Several educators have pointed out the marked differences between students in the 50’s and 60’s. Kenneth Keniston, Yale psychologist, for example, characterizes the change as one from an uncommitted to a committed student generation. In the fifties, the students were politically apathetic, competitive in college, and having their hearts set all careers which promised material success. In the sixties, students participated in civil rights marches, political campaigns, and student demonstrations. In short, a shift from a “silent generation” to a generation of student radicals, spearheaded by the Students for a Democratic Society.

This generalization has considerable validity, with onc important exception. Long before the S.D.S. made headlines, before the Berkeley-Columbia-Harvard campus turmoil, a small radical student movement was established in a large church college. Keniston, D. Bell, and D. Riesman may never have heard about the Groen van Prinsterer Society, but members of this student club, formed in the early fifties, constituted a nucleus of committed students, radically questioning the foundation of the American educational and political system.

The sponsor of the Groen Club was a fore-Runner. Long before H. Marcuse and N. Chomsky, the heroes of the New Left, expressed their moral indignation with the prevailing value system, Dr. E. H. Runner, the faculty advisor, spoke. at public rallies to arouse the righteous indignation of the Christian Reformed community against their white-middleclass-Dutch-American values. It is no surprise that sensitive Christian students heard a prophetic voice in his classroom. Here was a man with a vision and integral Christian perspective on higher education, the world of politics, business, and labor. Many students, and some of his colleagues, thought he was a dreamer, an absent-minded, if not nutty professor. Although the Groen Club grew rapidly in purpose, power, and percentage of students, the men of the College Establishment and the Administration for more than a decade did not accept the movement as a legitimate student organization. This student group challenged their comfortable synthesis mentality, upsetting the status quo. However, the school officials repeatedly underestimated the power of radical, reformational thinking.

These Groen Club students challenged the irrelevancy of the courses to their lives as Christians in society. They demanded that the College serve both the church and the world wholeheartedly. They insisted on the integration of the disciplines from a Christian perspective. In short, they re-evaluated the purpose of a Christian college. In the light of this, they saw the credibility gap between principles and practice among most of their teachers. They witnessed what Keniston has called the “institutionalization of hypocrisy.” Worse, they saw that many of their professors suffered from religious schizophrenia; that is, belief in God’s Revelation and a positivist and behaviorist faith in science.

In addition, these students offered a radical critique of American society, history, and politics. They warned against the worship of science and technology, and the rationally organized industrial society. They sought to reinterpret puritanism and democracy in America long before the new revisionist historians. They pointed to the dangers of corruption and compulsion in unionism. They pleaded for the civil-economic right of Christians and non-Christians to work and organize.

They challenged the political system, in particular the commitment to the two-party system. They questioned their people’s commitment to conservatism and liberalism in the name of Christianity. They wondered about their political education which merely sought to make them young Republicans or Democrats. Already in the fifties, these Groen Club students were spokesmen for a “new politics” and they searched for new forms of political structure, a new base for political participation. Long before Christopher Lasch, they believed that a radical political party is required to solve our problems today. Like Lasch, they have argued that the object of such a party is to introduce new positions into the political debate of America. Unlike Lasch who calls for a life under “socialism,” these students call for a politics under Christ. Prior to Charles Hamilton’s and Stokely Carmichael’s emphasis on the politics of confrontation and liberation, these students saw the need for a politics of transformation and reformation. Americans face a crucial choice. Will the third party be led by a Wallace, the revolutionary New Left, Black Panthers, or by concerned Christians willing to organize with a Christian perspective of government and society?

From a small band of committed students the Groen Club has expanded into a large international student movement on various campuses, joined as a federation of Calvinist student clubs. Alumni have taken positions of leadership in churches, schools, and colleges. Many of them are engaged in Christian social action. Together with many other concerned Christians they have established a Christian Institute in Toronto, an important step to the first free Christian university on the continent, a dream fulfilled long before the New Left started talking about “free Universities.”

If only the Administration and Trustees of Calvin College had been open-hearted rather than closed-minded, they would have understood that something reformationally significant was taking place on the campus. Instead, they were preoccupied with making Calvin a “contemporary American” college in suburban Grand Rapids. They were concerned with bigness of buildings and student body, but in the process Calvin is losing the heart of its Christian commitment. The priorities were wrong. The College has been unwilling or unable to move toward integral Christian scholarship. In the process it has almost sold its birth-right. The initiative and leadership in Christian higher education has shifted away from Grand Rapids.

Other Christian educators and schools will set the example for many struggling church colleges and for students at the public universities. Members of the Groen Club will play an ever increasing role in this wholesome development. It will be a difficult road ahead—shortage of manpower, green power, lack of clear vision, friction, frustration, and above all, the influence of sin. But it is a road to Reformation in the world of politics, labor, and education. Here is a perspective of man and a theory of society which the world lacks and yet so urgently needs, a vision that leads to the mountain top.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, it is our point of view that the Groen van Prinsterer student society was the first radical (reformational) student movement in North America in the second half of this great century.


Mr. Bom teaches political science at the University of Dubuque, Iowa.