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From the May/June, 2012 issue of Touchstone


The Way of the Class by S. M. Hutchens

The Way of the Class

S. M. Hutchens on Suffering Education as a Discipline from God

Touchstone reader, responding in personal correspondence to my Quodlibet “Facing the Warfare,” wondered whether I might have added something about the value of entering a potentially hostile school situation with the intention of bending those met there toward the truth—to view it as a kind of evangelical enterprise. I responded that such an admonition might not have been amiss, but it simply didn’t enter my mind. (Even microscopic essays make demands on my ability to stay on subject.) I have never matriculated with the thought of reforming anyone in a school of religion, much less of making the world a better place once I left it—only doing my duty as presented to me there, and finding my way in life.

During my own years of graduate study, however, it did became evident that I would need to make a firm commitment before the Lord not to betray him myself, either for the offer of reward or the threat of punishment (from liberals or conservatives), understanding with full clarity that the promise would more likely than not cost me a doctorate. I made the vow, and what happened thereafter was curious. I was allowed to complete the degree, but was put in a life situation (as I had been placed in a time in history) where there was little opportunity to enjoy the advantages one might reasonably anticipate from it. The choice had to be made between those advantages and a clear conscience, or at least one that is fairly clear in this area, and to preserve a mind from which I can write with some uncompromised authority.

This is good for me, of course: the yoke, although a true yoke, is indeed light. I don’t know any Christians who have been offered life in high places who, whether admitted to this life or not, have not had to submit to, and live in, some sorrow, in imitation of their Lord—read, for example, Tony Esolen’s article on his legs (“My Pain & Gain,” Touchstone, March/April 2011). In fact, I am so convinced of the prevalence of the yoke and the thorn among the accomplished faithful, that if I don’t see the pain, I assume it is there. But still, we are fools if we feel sorry for ourselves when given the honor of bearing a sliver of the True Cross.

Preserving the Soul

The scenarios of faith-mocking at a liberal divinity school described from firsthand experience by my correspondent, though unbelievable to those who have not seen the like, surprised me not a bit. To understand them one must, I believe, study the phenomenology and taxonomy of evil, a course that is pressed on all who challenge it, and of which one finds a wise but perhaps too lighthearted example in The Screwtape Letters. (The reality of demonic activity is horrible. The real Screwtape is a vile monster who has no wit.)

The people my writer described in this context are, technically speaking, and quite apart from judgment on their souls that only Christ can make, fools and apostates, foolishness and apostasy each having its own characteristics and natural course. Both deliberately reject the knowledge that is offered them by God, knowledge of him that would save them had they accepted it.

My friend’s misery in that school was a sign of the Holy Spirit’s shepherding, despite the absence in those days of a human pastor. He was “preserving the soul,” a soul which, under the influence of the Good, could therefore only react in the revulsion his did when confronted with the Hateful.

One of the Sheepdogs

“Bend the deceived toward the truth?” I would never think of trying it—but have had the opportunity to be used by God in some of his own work, already in progress without me, and to learn to a small extent what the Lord meant when he said his sheep know his voice and follow him, and not one of them will be snatched from his hands. It is a pleasure to watch them come, to help them along from time to time, and may God have mercy on my soul. I am not the Good Shepherd, but am glad to be one of his dogs—and, come to think of it, don’t mind biting from time to time—only in the line of duty, of course. 

S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and the book review editor of Touchstone.

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