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Fire in the mountains

"Fire in the mountains" Continued...

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

In the Ivy League schools, the idealism took silly turns, flattering student egos. The student protests at Columbia University in New York City took a rougher, uglier turn, with the trashing of administration buildings. Archibald Cox of Harvard Law School was called in to advise, later becoming famous as the Watergate prosecutor. Of the student body of 1968, he explained: "The present generation of young people in our universities are the best informed, the most intelligent and the most idealistic this country has ever known." Maybe he was right in some technical academic sense, measured by standardized tests, but we were not being instructed enough in what the Bible calls wisdom, understanding, prudence, and knowledge.

My 79-year-old grandfather, Eugene C. Pulliam, was a conservative Arizona-based newspaper publisher and remembered his own youthful idealism as a Teddy Roosevelt lover. He cautioned me in letters about thinking my generation was something special: "There is very, very little difference in the actual performance of one generation after the other, except that in the last 50 years each succeeding generation has been better educated than the previous one," he scolded me in one letter. "I think you are too much inclined to discount the things your parents believe in and the things they do. You shouldn't allow yourself to come to the conclusion that your father's generation or my generation weren't worth a damn and that it is up to your generation to save the world. We didn't save the world and you are not going to save the world."

Williams, like so many schools, was dropping virtually all the old rules, throwing out the traditional notion of the college acting in loco parentis or taking the place of parents in regulating the lives of students. The mix of drinking, drugs, and sex did personal damage that we still don't comprehend fully in its sadness and distortion of the way God designed us to live.

Under the old system, yes, the rules were flouted and were tough to enforce. Yet now, as a parent, I think the academically excellent and secular schools made a big error in throwing out the old rules. Christian colleges, however imperfectly they have done it, were right to retain some kind of standards of expectations about student life.

More quietly in the late 1960s, at Williams and other schools, an -alternative was emerging -a thoughtful and challenging Christian faith.

Francis Schaeffer's first book, The God Who Is There, published in 1968, was based on his Wheaton College lectures a few years earlier. It was the start of a series of books and a movement that helped many of us rethink what we had been learning in secular educational circles. Schaeffer was corresponding with inquirers, hoping to see some come to salvation in Christ and helping others learn how to grow in Him. He became known as a deep-thinking defender of the faith. Yet he had a very practical and profound pastoral side expressed in a 1968 letter to a correspondent wondering about Christian faith and prayer: "God is not a machine. I must not see Him as a vending machine into which I put a quarter and get out a candy bar in a purely mechanical fashion. He is personal, and thus in answering prayer He operates on the basis of what He knows is the best and wisest answer to that prayer."

The next year at Williams, a small Christian fellowship started. David Howard of Intervarsity came to campus to tell us about the historic Haystack Monument at Williams. There a few students prayed in a rainstorm in 1806, laying the foundation for the first overseas missionary push from the United States. In 1810 the students helped form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, with Adoniram Judson and others sent to India with the gospel.

The monument was right there on campus, mentioned probably in a catalogue somewhere. It stood in the midst of pine trees, off the beaten track and forgotten in the way the school had forgotten its Christian heritage.

But the Lord has His way in history of bringing Himself back into the picture. We can ignore Him, and He lets us wander in all kinds of wilderness. Yet in His love, through His death on the cross, He was making His way into some of our personal lives, even as we were hearing the shouts from the left about saving the world from a mistaken war in Vietnam and how all that money should go instead to save American cities. The alternative way of Christ mercifully rescued many of us from a false humanistic hope that never could fulfill its promises.

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