Recovering a Heritage | Sojourners

Recovering a Heritage


This is the second of three essays on the “Christian radicalism” of early OberlinCollege. The first essay sketched how attempts to suppress the anti-slavery activities of students at Lane Theological Seminary led to the “Lane Rebellion” in which most students withdrew and set up their own “free seminary.” These students, and their supporters on the board and faculty of Lane, eventually moved to Oberlin Colony, whose “radicalism” was focused more on issues of “lifestyle.” The confluence of these two traditions, both deeply under the influence of Revivalist Charles G. Finney, permitted the emergence of the distinctive “Christian radicalism” of pre-Civil WarOberlinCollege.

“Oberlinism” was a complex ideology. The college was first and foremost a “ChristianCollege.” Finney insisted that Oberlin should “make the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of Christians the paramount work and subordinate to this all the educational operations.” College life was intensely religious with frequent periods of “revival.” Students and faculty alike regularly conducted “revival meetings” during vacation periods. Missions was a dominant concern. In 1836 the campus had six different missionary societies and in 1838 much of this missionary impulse began to focus on the American Indians.

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