6 A Tale of Two Ideas

On the Importance of Holiness and Unity

Jason R. Varner

The Anderson University[1] story has been told before. A number of times, actually. The university’s founders published first-hand accounts. A handful of scholars have contributed historical narratives in the years since. As we embark on the Anderson University Saga project, a group of faculty and friends of the university have assembled to tell the story anew, and even though the story we are telling is the same, each storyteller will undoubtedly tell the “same” a bit differently. As an intellectual historian,[2] I am often drawn as much to the ideas that undergird a story as I am to the events that compose the narrative itself. And so, in this essay I’d like to tell the Anderson University saga from an ideological perspective. Characters, setting, and plot certainly matter, but I want to suggest that ideas themselves often exert a palpable sort of force within stories—featuring, at times, as prominently behind the curtain as people and places and things do in front of it. This is certainly true of the history of Anderson University. Two ideas—holiness and unity—have driven the Anderson University saga and continue to dictate, to a compelling degree, the unique character of our contemporary identity.

To better understand the relationship between our fundamental ideas and the narrative of our history, I will lean quite heavily on an intellectual framework that came to prominence with the eighteenth-century philosopher George Wilhelm Hegel. Hegel is quite notorious: notoriously difficult to read but also quite notorious for having laid the philosophical foundations for a number of ideas that have shaped the West, among them Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism.[3] But the significance of his work goes far beyond the notorious: Hegel’s employment of dialectic as a mechanism for explaining everything from consciousness to epistemology to history itself has left an indelible mark on Western ways of thinking.[4] But I also want to suggest that Hegel’s dialectic helps to explain how the Anderson University saga has been shaped by ideas.

A dialectic, as the reader might have guessed by the prefix “dia,” implies a dynamic back and forth between two things. The dialectic process begins with a thesis, which is an initial thought or idea.[5] Now within this initial idea, however, an antithesis—a negation of the thesis—is inherently present. By saying that something is, one also says, implicitly what that something is not.[6] There exists a tension between these opposite ideas, but importantly for Hegel, this tension is not static but serves as a springboard for progression. The push and pull of the dialectic leads to a new and improved reality—one that incorporates the spirit of both the thesis and the antithesis in establishing a synthesis that reflects them both.

Perhaps an example will prove helpful at this point. My favorite painting is Der Mönch am Meer (The Monk by the Sea) by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. In fact, a copy of the painting is the first thing I see each time I step into my office here at Anderson University. Friedrich’s masterpiece depicts a solitary monk standing on the shore of a blue-gray sea, looking out into a horizon that is dominated by an indeterminate sky. I say indeterminate because it is unclear to the viewer whether the lighter areas in the sky mark the first hopeful moments of the new day or whether that light is giving way to the encroaching gloom of night.

From the first time I saw Der Mönch, I found myself somehow drawn into the work. The fact that the monk looks away from the viewer and into the distance seems to invite me to join him in his gaze. What kind of future does the sky portend? I have also always been struck by the way Friedrich subtly played with myriad shades of blue and gray in this single, relatively small, piece. The foreboding blue of the deeps, the meeting of rich indigo and green-tinged royal at the place where the sea meets the sky—deep blues and pale blues and blues that are barely there at all.

But at some point, a number of years ago, this natural affinity for Der Mönch led me to ask deeper questions about the piece. Who was Caspar David Friedrich? When did he paint? Why the tenuous dance between gloom and glow in so many of his paintings? And so, I began to devote little bits of time, here and there, to reading about the artist, his context, his other works, as well as speculation from art historians and critics as to what he might have been trying to “do” with The Monk by the Sea. I learned, for instance, that in a number of Friedrich’s paintings, his subjects look away from the viewer and into the distance.[7] It turns out that my inclination to follow the gaze of the monk was precisely what Friedrich had in mind. I also learned that Friedrich achieved his stunning kaleidoscope of blues by grinding up cobalt glass into a blue powder called “smalt.”[8] And perhaps most importantly for an intellectual historian, I confirmed my suspicions that Friedrich approached his art within a cultural context that had been profoundly shaped by the overreach of the French Enlightenment and the corresponding correction of the German Romantics. I found all of this to be quite interesting and even fulfilling. Who doesn’t like learning more about the things (or people or places) that have become important to them over time?

However enjoyable my initial encounter with Der Mönch, or the subsequent satisfaction I experienced in learning more about the piece and the artist, the painting truly took its place as my favorite when I found myself standing before it, in the same room for the first time. While leading a group of Anderson University students on a cultural-learning trip to Berlin, we took part of a day to explore the Old National Gallery, where Der Mönch is permanently housed. It was here that the drawing-in of my initial encounter, combined with the further knowledge I had discovered about the painting, came together in a moment of deeper, even profound, engagement.

My experience with Der Mönch illustrates what Hegel was seeking to convey with his dialectic. You see, my initial encounter with the painting represents a thesis moment. I became aware of, and even moved by, Friedrich’s depiction of the monk contemplating the horizon. It was a raw encounter, but, as you will remember, the power of this initial encounter caused me to step back in an attempt to better understand the work to which I was initially drawn. In order to gain this better understanding, however, I had to leave my thesis moment (the raw encounter) to go in a different direction—in this case to my computer and then to the library to find out more. This movement away from the painting itself represents Hegel’s antithesis. But here is where things get interesting: Having gained some categorical knowledge of Der Mönch (a biography of Friedrich, the painting’s place within German Romanticism, the method by which the deep blues were achieved, etc.), I then returned to the painting, where I experienced the fruit of my initial encounter combined with the insight gained from my study. Just as the thesis moment had to end for me to enter a new stage, so too did the antithesis moment have to cease; I had to leave the library and return to the painting in order to enjoy my synthesis moment: the richer, informed encounter. So, we have the thesis moment (my moving towards the painting), the subsequent antithesis (my moving away from the painting for the purpose of reflection and greater clarity), and the synthesis moment (where all the good things of the thesis moment and the antithesis moment come together).

For Hegel this synthesis is not to be seen merely as a compromise between a thesis and an antithesis. There is real power in the synthesis moment—a dynamism Hegel captured with the German word Aufhebung. Unfortunately, this word does not translate well into English. Attempts often render Aufhebung as “sublation,” which “literally means a ‘lifting up’ of something” (McGilchrist 2012, 203). But the German word Aufhebung can also mean an annulment or abolition—in short, an end or death of something. In his comprehensive monograph on Hegel, the philosopher Charles Taylor maintains that both meanings (the “lifting up” and the “annulment of”)—which seem to contain an inherent contradiction—are possible and wholly legitimate ways one might use this same word. In fact, according to Taylor, Hegel intentionally “combined [both meanings] to make his term of art” (Taylor 1975, 119). For something to become aufgehoben (the verb form of Aufhebung), it must in one sense die (to be “annulled”) in order to experience its “lifting up.”

Thankfully, in his preface of The Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel provides an example of what Aufhebung looks like in practice. Turning to nature, he writes,

The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. (Hegel 1807, preface)

In other words, the plant-as-bud must die for the plant-as-blossom to come into being, and the stage of plant-as-blossom must also end for the plant-as-fruit stage to occur. But essentially, even though the bud and the blossom are no longer physically present in the fruiting plant, they are necessary, and, in a certain sense, “present” as the plant bears its fruit.[9] Again, to invoke my experience with Der Mönch am Meer, my initial moving encounter (the bud) with the painting had to happen for the desire to explore it further (the blossom) to occur in me. But for me to enjoy the fruit—the real payoff—I had to leave the library and engage the painting anew (the fruit).

This same dialectic process can be seen at work in the Anderson University saga. At the core of this community, woven into its very DNA, are two seemingly contradictory ideas: holiness and unity. New members of the Anderson University community—not to mention a good number of inquisitive outsiders—have often asked just what it is that makes Anderson University unique. What about its mission and ethos is, to quote the fifth president of the University, John Pistole, “distinctive and compelling”? All too often, long-time members of the community have struggled to explain just what it is that makes our identity unique.

For some liberal arts universities, this task is rather simple. Some universities can point back to a charismatic individual who galvanized a community and founded a university to educate students in keeping with the values of that pioneer’s own ministry or mission. Other universities were founded for the propagation of a particular creed or doctrine, often as a response to what members of these communities felt to be broken in the larger society. Still others have at their core a social ideal—a notion that the world could be and would be better if a new generation of young people were educated with a particular set of skills and values.

Perhaps the reason we have struggled to tell our story is because things haven’t been as straightforward for us. Rather than enjoying the relative simplicity of tracing our identity to a founding individual, or to a well-defined creed, or even to one overarching idea, I want to suggest that Anderson University’s core identity is rooted in a dynamic—and often uneasy—tension between the seemingly contradictory ideas of holiness and unity. In this, the ethos behind the mission of Anderson University is Hegelian to its core. In this essay we will begin by exploring these two ideas before offering an example of how the impulse for each has actually shaped events in the history of the university.

Holiness and Unity

As the other essays in this collection have noted, the roots of Anderson University run deep into the soil of the Church of God movement. Without the felt need among the Church of God to educate young people for the sake of the extension of their mission, Anderson University would not exist. One of the two key ideas that drove this mission was the doctrine of holiness, or sanctification. From the beginning, the Church of God pioneers asserted that, in addition to justification by faith alone, the mature Christian should strive to experience “sanctification by faith…a second definite instantaneous work of grace” (Rowe 1898). The former covered the conscious sinfulness of the individual; the latter, however, spoke to the flawed nature of the Christian. Sanctification, in other words, required the believer to think beyond simply “doing” things better, and instead focus on “being” a better doer of things.

The importance of this qualitative transformation in the life of the Christian can, to quote Church of God historian John W.V. Smith, “hardly be over exaggerated” (Callen 1978, 47-48). The idea of holiness stands at the very center of the movement. According to Smith, “If a single truth were to be designated as the basic root from which the reformation sprang, it would probably be considered most basic” (Callen 1978, 47-48).

Early Church of God thinkers asserted that the pursuit of sanctification was quite possibly the primary theme of the narrative of Scripture. While the first work of grace justified a believer before God, it was the additional work of the Holy Spirit that allowed contemporary women and men to enter into a new kind of existence in the here and now, reversing that which was lost in Adam and Eve’s fall. To this end, D.S. Warner, the founder of the Church of God movement, argued, “as the fall of man effaced the image of God from the soul and sent a current of depravity down through the entire race, the perfect restoration of the soul, must, necessarily, reinstate its former purity and divine likeness” (Warner 1978, 12).[10] Another early Church of God writer, F.G. Smith, echoed Warner’s understanding: “[T]he original state of holiness was forfeited by sin; hence in this respect and to this extent the image of God was lost.” The work of Jesus, then, goes beyond the forgiveness of our sins and makes it possible for believers to be “restored in the image of God” (Smith 1945, 39).[11]

The practice of seeing holiness through this narratival lens has actually been evident throughout the entire history of the Church of God movement. In his landmark Christian Theology, Anderson University Professor Russell Byrum interpreted Pauline scriptures with the imago dei in mind. “In the work of regeneration,” he argued, “the divine image is described as recreated or restored” (Byrum 1925, 300).[12] Boyce Blackwelder, writing some thirty years after Byrum, explained to his Gospel Trumpet[13] readers that faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus provided forgiveness for the particular sins of the individual believer. However, the indwelling of the Spirit was still “required to deal with the principle of sin, the innate tendency or proclivity toward evil” (Blackwelder 1978, 129).[14] More recently, Church of God theologians like Gilbert Stafford have expounded on this theme. According to Stafford, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus and the subsequent regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are “no longer…to think of ourselves primarily as members of Adam’s fallen race but as members of Christ’s body” (Stafford 2001, 447-448).[15] It is quite clear that in the Church of God tradition, holiness has never been seen simply as the absence of sin in a believer’s life. Rather, holiness has consistently implied something more robust: the historical reversal of the “inbred sin or depravity” brought on by the disobedience of Adam and Eve (Blackwelder 1978, 129).[16]

With this qualitative transformation, then, comes the implication that the old way of being in the world has been put to death, even as a new way of being human has become possible. In this, the sanctified Christian is to be “set apart,” or holy. To be clear, Warner and other early Church of God thinkers acknowledged that all justified Christians were in some sense “set apart.” But, as Warner argued, “An individual may be sanctified in the sense of being set apart, and not be sanctified in the sense of being holy and pure in heart” (1892).[17] Truly—and fully—saved Christians, in Warner’s estimation, needed to exhibit set-apart lives through altered belief and behavior and additionally through a complete and radical qualitative transformation of the heart. This would allow believers “to be both separated and to live pure lives for Christ” (Warner 1892). Or in other words, to enjoy the forgiveness of sins and to devote one’s activities to the service of Christ (thereby making one set apart from the world) was not enough. Rather, true holiness meant one must be set apart in a deeper, qualitative way; that is, as we have indicated, sanctification must extend beyond the perfection of the person’s “doing” and transform the person’s very “being” as well.

One more comment on the early Church of God and the doctrine of holiness. John W.V. Smith has noted the fact that “the doctrine of holiness is not just an abstract theological concept”; it works itself out in our “everyday practical living” (1985, 86). Believers who have experienced transformation can also be said to be “set apart” in that they are no longer held back by a disfigured imago dei. There is power here that opens possibilities for action. In the words of Church of God historian Merle Strege, for early Church of God thinkers, “[T]o be saved was…to be delivered in the sense of being enabled to live a holy life” (Strege 2002, 15, emphasis added). Holiness from this standpoint, then, meant that the individual was not just free from an old way of being but also free to live into a powerful new way of life in the here and now. An early Church of God hymn captures this sentiment well:

Adieu to this world if you’d follow the Lord,
For none but the pure are received by his word;
Unspotted from sin and made perfect in love,
As pure in this world as in heaven above. (Warner and Warren 1911, 413, emphasis added)

As Strege and the hymn writers suggest, there is a very real qualitative transformation that sets a believer apart from the person he or she used to be. However, this setting apart can never remain within the bounds of the ontological. The believer is freed to become—is empowered to be—set apart in terms of a new kind of power-infused activity in this world.

Clearly, holiness implied a number of things in the early Church of God. But it is interesting that in all cases, to be sanctified—to pursue holiness—involved movement: a transformation of one way of being, or one kind of behavior, to another. In Hegelian terms, the call to be set apart represents a radical thesis—an ethical and ontological statement that necessitates a kinetic response. The call of Christ demands movement away from the “place” where one begins into a future guided by the Holy Spirit.[18]

While holiness may have been primary in the emerging Church of God movement, it was actually the addition of the second idea—unity—that made the Church of God distinctive from other nineteenth-century religious movements. Whereas holiness called the believer to movement away, unity demanded the opposite; it pulled the believer back towards. As with holiness, the unity impulse was present from the early days of the movement. The first historian of the Church of God, John W.V. Smith, noted that the pioneers made this one of their chief concerns. In fact, “the aspect of the church probably most often mentioned in the early Church of God was unity. God does not have churches, they said, he has a church. God’s will is a single, united, visible church” (1980, 89). In The Cleansing of the Sanctuary, D.S. Warner reminded his readers that Christ himself said that unity would be the mark of His church (Warner and Riggle 1903, 241).[19] The apostle Paul later expounded on this language, envisioning the Church as members of one body, with Christ functioning as the head.[20] Given the reality that “there is absolutely but one body, and one Christ its head,” Warner reasoned that “the call to join various bodies must proceed from antichrist” (Warner and Riggle 1903, 241).

This uncompromising view on unity is perhaps best captured in the early hymnody of the Church of God. In keeping with the thinking of Warner and his fellow pioneers, Charles Naylor saw the Church of God as participating in the restoration of God’s initial idea for His Church:

The light of eventide now shines the darkness to dispel,
The glories of fair Zion’s state ten thousand voices tell;
For out of Babel God doth call his scattered saints in one,
Together all one church compose, the body of his Son.

O Church of God, the day of jubilee
Has dawned so bright and glorious for thee;
Rejoice, be glad! Thy Shepherd has begun
His long divided flock again to gather into one. (Naylor and Byers 1953, 430)

Much as the pursuit of holiness was embedded into God’s overarching narrative plan for the world, so too did the appearance of true biblical unity in the early Church of God represent the delivery of a long-awaited scriptural promise. In fact, the central claim of this hymn is quite radical: the emergence of the Church of God represented the historical reversal of the scattering at Babel in Genesis 11. There is a sense in which the unity imagery of the New Testament bears eschatological import. And as F.G. Smith, the third editor of The Gospel Trumpet, noted, the theme of unity is at the very heart of the New Testament message:

We read of one Lord, one salvation, one God, one faith, one Spirit, one mind, one mouth, one body, one baptism, one new and living way, one Bible, and one heaven. And in order to serve this one God aright, follow this one Lord according to his one new and living way, and obey his one revealed Word, we must be “ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.” (Smith 1945, 164)

It bears mentioning that the kind of authentic biblical unity to which Warner and Smith point could only be achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit. Transformed people, it seems, were uniquely equipped to enjoy a new sort of unity. Anything less than this new, transformed unity was to be rejected as human attempts at community or fellowship, however noble in their intent, were doomed to fail. On this point, the 1921 Yearbook of the Church of God was clear. “The unity which God demands is not a mere outward union or confederacy of man-made churches, but is a soul fellowship resulting from the experience of spiritual birth into the family of God” (Morrison 1921, 5).[21] Writing a decade later, C.E. Brown urged his readers not to settle for anything less than transformative unity. The call to true unity, according to Brown, required “the total abolition of all formal organic denominational divisions among Christian people; not to merge the denominations, but to abolish them is our duty” (Brown 1978, 429).

This, then, leads us to something of a paradox. Early Church of God thinkers believed that transformative biblical unity could only be enjoyed by those who had rejected human-made organizations.[22] Thus, the pioneers called men and women to “come out” and “away” from their denominational churches—from “protestant sectism”—in order to attain true Christian unity (Warner 1883). On this, D.S. Warner was unequivocal. Addressing his detractors in an 1882 edition of The Gospel Trumpet, Warner noted that leaders in the denominations agreed with him in asserting that there could only be “but one church of God” (qtd. in Byers 1966, 303). The problem, as Warner noted, was that even as they asserted the unity of the body, his critics did so from their positions in different “churches”—each with its own creed and parochial policies for membership. “You say that sects are wrong,” wrote Warner, “but advise God’s children to continue in the wrong. I claim that sects are wrong, and therefore say, Come out from among them, as saith the Lord. Men professing godliness should act consistently with their belief” (qtd. in Byers 1966, 303).

Later thinkers affirmed the idea that unity could only be attained by a people whose lives had been thoroughly transformed. According to F.G. Smith, “[T]he same experience of salvation which brings the person into living touch with Christ also brings him into vital relationship, through the Spirit, with all others who have received a like experience” (Smith 1945, 159).[23] Paradoxically, the experience of being set apart—of movement away—made possible the fruit of movement towards, or unity. Or as Smith put it, “In the early church, purity and unity went hand in hand, for wherever perfect holiness is, there is spiritual unity of believers as a natural result” (Smith 1945, 162). In detailing the core beliefs of the movement, the 1921 Yearbook of the Church of God also underscored the link between holiness and unity. “According to the Bible, the church of God is the universal body of the saved, believers. All who are truly regenerated by the Spirit are ‘born again,’ are partakers of Christ, hence are accounted members of the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:13)” (Morrison 1921, 4).[24] For the early Church of God, holiness and unity were inextricably bound, as the latter testified to the true experience of the former. On this, perhaps Warner and Riggle said it best: “The perfection of the saints is attained in entire sanctification,” the “unity of faith [is] its inevitable fruit” (1903, 263).

Holiness, Unity, and Anderson University

It should be clear by now that the movement-away of the holiness impulse and the movement-towards of the unity impulse together formed the identity of the early Church of God. It should come as no surprise then, that the educational institution that emerged out of this church also found itself driven by this Hegelian tension. The limitations of this present work do not permit a comprehensive narrative account of the push and pull of holiness and unity throughout the history of Anderson University. But in the space we have left, perhaps events that occurred between 1928 and 1930 might offer a case study in how the university’s story has been shaped by the dialectic of holiness and unity.

Given that the Church of God emerged from within the wider American holiness movement of the latter nineteenth century, it was to be expected that the idea of holiness would play a significant role in the founding of the university. The centrality of holiness can be seen in a number of ways in the early years of the institution, but the holiness impulse is especially noticeable in the decision for the university to begin offering liberal arts courses in 1928. By the early 1920s, the Bible Training School[25] had managed to remain solvent and to attract a modest number of students who felt called to the ministry. However, President John Morrison realized that the school could not hope to remain viable over the long term without some major changes to the curriculum. More students would be needed to cover the rising costs of the school’s operations. And while preparing young men and women for vocational ministry was at the heart of the school’s mandate, restricting the curriculum to this one end certainly limited the pool from which students might be drawn.

In addition to the need to widen its base, an increasing number of families and young people from the Church of God movement were considering the possibility of higher education as a means to prepare for a range of vocations (Morrison 1962, 154). A brief article dedicated to education in the 1921 Church of God Yearbook seems to have spoken to this emerging need. “Every Christian parent,” the article noted, “is justly interested in the education of his children, whether they be preachers or not” (Morrison 1921, 9).[26] Given the need to increase enrollment, and noting the cultural shift that brought with it greater demand, President Morrison lobbied the wider Church of God movement for permission to offer college courses beyond the purview of ministerial preparation at the Anderson Bible School and Seminary.

In addition to need and demand, a review of the extant evidence shows that Morrison and other proponents of the curricular change justified the need for it in two ways—both of which related to the issue of holiness. The first rationale given for the adding of college courses was to ensure that young people would remain set apart from the worldliness associated with secular institutions of higher learning. In fact, this concern constituted the first justification offered by E.A. Reardon in a resolution presented to the General Ministerial Assembly on June 19, 1928, for the purposes of expanding the School’s curriculum.[27]

Just months later, after having received the permission he sought from the church, Morrison took to The Gospel Trumpet to announce the change to the wider movement. After highlighting the widening of curricular focus, Morrison turned his attention to what seems to have been a concern from some quarters.[28] “With the advancement in academic standards there must be a corresponding advancement in spiritual ideals…. We pledge to do all in our power to shield [students] from the blight of worldliness and to protect them from the spiritual paralysis of that unbelief which is all too prevalent in the institutions of higher learning today” (Morrison 1928).[29] This was not a new message for Morrison. As early as 1921, he had used the preservation of holiness as justification for a more robust institution. He argued,

The time is propitious for some liberal-hearted saint of God in this evening light whom God has blessed with worldly wealth to found and equip an institution which would offer a college training to our boys and girls and at the same time quicken their faith in the good old Book and in the principles of this reformation. (Morrison 1921, 9, emphasis added)

The assumption seems to have been that prospective students would have committed themselves to holiness (“our boys and girls”), that they had set themselves apart in either the volitional sense (justification) or the ontological sense (sanctification).[30] To parents of the latter, the message was that Anderson College would provide the environment that would ensure that their children remained fully set apart; to the former, the promise of progress in holiness beckoned.

The second justification Morrison offered for the addition of ordinary college courses was that college-trained young people would be better equipped to spread the unique message of the Church of God. “If we would see the truths of this grand reform rapidly spread to the ends of the earth, we must have an efficient ministry. This means a ministry of unbounded faith in the principles of this reform…” (Morrison 1921, 9-10). In a world that was increasingly placing emphasis on higher education, Morrison argued that ministerial education would need to evolve to keep apace of culture. In addition to training in biblical principles, the church would also need “a ministry of ripe mental training” who would then spread the “truths which gladden our hearts…throughout the world!” (Morrison 1921, 9-10). A rising generation of young people properly equipped for the task would be required for the movement-out of holiness, and away from sectism, which was at the heart of the Church of God message.

We see both of the aforementioned justifications evident in personal correspondence between Morrison and a prospective student in 1928. In March of that year, the student, Felix B. Arnold, wrote to Morrison to explore the possibility of transferring from his current Presbyterian college to the Anderson Seminary. The problem for Arnold was that he found the “religious conditions” lacking at his current institution. Apparently, through connections to Church of God saints in his hometown of Piggot, Arkansas, Arnold had become convinced that the spiritual climate at Anderson would be more to his liking.[31] In fact, he had narrowed his transfer choices to two: Anderson and the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Unfortunately, neither school offered general college courses, and Arnold was beginning to feel the call to medical missions. Were he to follow that call, Arnold explained, “[I]t would be necessary to take my premedical subjects in a standard college so that I could meet the entrance requirements of a first class medical college.”

Morrison’s response was a long time in coming, as he awaited the decision of the Church of God’s General Assembly on the curriculum question. It is telling, however, that within days of receiving the Assembly’s affirmation, Morrison wrote his response to Arnold. In a brief letter dated June 27, Morrison made Arnold aware of the fact that the seminary would be adding “regular college courses” to its catalog of offerings. He then referred to the “tone” of Arnold’s letter, indicating his belief that Arnold would be “delighted” with what he would find at Anderson. In closing the note, Morrison spoke directly to Arnold’s religious concerns. “This school stands committed to the conservative view of the Scriptures and for full salvation and the surrendered Christian life” (emphasis added).[32]

Morrison’s response underscores the essential role the holiness impulse played in the evolution of the seminary into a college. It is telling that Morrison and other leaders in the movement felt that there was a real need for a college that would go beyond offering “the conservative view of the Scriptures.” If sound hermeneutics were enough, Church of God pastors and families simply would have sent their young people to Chicago. Traditional hermeneutics might have sparked Arnold’s initial interest, and it is interesting that Morrison readily affirms Arnold’s categorization, but Morrison hastens to add what would have represented the real distinctive for Anderson: “full salvation,” or sanctification.[33] At Anderson, those who had chosen to set themselves apart for vocational training would encounter an environment that would foster strength in their commitments, and where those called to vocations would encounter an environment with which they would resonate. But perhaps more importantly, each student would be encouraged to grow in their “set-apart-ness”—to experience the full measure of holiness.

Further, Morrison’s response to Arnold—who quite clearly was not already in formal fellowship with the Church of God saints—demonstrates in deed what Morrison had written about for years. In addition to helping students live “set apart” lives, the new Anderson College was intent on spreading the message, this final reformation of the Church, to people outside the camp. How better than by equipping not just the next generation of preachers but also of teachers, and in the case of Felix B. Arnold, doctors, for the transformation of society?

Just as the holiness impulse was calling the campus community out into new iterations of itself, a controversy related to the other Church of God distinctive—unity—threatened the young institution. As we acknowledged in our brief overview of unity in the early Church of God, the pioneers believed that the first step to true Christian unity was, ironically, to step away from one’s community. In fact, true unity could only be achieved through the repudiation of any and all human-made “bodies” that might prevent the coming together of Christ’s one universal body. There could only be one church of God, and leaders like D.S. Warner and F.G. Smith believed that their young reformation represented God’s first move in bringing His “long divided flock again together into one” (Naylor and Byers 1953, 430). In The Desk as Altar, Merle Strege offers the term “reformationists” to describe ministers and lay believers who held to this traditional view of Christian unity (2016, 165). However, as time passed and the End to which this gathering pointed did not arrive, another camp began to emerge within the Church. This second camp, whom Strege calls the “progressives,” thought it was time for the Church to reconsider its predominant—and exclusive—stance on Christian unity (2016, 59-60).[34]

The progressives challenged the reformationist view on several fronts. The first employed a rationale that was built into the movement’s own self-understanding. As we have noted, early Church of God thinkers took a narrative approach to the reading of Scripture, and they had no qualms about extending biblical history into the eschatological present.[35] In fact, they referred to themselves as the “Evening Light saints” because of their belief that in their gathering, the prophecy of Zechariah 14:7 was being fulfilled: “At evening time it shall be light.” One of the early Church of God hymns tells the story of the wider church in four acts—each act receiving its own hymn verse. In the first age, the early Christian Church enjoyed “the morning bright/like crystal so clear her light.” But with the formalizing of Roman Catholicism around 300 CE, a “long, dreary Papal night” of darkness set in. Verse three relates that some 1260 years later, the Protestant Reformation brought with it the promise of “the gospel ray” breaking through, but the formality of the emerging Protestant churches quickly clouded out the rising dawn. Finally, in the fourth verse, which represents the present age, the songwriters celebrate the fact that the “gospel” has come “so clear and bright” that “the mists are all cleared away.”[36]

The clear theme of the hymn “The Biblical Trace of the Church” is that God’s vision for the church has been revealed progressively over time and that each successive generation has enjoyed a greater sense of clarity. It was precisely this principle that the progressives invoked in laying the groundwork for their fresh interpretation of church unity. In a 1928 Gospel Trumpet article, W. Burgess McCreary, exhorted his fellow saints, “[We] should keep our minds open to truth, as God gives us to see the light.” While he acknowledged that the application of reformation principles may have shifted over time, “as God [has] let the light dawn upon us,” the principles themselves had remained firmly in place. Those who clung to the strict reformationist view, in McCreary’s estimation, seemed to have failed “to recognize that these progressive stages are of God.”[37] God was still about the business of increasing the clarity by which His people saw the true church.[38] The idea that more might be revealed alarmed the reformationists, who feared saints would spend too much of their time pursuing further revelation, thereby devoting less to the building up of the church. But the real danger, in McCreary’s estimation, was not that the church would look for further light but rather that “human prejudice” would “hinder the full, free flow of God’s Holy Spirit in revealing truth and making the pathway of this movement shine more and more unto the perfect day.”[39]

The second and perhaps more condemnatory criticism levied by the progressives was that the Church of God had actually begun to resemble the very thing it had sought to eradicate. In fact, several leaders of the progressive camp took time to voice concerns that the Church was dangerously close to entering back into the sectarianism that it had fled. In a letter to President Morrison dated May, 24, 1929, the Reverend U.G. Clark privately expressed a concern that the Church of God was in danger of getting “lost in the fogs of sectarianism.”[40] W. Burgess McCreary voiced publicly what Clark intimated in private. Writing in The Gospel Trumpet, he warned: “All of us have our prejudices. If we are not careful, even in this good, glorious reformation, we will push those prejudices and make them into the tenets of a sectarian creed” (McCreary 1928).

Perhaps the most consequential critique came from the influential minister E.A. Reardon. In a controversial sermon delivered at the 1929 Anderson Camp Meeting, Reardon offered what must have seemed to his audience a distressing observation: “As I look out upon the horizon of this movement, it seems to me that I can see a tendency to sectarianize it.” While Reardon believed the founding ideas of the Church should be cherished and even emphasized, he cautioned the saints against becoming parochial in their pursuit of the cause. “There is such a thing as stressing the reformation to such an extent that we cause our people to be reformation-centered—reformation sectarians” (qtd. in Callen 2000, 136, emphasis added). For the progressive thinkers, the holiness impulse, unrestrained by its unity counterpart, put the Church at risk of flipping the original paradox on its head; a separation designed to unify was in danger of becoming a “unity” that divided. Perhaps in the case of the pursuit of holiness, one really could desire too much of a good thing.

While calls for a progressive understanding of the doctrine of unity came from across the movement, it was actually the college that took the lead in effecting change. In fact, no one person did more to advance the progressive cause than Anderson Professor Russell R. Byrum. For some time, Byrum had been teaching the progressive view of unity in his theology course at the seminary. Extant notes prepared for a lecture on the theme allow us to reconstruct the essential points of Byrum’s position. In a section of the lecture entitled “How Will Christian Unity be Affected,” Byrum first noted that the pursuit of unity—however difficult its implementation—was worthwhile because “Jesus taught it and prayed for it.” But he then quickly turned his attention to the historical difficulties. Byrum began by noting that the Roman Catholic church was the first to preach a provincial view of Christian unity—that unity was only possible through “coming to them” (n.d.). The same mistake was later made by the early Protestant church and then still later by a group he simply refers to as “Christian Disciples.” But in a twist of irony that seems to have alarmed and even upset his students, Byrum then accused the Church of God of making the same mistake.[41] Surely by now, Byrum argued, it was apparent that unity would not be achieved “by all coming to one group.” Speaking directly about the Church of God movement, Byrum was quite blunt with his students: “We haven’t succeeded. Doesn’t look as though we were going to succeed” (n.d.).

In 1929, Byrum took his message to the wider church. At the Indiana Ministerial Assembly of the Church of God, Byrum moved beyond general critique of the Reformationist position and offered a robust explanation of the progressive view on Christian unity. Despite the initial hope of the founders that all true Christians would come out of denominations to join the one true church of God, Byrum noted the distance of the founding vision from the reality of the situation in 1929. In fact, he argued,

Probably but few thinkers among us at present expect all true Christians to come to us, or to come into an operative unity with us as we as a group are with one another. Some still try to hold that position or shrink from recognizing that they no longer hold that narrow theory, because it would be unorthodox and seems to them to be a surrender of the Bible doctrine of unity. Such brethren need to find a truer ground for unity. (Byrum n.d., 4)

This new ground, Byrum suggested, consisted in the “loving fellowship” of believers whose “hearts [were] united,” in their commitment to Christ (Byrum n.d., 3). “This loving fellowship,” Byrum argued, was “the purpose of God in creating us…the source of the highest human happiness, and it is the end of our existence. It is obedience to the two greatest commandments and it is in this that true Christian unity really consists” (Byrum n.d., 3). After proposing his alternative view, Byrum turned his attention back to the Reformationist perspective. To demand that other Christians come into “operative unity” with the Church of God wasn’t just unrealistic, it also represented the kind of stubborn “sectishness” that Warner and others had sought to eradicate in their initial outward movement (Byrum n.d., 4-5).

As word of Byrum’s address spread throughout the country, reformationists fought back. They believed that, unchecked, the progressive view would serve to undermine one of the two main pillars of the church, resulting in “much damage to the movement.”[42] The controversy culminated in what might best be described as a formal heresy trial, as Byrum’s position on unity, as well as his teaching at the college, came under investigation.[43] In the end, Byrum was acquitted of all charges, but the tenor of the controversy left him shaken.[44] He tendered his resignation the following day, writing in his journal that he did so “for the sake of the peace of the church” (1930).

The importance of this episode in the life of the university cannot be overstated. Had Byrum not sounded the alarm, had he not called the Church back to the kind of unity it had set out to create in its early days, there is a very real possibility that the movement would have become ingrown to the point of organizational death. In his 1929 sermon, E.A. Reardon had predicted this very thing: “If [the sectarian tendency] is allowed to go to seed, it won’t be long until we shall be numbered among the dead” (qtd. in Callen 2000, 136). But the impact of Byrum’s stand extends beyond the Church and into the life of the university. His teaching on unity—which, it bears noting, he enacted in his resignation—kept the university from becoming the kind of place whose identity hinged on fixed ideas or cultural positions. In calling the Church and the university back-towards, Byrum, perhaps paradoxically, laid the groundwork for new and fresh movement-out into new places. This had a profound impact on the emerging identity of the university and helped shape the contours of its unfolding saga.

The Aufhebung of Holiness and Unity

In this essay we have argued that two theological ideas have had a profound impact on the formation of Anderson University. And yet, on this we must be clear: holiness and unity as theological ideas have not in themselves shaped our saga. Instead, as we look back over a century of service to church and society, it seems to me that it is actually the characteristic movements inherent in each idea that have woven themselves into the fabric of the university. Sometimes this movement has expressed itself theologically. We see, for instance, the holiness impulse in the bold decision to appoint Sethard P. Dunn, an African-American pastor from Chicago, to the university’s board of trustees at the height of Ku Klux Klan activity in Indiana (Massey 2005, 99). Surely this represents a radical expression of our desire to be set-apart from the injurious nature of the broken world we inhabit.[45] And yet at other times, the holiness impulse has also expressed itself indirectly—and profoundly—in the openness of the university to genuine academic discovery. One thinks here of the inscription at the base of the Helios sculpture that sits just outside the science building at the heart of the university’s campus: “…and there was light.”[46] Our desire to pursue the Author of Truth transcends the arbitrary divisions of category. Genuine transformation—the qualitative movement from one thing to another—leaves no part of us unchanged. From this vantage point, then, we do not hesitate to say that every honest pursuit of Truth has holiness at its core.

Similarly, unity in the life of the institution has often been a matter of explicitly theological concern. There are echoes of John 17, for instance, in the act of R.R. Byrum’s resignation, or later in the refusal of Rev. Lillie McCutcheon to let theological differences lead to the defunding of the university by the Church.[47] But at other times, the unity impulse has been apparent in more tacit ways. One thinks here of the steadfast refusal, over the years, to require Anderson University students to testify to Christian faith in order to be admitted. Or the fact that we have honored students who have answered the call to serve their countries through military service, even as we have celebrated those students who have represented us as conscientious objectors.

The point is that the movement-away of the holiness impulse and the movement-towards of the unity impulse have been persistently at work throughout the unfolding of the university’s saga. The presence of each has combined to create a soil for education that is as fertile as it is unique. But the real power—the true distinctive of this place—is in the fruit that has come from the tension between the two. It is here that we return to Hegel, Aufhebung, and The Monk and the Sea. One of the tragic realities of modern Western culture is that we have retained the thesis and antithesis of Hegel’s dialectic but seem to have forgotten that it is the synthesis that bears the fruit. And so we remain entrenched in our dichotomized ideological camps, insisting that we somehow possess the fruit the other seeks. We live in a culture desperate for Aufhebung.

This, perhaps, then, brings us to the distinctive promise of the Anderson University saga. When the movement out and away of the holiness impulse has had its run, has led us beyond the horizon to new places, when it might seek to run on, past the beyond, to places of discontinuity, it is then that the unity impulse has brought us back-towards our abiding identity. And at other times, when the movement-towards of the unity impulse has been too eager to protect the community we have created, has encouraged us to revel in the achievements of the past, or to stand silent in the face of new challenges, it is the holiness impulse that calls us, yet again, to new seasons of transformation.

At some point, the dialectic push and pull of holiness and unity—the legacy gift of our founding church—embedded itself into the very way the institution goes about the pursuit of its mission. Within every attempt at service to the church and society, when we are at our best, is our native dialectic, urging us forward and yet calling us back. The tension between the holiness impulse and the unity impulse creates “this something”[48] that we find so hard to explain because it simply won’t stop moving. It is dynamic, even demanding. Life in the tension can be uncomfortable and perhaps a bit bewildering to the uninitiated, but there is no denying the fruit it has produced over a century of service. We have no charismatic founder; nor do we have one seminal idea. What we do have, however, is a dynamic movement that is intrinsic to our way of being in the world.

The monk in Friedrich’s masterpiece stands contemplating an uncertain sky. Again, I find myself drawn in. Looking out into an institutional future that has yet to be determined, fully cognizant of the strengths of our saga, one wonders if the continued success of the university depends on the degree to which we embrace the tension. May we linger there long enough for the fruit of Aufhebung to arrive.

  1. A preliminary note on the name of the institution: Anderson University actually began as Anderson Bible Training School (1917) and then became Anderson College (1929) before becoming Anderson University (1987). For the purposes of this paper, the name Anderson University will stand for all three iterations.
  2. To identify oneself as an “intellectual historian” does not mean to imply that one’s ideas are somehow more intelligent than those of others. Rather, to quote Richard Whatmore, “The intellectual historian seeks to restore a lost world, to recover perspectives and ideas from the ruins, to pull back the veil and explain why the ideas have resonated in the past and convinced their advocates” (2016, 14).
  3. The Communist Manifesto appropriates Hegel’s dialectic philosophy to tell a story of civilization that centers around the tension between labor and capital.
  4. For a comprehensive overview of Hegel’s system, see Charles Taylor (1975).
  5. Note that it could also be a historical event or a thing, but for the purposes of our task, we’ll explore the dialectic in terms of ideas.
  6. A classic example of this would be to call something cold. In this case you are noting, implicitly, that there is an absence of heat. The thesis “cold” brings with it the antithesis “not hot.”
  7. These Rückenfiguren are actually a hallmark of Friedrich’s work and help to embody the longing that typifies the Romantic movement. See Hampton (2019, 213).
  8. https://www.tate.org.uk/about-us/projects/changing-properties-smalt-over-time. For more, see Alfeld, Mösl, and Reiche (2021, 50).
  9. One thinks here of Aristotle’s concept of “entelechy” in which the potential of a thing is present in its current form. By way of example, Aristotle points out that “we call ‘corn’ what is not yet ripe” (Aristotle, 1017b).
  10. See also L.F. Robold (1913, 492).
  11. See also A.T. Rowe, who explained that the reversal of “inherited, or Adamic, sin” was achieved through “sanctification by faith…a second definite instantaneous work of grace” (1898).
  12. Byrum refers to Ephesians 4:24 (“Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”) and Colossians 3:10 (“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him”) in making his argument.
  13. The Gospel Trumpet was the Church of God’s weekly publication and ran from 1881 to 1961.
  14. Boyce Blackwelder, “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” The Gospel Trumpet, May 19, 1956 in Callen, A Time to Remember.
  15. See also Barry Callen’s argument in Contours of a Cause: “Holiness is not a static adoration of the holy (distant) God or a perfect performance in relation to some catalog of right and wrong actions. It is renewed life on the move, transforming and being transformed into the image of the Holy One who is active in the midst of our world. It is a believer whose personal life story has merged with the biblical story of the God who yet journeys among us” (1995, 152). Emphasis added.
  16. For more on this theme, see Merle Strege, I Saw the Church: The Life of the Church of God Told Theologically (2002, 14-15).
  17. See also John C. Blaney, “Perfection in Christ,” The Gospel Trumpet, February 2, 1899.
  18. See, for instance, Mark 1:14-15.
  19. The Scripture referred to here is John 17:21.
  20. I Cor. 12:12-27 and Col. 1:18
  21. This view had been held as central from the movement’s early days. In The Cleansing of the Sanctuary, D.S. Warner and Riddle argued: “We can not hope to be one in any earthborn association; but we can, and must be one in God and in Christ. They put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who talk of joining some sect in order to be united” (1903, 251).
  22. The centrality of paradox in the living out of faith has been part of the Church of God experience from the beginning. For a modern assessment of the importance of this theme, see Barry Callen, Caught Between Truths: The Central Paradoxes of Christian Faith (2007).
  23. In his Gospel Trumpet article “The One Essential of Christian Unity,” Robert L. Berry argued that “the Holy Spirit…waits to give the Children of God a vision of how unity may be achieved. Of this we feel certain” (qtd. in Callen 1978, 178).
  24. See also John W.V. Smith and Merle Strege (2009, 89) and D.S. Warner and Barney Warren (1953, 414).
  25. In 1925, upon formal separation from The Gospel Trumpet Company, the school became Anderson Bible School and Seminary (Strege 2016, 44).
  26. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the editor of that year’s yearbook also happened to be the president of the Church of God’s leading educational institution.
  27. “Whereas, the reformation has lost and is losing many of its promising Young people who imbibe unchristian and unscriptural philosophies of life while attending some of the institutions of higher learning of our country…” (Minutes of the General Assembly, June 19, 1928, Box #, Folder 25, Church of God Archives).
  28. A skepticism towards the formal education of clergy had persisted in the movement since its earliest days. See Strege (2016, 23; 55-60).
  29. In the same article, Morrison indicated that “earnest…efforts” would be made “to lead these hopeful and trusting young men and young women out and up into a fuller and richer experience in the abiding things of God.” Italics mine. It is impossible to say whether Morrison had the Church of God doctrine of sanctification in mind here, but the use of the words “out” and “up” certainly would have conjured up holiness imagery in the minds of his readers.
  30. Or both in the case of sanctified Church of God students.
  31. Arnold begins his letter by thanking Morrison for sending him an application, which makes likely the fact that a Church of God congregant from Piggot had initiated the chain of correspondence. Felix B. Arnold to John A. Morrison, March 28, 1928, AC Box 1, Folder 2, Church of God Archives.
  32. John A. Morrison to Felix B. Arnold, June 27, 1928, AC Box 1, Folder 2, Church of God Archives.
  33. Matthew Preston has done substantial work on the link between fundamentalism and the twentieth century Church of God. See Preston (2019).
  34. John Morrison implies that the reformationist position hardened in the second generation of Church of God leaders, and that there were at least some leading figures of that generation who resisted the idea of the Church of God as the “last reformation” (1962, 165). In a letter to John Morrison dated May 14, 1929, the minister E.F. Adcock acknowledged that “many of [the] leading brethren” held this newer vision of Church unity (AC Box 1, Folder 2, Church of God Archives).
  35. For a primer on this hermeneutic, which Merle Strege calls the “Church-Historical” method, see I Saw the Church, chapter 5 (Strege 2002).
  36. The introduction to the 1897 hymnal proclaimed that “the pure gospel is now shining now as it never has shone since the days of primitive Christianity” (Warren and Byers 1897).
  37. The term “progressive” as a descriptor for this new group of Church of God thinkers should be seen not as denoting an affinity with the wider Progressive Movement that was reshaping American culture during this time, or with the adoption of higher criticism for the study of Scripture. Rather the term “progressive” in the context of the second and third generation of Church of God thinkers suggests that adherents held to the belief that God was continuing to reveal Himself to his church through “progressive stages” (McCreary 1928).
  38. This view was clearly articulated at the 1929 Church of God Camp Meeting by the influential preacher E.A. Reardon. Speaking of the work God was doing to advance the cause of unity throughout the wider church, Reardon closed his message enthusiastically: “If we get a clearer vision of His great work and a larger portion of the Spirit’s power, this work will grow and nothing can stop it” (qtd. in Callen 2000, 136).
  39. McCreary wasn’t the only one concerned about this. In a private letter to John Morrison dated to May 14, 1929, E.F. Adcock expressed concern that reformationists might compel the “School…to restrain” the teaching of the progressive perspective, “and get in the way of reformation progress” (Adcock to Morrison, May 14, 1929, AC Box 1, Folder 2, Church of God Archives).
  40. U.G. Clark to John A. Morrison, May 24, 1929, AU Box 1, Folder 29, Church of God Archives.
  41. One student, Nettie Owen, later testified that Byrum’s lecture had “destroyed” her faith. F.G. Smith related that several students had come to him from Byrum’s lecture on unity “in tears” (E.F. Adcock to Ethel and Walter Shrock, June 26, 1929, AC Box 400, Anderson University Archives).
  42. R.L. Berry and Mrs. F.G. Smith to Morrison and the Doctrinal Committee, April 29, 1929, AC Box 400, Anderson University Archives.
  43. For an excellent account of the events surrounding the trial, see Strege (2016, 60-68).
  44. Morrison observed that the “most conspicuous factor in the whole procedure was brotherly love—conspicuous by its absence” (1962, 169).
  45. I’m thankful here for my friend and fellow professor, Dr. Cassie Trentaz, who introduced me to the concept of “social holiness”; that is, the idea that a genuinely transformed life will be evidenced, at least in part, through active love for the Other; through, among other things “gifts meeting needs” (Trentaz 2018, 17).
  46. The glass installation is in the shape of a DNA helix, linking the “light” of intellectual pursuit to the original light of Genesis 1.
  47. Despite their theological differences, Rev. McCutcheon and Anderson University president Robert Reardon came together to broker a compromise that honored the concerns of conservative members of the church, while still funding the ongoing work of the College (Smith and Strege 1980, 445).
  48. The concept of “haecceity” in philosophy gets at the difficulty of expressing the unique nature of something. Writing in the thirteenth century, John Duns Scotus famously argued that every individual thing is importantly distinct; that each thing possesses a “thisness” which differentiates it from other like things. Anderson University is not the only midwestern Christian university; and yet it possesses its own haecceity. For more, see Anthony Kenny (2006, 168-169).


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

A Tale of Two Ideas by Jason R. Varner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book