How Smart are Presbyterians?

From James Burtchaell’s history of Christian colleges and universities, The Dying of the Light:

Originally Davidson tied its identity to the Presbyterian church and required that the church serve as the guarantor of the college’s fidelity. When that became outdated the college undertook to vouch for its own fidelity. With the 1972 bylaws it fairly well disengaged itself from any norm or authority for faithful discipleship — Calvinist fundamentals, church, Westminster, Scriptures, or Jesus. The president and twenty-two of the forty voting trustees had to be members of the PCUS. No one else at Davidson College, including the educators, had to be in communion with that church. The only entity binding them together was a statement of purpose, which both Clarence Darrow and H. L. Mencken could perhaps have found their way to embrace. At this very time the moderator of the General Assembly was lecturing the church on their need to learn to live with the new onset of pluralism within their fellowship. . . .

There seems to be a problem in the bloodstream of the Presbyterians that has affected their colleges. The church was, from the beginning, largely composed of an industrious bourgeoisie. They were already well educated, and their Calvinist consciousness of public polity had from the beginning made Presbyterians instinctively supportive of the American civil authorities (as distinct from the British authorities, who had awarded them a hedged citizenship). Over here the Presbyterians were culture-friendly, and from the beginning they marketed their colleges openly: not simply to attract students and income, but because they saw the nation as a divinely blessed commonwealth. In this mood their educators were wholly undisposed to see their colleges as intellectually set apart. For moral purposes they were prepared to make their campuses defensive havens against a threatening environment, but not for intellectual purposes. Marsden and Longfield see this:

In 1935 H. Richard Niebuhr had warned that “if the church has no other plan of salvation . . . than one of deliverance by force, education, idealism or planned economy, it really has no existence as a church and needs to resolve itself into a political party or a school.” By the latter half of the twentieth century most mainline Protestant church schools had resolved themselves into being simply schools. . . Twentieth-century mainline Presbyterians, assuming that they were part of the cultural establishment, have seldom seen American culture as a threat and so have trusted in education. (221, 234-35)

5 thoughts on “How Smart are Presbyterians?

  1. Church school…. did it ever happen in the OPC? Seems like some of the original OPC churches were built with school in mind, (i.e. Trinity in Hatboro) but I have not detected a legacy of Church Schools in the OPC. For the working class Presbyterian, there is homeschool and for everyone else is para-church school….(whoa some real brats). I have two kids preparing for college and this is how they characterize the choice between Christian and secular schools:1) the drama of the faithful and the rebel, 2) predictable honest pagans absorbing the rebel and a few banding together to maintain a faithful witness. This is truly is a miserable choice. Both of my kids have picked up a careering mentality from their peers at Church. I suppose this is to be expected. I have to keep reminding them “don’t worry, the Lord will provide”. But the careering drives the choice which is go to the best you can get into. It was a providential mercy to me to have been converted in my mid-30’s long after my secular education. Paganism, secular humanism and Modern Ethical Do-ism was completely eclipsed by the Calvinism that I was taught at All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Church in Richmond Virginia………no contest!

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  2. Church school…. did it ever happen in the OPC? Seems like some of the original OPC churches were built with school in mind, (i.e. Trinity in Hatboro) but I have not detected a legacy of Church Schools in the OPC. For the working class Presbyterian, there is homeschool and for everyone else is para-church school….(whoa some real brats).

    There doesn’t appear to be a school grand strategy in the NAPARC. It’s left as a matter of conscience in the OPC and PCA. Traditionally, the presbyterians have had the public schools which started out teaching Calvinism in the USA. Gradually, they were replaced by whatever they are now. The Reformed have always backed Christian schools but both parents usually have to work to pay for it. Obviously this slams households into the earned income tax trap if the parents both earn wages.

    The LCMS has some sort of fund to make it cheaper for working class people (possibly the fund started by JAO Preus) or else the LCMS churches and synods fund the schools themselves. This is probably the best choice if you’re working class and your kids and wife aren’t suited to homeschooling which is not a “one size fits all” solution. Everyone should consider swimming the Elbe.

    The public schools are a joke. Ask me how I know.

    Perhaps the NAPARC could put together an education strategy and fund and stop pretending like we can all figure this out on our own or pay for it.

    As you said, the K-12 choices are miserable and I doubt higher education will even be an option for Christian children in a generation.

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