Some Things Simply Never Change

I am reading Sinclair Lewis’ novel Elmer Gantry (in fits and starts, and inbetween chapters of Before Philosophy by Henry Frankfort et all, tearing up floorboards in student housing, building bicycle wheels, and recording songs I wrote 20 years ago). I’m about a third the way through, Elmer is still in seminary (Mizpah Theological Seminary, a conservative Baptist school), and so far nothing that happened so far in the novel happened yet in the film, save the first scene.

Anyway, Lewis’ description of seminarians in their off hours, well, frighteningly accurate:
“Rats!” grumbled Harry. “Of all the fool Baptist egotisms, close communion is the worst! Nobody but people we consider saved to be allowed to take communion with us! Nobody can meet God unless we introduce ’em! Self-appointed guardians of the blood and body of Jesus Christ! Whew!”
“Absolutely,” from Horace Carp. “And there is absolutely no Scriptural basis for close communion.”

“There certainly is!” shrieked Eddie. “Frank, where’s your Bible?”

“Gee, I left it in O.T.E. Where’s yours, Don?”

“Well, I’ll be switched! I had the darn things here just this evening,” lamented Don Pickens, after a search.

“Oh, I remember. I was killing a cockroach with it. It’s on top of your wardrobe,” said Elmer. (p. 91-92)
It’s all too true. Just trust me.
I cannot, however, vouch for the complete veracity of Lewis on seminary courses and seminary professors, as accurate as it sometimes seems:
The course in Hymnology Elmer found tolerable; the courses in New Testament Interpretation, Church History, Theology, Missions, and Comparative Religions he stolidly endured and warmly cursed. Who the dickens cared whether Adoniram Judson became a Baptist by reading his Greek New Testament? Why all this fuss about a lot of prophesies in Revelation–he wasn’t going to preach that highbrow stuff! And expecting them to make something out of this filioque argument in theology! Foolish!

The teachers of New Testament and Church History were ministers whom admiring but bored metropolitan congregations had kicked up-stairs. To both of them polite deacons had said, “We consider you essentially scholarly, Brother, rather than pastoral. Very scholarly. We’re pulling wires to get you the high honor that’s your due–election to a chair at one of the Baptist seminaries. While they may pay a little less, you’ll have lots more of the honor you so richly deserve, and lots easier work, as you might say.”

The grateful savants had accepted, and they were spending the rest of their lives reading fifteenth-hand opinions, taking pleasant naps, and drooling out to yawning students the anemic and wordy bookishness they called learning.

But the worst of Elmer’s annoyances were the courses given by Dr. Bruno Zechlin, Professor of Greek, Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis.

Bruno Zechlin was a Ph. D. of Bonn, an S.T.D. of Edinburgh. He was one of a dozen authentic scholars in all the theological institutions of America, and incidentally he was a thorough failure. He lectured haltingly, he wrote obscurely, he could not talk to God as though he knew him personally, and he could not be friendly with numbskulls.

Mizpah Seminary belonged to the right-wing of the Baptists; it represented what was twenty years later to be known as “fundamentalism”; and in Mizpah Dr. Zechlin had been suspected of heresy.

He also had a heathenish tawny German beard, and he had been born not in Kansas or Ohio but in a city ridiculously named Frankfort.

Elmer despised him, because of his beard, because he was enthusiastic about Hebrew syntax, because he had no useful tips for ambitious young professional prophets, and because he had seemed singularly to enjoy flunking Elmer in Greek, which Elmer was making up with a flinching courage piteous to behold. (p. 118-119)
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