The Preacher, Higher Criticism, and Scientific Scholarship

My great, great Grandfather associated himself with the University of Chicago Divinity School back in the late 1800s.

The higher critical scholarship of Europe was making inroads in the seminaries in America, but I like what Pastor W. H. Geistweit of Chicago wrote in The Standard – A Baptist Newspaper (The Chicago Baptist weekly, March 18, 1899).  It is both humorous and provocative:

Quite recently there has come a suggestion from a professor in one of the larger universities that students should not be taught to love the science they are studying.  The special thing in mind was the study of botany, I think.  It would not do, he contended, for the student to be in love with flowers; that would hinder the scientific spirit, which must ever be coldly critical, in order to get the best results.  It must not be thought for one moment that the professor was jesting; for his position has been the subject of one or two earnest editorials in daily papers in which the opposite was pleaded for.

But it is quite a new idea, and strikes old-fashioned people as rather queer as well as new.  No longer go with bounding heart in the springtime to see the spring flowers leap into life and beauty.  Never bend over the pansy and say some love nothings; never view the daisy in a warm spirit; never–never take a little butter-cup and put it under you best girl’s chin and see if she loves butter; or your little boy, for that matter.  No, all that destroys the scientific spirit.  If any man should suggest to you on your way to the fields that nature was beautiful, or that the flowers were just in bloom, frown on him, glare at him, for he is about to destroy the scientific spirit, and melt your ice-clad soul–or brain–with his warmth, and naturalness!  What a dangerous thing it must be with a scientific spirit in the warm spring sun.  The winter has been cold, with just the scientific spirit necessary to the full development of a scientific soul or mind; it is a pity that the spring sun must come in and spoil things!

Ah, I have it! Ther is a way to get out of all this danger of losing the scientific spirit!  No more rambles in the woods, botanizing, which so often leads to poetry and other unscientific things, just killing to the scientific spirit!  No more long walks with the old-fashioned teacher who stroked a flower as though it had a loving soul (just think of such horribly unscientific things).  Now, we shall, hereafter, in order to preserve the scientific spirit, study botany in the refrigerator where flowers are sometimes kept–to sell!  Oh, the scientific spirit!

My friend, get over in the corner with me while I whisper a thing or two to you.  The professors must not hear.  Do you know that this thing now working in the direction of botany has already cast its frigid spirit over theology; over the study of the Bible?  Buy all that is scientific you must never study theology with a warm heart; it is unscientific.  Warmth will cloud your judgment; you many not see straight, for the bright, warm sunshine of an affectionate love for the book we call the Bible.  Nay, my boy, get thee to the refrigerator; freeze up; at least, get all the sap and juice out of you; then after you are sufficiently proof against any warm influences which the doctrines might create, go at it; go at it as a man goeth at a cadaver in a dissecting room; be sure it’s cold; no matter how you freeze–that is essential to the scientific spirit; and that spirit must be preserved even though every other spirit be killed, frozen!

By no means go at the thing with a disposition to hear what God has to say to a human soul.  That begs the case at the beginning.  It robs you of the scientific spirit.  Go at it, saying, here is a book like any other book, no more, no less.  The word of God?  Ah, wait till I apply the scientific spirit, and if I find God, well; but I do not expect to.  I must apply the same rules I apply to Shakespeare, or Milton–or “Poor Richard’s Amanac!”  That is scientific; and I would rather die than not be scientific!  To manifest emotion is a sign of weakness; to see anything but cold blooded literature is an evidence of narrowness.  Yes, my boy, that is just what you want to do, and you will gloriously maintain your scientific spirit.  You needn’t worry as to the possible outcome if you should discover anything supernatural in the book–which would be unscientific!  No, you will never make such a discovery.  Nor need you be concerned as to the effect on your reputation; safe from all such unscientific dangers are you!  The coldly critical, the icily nice, the frigid–I was about the say “heart,” but you will not have any heart–none of these things will move you.

And that is the scientific spirit.  Well, somehow it has not attractions for me.  It has always seemed to me that in order to study a thing, get anything out of it, one had to have at least some liking for it.  Not being a painter I do not know how it is, but it always seemed to me that the students in the art galleries here and in Europe looked as thought they liked their art; and as for musicians–I know a bit about it–I have always like music, gave my whole soul to it, but now I discover that that is the reason I never became a musician.  And there is theology; well, from boyhood it had attractions for me; I liked it; simple enough to go to the Bible with the idea that it was more than an ordinary book, somehow the voice of God to my soul.

But I see now why I have been such a poor theologian; it is all very plain to me.  I’m afraid it is too late to begin; this heart of mine has somehow been so warmed by the Book that it is apt to remain so, growing increasingly warm.  I see how much I have lost by not beginning with a cold head and frozen heart.  I suppose I out to be sorry, but I must confess I do not suffer many pangs on that line!  How conceited I am!

My boy, before we leave this corner where the scientific men do not hear, and learned professors never come, let me say this to you:  This old world has a heart.  Sometimes we think it is all stomach–or head; but be you sure it has heart–a hungry heart; and nothing helps so much as food, given out with a warm hand, prompted by a loving heart.  Listen to me; if the scientific spirit chills your heart, freezes your blood, you will by and by preach in a refrigerator and have icicles to send in your resignation.  They will send it!  Get out in to the sunshine; if your critical or scientific spirit will not endure the warmth–get another spirit!

And also I know why it is often said, “We can endure these ‘supplies’ no longer!”

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