For missionaries, education was essential to both salvation and worldliness. Prominent Congregationalist ministers, such as Timothy Dwight and Edward Dorr Griffin, led schools and churches that stood at the forefront of spiritual revival during the Second Great Awakening.
Timothy Dwight, grandson of revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards, was elected president of Yale College in 1795, at a time when Christianity had declined across campus. Students gravitated instead to the popular, secular ideals of the French Enlightenment. “Caught up in the fervor of the age, students renamed themselves after French philosophers, addressing each other as ‘Classmate Diderot’ and ‘Sophomore D’Alembert.’ ”1 After Dwight’s arrival, students challenged him to debate the question, “Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament the word of God?” Dwight, a theologian and scholar, accepted the challenge, giving weekly lectures on the topic over the course of six months. His eloquence laid the groundwork for change. In spring of 1802, Yale experienced the first of many campus revivals that ignited a fervent embrace of Christianity. This revival had a deep impact on students: half of Yale’s senior class that year – 30 young men – elected to enter the ministry.
Buoyed by his success at Yale, Dwight co-founded Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts in 1807. Envisioned as “a Congregational alternative to the Unitarian-influenced Harvard Theological School,”2 the seminary was the first institution in America to provide clergy with graduate-level studies. Prior to its founding, aspiring ministers with undergraduate degrees were tutored by active clergy.
The seminary encouraged combining religious beliefs with action. In 1810, Dwight helped found the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), which sent alumni Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston, both from the Andover class of 1819, on the first mission to Hawai‘i. Faculty member Edward Dorr Griffin went on to head Park Street Church in Boston, which later became a hub for the abolitionist movement.
In 1819, Hawai‘i-bound missionaries held their last services on American soil at Park Street Church.
2Miller, Char, “The Making of a Missionary: Hiram Bingham’s Odyssey,” Hawaiian Journal of History, 13, 1979, p. 41.
3Williams, Daniel Day, The Andover Liberals: A Study in American Theology, King’s Crown Press, New York, 1941, p. 1–3, 7, 9; Andrew III, John A., Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1976, p. 20-21.