It’s not easy being the king. During my digging yesterday in the Moody Bible Institute archives, I came across a plaintive letter that typified the social difficulties some fundamentalists have experienced in higher education.
Here’s the background: An alumnus wrote to President James M. Gray in 1930, asking for advice. This former MBI student had moved on to George Washington University after his preparatory time at the Institute. MBI, the student reported, had prepared him for life in the secular academy. As he told President Gray,
During my first year here at the school I encountered much by way of modernism, so called, especially in such departments as history and natural science. While none of the teaching has perturbed me, yet the atmosphere is not nearly so buoyant as that at Moody.
So far, so good. One of the primary goals of Bible institutes has been to prepare students to enter secular higher education. Once inoculated against secularism and liberalism by one or two years of Bible study, the thinking went, students could go to regular colleges and learn to be productive Christian members of society.
Even when that plan worked, as with our 1930 letter-writer, it was not always easy. This MBI alumnus could handle the religious and intellectual challenges of life at a secular school. But it was harder to figure out the social ones. He did not know what to do about good friends who were not fundamentalists. As he asked President Gray,
What shall I do about amusements? I am somewhat popular with no small number here at the university and because of my having received, last year, an athletic scholarship I was invited to many fraternity functions. My friends at the school are they who dance, play bridge and while these amusements are out of the question for me, what about the identifying of myself with perfectly good fellows in fraternity? Will I be a better influence to remain out of them or, in entering them, abstain from the amusements and thereby make my Christian testimony conspicuous by the abstinence?