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Brothers on Divergent Paths: Joseph Baldwin and John W. McGarvey

by Dale Jorgenson

 

Two students from small-town America arrived as freshmen at Bethany College, Virginia within a year and a half of each other during the late 1840s.  Both developed close relationships with the family of Alexander Campbell, both were destined for significant service to the growing Restoration Movement and to the American nation, but eventually followed widely-divergent paths for service to the church and to the country.  Friends with similar academic interests and skills at Bethany, they were sometimes competitors for honors in various classes, and in their respective careers they serve as prime examples of the liberal arts curriculum at Bethany where the founder had refused to create a school only for preachers, but believing in the priesthood of all Christian believers had labored to provide an academy where professional Christian people with widely  varied career objectives could find support for their intellectual, spiritual and moral growth.[i]

Outlining his comprehensive plan for what was soon to be Bethany College one year before the school’s founding in 1840, Campbell wrote:

We want no scholastic or traditionary (sic) theology.  We desire, however, a much more    Intimate, critical, and thorough knowledge of the Bible, the whole Bible as

the Book of God–the Book of Life and of human destiny than is usually, or

indeed can be obtained in what are called Theological Schools. .. All science,

all nature, all literature, all art, all attainments shall be made tributary to

the Bible and man’s ultimate and eternal destiny.[ii]

Campbell emphasized his desire that Bethany would not be a “professional preachers’ school,” and his hope that the institution would prepare men for a wide variety of professions.

In one word, the object of this (may I call it) liberal and comprehensive

Institution will be to model families, schools, colleges and churches according

to the divine pattern shown to us in the oracles of reason, of sound

philosophy, and of divine truth, and to raise up a host of accomplished fathers,

teachers of schools, teachers of colleges, teachers of churches, preachers of the gospel and good and useful citizens, or whatever the churches or the state may afterwards choose to make of them.[iii]

The careers of Joseph Baldwin (Bethany 1848-1852) and John W. McGarvey (1847-1850), contemporaries as undergraduate students under the teaching of Alexander Campbell and his colleagues, illustrate the envisioned hopes of the Bethany College founder for a wide and divergent set of possibilities for the graduates of the young institution.   Baldwin was born in 1827 at New Castle, Pennsylvania.     He worked on his father’s farm and attended the nearby Bartlett Academy.  As a youth, he maintained a diary which bears witness to his strong sense of spirituality, which in turn led to his confession of Christ at age fourteen.  In the same year he dedicated his life to service for the Lord.[iv]

Already in his youth, his life seems to have been torn by two internal tensions:  (1) between his dedication to Christian service (specifically the ministry) and the nation’s great need for well-trained teachers in “secular subjects;” and (2) the often-conflicting emphasis upon practical and technical studies versus the liberal arts.  The continuing presence of these conflicts in his adult life is reflected throughout his career.[v]

Baldwin entered Bethany College as a freshman in the fall of 1848.  His excellent progress in a variety of academic fields is already attested by the inclusion of his name just a year later as a “graduate” in the “School of Mathematics” and the “School of Natural Philosophy.” [vi]   During his student years at Bethany, Baldwin lived in the Campbell home and developed a close relationship with the extended Campbell family.  He also maintained a first- or second-place rank in most of his classes.[vii]

Even though his academic program tended to emphasize literary and scientific courses, he was highly sensitive to his own need for a deeper relationship with Christ, and sometimes super-critical of his fellow students who often demonstrated a superficial religiosity in their moral deportment:  “Even at the age of eighteen he had consciously dedicated himself to a religiously-conceived mission of educating the young.”[viii]  He demonstrated an “iron discipline” which he would later expect of his students.[ix]  That sense of rectitude was part of the personality he later brought to his teaching career, even in “secular” institutions.  Joseph Baldwin is listed in Alexander Campbell’s 1852 report of commencement exercises with the accompanying list of successful graduates.[x]

 

John W. McGarvey was born at Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1829, and grew up in Tremont, Illinois, where he attended a private school taught by ex-New Englander James Kellogg. McGarvey’s academic career at Bethany was little short of meteoric.  He was baptized there by W. K.  Pendleton, Alexander Campbell’s son-in-law and colleague.  He entered the school in 1847 at age eighteen, graduating in abbreviated time with numerous honors in 1850.  At the end of his second year on campus he was listed as a successful graduate in the Greek language—a study of which he made good use when he was selected to give the valedictory address in the Greek language a year later, and in his preparation for his epoch-making Commentary on Acts which was published in 1863.  The 1849 program also lists McGarvey as a graduate in Mathematics.  At his final graduation in 1850, he is listed as having completed the courses in Latin, Religious History, Chemistry, and First Place Honors in Natural Philosophy.  Like his friend, Joseph Baldwin, he also spent many hours in the Campbell home reading for the aging Thomas Campbell, whose eyes were failing too much to read for himself.[xi]  The elder Campbell died in 1854.

The similarity of the careers of the two men continued upon their graduation from Bethany.  McGarvey rejoined his parents who in 1850 had become residents of Fayette, Missouri, where he taught in a boys’ school and continued his own private Bible study. He preached in Fayette and several of the Restoration-Movement churches in central Missouri, and some of his successes and activities were reported several years in Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger.  Upon his own graduation in 1852 Baldwin followed McGarvey to Missouri where he took a position in the northwest part of the state at the Platte City Male and Female Academy.[xii]  McGarvey went on after graduation from Bethany to become one of the prime leaders of the second generation in the Stone-Campbell Movement.  Alexander Campbell was so impressed by his former student that he tried three times, unsuccessfully, to recruit him for the Bethany College faculty in mathematics.

In 1865 McGarvey joined fellow Disciples in opening the first “professional school” for ministry in the Restoration Movement, the school which became the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky.[xiii]   Through reorganization of the institution in 1877 and stormy times as “German liberalism” invaded American theological institutions, McGarvey became the face of Disciple resistance to the growing challenge to biblical inspiration and the truth of the Old and New Testament Scriptures.  He taught generations of Stone-Campbell preachers and leaders,

and served as President of the school until his death in 1911.[xiv]

Besides his vigorous defense of the Divine inspiration of the Word, McGarvey, like his mentor, Alexander Campbell, utterly opposed Christian participation in wars of any kind.  To what extent his terrifying experiences with Confederate troops in Dover, Missouri and with the Union Army after his move to Lexington in 1863 colored his revulsion to war is difficult to know.  Like the anti-war position of Campbell and other leaders of the first and second generation Restoration leaders, McGarvey, David Lipscomb, James Harding, and their colleagues based their opposition primarily upon biblical principles, despite the negative personal experiences they may have endured during the American Civil War.  The surprising aspect of McGarvey’s adherence to Campbell’s position on the war question is his taking an opposite position to the older teacher’s philosophy of education—the effort by the first generation to establish colleges which were “no theological schools.”  McGarvey even expressed his regret that he had not imbibed more of Bethany’s course offerings in biblical and religious areas in preparation for his own preaching career, and his lifetime work in a “preachers’ school”  took a turn opposite from  the position of Alexander Campbell.

Also surprising is the absence of any written record of a continued personal relationship between Joseph Baldwin and John W. McGarvey during the five years while they were both residents of northwest Missouri, but it is difficult to think they did not take the occasion to renew their Christian friendship while they were both working in the Stone-Campbell Movement in the state.  During the month after Joseph Baldwin’s graduation from Bethany College, Alexander Campbell was in Glasgow, Missouri detailing his itinerary for his extended visit in the state on behalf of Bethany College.  In an Address at Glasgow, he extolled the importance of developing well-prepared teachers as well as gospel preachers in the young American nation.  Referring to his favorite philosopher, John Locke and Locke’s denial of “innate ideas,” he said:

Prophets are not always needed, but so long as every human being enters life without an idea or an

impression, teachers will be in demand, in the church and in the state.[xv]

Campbell found many reasons to feel gratified over the successes of his college in developing young men who could help foster the “reformation” he was representing on his Missouri tour.  Both Joseph Baldwin in his work as principal of the Camden Female Seminary and McGarvey  in his growing abilities as evangelist, preacher, and leader in the state church organization  are given generous notice  in his report, which also lists numerous other Bethany graduates who were working for the Christian Church in Missouri.  Both Baldwin and McGarvey continued to receive notice in the “News from the Churches” sections of the Harbinger through 1855; after that time, McGarvey is often mentioned as he taught in the Lexington seminary, contributed articles to the Millennial Harbinger,  Lard’s Quarterly, and the conservative Christian Standard in Cincinnati, wrote books on biblical and church history subjects, and represented the front wall of defense against the new liberalism which was entering into American Protestantism during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

A month after his graduation from Bethany College, Joseph Baldwin married a girl from Ohio and immediately noted that his fiscal responsibilities had grown.  The circumstances seemed to be directing him to enter the field of education as a teacher rather than to try to survive as a small-church minister.[xvi]  He served as principal in two northwest Missouri academies from 1852 to 1856, during which he time he was active in helping establish the Missouri State Teachers Association.  Perceiving his future career to continue to be in education rather than full-time ministry, he enrolled in the Lancaster County Normal School in Pennsylvania in the fall term of 1857.

Following the year at the Lancaster normal school, the Baldwins went directly to the state of Indiana where Joseph again served as the leader in two teacher education institutions.  In 1863 he led in the opening of Indiana’s first normal school, the fifth in the United States, at Kokomo.  As the pressures of the Civil War raged around him, Baldwin was able to recruit thirty or forty of his present and former students into a military unit, Company B of the Indiana Infantry, and he was commissioned at the rank of captain in the Union Army.  During the year 1863-1864 the unit participated in several historic engagements.  Although he had thoroughly imbibed Alexander Campbell’s passion for teacher education, he did not share his former mentor’s position against Christian participation in some wars, and served as a military officer until the Civil War ended on May 9, 1865.

After separation from the Army, Baldwin returned to Indiana where he became principal of both a seminary and a normal school in Logansport from 1865 until 1867.  At that point he was ready to take on the tasks for which he had been preparing since graduation from Bethany, and with the help of Major J. B. Mervin of St. Louis, Editor of the American Journal of Education, he investigated the newly-available structure of the closed Cumberland Academy in Kirksville, Missouri.  On September 2, 1867, Baldwin opened the North Missouri Normal School and Commercial College in Kirksville, and in 1870 the state legislature provided for the creation of the normal school system in Missouri.  Baldwin’s offer of his new school was accepted, and the First District Normal School was established December 29, 1870 with Joseph Baldwin as president.[xvii]   The Normal School which Baldwin established is now Truman State University with high rankings among America’s Best Colleges in Consumer Reports (value), Forbes, and U.S. News and World Report.  The new normal school in 1870 was the “first teacher’s college west of the Mississippi River.”  During his tenure at Kirksville Baldwin planned his first book in the field of education, The Art of School Management and published it during his final year in 1881.

Although his activity in the pulpit seems to have been greatly curtailed during his presidency of the Normal School in Kirksville, he was active in the local Christian Church.  The minutes of the church board record his participation as an elder in the congregation in

when the church was undergoing some reorganization during the 1870s.

Baldwin gained national attention during the years at Kirksville by some of the innovative ideas he was trying at the Normal School, and in 1881 the trustees of the Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) in Huntsville employed him as President of the school.  The time at Huntsville was put to good use in education research as Baldwin developed a design for the academic departments of the school which gained wide attention.  After a decade leading the Huntsville normal school, he was ready to devote more time to research and publications, and accepted the offer to take the newly-created Chair in Pedagogy at the University of Texas at Austin.  Three more major publications in educational psychology and school administration were products of his time at the University which terminated at his retirement in 1897.  He died two years later and is buried at Austin.

McGarvey’s thirty-year relationship with the College of the Bible had both stormy and peaceful seasons.  After what many have considered his most powerful writing achievement, the Commentary on Acts of the Apostles was published two years after his employment began at the College, he had a highly-productive journalistic career, publishing in several young journals of the Restoration Movement.  Occupying the front line of battle within the conservative wing of the Movement against Modernism and the New Liberalism, he fortified his position as a Christian apologist by the publication of Evidences of Christianity in 1891, and provided a layman’s guide to Bible geography in Lands of the Bible, published in 1870 the year after he and his wife made an extended trip to Palestine and the Near East.  He opposed the use of instrumental music in worship but approved the development of the missionary society, a position which made him a rather enigmatic person for even conservatives in the Stone-Campbell Movement to classify!  His authorship includes work on biblical pedagogy (one area in which he and Joseph Baldwin came fairly close together) and numerous books on various Christian subjects.  He continued preaching frequently until his death, which occurred in Lexington in October, 1911.[xviii]

Both Baldwin and McGarvey stayed with the Restoration Movement until the end of their lives.  Both probably moved slightly left of their Bethany roots as Baldwin supported congregations which were moving in the direction of the “Disciples of Christ” and McGarvey, although remaining with conservative congregations in Lexington, supported the Christian Missionary Society in Kentucky.  Both clearly profited from the breadth of Alexander Campbell’s liberal arts curriculum at Bethany, and both profited also from the spiritual impulse they received from Campbell, Robert Richardson, William Pendleton, and others associated with the school.  Baldwin gravitated toward filling some of the need for sound teacher education in the young republic as a Christian duty, and McGarvey concentrated more specifically upon ministerial education.  Baldwin gradually went away from the most urgent need of the church and the nation, as Campbell saw it, as he did less and less preaching and worked in teacher education.  McGarvey went beyond the liberal arts model of his alma mater at Bethany and worked in “professional” ministerial education.  Both of them had been well prepared to think creatively about the most efficacious steps they could take for the Kingdom of God on earth. Perhaps the most glaring difference between the two men lies in the fact that one took a pacifistic position while the other served as a military officer.

Education leaders in the Stone-Campbell Movement have responded in significantly differing directions in their philosophies of higher education.  The Churches of Christ have tended to develop Christian liberal arts undergraduate colleges very much on the model of Bethany, with the Bible in the center of the curriculum and spiritual life an active part of student life.  Schools associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have also maintained several colleges with a liberal arts emphasis, with opportunity for spiritual growth in one or two mandated classes and a lively campus ministry.  Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, on the other hand, with one or two exceptions (Milligan College, for example) have erected Bible colleges with a strong core of biblical teaching and a less ample liberal arts support curriculum.  This has been, partly, in response to the inroads many leaders of the churches felt that liberalism and higher criticism have historically tended to make inroads in the “traditional” liberal arts schools.   James B. North has commented about the Bible colleges:

It is significant that the Bible colleges that developed were almost entirely

aligned with the conservative Disciple churches, that is, the merging Christian

Churches/Churches of Christ, rather than the other two streams of the Stone-

Campbell Movement.[xix]

Southeastern Christian College of Winchester, Kentucky, may have been to some extent a victim of this historic ambiguity.  A two-year college with an arts and science emphasis with a three-year Bible College at the upper end placed it in a unique and difficult-to-support position with many, perhaps impacting both student enrollment and monetary support.  In one sense it inherited both legs of the tradition and in the process clearly achieved much good in the preparation of both preachers and Christian citizens who have been well prepared to support the work of the Kingdom.  With the fast-growing post-modernist philosophy permeating many institutions of higher learning, it may be a time for new creative thought in how best to produce the Baldwins and McGarveys for the church of the twenty-first century.

 

Notes

[i] “Ministry,” Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia, Douglas Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, eds.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan,  William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Co., 2004), 521.

[ii] Alexander Campbell, “A New Institution,” Millennial Harbinger, October, 1839, 448.

[iii] Ibid., 449.

[iv] “Joseph Baldwin,” Wikipedia.

[v] Ibid.  Baldwin’s mentor, Alexander Campbell, displayed some of that same tension in the curriculum he created for Bethany College, offering courses in Bible, science, literature and the liberal arts besides courses in surveying.  The latter course was often offered during the nineteenth century by colleges in the expanding American West.

[vi] Millennial Harbinger, 1839:  “Natural Philosophy defined by the subject’s professor, William K. Pendleton, included “the discipline of Physics,” or “that science which teaches us the laws that govern every phenomena (sic) of Nature” (Jorgenson, Theological and Aesthetic Roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement (Kirksville, Missouri:  Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989), 167).

[vii]“Joseph Baldwin,” Wikipedia.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] ibid.

[x] Alexander Campbell, “Bethany College–Commencement Day,” Millennial Harbinger, July, 1852:471.

[xi] “John W. McGarvey,” Wikipedia.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] The school is now known as the Lexington Theological Seminary.   The Seminary is distinguished currently by the predominance of on-line accredited courses at the graduate seminary level.

[xiv] Richard L. Harrison, Jr. “Lexington Theological Seminary,” The Stone-Campbell Journal, 470-473.

[xv] Alexander Campbell, “Glasgow Meeting—Bethany College, Millennial Harbinger, 1852, October 641.

[xvi] “Joseph Baldwin,” Wikipedia.  Folk legends in Kirksville, Missouri held that Mrs. Baldwin counseled her husband that there was more dignity in being a college teacher or president than in being a country preacher!  The source of this bit of wisdom cannot be verified.

[xvii] “Joseph Baldwin,” Wikipedia.

[xviii] “John W. McGarvey, Wikipedia.

[xix] James B. North, “Bible Colleges,” Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia, Douglas Foster et.al., eds, 93.

 

Dale Jorgenson is a retired minister and retired choral director. He taught at Southeastern Christian College. Also he taught at Bethany College and was the Chairman of the Division of Fine Arts at Truman State University.




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2 corinthians 1:3-4