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Christianity - Educated Leadership

MANY difficulties which beset the present-day Church inhere in intellectual conditions which are quite distinctive to the age. The time was in the older New England when the pulpit was the intellectual oracle of the community.. The preacher was the best-educated man in the town. His exposition of the Bible, his teaching in theology, his views of public and social questions, were accepted as authoritative. But the day of a pulpit-teaching monopoly on questions religious, public, social has forever gone. The public press, omniscient in vision, gathering instant its knowledge from world-ends, is today thrusting its myriad and informing pages into all homes. There is more trained and scholarly intellect employed in the creation of a single great daily than is to be found in any one pulpit of the land.

This daily has a fresh issue for every day in the year, and an eager audience of many thousands of readers for each issue. It brings to every home a current history of the world, and gives information on every subject which may challenge interest. The daily is democratic in its treatment of thought. It treats all sorts of subjects with audacious freedom. On Sunday morning, when the minister is seriously meditating upon his impending pulpit message, the Sunday newspaper, laden with pictorial and literary attractions, is delivered in most of the homes of the parish. Then the magazine, various in its literary product, a marvel of artistic make-up, furnished for trifling cost, lies upon all the living-room tables. And books, books by celebrities, books by experts in all departments of knowledge and thought, books of religion, history, philosophy, science, of essays and poetry, books discussing with skill and lucidity all subjects which may appeal to the human intellect these may be had for the asking. Everybody who has intellectual taste may read books in these days.

The preacher is no longer the most learned man in the community. The college man is abroad in the parish. The scientific expert is the preacher's next-door neighbor. The appreciative reader and devourer of best books, here and there, sits in the pew. The preacher of to-day has a man's work to do to keep himself intellectually abreast with the best-informed men and women of his parish. If he should happen to have an inferior intellectual equipment; if he should be lacking in that trained mental discernment which would qualify him for selecting the best courses for his own reading; if perchance he were mentally indolent; and if with all he should be something of a faddist as such men sometimes are would it, under these circumstances, be surprising if he should fail to command a large intellectual following in his community?

A great fact, however unwelcome, which must compel recognition in any adequate view of the relations of the Church to the age is that much in the accepted and popular thought of the Church is out of adjustment with the leading and most formative thought of our times. We are living in an age vastly transitional, an age whose necessary and inevitable thinking has made great departures from a large body of belief and custom out of which much of the typical and traditional thought of the Church took its form. We are citizens today of a widely different intellectual world from that in which either Saint Paul, Martin Luther, or John Wesley lived. Since the advent of Kant and Darwin, philosophy and science have been reborn. The world's most formative thinking voices itself in new postulates. The age is one of great intellectual reconstructions, an age which with clear vision is moving sure-footedly out into new regions of philosophy, of science, of psychology and sociology, regions such as were never before possible of exploration. This intellectual world of which I now speak is one in which only. elect thinkers are fully matriculated. It is a world into which the great rank and file of church life have as yet very little entered. It is a world whose intellectual positions unfortunately have too often been construed as antagonistic to time-honored views which the Church has cherished. It has thus resulted that many good men, men of clean morality, of unquestioned integrity and of high Christian conscientiousness, have very little appreciation of, or sympathy with, the great intellectual trends of modern scholarship. The prevalent and popular thought of the Church-trained life has not yet adjusted itself to, or come into harmony with, the growing and ruling scientific philosophy of the age.

The above is written in no spirit of reproach. A great majority of the best people in our churches, people whose loyalty to Jesus Christ is beyond all question, have neither the training nor the intellectual habits which qualify them for a first-hand judgment of the deeper thought-movements of the age.

In so far, however, as there is any real cleavage between the cherished traditional thought of the Church and the positions of modern scholarship, this cleavage can only be justly regarded as likely to be fraught with disastrous consequences. It can only mean the putting asunder, and into alien camps, forces which ought to be joined in indissoluble harmony. If the voice of the Church condemns and derides modern scientific thinking, this will be a reason why the thinker trained under modern methods will do his thinking and his work out-side of the Church. This very result has already taken place in lamentable measure. The college-trained men and women of the nation, the men and women of independent and self-respecting thought, are not working in the Church in any such measure as could be devoutly wished. And this is the fact while the professional classes, the very classes whose work requires a liberal education, are relatively increasing in all the cities of the land. The college men who really find an inspiring and satisfying intellectual atmosphere in church affiliations are not as numerous as they should be. It is a great misfortune to themselves that so large a proportion of the most effectively trained minds of the age fail to find a satisfactory intellectual environment within the fellowship of the Church.

On the other hand, who can measure the enormous moral asset which is lost to the Church itself because of its failure to appreciate and assimilate the wealth of truth which modern scientific thought and investigation are giving to the world? No life more needs the enrichment, the stimulus, the uplift, furnished from the products of modern scientific thinking, than does the ordinary rank and file life of the Church. The Church cannot continue to live and thrive under any policy that makes it inhospitable to the largest freedom of the intellectual life. Thought, and the enlarging perception of truth which comes as a product of thought, are not simply the ozone, they must be reckoned with as vitalizing and indispensable constituents in the very life-blood of the Church itself.

A great need of the Church to-day in its governing life is complete emancipation from any atmosphere of intellectual narrowness and intolerance. This is by no means to imply that the Church at its highest sources should not sedulously guard itself against error. The Church stands, or should stand, for the highest truth that relates itself to human life and destiny. It should equally and broadly stand for all affiliated truth. Its custodians will, however, be in best position to guard the Church itself from injurious error when they them-selves are largest and sanest partakers of present-day thought as related to the problems of the Christian life.

If I were to suggest that one of the present imperative needs of the Church is a newly formulated theology, the proposition would strike some as audacious, if not incendiary. Yet nevertheless the suggestion represents a movement now in vigorous process. And why not? The historic theologies of the past were formulated in their respective ages by the most scholarly minds of the Church. Whatever the attitude of the Church toward modern scientific thought, it has always depended for the exposition and defense of its faith upon scholarly minds. And no historic theology has come to us which has not been largely correlated with, and shaped by, the philosophy prevalent in the age of its origin. The purpose of theology is to make religion intelligible and convincing to thought. But this purpose cannot be realized unless theology is so stated as to be in some correlation with the general knowledge of the age. Most of the historic theologies are deficient in a sympathetic or effective correlation with those views of man and of the universe which modern scientific knowledge has forced upon the age. These theologies for body of substance were formulated in prescientific times. They had no prescient outlook upon such a thought-world as ours of today.

A new scientific category well-nigh covering man's entire physical, psychic, and social life, and the entire range of cosmic being, has gained a firm place in the postulates of modem intelligence. Neither the Church nor the world needs a new gospel. The old and divine gospel does need the benefit of making its appeal to the modem mind disencumbered of superseded thought. The theology that will be effective in the twentieth century is one that will not be at war with clear convictions resting upon twentieth-century knowledge. The ideal magnum opus of such a theology has not yet appeared, but the material for its making is abundant on every hand.

In the meantime it will prove an unhallowed thing if the Church and learning shall mutually cherish a divisive spirit. Learning needs the Church. Not less does the Church need all the knowledge and wisdom which the most learned can bring to her altars. Spirituality and intelligence are the twin forces which are to bring triumph to God's kingdom in the earth.

In connection with, and growing largely from, the changing intellectual atmospheres of the age, it will be conceded that a condition of vital importance to the strength and influence of the Church inheres in the character of its ministry. That the Christian minister should be a good man goes without the saying. This phase need not be discussed. A necessity of the age, an imperative necessity, one which rarely, if ever, should be disregarded, is that young candidates for the ministry shall not be permitted to enter upon their lifework until they have first received the highest advantages of the schools. No young man who proposes to give his life to the Christian ministry does justice to himself, his calling, or his Church, who seeks to enter upon this work without first giving himself most thorough educational preparation. The intellectual standards of the age demand nothing less of him than this.

It is not a primary question whether a man entering the ministry short of the highest professional preparation may not be useful. Such a man may have native gifts; sympathy and insight which will render him in the pastorate even a greater success than his college-bred brother in a neighboring parish. But even so, this man, with hardly an exception, has robbed himself and robbed the Church of an important increment of power and largeness of view which would have come to him with more thorough preliminary training. I know the difficulties that poverty sometimes, often I believe, puts in a young man's way. But over against this, any young man who has in him the stamina that prophesies fitness for future leadership in the ministry can find ways of overcoming these difficulties. We have heard much about self-made men; but, as a rule, the only first-class self-made men in the professional world to-day are men who have made their way through the highest professional training schools.

A recent investigation by the Board of Education of one of the largest evangelical denominations, covering two decades ending respectively with the years 1880 and 1890, shows the following facts: Of those who responded to a special letter of inquiry sent to all ministers, asking of their educational preparation prior to their entering upon their active ministry, of three hundred and ninety-three replying who had received less preparation than the educational requirement of the Church, only one can be ranked as having risen to prominent leadership ; while of four hundred and thirty-eight who had met the educational requirements, forty-six have risen to historic leadership in the denomination.

Some denominations more than others have insisted upon high standards of ministerial education. It is not easy in this matter to secure reliable statistics from all the denominations; but from such information as I have been able to obtain, I am impressed that more than one half of all the active evangelical ministers of the nation entered upon their ministry, each with less than the equivalent of an ordinary high-school education.

The astronomer takes his pupils up into the observatory, where with his telescope he can sweep all the constellations of the skies. This is the great advantage of the college and seminary-trained men. The college and seminary do not teach all knowledge. But under trained leadership they take the young mind up into the observatory where can be traced the boundaries of the great and important divisions of knowledge and of thought. The young man really college-trained enters the door of professional life, not only with quickened ideals, not only in possession of many valuable facts and ideas, but with a sense of proportion as to intellectual values. He knows what fields he may most profitably enter for investigation. He carries to his work disciplined faculties which vastly enhance his working power. He easily makes himself master of tasks before which other men fail. The man of defective preliminary education enters the ministry under a tremendous handicap. The chances are that he has never acquired the habits of a student. He does not really know how to study. He does not know what to study.

As it is, however, with all the colleges and theological seminaries under the auspices of the Church, to say nothing of the multitude of universities and colleges throughout the land, a pronounced majority of American preachers are graduates neither of the college nor the seminary. This is not pleasant ground to traverse. I am farthest from a disposition personally to arraign or berate the man of limited education. His limitation is his misfortune. But, the situation is one of ominous portent for the Church of the twentieth century. It is not reasonable to assume that men not imbued with the ideals of a liberal education can readily rise to an adequate conception of the intellectual demands which rightfully in these times are laid upon the Christian ministry.

I have had some opportunity to observe the intellectual habits of ministers. This may be laid down as true : The great preachers, the preachers who command the largest hearing, are, almost without exception, omnivorous readers. They are great buyers of books. They are students. But there is a woeful number of our ministers who are not in any pronounced sense book-lovers. Their libraries in many cases are pitiably meager. They give no evidence either in public utterance or in private conversation of commanding familiarity with scholarly themes. To say nothing about the temptation to which many such men are exposed to run into intellectual fads, eccentricities, and crankisms, insufficient intellectual equipment is quite sure to be found in company with mental indolence. In the mean-time the price of all this to the Church is most costly. The intellectual life, really the most influential life of the community, will not put itself under the leadership of such a ministry. The minister whose intellectuality does not command the respect of the high-school boys and girls in his community is a man misplaced.

There is, of course, another large side to this whole question. It is the side created by petty denominational rivalries which find their expression largely throughout the country in small and struggling churches, churches which represent a meager and pitiably insufficient ministerial support, and all furnishing a background largely destitute of incentive to ministerial hope, ambition, or energy. As has already been noted, we have in this country an absurd numerical excess of distinct Protestant denominations. In many instances a half dozen of these denominations, all weak and therefore inefficient, are struggling to occupy a ground which otherwise might strongly and profitably be ministered to by a single church. Is it any wonder that men of large business discernment and administrative ability have in innumerable instances lost both interest and faith in this kind of church development? A condition, however, which causes the perpetuation of a needless number of weak and rival churches inevitably means a well-nigh corresponding number of ill equipped ministers.

In entering the plea for a high standard of ministerial education I am farthest possible from the assumption that an educated intellect is by any means solely, or even chiefly, the condition of an efficient ministry. The man of good normal mind, with a pronounced spiritual experience, with a divine love of men begotten in his life, consecrated in purpose, a diligent student of his English Bible, and possessing a tactful approach to his fellow men this kind of a man, as a winner of souls, will be far more efficient than could be expected of the most critically trained intellect otherwise destitute of the qualities named.

The beautiful and just portrait of the faithful preacher which Goldsmith, in his "Deserted Village," furnishes is a picture of something far other than that of simply a trained intellect. It is a picture of love, of devotion, of charity, of helpfulness, of unselfishness, all blending themselves into a single life, of a service so Christlike that its influence rested like a benediction upon the entire community :

At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorned the venerable place;
Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools who came to scoff remained to pray.
The service past, around the pious man,
With ready zeal each honest rustic ran;
E'en children followed, with endearing wile,
And plucked his gown, to share the good man's smile.
His ready smile a parent's warmth expressed,
Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distressed;
To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven.

But when fullest emphasis is laid on other qualities essential to highest ministerial efficiency, there is in it all no concession to ideals of defective intellectual education for our modern ministry. The minister's mission is, or should be, largely with childhood. He ought to be a master of the pedagogy and psychology of childhood training. He is to minister in a community where education is general, in which the professional men, and the men of leading influence, are educated. In general culture he should be at least a peer among the ablest of them all. Concerning the Bible, its teaching, its history, he ought to know more than any of his neighbors. While as expounder of the Scriptures, he is not to be a gratuitous disturber of immature minds, nor to treat recklessly inherited views which his intelligence does not permit him to share, it will still be to his discredit if he is not familiarly at home with both the discussions and the conclusions reached about the Bible by the most scholarly and competent Christian thinkers.

An imperative demand upon the Christian minister of to-day is that he command the intellectual respect of the community in which he ministers. Lacking this, whatever other qualities he may have, he is destined to fail at points of vital need.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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