One Harvard professor, the great evangelical author Fred Buechner resigned from Harvard Divinity School because he felt embarrassed to mention God in his classes. “The mere mention of God-an omniscient God, God as a transcendent being– when I was there . . . would be guaranteed to produce snickers,” Ari Goldman wrote (Atlantic Monthly, Dec., 1990).

By 1920, with its reductionism mentality, the American secular university had become an inhospitable place for evangelicals. The mother turned and ate her young. The place that was founded by evangelicals, to prepare Evangelicals to be the elite of American culture is now a place of danger, risk, and struggle for its progeny.

Worse than that: Evangelicals seemed to accept willingly their own demise. Evangelical Christians in positions of formal power passively yielded to each stage in the advance of secularism. And, when they did resist, they failed.

Why? Douglas Sloan, in Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education (Philadelphia: Westminster/John Knox) argues that the university looked to liberal Protestant Christianity to replace Evangelical Christianity. What no one understood, including Evangelical Christians, was that science, as understood in the late 19th century, was fundamentally at odds with Evangelical thought. The university was firmly in the camp of positivistic philosophy that basically had discarded the notion of supernatural from American intellectualism. Evangelicals tried accommodation, but, after the Scopes Trial, they abandoned ship, so to speak. So, if the secular university rejected evangelicalism, by 1920, evangelicalism abandoned the secular university.

In the end the university pulled back from affirming the real possibility of knowing God and of the existence of a spiritual world. What evangelicals learned, or thought that they learned, was that the secular American university was too dangerous a place to be. So they formed their own universities. It is unfortunate that there was no fight to the finish in the 1920s. If the issue had been forced who knows if we would live in a society dominated by secular-minded people. In the initial stages, though, Evangelicals did not muster the intellectual resources necessary to challenge the cultural assumption that knowledge comes only from natural sources (see Phillip E. Johnson , “How the Universities Were Lost,” in First Things 51 (March 1995) 51-56). They never have–even until today.

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