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How Christians Started the Ivy League

By Editorial Staff
Published April 6, 2008

Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth – all owe their origins to the gospel.

Probably no segment of American society has turned out a greater number of illustrious graduates than New England’s Ivy League. Labels like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, still carry their own mystique and a certain aura of elitism and prestige.

Yet perhaps it would surprise most to learn that almost every Ivy League school was established primarily to train ministers of the gospel – and to evangelize the Atlantic seaboard.

Harvard, 1638

It only took eighteen years from the time the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock until the Puritans, who were among the most educated people of their day, founded the first and perhaps most famous Ivy League school. Their story, in brief, is etched today in an entry way to Harvard Yard:

“After God had carried us safely to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government; one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”

Harvard College’s first presidents and tutors insisted that there could be no true knowledge or wisdom without Jesus Christ, and but for their passionate Christian convictions, there would have been no Harvard.

Harvard’s “Rules and Precepts adopted in 1646 included the following essentials: “Every one shall consider the main end of his life and studies to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life. Seeing the Lord giveth wisdom, every one shall seriously by prayer in secret seek wisdom of Him. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that they be ready to give an account of their proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of languages and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths….”

According to reliable calculations, 52 percent of the 17th century Harvard graduates became ministers!

Yale, 1701

By the turn of the century Christians in the Connecticut region launched Yale as an alternative to Harvard. Many thought Harvard too far away and too expensive, and they also observed that the spiritual climate at Harvard was not what it once had been.

Princeton, 1746

This school, originally called “The College of New Jersey,” sprang up in part from the impact of the First Great Awakening. It also retained its evangelical vigor longer than any other Ivy League school. In fact, Princeton’s presidents were evangelical until at least the turn of the Twentieth Century, as also many of the faculty.

Dartmouth, 1754

A strong missionary thrust launched this new school in New Hampshire. Its royal charter, signed by King George of England, specified the school’s intent to reach the Indian tribes, and to educate and Christianize English youth as well. Eleazar Wheelock, a close friend of evangelist George Whitefield, secured the charter.

Columbia, William and Mary, Rutgers, Brown & UPenn

The first president of New York’s Columbia University, first known as “King’s College,” at one time served as a missionary to America under the English-based “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.” The Church of England established the College of William and Mary, near today’s colonial Williamsburg. Dutch Reformed revivalists founded Queen’s College (later Rutgers University) in New Jersey. Brown University originated with the Baptist churches scattered on the Atlantic seaboard. With the exception of the University of Pennsylvania, every collegiate institution founded in the colonies prior to the Revolutionary War was established by some branch of the Christian Church.

Even at UPenn, however, an evangelist played a prominent part. When Philadelphia churches denied revivalist George Whitefield access to their pulpits, forcing him to preach in the open, some of Whitefield’s admirers, among them Benjamin Franklin, decided to erect a building to accommodate the great crowds that wanted to hear him. The structure they built became the first building of what is now the University of Pennsylvania, and a statue of Whitefield stands prominently on that campus today.

Though the Ivy League schools eventually turned secular, they fed into the mainstream of society in those earlier days a great army of graduates who could claim Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, and who left a strong impact on our nation. Their presidents and their faculties helped to set a high spiritual tone, and at times their campuses in turn felt the impact of revival. The educators of early America understood that the moral climate of its schools, colleges and universities would shape its future generations, and could ultimately decide the course of the nation.

Reprinted from The Rebirth of America, published by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation.

See also: The Boston Awakening


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Your comments are welcome!

Thank goodness we now know that religion is a man made phenomenon which was designed to perpetuate hierarchical patriarchal hegemonic control. Ivy League Schools may have been “founded” by religious nut jobs, but they had the good sense to turn secular ages ago. Religion is a lie.

Posted by chris on 09/09/2014 09:18 PM #

“Wisdom is justified of her children” This is a quote from the Bible. If the people who founded the Ivy League Colleges were anything but wise, the colleges would not have flourished and this nation would still be under the rule of Britain. Religion is from the Latin root meaning, reuniting God and man. Man cannot decide on his own what qualifies as “religion” for this very reason. Rather, God defined what qualifies as religion and that is belief in the Son, who we know very well as Jesus Christ. The truth sets us free. Freedom, not control, but freedom is the end result of true religion.

Posted by Sharon on 04/25/2015 08:35 PM #

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Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.

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The United States of America 2.0: The Great Reset (Book)

High Quality Paperback — 40 pages of dynamite!

Revival, Resistance, Reformation, Revolution
An Introduction to the Doctrines of Interposition and Nullification

In 1776, a short time after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were assigned to design an official seal for the United States of America. Their proposed motto was Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God. America owes its existence to centuries of Christian political philosophy. Our nation provided a model for liberty copied by nations the world over.

By the 21st century, we need a “Puritan Storm” to sweep away the Hegelian notion that the state is “God walking on earth.” We need revival and reformation in full force to vanquish the problems that plague us as a nation — from government controlled healthcare — to abortion on demand — to same sex “marriage.” This booklet gives a primer on our founders’ Christian idea of government and examines how the doctrine of nullification was woven into the Constitution as a safeguard against federal tyranny. It concludes with the history and theology of civil resistance. A Second American Revolution is coming with the Word of God growing mightily and prevailing! (Acts 19:20).

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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology

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All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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Frank Schaeffer Will You Please Shut Up! (Book)

High Quality Paperback — 200 pages

A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism

Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner

The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.

Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.

Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.

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