Campus Aflame: A History of Evangelical Awakenings in Collegiate Communities

Author: J. Edwin Orr Reviewed by: Kerry L. Skinner

The Evangelical Heritage

  • This book deals with evangelical Christianity, not Roman Catholic or others such groups.
  • Some today consider the Christian college, with students numbered in the thousands, an unwelcome remnant of the past. It is wise to recall that in the United States, as in other countries, there was a time when all higher education, not to mention elementary education, consisted of such Christian colleges. The Christian college has no need to apologize for its existence. It was the pioneer.
  • A Puritan Londoner, the Reverend John Harvard, who bequeathed 779 pounds, 17 shilling, and 2 pence toward the pious work of building a college, established in 1636 and named for its patron.

The Evangelical Revival

  • Pietism was a new movement that began in the late part of the seventeenth century. Pietism sought a more personal knowledge of God.
  • Philip Jacob Spener published a work which called for reform in the church.
  • August Herman Francke, one of his students, and introduced the principle of academic freedom.
  • Because of this influence of pietism, “within forty years, the Society had opened two thousand schools with forty thousand scholars enrolled.”
  • The revival that began in Wales in the eighteen century with Griffith Jones. “Not only was his evangelism fruitful, but he followed it up by attempting to educate the masses of ignorant youth and adults.
  • The flowering of the educational bloom on the tree of evangelism began in the eighteenth century, but it was not until the period of the Napoleonic wars and the dawning of the nineteenth century that the ripened fruit was seen appearing.
  • Despair and Recovery
  • During the last decade of the eighteenth century, the typical Harvard student was an atheist. Students at Williams College conducted a mock celebration of holy communion.

Collegiate Awakenings After 1800

  • The first series of college awakenings occurred as early as 1787. At Hampton Sydney College in Virginia a few students, none of them an active Christian but all of them concerned about the moral state of the college, met for prayer. They locked themselves in a room for fear of the other students.
  • Colleges began Christian fellowships.
  • After Timothy Dwight’s notable baccalaureate sermon of 1796, in which he exhorted his beloved students to “embrace Christianity,” the tide began to turn at Yale and came in full flood in 1802.
  • The college awakenings had a significant effect upon the corporate life of the colleges. The colleges appointed as presidents and professor the most dynamic Christian men available, campus prayer days were held regularly in term; and the college sermon became a regular feature of worship and religious education.

The Impact on Education

  • Robert Raikes founded the Sunday School movement to teach children basics of education using the Bible as the main text.
  • In the U.S. the main reason for founding colleges was evangelical religion.
  • 17 theological schools came into existence between 1807 and 1827.
  • Read page 50.
  • Of 180 denominational colleges in the West in 1860, 144 or so were founded and maintained by the more evangelistic denominations.
  • The Mid-Century Decline
  • Awakening had run their course by the mid nineteenth century.
  • Rise of Fraternities brought social and emotional concerns instead of academic or religious.
  • It is significant that the fifty years following the Unitarian capture of Harvard College had produced the lowest percentage of students professing Christian faith among these New England colleges.

The 1858-1859 Awakening

  • Just before the bank panic, the spiritual movement began in lower Manhattan.
  • Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine…observed that the 1858 Awakening was (1) simple in means–praying, reading, brief exposition, and singing; (2) quiet, marked by calmness and freedom from unwholesome excitement; (3) harmonious, exhibiting brotherly love; (4) restrained, having a conservative influence; (5) far-reaching, of the very widest extent; and (6) reputable, commanding the respect of the world in unprecedented ways.
  • Over one million experienced a transforming experience.
  • Post-1860 Overseas Impact
  • College revivals produce great numbers of worldwide missionaries.
  • Multiplying Fellowships
  • College students began changing their societies into College Young Men Christian Associations, such as Y.M.C.A., Intercollegiate Young Men’s Christian Association, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and Campus Crusade.

Pattern of College Revivals

  • Most occur in colleges of evangelical position.
  • Seldom has one heard or read of a phenomenal college revival occurring twice in the same student generation, or within four years.
  • The most significant revivals within colleges occurred during widespread general revivals.
  • The deepest mark of college awakenings was the confession of sin.
  • Confession of sin was common but not always used with common sense.
  • Most college revivals developed into great movements of evangelism from college to college.
  • Academic work of students improved.
  • A major call of men into ministry was evident.
  • Theology of College Revivals
  • The Evangelical Alliance of 1846 held denominations together.
  • Read page 227-228
  • The doctrine of repentance was primary.
  • heologically considered, evangelical awakenings are possible while three factors remain in operation: the Word of God; the Church of God; and the Spirit of God.
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