This is the first in a series of reviews of college catalogues focusing on the problems of contemporary education.
A review of The School of Theology at Claremont Catalog, 1984-85, by Dean Joseph C. Hough, Jr., et al.
A recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education carried a light-hearted treatment of “The College Catalogue as a Work of Art.” Poking fun at the bland uniformity of catalogue style, the writer aptly observed that college catalogues seek to inspire and cajole us with happy visual images and titillating but vague academic course descriptions. Partly due to this combination of blandness and cuteness, and ultimately attributable to the aimlessness within the academy today, it is difficult to discern any overriding educational principles from most college catalogues.
A rare departure from this general rule is the 1984-85 catalogue for the School of Theology at Claremont. On the surface it seems like any other catalogue; its cover features a color picture of the S. S. Kresge Memorial Chapel, and interspersed throughout are the typical pictures of contented students lounging around in their Nikes. But as one reads closely the descriptions of the curriculum and individual courses, it becomes clear that the School of Theology at Claremont strongly embraces left-wing politics and modern philosophy in its most radical forms.
“The faculty,” the catalogue tells us, “is convinced that it is necessary for the ministers of the church to see their ministry in a global context.” But the pregnant phrase “global context” means much more than the Apostle Matthew meant by the Great Commission:
By ministry in a global context we mean more than simply worldwide Christianity. We mean a perspective on ministry which sees each ministry in partnership with ministries around the world in the interest of justice for all the world’s people. Global ministry is also inclusive ministry which will not yield to nationalism, racism, or sexism: . . . The Basic Studies of the curriculum are courses designed to introduce the students to the essential foundations for a global ministry.
The “essential foundations” are the focus of RC302, “Ministry in the Global Church,” a required course. “Attention is given,” the catalogue explains, “to forming a consciousness of the cultural realities and global issues that impact [sic] the church’s life and mission. Several perspectives on the church and world are examined, including those of Black, Feminist, Asian, and Latin American liberation theologies.” This team-taught class is led by Professor Dean Freudenberger, whom the catalogue lists as “Visiting Professor of International Development Studies and Missions.” Does this mean that Professor Freudenberger has training in economics? A check of the reading list reveals that the one economic document required is a World-Watch Institute Paper by Lester Brown, “Population Policies for a New Economic Era.” “New Economic Era” is, of course, a euphemism of the doom and gloom, no-growth redistributionists, of whom Lester Brown has long been a leading figure. This paper is the same old problematic Club of Rome argument, with downward-sloping graphs pointing ostensibly to oblivion. Nowhere, apparently, does this course consider the contrary evidence amassed by Julian Simon and others, or the moral arguments of P. T. Bauer that attitudes such as Brown’s significantly impede economic progress in the “Third World.”
The STC curriculum gives indications, both subtle and jarring, of the pervasive influence of radical modern philosophy. The goals of the Ethics curriculum include learning “the critical use of the social sciences in social ethics and the ethical criticism of social, economic, and political institutions and processes.” The course descriptions belie no recognition of the question once considered the preeminent concern of ethics: How should one live? Instead, the courses all stress “social ethics” and “ethical dimensions of global responsibility.” The Sermon on the Mount is studied for the “relevance” of its “absolutistic aspects” to “political goals.” The Ecumenics courses are designed “to help [students] avoid provincialism in their understanding of world Christianity.” The Ecumenics curriculum consists of two courses on Jewish history, two courses on liberation theology, and a course called “International Development and the World Mission of the Church.”
That STC is in the avant-garde of modern theology is readily evident from the theology curriculum. Rather than seeking to serve as a conservator of church heritage, of historical theological continuity, the STC Theology curriculum seeks to “encourage students to move to the point of developing positions of their own and to think critically about their own faith in the years ahead.” Curiously, required coursework begins with Calvin’s Institutes. Augustine and Aquinas are relegated to an elective course under Church History. (Even for a nominally Protestant seminary, this is surprising.) Most Theology course offerings, moreover, are entirely contemporary in focus. The second required course (RC312, ‘Theological Perspectives”) is wholly taken up with 20th century trends of feminist theology, black theology, liberation theology, and process theology.
One should not ignore the fame of the School of Theology at Claremont as the home of process theology and of its two leading theorists, John Cobb and David Ray Griffin. Process theology can be described as the natural philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead warmed over lightly with a Christian gloss. In process thought, God is not the Creator, nor is He understood as the Supreme Being, or even the “prime mover” of Aristotle. (Neither is He to be understood as a “He,” if one is to avoid “sexism.”) Instead, all actual beings or entities, including God, are the outcome of “creative processes” that are continuously synthesizing and resynthesizing new “unities.” Though this process has no discernible end, process theology speaks confidently of the “evolution” and “progress” of man toward perfection and unity with God. This naturally entails a wholesale reordering of the historic doctrines of Christology, redemption, and eschatology. Is it surprising that process theology is known in some circles as John Cobb’s con job?
But radical politics is the most conspicuous feature of the STC curriculum. The radical political bias of the STC curriculum is demonstrated by two courses in particular TH442, “Christianity and Marxism,” and WR331, “Liberation Theologies: North and South.” “Christianity and Marxism” is described as “an inquiry into the questions whether and how Christian theology can critically appropriate insights of Marx and some Marxist philosophers,” adding with no surprise that “Whitehead’s philosophy will figure considerably into this project.” There has been in recent years an increasing amount of literature on the so-called “Christian-Marxist dialogue” and on the hybrid “Christian Marxism” (which, as one pundit remarked, makes about as much sense as Jewish Nazism). That Christians can seriously and earnestly “dialogue” with Marxists is indicative of the vacuousness of much of contemporary Christianity; the resulting “Christian Marxism” is indicative of the capitulation of Christianity to radical modern philosophy.
Liberation theology, is the most popular form of Christian radicalism today, and its foremost spokesman is Gustavo Gutierrez. At Claremont it is usually referred to as “Latin American liberation theology,” but the first thing to be observed is that it is certainly not Latin American in origin. As Father James Schall has pointed out, liberation theology is merely Christian terminology superimposed on Marxist ideas of European origin; liberation theology is, as it were, Marxism with salsa. In Gutierrez’s book, A Theology of Liberation, such historic Christian concepts of sin, redemption, and eschatology are systematically reinterpreted along Marxist lines. Citing Sartre, Gutierrez declares that “Marxism, as the formal framework of all contemporary philosophical thought, cannot be superseded.” Thus, violent revolution is the sanctified means of spiritual redemption. “Sin,” according to Gutierrez, “demands a radical liberation, which in turn implies a political liberation.”
Moreover, liberation theology figures in at least a half-dozen courses listed in the STC catalogue, but the title of the primary liberation course reveals much: “Liberation Theologies: North and South.” In his narrative history of the World Council of Churches (In Search of a Responsible World Society), Paul Bock reports that in the 1960s the WCC shifted its focus from the “East-West conflict” to the “North-South conflict.” By the 1975 WCC assembly in Nairobi, liberation theology and the “North-South” vocabulary became the reigning orthodoxy guiding WCC resolutions on “oppression” by Western white-dominated consumer societies. Not surprisingly, resolutions critical of “alleged” denials of human rights in the Soviet bloc were defeated. Why is liberation theology not applicable to the oppressed in the East? Why is there no course on liberation theology East and West? Why, in fact, are there no Polish or Russian liberation theologians? Is it simply that, as Solzhenitsyn insists, historic orthodoxy is sufficient for the spiritual needs of Eastern populations?
The School of Theology at Claremont is an official seminary of the United Methodist Church which, surveys indicate, is suffering from a precipitous decline in membership. After a look at the curriculum at STC, one reason for diminishing congregations becomes readily evident. “When the political and social ideas used by Christians today are identified and analyzed,” Edward Norman has written, “it becomes clear that they are derived from the secular values of the time.” But when the church takes its bearings primarily from the secular agenda, it no longer brings anything specifically Christian or transcendental to the world. Thus our seminaries are rapidly becoming cemeteries for the historic faith. It is the genius of Christianity, as Whittaker Chambers once observed, to whisper to the lowliest nun that he could, by the act of his own soul, burst the iron bonds of Fate which seemed to encase him. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” the Founder of Christianity declares. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you might have peace.” This Man is a Marxist revolutionary?