Manhattan Evangelicalism


Today's Washington Post has an interesting article about The King's College, an evangelical college that occupies three floors in the Empire State Building. The article presents Kings as a sort of urban Patrick Henry College, the Virginia school that got a lot of attention last year thanks to Hannah Rosin's God's Harvard. Kings recently hired Marvin Olasky as its provost. Olasky, the editor of World Magazine and a journalism professor at Texas-Austin, is the man behind the term "compassionate conservatism."

I have no reason to doubt that The Kings College is positioning itself as an institution at the intersection of evangelicalism and poltical conservatism, but this is not the Kings College I remember as a North Jersey teenager who for a time lived within its evangelical orbit.

For much of the 1950s, 60s and 70s Kings was at the center of New York metropolitan area evangelicalism. It was founded by Percy Crawford, a youth evangelist who was an unofficial mentor of Billy Graham. The college would have ties to "Youth for Christ," the evangelistic ministry that Graham helped to found. In 1955, the college moved from the Jersey shore (where it was founded in Belmar in 1938) to Briarcliff Manor, New York, a posh Westchester County village. It attracted evangelical and fundamentalist students from throughout the metropolitan area. (I remember hearing stories about its competition for students and fierce rivalries on the soccer field and basketball court with neighboring Nyack College, the Christian Missionary Alliance school located just across the Hudson River). King's president Dr. Robert Cook became one of the region's most popular evangelicals. His daily radio broadcast, "The Kings Hour," was a staple on Christian radio. (I remember my parents listening to it in the 1980s. Cook ended every broadcast with the phrase, "Walk with the King today and be a blessing.") This was the kind of warm, pietistic, evangelistic, subcultural, and apolitical fundamentalism that Joel Carpenter writes about in his book Revive Us Again.

Financial hardship forced Kings to close its doors in 1994. Five years later it reopened in the Empire State Building with a more pronounced culture war agenda. The Washington Post piece today reminded me of just how much the goals and values of American evangelicalism--and some of their colleges--have changed in the last few decades.


Russ said…
It's worth noting that there is another kind of Manhattan evangelicalism, one is larger, a little older (though still new), and arguably much more influential than the reborn King's College - I'm thinking of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. It's also different from the older evangelicalism in that it is far more culturally literate and engaged, but in a way quite distinct from the political focus of places like Patrick Henry and King's. There's a new evangelical college somewhere in Southern California kind of like that too, I hear.

The NYT has done some articles on them, and Newsweek noticed them just recently:
John Fea said…
Russ: Yes indeed, Redeemer is another verion of Manhattan evangelicalism. And I would agree with you that it is much more influential than Kings College.

As long as we are talking about Manhattan evangelicalism, we cannot forget the pentecostal/charismatic stream led by David Wilkerson's Times Square Church. (Yes, that is the Wilkerson from the popular evangelical book/movie, "The Cross and the Switchblade.")
Anonymous said…
I have interviewed the president of King's, J. Stanley Oakes, and was very impressed with his intellectual heft and vision for the college. The College's goal is to create leaders, esp. in the fields of business and government, while also inculcating Campus Crusade's emphasis on personal evangelism and discipleship.

Thanks for the article link, John, as I did not know King's had recruited Olasky. I think it's a real coup for the institution.

I wish I had had more time to investigate King's for my Campus Crusade book. At the time I was doing the bulk of my research, King's was in the middle of an accreditation struggle, which made it hard to perceive whether the instiutiton would thrive.
John Fea said…
John: Am I correct in assuming that Crusade did not get involved with Kings until they moved to NYC?
Anonymous said…
Crusade got involved with King's -- fundraising at that time (late 1990s) provided the means for King's to acquire space at the Empire State Building.

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