Reenchanting the evangelical mind: Park Street Church's Harold Ockenga, the Boston scholars, and the mid-century intellectual surge
The informal and formal connections between Park Street Church pastor Harold Ockenga and future neo-evangelical scholars such as Carl F. H. Henry, Edward John Carnell, Kenneth Kantzer, and George Eldon Ladd allowed this group, prepossessing unusual intellectual ambitions, to mount in substantial measure a program to reform evangelicalism as an intellectual movement in the post-war period. These connections developed in Boston in the 1940s in unusual and ironic ways and took shape in successive decades in institutional ventures and literary initiatives that championed a fresh approach to non-Christian culture and thought. The effect of this understudied—and vastly under-sourced—pack of scholars was the production of a more intellectually aggressive and culturally attuned thought-program that sought to meet secular challenges to the faith and animate in modern believers a theologically robust thought-life grounded in biblically conservative yet contextually aware doctrine.
Ockenga involved the scholars in the life of Park Street, he carried on correspondence with a number of them, and he tapped them for projects. There was no “Evangelical Student’s Club” in Boston during the 1940s, but there was was a pack of young scholars who shared a common identity, and Ockenga stood in the midst of them, cultivating them, staying abreast of their projects, and eventually bringing a number of them into his orbit. The opening of Fuller was not simply the formation of a seminary, but was an emblem, a signal to the broader movement that the Christian intellect was back. Fuller operated as something of a laboratory for the evangelical mind; Henry and other scholars were soon peeled off for other important projects and schools. Over time, the scholars served as eminent original faculty members of such leading evangelical schools as Fuller, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Henry worked with evangelist Billy Graham to establish a project entitled Crusade University, but this lofty aim fell short. The neo-evangelicals did not ultimately succeed in all of their ambitions but did create new intellectual energy in the evangelical movement that paved the way for future generations.
0320: Religious history
0337: American history
0520: Education history
0745: Higher education