Monday, August 22, 2016

Barry Hankins's "Woodrow Wilson"

Barry Hankins is Professor of History at Baylor University, as well as a Resident Scholar with the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). His publications include Baptists in America: A History and Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. Hankins's biography Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America: Fundamentalist Warrior, Evangelical Prophet was awarded the 2009 John Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

Hankins applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President, and reported the following:
In order to stay out of the Texas heat and to do as much fly fishing as possible, I spend my summers splitting time between a rented casita in Taos, NM and my pop-up camper at Elk Creek Campground near the Conejos River in southern Colorado. My wife brought one copy of Woodrow Wilson with us, but we gave it away, so I’m using my pdf page proofs to look at p. 99. There is only the last part of the final paragraph of chapter 5 (“Secularizer”) on that page because the endnotes appear at the close of each chapter, rather than all together at the end of the book. Two-thirds of p. 99, therefore, consists of endnotes.

The chapter I’m concluding on p. 99 covers Wilson’s presidency at Princeton University. This one-third of a page encapsulates the entire argument of the book. Wilson remained a spiritual Christian throughout his life, hence the book’s subtitle “Spiritual President.” In his private life he read the Bible and prayed regularly. He also had a warm, romantic, ongoing experience with God. But for public purposes he essentially redefined Christianity as the onward march of “progress,” which for Wilson, and nearly all early twentieth-century theological liberals (and some evangelicals), meant the spread of American-styled democracy. In both his private and public faith there remained little need for doctrine or theology. Rather, spirituality sufficed in private, and justice in public. Wilson retained the spirituality and devotion to God of his southern Presbyterian youth, while gutting religion of its doctrinal content. What was left was the very common Progressive Era idea that all good work was God’s work. All progress—whether social, political, or even scientific—was a manifestation of Christianity.

As university president, therefore, Wilson secularized Princeton, eliminating all doctrinal and confessional requirements for faculty employment, and removing required Bible courses from the academic curriculum. These were no longer necessary because fine education that prepared students for national service was, in and of itself, a Christian enterprise. Wilson’s inaugural address when he became Princeton’s president in 1902 was a reprise of his keynote speech at the university’s sesquicentennial in 1896—“Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” Matters of faith were moved to the chapel and campus YMCA, as explicit matters of theology and Bible study became merely electives in the curriculum. Princeton no longer existed for the Church; rather for the nation.
Learn more about Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Barry Hankins.

My Book, The Movie: Woodrow Wilson.

--Marshal Zeringue