The title of this “Theology & Culture” blog, which may not seem interesting at first glance, is one that I believe is a must-read for every Christ-follower. Not because I am writing it, but for the fact that we can learn much about staying the course as Bible-centered churches by learning lessons from others who decided not to keep Scripture at the center of their teachings and worldviews.
This would include lessons from other churches as well as individuals and educational institutions. And possibly the one that draws a great deal of attention is Harvard University, and the reasons are many, most of which we cannot cover in this blog.
We will give a brief history of the founding of Harvard, the drift from theological truth that occurred, the present day situation (this school has been in the news lately for negative reasons), and wrap up with some practical lessons that we should consider for ourselves.
I note the following regarding the founding of Harvard from an article on the Internet, “John Harvard was a Cambridge-educated English minister who immigrated to New England. He caught tuberculosis within a year of his arrival in Boston, and donated 400 books and half his estate to the “college” in “Newetowne” before his death in 1638 at the age of 30.”
The school was named after John Harvard as a way of thanking him for his contribution which helped to get this educational institution started. The year of its beginning was 1636.
In 1692 Harvard adopted the motto “Truth for Christ and the church.” That is no longer the case. In fact, in the twentieth century they removed almost everything from this statement, and the present day motto simply says “Truth.” In our world today, with the rejection of objective truth, this word means nothing when it comes to discovering where objective, ultimate reality is found.
At one time, this school, like many Ivy League institutions, was focused on educating people, including ministers, in the learning of God’s Word, helping them prepare for Christian service in whatever field they chose to enter. In the present day, not one of those places of higher education is directed by a Biblical worldview.
For example, to read some of the early “Rules and Precepts of Harvard,” which we do not have time to look at in this blog, you would see a definite focus on Biblical truth and the desire for each student at the school to have Jesus Christ as the foundation of knowledge and learning. And for a time, that was the case.
Harvard’s drift from the truth began in the nineteenth century. As early as 1800 the school was in the process of leaving its roots. In 1805, the Reverend Henry Ware, a Unitarian minister, was elected Hollis Professor of Divinity. Samuel Morison wrote: "Thus the theological department of New England's oldest university went Unitarian..." This was simply the continuing trend of the theological “black hole” that would consume Harvard.
Just a few years back, the group of interfaith chaplains at Harvard elected Greg Epstein as their leader. But to see how far Harvard has fallen, consider this - Epstein does not believe in God at all. An atheist was elected as the leader of the chaplaincy at Harvard. Epstein is noted as the “humanist chaplain” at the school.
It is also important to recognize that there are Christian ministries that are doing a work for the Lord on the campus of Harvard. The “Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship,”, with connections to Intervarsity, Cru, and other Biblically centered groups are working to make a difference.
When Israel went to war against Hamas, Harvard was caught in a firestorm when over thirty student organizations signed a pro-Palestinian letter denouncing Israel and their war in Gaza. The president of Harvard, when questioned by Congress, could not say that Anti-Semitism was happening on the campus because it would depend on the “context” of the situation. In other words, Anti-Semitism was only wrong and against the conduct code at Harvard if someone was physically accosted. She has since resigned as president but is staying on as a professor.
The school has lost millions in donations because of what happened on campus. And the early enrollment numbers are down from recent years. But they are staying the course of a school that has turned its back on its Christian roots. And that, I believe, is where lessons can be learned.
So, getting back to the title of this blog - What can we as churches and Christ followers learn from the history of Harvard, from its beginnings to the present day? A few things come to mind.
1) Scriptural denial does happen overnight. Harvard began on the right road. Though people point to the late 1700’s to early 1800’s as the beginning of the demise of Harvard theologically, it can be traced back even further, before Henry Ware was brought on board. In 1722 the school appointed Edward Wigglesworth to teach.
Wigglesworth and others who followed him, more so than he, began leading Harvard theologically down a road that it has never turned from. This did not happen overnight. The same is true for us as individuals. What I mean is that we must stay the course of historical beliefs of Christianity found in Scripture. The moment we allow a false doctrine or anti-biblical ethic to become rooted in our views and our thinking, other things follow that lead us further from the truth. We must be spiritually alert.
2) Let Scripture be the lighthouse that guides our life. Today, Harvard Divinity School has students from over 46 religious traditions. The grad school itself denies tenets of the historic Christian faith. In fact, they have no doctrinal statement to speak of on their website. The Master of Biblical Studies Program has you studying Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, New Testament and Early Christianity, and these are not designed to teach you to minister and reach these people, but simply are part of your “education” at Harvard, where any belief is accepted and affirmed.
You will not find Evangelical Christianity and the roots of the inerrancy of Scripture, Virgin Birth of Christ, His Deity, salvation by grace through faith, taught as factual within the Divinity School.
In our culture, where well-known pastors, schools, and ministries have chosen the path of following societal and theologically liberal trends that were a problem within the church one hundred years ago, but are still with us now and in our face, we need to know God’s Word. Be a part of a church that holds the Bible up as the standard for how we view the world around us.
3) Listen closely and read discerningly. There are a lot of “teachers” on the radio or online. I read at one Harvard gathering that a Hindu student of Harvard Divinity School got up and read from the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu Scriptures), using it as a springboard to teach about things through the lens of Hindu Ethics. It is so important that we not just accept something someone says because of who they are or are affiliated with. As we have noted, a denial, jettisoning the Christian faith does not happen overnight. We must, in these days, lean into the Bible and discern what is said to us in the “name of God” to see whether it is indeed The Almighty God of Scripture Who is speaking to us.