Friday, July 23, 2010

James A. Harding and Christian Education

In reading Earl West's article, “James A. Harding and Christian Education,” I became increasingly bemused by the fact that there is a university (and not merely a university, but the largest Church of Christ university) that takes Harding as a namesake. Given what I have just learned about James A. Harding's beliefs about the way schools should be run - not merely as a matter of preference but as a matter of right and wrong, good and evil - I am quite certain that he would be disgusted to find his name attached to Harding University. Some quotes from Harding and from the Article should suffice to illustrate what I mean.

With reference to Lipscomb University, which Harding helped to found, West writes:

So, in the fall of 1899, tuition began to be charged in all courses except the Bible and all Bible teachers did their work without pay. Harding explained, "It seems to me that a teacher of the Bible should never charge anything for his services whether he teaches with pen or tongue. We ought not to put a price on the gospel. . . ."" Teachers, then, "will depend upon voluntary, unsolicited contributions, as they do in their work as preachers, to supply whatever they need."

Again of Lipscomb University, Harding says:

It is not an incorporated or chartered institution under the control of a Board of Trustees. I could not work as a teacher of the doctrine of Christ under such control. To my mind, such an institution is wrong to the same extent and in the same way that a missionary society is. In doing the work of Christ, a Christian should not submit himself to be directed and controlled by any other authority than that of Christ, nor should he belong to any other institution for the advance of the Lord's cause than the Church of God.

He makes the same point of a different school after he left Lipscomb University (coincidentally right after they formed a board of trustees and gained a charter):

No if our school had a Board of Trustees empowered to select and discharge teachers at their will, to direct the teachers as to what and how and when they should teach, and, in general, to control the school, with a set of by-laws of their own making for the regulation of themselves and of us, I could not continue in it.

West adds:

Not only did Harding object to a Board of Trustees to administer a Christian school, he was equally negative on an endowment. When the Christian Courier, a Texas Christian Church periodical, advocated an endowment as a means of financially supporting a faculty so they could "maintain that serenity of mind necessary to keep up their studies," Harding took exception.

So Harding - who opposed boards, charters, endowments, and salaried Bible faculty - lends his name (quite unwillingly, I imagine, if he were given the choice) to Harding University - which has a charter, a board, a large salaried Bible faculty, and an almost eighty-one million dollar endowment.

The best part for me, however, was the irony of the fact that the Harding University Graduate School of Religion will next year become the Harding University School of Theology in view of these words of Harding's: "Theological schools are wrong."


  1. This is some nice insight into Harding the man and his relationship to Harding the U. James Harding was very much opposed to institutionalization within the church. He would not approve of church support of any college or university. He was a proponent of autonomy of all Christians and priesthood of all believers.

    In my opinion, an even more interesting question is what would Lipscomb say about HU's American Studies Institute? Lipscomb and Harding co-founded the original Nashville Bible School. Lipscomb was very much against Christian participation in civil government and believed that Christians should be governed only by God. The ASI is all about promoting conservative American ideals and is very much pro-America.

  2. Harding was actually in that same anti-institutional, apocalyptic vein that Lipscomb was, as was J. N. Armstrong who founded the university. The fluid ethics of the church are old hat to me though, and I'm sure most of the founding fathers of the Church of Christ trajectory of the movement would be appalled by the current confusion of conservative politics with biblical Christianity. I was primarily shocked to find that someone with such decidedly radical beliefs about establishing enduring Christian schools (he parted ways with Lipscomb's Nashville Bible school for just that reason) should be the namesake for such an institution as Harding.