Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools and American Protestantism

By Conrad Cherry
Bloomington, Ind. : Indiana University (1995). xiii + 384 Pages.

Reviewed by
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 223-225

Most evangelical scholars are acquainted with the emergence of conservative Bible colleges and seminaries that were established in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as a reaction to encroachment by mainline Protestant liberalism. The fifty-year period between 1880 and 1930 witnessed the proliferation of many institutions of Christian higher education, most emerging in reaction to theological shifts within historic denominational-associated institutions.

Conservatives are less familiar with the paralleling developments within the religious-studies departments of the major universities and divinity schools they abandoned during those theologically tumultuous decades. Having pronounced ichabod over these institutions, most conservatives are unfamiliar with the historic developments, issues, conflicts, and tensions that have shaped and reshaped mainstream liberal American Protestantism. Conrad Cherry’s Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools, and American Protestantism offers a critical appraisal of the emergence and development of liberal Protestantism within the United States, its ministerial and social agenda, and perspectives on future directions as they relate to the universities’ religious-studies programs and divinity schools. Cherry is currently a Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, Adjunct Professor of American Studies, and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to Hurrying Toward Zion, he has authored The Theology of Jonathan Edwards: A Reappraisal and co-edited Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation.

Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools, and American Protestantism is a fascinating historical analysis of one hundred years of theological and ministerial education within eleven of America’s leading college religious-studies departments and university divinity schools. Those carefully selected institutions represent both theological and geographical diversity across the United States. The book examines the cultural, theological, intellectual, and social forces that shape, move, and mark the development of these schools. Documentation is extensive throughout the work and Cherry draws his rich sources from deep archival wells.

The book has four parts: Specialization; Professionalization; Formation and Reform; and Pluralism. Each section is thoroughly noted, tracing developments both internally and externally as they concern the schools. Those factors are carefully woven throughout the narrative creating a tight, information-packed text. In each section, the author raises significant questions and critical problems facing the institutions. The work is not a glowing testimonial to the progress of liberal Protestantism, but rather an honest, well-documented, critical appraisal of a neglected aspect of the history of American religious higher education. The avoidance of rehearsing the progressive successes of these schools is intellectually refreshing, given the past trends in much higher-education historiography.

Though many conservative readers may find the book theologically unpalatable, Cherry does raise many important questions that are latent in conservative theological communities and worth an honest assessment and dialogue. For example, Cherry broaches the issue of the tension between university divinity schools and local churches regarding the nature and content of ministerial education and training. This reviewer has had frequent conversations regarding what is essential and non-essential to ministry preparation with local church practitioners. Disagreements do exist between the “scholarly” interests of the college and “practical” concerns of the church. Such discussion was the central component of a dialogue between the North American Professors of Christian Education (NAPCE) and the Professional Association of Christian Educators (PACE) at a joint conference in 1994. Movements toward church-based ministerial training schools or pastoral apprenticeship programs are indicative of the belief that many traditional Christian seminaries and colleges have lost touch with the training needs of the local church.

Conservative readers will be quick to note the shift from a unified, optimistic vision of social and theological potentiality to pessimistic fragmentation, both theologically and intellectually. Cherry discusses this reality well with detailed documentation of the events, ideas, and individuals that precipitate this breakdown. The illustration of the rose window at Drew Theological Seminary poignantly illustrates the shift and challenge of the “multiversity” as fragmentation within the academy occurs and theology is abandoned as the historic center-point of learning as “Queen of the Disciplines” (269).

Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools and American Protestantism is an important and excellent contribution to the understanding of the historic emergence of liberal Protestantism within America’s universities. Readers interested in educational and ministerial developments that parallel the conservative heritage will be well-served by this fine historical treatment of a previously neglected aspect of religious higher-education history.