Finding God at Harvard

By Kelly Monroe, ed.
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1996). 368 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
7.2 (Fall 1996) : 281-283

The volume's ten chapters gather 42 testimonies of intellectuals who discovered truth when they found God. All are professors, staff members, alumni, or students of Harvard, America's first college. They tell how God is meaningful to them in life-shaping reality amid academia.

A group of Puritans founded Harvard and named it after John Harvard, a Puritan minister who left the school half his estate. Of the original nineteen guidelines adopted soon after the school began, one called every student to consider "the mayne end of his life and studyes to know God and Jesus Christ . . . and . . . lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning." The early mottos were Veritas ("truth," 1643), In Christi Gloriam ("to the glory of Christ," 1650), and Christo et Ecclesiae ("for Christ and the church," 1692). In early years, whatever field a pupil studied, Harvard's guideline was, "Seeing the Lord giveth wisdome, every one shall seriously by prayer in secret seek wisdome of him."

Kelly Monroe is a chaplain to graduate students at Harvard. She also advises senior independent studies in C. S. Lewis, media, and film. She says that a truer title for the book is Found by God at Harvard. The book is a response to Ari Goldman's conclusion in The Search for God at Harvard. Goldman dealt only with Harvard Divinity School and said he found nobody there to speak of the gospel or the person of Jesus Christ. The present book finds many in the larger university setting willing to speak up for Christ.

Some writers are well-known to many readers: Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Elizabeth Dole, Mother Teresa, Elton Trueblood, and Charles Malik. This reviewer was pleased to see a chapter by Jeffrey Barneson, a product of and missionary from his local church, Calvary Baptist, Whittier, Calif., who ministers at Harvard with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The book shows that the truth claims of Jesus Christ are not peripheral but central to human experience (19). Contributors raise and explore questions on truth and meaning, such as why crime exists, how it is possible to possess virtue, why people become angry, how they can forgive, and where they find hope.

The chapter by psychiatrist Robert Coles could challenge some to trust in Christ. He illustrates trust in a six-year-old girl, placed in a New Orleans school by federal authorities and walking to and from the school daily, past whites who threatened her life. Ruby astounded Coles by her calm trust in Jesus and her prayers for those who wronged her.

Solzhenitsyn's chapter, "A World Split Apart," is part of a 1978 commencement address at Harvard arguing the impoverishment of humanistic ideas. He sees many in the Western world seeking values that give no peace and favors seeking spiritual values in a relationship to God. A fascinating account is that of a Jewish doctor, Boris Kornfield, in a prison treating Solzhenitsyn's cancer of the intestines in the 1950's. Kornfield witnessed faithfully to his patient during the operation. Solzhenitsyn, at intermittent times when conscious, saw his need of Christ and forgiveness.

Krister Sairsingh's chapter on the emptiness of Hinduism and the fullness he found in Christ is intriguing. Another Christian converted from Hinduism witnessed to him, he read the gospels, was drawn to Jesus Christ, and finally received Him and forgiveness that his belief in karma—i.e., every sin must be paid for in the next life— could not give. Sairsingh then led his mother, grandmother, brothers, sisters, and a cousin to Jesus Christ.

Barneson's chapter recounts his bid to obey biblical appeals to care for the poor, forgotten, and strangers (Mic 6:8; Isaiah 58). He found a way to suffer the disgrace that Jesus bore (Heb 13:11-14) as he and his wife since 1984 have led graduate students in doing summer work in impoverished villages of Guatemala and Honduras.

One of the finest chapters, one by Elizabeth Dole, is forthright about the difference Christ makes in her life. Mrs. Dole uses the challenge of Esther's commitment for her people and the example of her grandmother who loved God's Word and sacrificed to help ministers and foreign missionaries. Near the end of her chapter, Mrs. Dole testifies of feeling "the power of Christ rest upon me, encourage me, replenish my energy, and deepen my faith—power from God, not from me" (243). She adds that a life of total commitment to Christ is "the only life worth living, the only life worthy of our Lord."

Mother Teresa, Albanian nun known for exemplary help to the poor and dying, has several good things to say. One is, "For God, it is not how much we give but how much love we put in the giving" (317). She also exhorts people to give a beautiful thing on their wedding day, "a virgin heart . . . body . . . soul" (315). She does not explain that cleanness is only by the pardoning power of Christ. And her response to visiting American professors' request to "tell us something that will help us to become holy" is a disappointment. Mother Teresa replied, "Smile at each other—because we have no time even to look at each other" (315). That response reflects tragic emptiness!

Amid many excellent emphases and illustrations in the book, careful readers will find other things that disturb them. An example is the word of Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy and History at Harvard and a Mennonite church goer, who acknowledges a creator God but assumes an evolutionary chain of four billion years leading to man (272). Aware of the "mixed bag" nature of the book, readers will still find much that stimulates richly. It testifies to a growing number worshiping Christ at a school that has, since drifting from its early purposes, often found no place for Him. Stimulated far more often than disappointed, the reviewer found the book a catalyst to freshened commitment.