Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The curious case of Dr. Case, late professor of Early Church History and New Testament Interpretation at the University of Chicago School of Divinity: his liberal postmillennialism vs. the ‘Russellites’ and other premillennialists

I have been reading the third edition of M. James Penton’s, Apocalypse Delayed – The Story of Jehovah's Witnessess (2015 – Google Preview HERE). [I read the first and second editions shortly after their respective publication dates—1985, 1997.]

Whilst reading the sections on “Religious Persecution", "The Nature of Anti-Witness Propaganda", and "The Charge of Sedition" (pp. 203-209), stories of beatings and property destruction via mob violence during WWII—as experienced and related to me by my uncle Percy Crofoot and his life-long friend Walter Crabb—came to mind. The persecution did not start with WWII, but rather with WWI. The history of the W.T.B.S. between 1914-1939 was a bit hazy to me, so I pulled the “1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses”—which includes a detailed history of the W.T.B.S. in the United States—off of the shelf to refresh my memory. The following caught my eye:

On December 30, 1917, mass distribution of 10,000,000 copies of a new issue of the four-page, tabloid-size tract The Bible Students- Monthly began. Entitled "The Fall of Babylon" and with the subtitles "Ancient Babylon a Type--Mystic Babylon the Antitype-Why Christendom Must Now Suffer-the Final Outcome," It contained excerpts from the Seventh Volume, with very pointed references to the clergy. On its back page appeared a graphic cartoon depicting a crumbling wall. Some of its stones bore such words as "Protestantism," "Eternal torment theory," "Doctrine of the trinity," "Apostolic succession" and "Purgatory." With Scriptural foundation the tract showed that the great majority of the clergy "have been unfaithful, disloyal, unrighteous men" who were more responsible than any other class on earth for the war then raging and the great trouble that would follow

By late 1917 and early 1918 The Finished Mystery was being distributed in increasing numbers. Angered, the clergy falsely claimed that certain statements in this book were of a seditious nature. They were out to "get" the Watch Tower Society and, like the Jewish religious leaders when Jesus was on earth, they wanted the State to do the work far them. (Compare Matthew 27:1, 2, 20.) Both Catholic and Protestant clergymen falsely represented the Bible Students as being in the employ of the German government. For example, referring to the work of the International Bible Students Association, a legal agency of God's people, Doctor Case of the Divinity School of Chicago University published this statement: "Two thousand dollars a week is being spent to spread their doctrine. Where the money comes from is unknown; but there is a strong suspicion that it emanates from German sources. In my belief, the fund would be a profitable field for government investigation." (Page 95 – link to PDF.)

I first read the “1975 Yearbook” back in 1976, but had no recollection of, “the four-page, tabloid-size tract The Bible Students-Monthly”, nor of the statement published by, “Doctor Case of the Divinity School of Chicago University”. The charge that funding for the “spread of their doctrine”, came from “German sources”, struck me as baseless propaganda. I knew nothing of this “Doctor Case”, but some subsequent research revealed that a Professor Shirley Jackson Case had received his Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Yale, and subsequently taught Early Church History and New Testament Interpretation at the University of Chicago School of Divinity.

Dr. Case’s published books demonstrate that his views of Christianity and history were quite liberal, and that his liberalism could be combative. Notre Dame historian, George M. Marsden, has provided some interestingly insights into the mindset of the theologians teaching at the University of Chicago School of Divinity during Dr. Case’s tenure. Note the following:

Beginning in 1917, for several years the theologians at the University of Chicago School of Divinity led a fierce assault on premillennial teaching. These attacks, directed largely against their cross-town rival, Moody Bible Institute, were the first stage of the intense fundamentalist-modernist conflicts. (Fundamentalism and American Culture – New Edition, p.145 – Google Preview HERE.)

Marsden then added:

to the modernists at Chicago the progress of Christianity and progress of culture were so intimately bound together that the two were always considered together. “Modernism,” in fact, meant first of all the adoption of religious ideas to modern culture. (p. 146)

Believing that a postmillennial interpretation of history was a valuable tool in facilitating “the adoption of religious ideas to modern culture”, the modernist theologians at University of Chicago School of Divinity had developed a serious concern about the spread of premillennialism. Marsden points out that the first direct attack on premillennialism by those folk came in 1917 via the track published by the school’s dean, Shirley Mathews, under the title, “Will Jesus Come Again?” The track was shortly followed by the publication of Dr. Case’s book, The Millennial Hope: A Phase of Wartime Thinking (January, 1918 - link to PDF); from its pages we read:

History shows many variations in the millennial type of hope. While Gentiles, Jews, and Christians alike looked for a final release from present evils through some unique form of world-renewal, widely varying programs were proposed for the attainment of this end. Nor was there a single program for Gentiles, or for Jews, or for Christians. (Page 226)

Case’s liberal/modernist paradigm had no room for a divinely revealed millennial hope, and instead, embraces the following interpretation:

This diversity was a natural outcome of the varying circumstances under which millennial speculations arose and developed. They represent the work of different persons with a variety of tastes, living in different surroundings throughout a long period of years. (Ibid.)

In the same month of the release of the above book, the Chicago Daily News (Jan. 21, 1918) published Case’s comments containing the  “German sources” quote I found in the “1975 Yearbook”. The extract of the published article did not have Case identifying any specific group, and/or individual as the target of his charges. I have not been able to find the entire article, so what follows is speculation. Case may have had premillennialists in general in mind, but the specifics contained in his comments seem to mitigate such a view. A subsequent polemical essay by Case—published in the University of Chicago’s School of Divinity journal, The Biblical World—may provide a clue as to why the writer of the “1975 Yearbook” thought that Case had the ‘Bible Students’ (i.e. ‘Russellites’) in mind:

Among premillenarians the Russellites have perhaps been the most ready to press their principles to a logical issue. As a result they, along with their I.W.W. neighbors, have fallen under the ban of the authorities both in Canada and in the United States. Now they hasten to assure the world that they never had any thought of opposing the war, "for the reason that they recognize it of divine permission and could not oppose its progress without opposing the very foundation of their belief.” But his very confession brings its own condemnation. (“The Premillennial Menace”, The Biblical World, Jul. 1918, Vol. 52, No. 1, p.22 - link to PDF)

And so, until I can obtain a full copy of the Daily News article, I am going to side with the author of the “1975 Yearbook” that Case was probably referring to the Bible Students/Russellites in his unsubstantiated published statement.

As for The Bible Students-Monthly tract "The Fall of Babylon" that I had no recollection of—and for sure had never read—I was able to find a PDF copy online HERE.

Back to my studies…


Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus (a concise, well written, book-length debate)

I first read The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus a few months ago, but recently discovered that it is now available online at academia.edu (LINK), so I thought it would be a good time to bring this interesting book to the attention of AF readers. From the forward of the book, by James McGrath, we read:

The Study of New Testament Christology—the depiction(s) of Jesus articulated by the authors of the New Testament—has never ceased to be of interest. But if it may not be true to say that there has been more interest in the subject in recent years, the past several decades have at the very least witnessed a burst of creativity in the field, with significant new and interesting proposals being offered by a range of scholars. This work has been stimulated in turn by an increased amount of attention to ancient Jewish sources, sparked by the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient literature that was previously neglected or unknown. This has allowed scholars to get a sense as never before of the Jewish context within which Jesus and his earliest followers reflected on who he was. (p. vii)

A bit later, McGrath relates:

The present volume is different from such other volumes in important ways. On the one hand, the contributors share a commit­ment to interpreting the Bible diligently and accurately, and allowing the evidence from the Bible to shape their views. On the other hand, the three christological viewpoints which the authors represent are only relatively rarely found within the same church setting. Trinitarianism, Arianism, and Socinianism are typically not found within the same denomination, much less within the same church, and more often than not, adherents to one of the viewpoints will regard the other views as anathema.

And so the fact that the authors are friends across such divides is an important message of the book, one which should not be missed. (pp. x, xi)

But, “the fact that the authors are friends”, does not diminish the passion and resolve that each author has for their respective position—this being evidenced by the clarity provided in their critiques of the opposing views.

Another unique aspect of the book, that I found to be quite valuable, is that each author provides precise definitions of the ‘labels’ given to the view that they defend—'Trinitarianism’, ‘Arianism’ and 'Socinianism’ (pp. xiii-xv).

I really enjoyed this book. The authors are competent and knowledgeable, providing a good defense of their respective views in a format that is concise and readable—without compromising the level of the content.

Hope others will take the time to read the tome, and then share some reflections…


Grace and peace,