man. Had it been given to a more logical place it would have been very inappropriate.”

Below is a biographical sketch that accompanies the collection of Edith and Francis Schaeffer’s papers at Wheaton College.

Francis SchaefferFrancis August Schaeffer IV was born on January 30, 1912. Raised in a blue-collar working-class home, Fran, as he was called, learned the value of work from his father. Later, as a minister, he lifted up hard physical labor and working with your hands as the calling of God.

Though he valued physical labor it was intellectual effort that would characterize Schaeffer’s legacy. Purchasing a text on Greek philosophy by accident, it grabbed Fran’s interest and opened the door to his intellectual pursuits. Further studies in philosophy led him to explore basic questions about the meaning of life. This set Schaeffer on a path of search and inquiry.

In late summer 1930 Schaeffer attended a revival and experienced an old-style, sawdust trail, conversion. His new found religious fervor was coupled with his emerging intellectual appetite. In 1931 Schaeffer began his studies at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. With the nickname “Phily,” Schaeffer worked his way through school, continuing to value the synergy found in combining physical work with intellectual pursuits.

In 1935 Francis began studying at Westminster Theological Seminary, following J. Gresham Machen there after his departure from Princeton Theological Seminary. Unfortunately, another split surrounded Machen after his death. After Fran’s second year at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia the new Presbyterian Church in America denomination split and Schaeffer left Westminster, along with Dr. Carl McIntire, and helped found Faith Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware. Upon the completion of his studies he was ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church.

In the early summer of 1938 Schaeffer and his family moved to Grove City, Pennsylvania to pastor the small Covenant Presbyterian Church. There were few children in the church and the Schaeffers helped organize and teach a summer Vacation Bible School–the first summer, in a church that had no Sunday school, seventy-nine children attended. However, not all of their early efforts were as successful. Their efforts to reach college students at Grove City College failed. However, with Schaeffer’s preaching and encouragement the church grew and in less than three years they built a new building and the membership exceeded one hundred.

In 1941 Fran began serving as the associate pastor of the Bible Presbyterian Church of Chester, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia. He served this church for less than two years. Though his ministry was marked by compassion, Schaeffer was known to display a quick temper that expressed itself in sudden outbursts among his family.

In 1943 the Schaeffer family left Pennsylvania for Bible Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Here Schaeffer’s ministry was known as one of personal hard work and working his congregation hard. Shortly after his third daughter’s birth in 1945 Fran traveled Europe for three months on behalf of the American Council of Christian Churches and the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions visiting different churches in order to learn about their situation following the war. On his return he reported on his journey and its personal toll. Though it was one of his greatest spiritual experiences, it exhausted him. After months of recovery and a return to his pastoral duties, Schaeffer was given another leave to travel and speak in preparation for a meeting of the International Council of Churches meeting to be held in Amsterdam in August 1948.

The trip began an over-three decade involvement with Christian activity in Europe. One of the key friendships that began in Holland was with art critic and professor, Hans Rookmaaker. After the meeting in Amsterdam the family moved to Switzerland. Here they lived and ministered to those they met, particularly Americans military personnel. 1951 marked the beginning of a spiritual revival and renewal for Schaeffer and his ministry. He had been in Europe for three years, facing the crisis of how best to communicate the gospel in a culture that was not his own. He struggled to communicate to those who had suffered through two destructive wars and whose churches had spurned a biblical theology. He reaffirmed his belief that the Christian faith is rooted in the revelation of God in the Bible. By this time the Schaeffers were living near Champery, preaching in a small Protestant chapel located in a heavily-Catholic canton.

After returning from a seventeen-month furlough in the United States where Schaeffer taught at his former seminary, Faith Theological, he perceived fractures in his denomination. The Schaeffers were concerned for the future of their ministry. Some of his teaching generated controversy and their financial support suffered. However, the Schaeffers returned with a fresh emphasis upon trusting God with financial cares. It was in this context that in 1955 L’Abri, (“the shelter”) would be started, first in Champery and then in Huemoz in the Canton of Vaud. One of the hallmarks of L’Abri was a continual trusting in the provision of God for their needs from the original down-payment to purchase Chalet les Melezes to monies needed to buy everyday necessities.

Edith and Francis SchaefferThe Schaeffers described the purpose of L’Abri as showing forth by demonstration, in life and work, the existence of God. Fran and Edith came from opposite backgrounds and it was this diversity that would be exhibited in those who came to stay at L’Abri. Students from diverse backgrounds–Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, liberal Christians, Roman Catholics, and others of various anti-Christian and Christian views–came to their door from all over the world. Over the next decade and a half the work of L’Abri was extended to England and through broadcasts on Trans-World Radio. These efforts served to draw more seeking answers to the little Swiss village.

Schaeffer’s ideas and talks were in great demand. He was invited to speak at European universities and Ivy League schools. Accomplishing what few could, Schaeffer easily packed Princeton Seminary’s chapel. His twenty-one books have sold in the millions and have been translated into at least twenty-four languages. Some of his influential titles are The God Who Is There (1968), Escape from Reason (1968), He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972), How Should We Then Live (1976) and Whatever happened to the human race (1979). His last books before his death were the best-seller A Christian Manifesto (1981) and The Great Evangelical Disaster (1984).

Diagnosed with cancer in 1978, Schaeffer felt that he had accomplished more in the last five years of his life than he had in all the years before he had cancer. Francis Schaeffer died early in the morning of May 15, 1984. An ally in pro-life efforts, Ronald Reagan remembered Schaeffer “as one of the great Christian thinkers of our century.”

Remember the Birds

Dr. Jerry R. Kirk is former pastor of the College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. During his twenty-one year pastorate, in 1983 he founded the National Coalition Against Pornography, an alliance of citizen-action groups, foundations, and religious denominations leading the effort against child pornography, adult obscenity, sexual exploitation and violence. During that time he also co-founded the Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP) with John Cardinal O’Connor of New York and Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in 1986. In 1988 Jerry resigned his pastoral charge to commit his full-time energies to these efforts, now called the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families.

Dr. Kirk has worked with religious leaders representing more than 100 million Americans, from nearly every major denomination and faith group in the country, including the Jewish community, The Salvation Army, the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has met with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and three different Attorneys General (including Edwin Meese). Dr. Kirk is a frequent speaker on the problem of pornography, sexual exploitation and violence, appearing on Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” radio program eleven times, as well as, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “NBC Nightly News” with Tom Brokaw, Moody Broadcasting’s “Prime Time America” and most recently on FamilyLife with Dennis Rainey.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Dr. Kirk attended the University of Washington and has earned two graduate degrees. He has written two books, The Homosexual Crisis in the Mainline Church, The Mind Polluters, and numerous articles. He and his wife, Patty currently reside in Cincinnati and have five children and twenty-two grandchildren.

[excerpted from National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families and Leadership Magazine]


On February 16-17, 1994, Jerry Kirk spoke at Wheaton College for the Annual Staley Lecture series on the topic “The Christian Response to Pornography.” In his final chapel address on the theme ‘Knowing, Believing, Praying, and Living the Word of God,’ Kirk expounded on the love of God from Ephesians 3 and presented a powerful illustration.

I’ve tried to think how can I receive God’s love more constantly? One of my [church] members told me one day that every time she saw a cardinal she would stop and say “I love you,” putting the words in the lips of Jesus. So I started searching for cardinals…but you know I didn’t see enough cardinals, so I put up a bird feeder outside my office window and I’d see ten or fifteen cardinals every day. Then I decided I ought to do that anytime I see any bird. Everyday, every time I see a bird I thank Jesus Christ for His love. Seventy-five to one-hundred fifty times every day I receive the love of Christ. If you’ll do that for one week, you’ll never stop.

[Artwork by Matthew Cook]

Audio icon (mp3 – 00:29:05, illustration starts at 17:05)

David Aikman’s book on Graham in paperback

Billy Graham: His Life and Influence (Thomas Nelson, June 2010) examines Graham’s impact on the worldwide development of Christianity, international affairs and the fall of Communism. Author and former TIME Magazine senior correspondent David Aikman integrates his Christian faith and understanding of world affairs into this careful analysis of Graham’s ministry. Aikman examines critical episodes of Graham’s life that explain his impact on American public life and the private lives of world leaders.

David Barrington Thomson Aikman was born on June 6, 1944, the same night as the Normandy invasion, in Cobham, Surrey, England. Dr. Aikman received his early education at Stowe School in Bucks, England. He was graduated with honors in Russian and French from Worcester College, Oxford, received his M.A. in Far Eastern Languages and Literature (Mongolian and Turkish) from the Far Eastern and Russian Institute of the University of Washington, Seattle and also received his Ph.D. in Russian and Chinese history from the University of Washington.

He began his twenty-three year career with TIME magazine in 1971, reporting from five continents and more than 55 countries. As foreign and Senior Correspondent he interviewed major world figures like Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Boris Yeltsin and Billy Graham. He was bureau chief in Berlin, Jerusalem and Beijing aided by his skill in speaking Russian, Chinese, French, and German. He is an expert on China, Eastern Asia, and the former Soviet Union. From 1998 to 2002 Aikman was a Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. Additionally, he served as editor-at-large of Newsroom, an Internet-based news organization reporting on the religious aspect of news events around the world.

David Aikman has been an eyewitness to the rise and fall of nations and regimes. Based in Hong Kong in the early 1970s, he saw first-hand the fall of Indo-china to Communist rule. He was the last correspondent to leave Phnom Penh before the Khmer Rouge invaded in 1975. While Eastern European Bureau Chief, Aikman also covered the emergence of dissident groups in Poland. Aikman was familiar with many of the people who became advisers to Polish President Lech Walesa. Dr. Aikman has also been Bureau Chief in Jerusalem, during the invasion of Lebanon by Israel; Beijing, during the reforms of Deng Xiaoping and the last days of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square; and in Moscow, during the Chernobyl disaster and the beginning of Yeltsin’s loyal opposition movement in 1989.

David Aikman is also an accomplished public speaker, appearing regularly on major C-SPAN, CNN, NBC and others. His speaking has focused on the Middle East, China and on religious persecution around the world. The David Aikman Papers are housed in the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections.

[excerpted from David and David Aikman Papers]

Hickory Presbyterians

Kenneth and Margaret LandonNot only was Kenneth Landon ’24 involved in the incipient efforts by the U.S. government to organize its foreign intelligence during and after the Second World War (as reported here), he was also a remarkably well-educated man, with impressive institutional credentials to match his wide-ranging intellectual, and especially linguistic, gifts.

More than a decade before he received his doctorate from The University of Chicago in 1938, he attended Princeton Seminary after being graduated from Wheaton College with a philosophy degree. Princeton had by that time become embroiled in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that marked the era.

The dramatis personae of these tragic events at Princeton pit, on one side, the president, J. Ross Stevenson, whose tenure as president began in 1914, and Charles Erdman, long-time student advisor and professor of homiletics, against Robert Dick Wilson, a talented Semitic philologist, and J. Gresham Machen, to whom students referred, with gibing affection, as “Das”. Despite the opposition and with the approval of the faculty, Erdman’s ouster took place in 1926.

The seminary class of 1927–Landon’s class–was, in his generous judgment, the most brilliant and talent-laden that the seminary had had for fifty years. More certainly they among the last classes ever to walk the halls of Old Princeton. In 1929, Machen was to lead a number of Princeton faculty in the founding of an alternative Presbyterian seminary, Westminster Theological in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the 90-plus-hour “Landon Chronicles” oral histories, Kenneth and his wife, Margaret ’25 (of Anna and the King of Siam fame), tell about the controversy as they knew it from within and give their judgments on the falling out. According to them, Stevenson had a habit of splitting every institution he touched, not unlike the habit, Margaret mentions in passing, of a more local Presbyterian controversialist, Wheaton College’s third president, J. Oliver Buswell. He had his share in splitting institutions too, thus proving the byword, attributed to the ousted Charlie Erdman, that Presbyterians are like hickory: split easily.

Audio icon (mp3 – 00:05:48)


Rob Bell redux

In November 2003 Rob Bell, Jr. spoke at Wheaton College for the annual Staley Lecture Series. His three messages were entitled “Communicating Christ in Contemporary Culture.” Rob Bell is a teaching and founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan. He is the author of Velvet Elvis and Sex God, and is a coauthor of Jesus Wants to Save Christians. He is also featured in a series of spiritual short films called NOOMA. Rob graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He and his wife Kristen have three children and live in Grand Rapids.

Audio icon#1(mp3 – 00:30:16) Audio icon#2(mp3 – 00:23:24) Audio icon#3(mp3 – 00:28:30)

Unceasing Worship

Harold Best, 1972Harold MacArthur Best is Emeritus Dean/Professor of Music of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music. He received the B.S.M. from Nyack College, the M.A. from Claremont Graduate School, and the D.S.M. from Union Theological Seminary. Dr. Best served as Dean of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music from 1970 until his retirement in 1997. He is past president of the National Association of Schools of Music, past chairman of the Commission on Accreditation, and former member of the ASCAP Standard Awards Panel. He is the author of numerous articles on the relationship of Christianity to the fine arts, worship, issues in arts education, culture, and curriculum. His books Music Through the Eyes of Faith was published by Harper San Francisco in 1993 and Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts was published by InterVarsity Press in 2003. He also contributed a chapter entitled “Traditional Hymn-Based Worship” in Exploring the Worship Spectrum: Six Views by Zondervan in 2004. He has composed in a wide range of media and styles, and his publications include choral and organ compositions. He is also active at the national level as a lecturer, consultant and workshop leader in the areas of curriculum, accreditation, worship and church music.*

His book Unceasing Worship was featured in the Spring 2004 edition of the Wheaton Alumni magazine and on October 4, 2006, Best returned to Wheaton College and spoke in Edman Chapel.

Audio icon (mp3 – 23 min.)