J. Gordon Chamberlin
By James Riley Estep, Jr.
J. GORDON CHAMBERLIN (1914- ), educator in the Methodist church, became prominent during World War II with his work on behalf of demobilized service men and women. His career then took him to local congregational ministry and ultimately to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania) until his retirement in 1979. Even in retirement Chamberlin continues to be active in ministry, addressing the subject of poverty in the United States.
J. Gordon Chamberlin was born March 18, 1914 in Blairstown, Iowa to Alfred B. and Eunice Chamberlin. He attended Cornel College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa and received his BA in History in 1935.
He received his B.D. from Union Theological Seminary of New York City. His focus while there was Christian ethics. In 1937, Chamberlin married Elna Challman. Together they had four children: John Stephen, Judith, Philip David, and Mark Andrew. Chamberlin was ordained a minister in the Methodist church in 1938. In 1951 he received his Ed.D. degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. His dissertation was Revelation and Education. That same year he started his ministry with the Riverside Church in New York City. From 1951-1955 he was the minister of Campus Relations, which was part of the Christian education ministry of the congregation. Following this he became the minister of Christian education for the entire congregation until 1960. While serving at Riverside he was a lecturer in religious education and psychology at Union Theological Seminary from 1953-1960. Following the conclusion of his ministry at Riverside Church he became professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary from 1960-1979. During his tenure at the seminary he and his wife divorced in 1972. However, he married Mildred A. Eck in 1973 and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina upon their retirement.
In 1985 he became the Executive Director of the North Carolina Poverty Project and ten years later he became the Program Director of the Coalition Addressing Systemic Poverty. His earlier passion for a joint response to the issue of demobilization now manifest itself in his concern for a concerted effort to rid the United States of systemic, institutionalized, poverty.
His writings reflect three distinct foci of his career as a Christian educator. His early writings (1944-1945) center on the post World War II demobilization of American service men and women, and the church's response to their return and re-acclamation to civilian life. Following this, from 1951-1994 he focused on education within the church, with particular interest in family life and theology, coinciding with his ministry at Riverside Church and following his retirement to Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1981 he wrote The Educating Act, which he regarded as a summary of his work. Most recently (1994-present), during his retirement, the third focus of his writing career has become evident, addressing the problem of poverty in America.
Contributions to Christian Education
Education and Demobilization
It is difficult to envision the America of 1941-1945 without having lived through it. World War II impacted every American family, as it did individuals and families around the world. As the impending victory over the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) became more and more evident, the matter of demobilization loomed upon the horizon. How do you re-integrate literally millions of service men and women back into civilian life? This challenge was not only faced by the civil government, local communities, and families, but by the church as well. Chamberlin's writing and ministry initially focused on aiding the church to minister to returning service men and women, and their families, as well as integrating their efforts with civil and interdenominational efforts. While many church groups have faced similar challenges on a vastly smaller scale following the recent military actions in Iraq, Chamberlin's efforts to prepare the Methodist church for the daunting task of re-acclimating millions of individuals back into the life of the church and community is unique and commendable.
Education and Phenomenology
Phenomenology, a philosophy closely akin to existentialism, began to openly shape education in the church in the 1960's, for good or for ill. One of its early advocates for use in Christian education was J. Gordon Chamberlin. His Toward a Phenomenology of Education (1969), later his chapter in David E. Denton's Existentialism and Phenomenology in Education (1974), and finally The Educating Act: A Phenomenological View (1981) advanced the value of phenomenology as an educational philosophy in the church. In this last volume, considered the summation of his educational theory, he presents a phenomenological approach to Christian education in a very practical fashion.
Chamberlin did much of his writing in the turbulent 1960's. Changes in the higher education and school systems of the United States were far-reaching and in many cases drastic. In such an era, Chamberlin addressed such critical issues as the relationship of the church to the college campus, calling for an assessment and realignment of the church's relationship to higher education. While some of his ideas may have been difficult to accept by the church, he nevertheless became an active voice in the reformation of the church's place in higher education.
Likewise, in 1994, he completed a monumental study on the condition of Christian education among churches comprising the National Council of Churches. His study was cryptically entitled Church vs. Education: A Battle Lost. He begins his study with a brief recounting of the past educational failures of the church, e.g. the death of the Sunday School Convention movement in Cleveland in 1955, the death of the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches in 1969, noting that "this study [is] an attempt to discover why such a long [educational] tradition collapsed" (p. v). His study identified nine reasons for the decline of Christian education among the National Council of Churches, but also provided an accurate picture of the status of Christian education in 1994 as well as recommendations to advance it in the future.
Education and Poverty
In his retirement, Chamberlin began to address the subject of poverty in the United States, particularly in the South wherein he presently resides [North Carolina]. While this had indeed been a concern during his earlier career, it was after his move to North Carolina that he was able to assume a more active role in agencies designed to address the matter. His concern is not only that the Church may not provide adequate attention to the problem of poverty, but may actually be part of the systemic nature of poverty in the United States. He advocates a collaborative approach between governmental, civic, and religious institutions to respond to the need of those in poverty, similar to his demobilization strategies of the mid-1940's.
Books and Essays
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1943). The church and its young adults. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. & Baker, M. C. (1943). Plans for demobilization: A report of a survey. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). The long road back: A report on the recent developments of plans for demobilization. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). Government plans for demobilization. Nashville, Tennessee: Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). How soon we forget: A report on recent nation-wide developments on plans for the demobilization process and period. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). She also serves: A demobilization bulletin. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). Coming home â To what?: A report of the recent developments of plans for demobilization. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). Serving those in service: Report of a series of seminars on demobilization, October 1943-March 1944. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1944). No calories in confetti: A report on the recent development of plans for demobilization. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). Faith under fire. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). The church and demobilization. New York: Abingdon Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). Heroes now â And then? Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). 1-2-3 Shift. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). After it's over. Nashville, Tennessee: Department of Christian Education of Adults, General Board of Education, The Methodist Church.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1951). Revelation and education: A report of a type C project. Ed.D. Dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1961). Parents and religion: A preface to Christian education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1961). Christian leadership development program, United States Army, 1960. United States Army.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1963). Churches and the campus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1965). Freedom and faith: New approaches to Christian education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1969). Toward a phenomenology of education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1974). Phenomenological methodology and understanding education. In D. E. Denton (Ed.), Existentialism and phenomenology in education: Collected essays. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1979). Church education meetings collapse. Greensboro, North Carolina: Published Privately.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1981). The educating act: a phenomenological view. Washington: University Press of America.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1984). I don't have no education and other reflections. Greensboro, North Carolina: The Education Press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1994). Church vs. education: a battle lost. Greensboro, North Carolina: The Education press.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1999). Upon whom we depend: The American poverty system. New York: Peter Lang.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (2000). Program on understanding poverty: First report. Greensboro, North Carolina: Poverty Coalition.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1963). New views of Christian teaching. Pittsburgh Perspective, 4 (2), 30-36.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1964). The humble church. Pittsburgh Perspective, 5 (1), 5-8, 22.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1966). Clergyman : Teacher or educator? Religion in Life, 35 (4), 575-586.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1967). New models in religious education. Religious Education, 61 (4), 260-269.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1967). 'Ad hoc' on behalf of Latin America. Christian Century, 84 (24), 792-796.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1968). Ecumenical tangle. Christian Century, 85 (3), 75-77.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1973, May-June). Mrs. Anderson, Edward and the creed. Religious Education, 68, 393-400.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1962, January). Theory and design of Christian education curriculum. Theology Today, 18, 525-528.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1967). An introduction to Christian education. Religion in Life, 36 (2), 304-306.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1969). Religion goes to school: A practical handbook for teachers. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 6 (4), 662-663.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1971). Can Catholic schools survive. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 8 (4), 877-879.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1973, Winter). Learning process for religious education. Religious Education, 71, 653.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1985). Education for continuity and change: A new model for Christian religious education. Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 22 (1), 150-152.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1985). Education for peace and justice. Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 22 (1), 150-152.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1996, Summer). Ecumenism and youth. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 33, 419-420.
- Chamberlin, J. G. (1997, Spring). Contextualization: Origins, meaning and implications: A study of what the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches originally understood by the term "contextualization", with special reference to the period 1970-1972. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 34, 241-242.
Reviews of Chamberlin's Works
- Baxter, E. M. (1966). Freedom and faith: New approaches to Christian education. Hartford Quarterly, 7, 75-76.
- Burrows, B. M. (1961, June). Parents and religion: A preface to Christian education. Pittsburgh Perspective, 2, 30-31.
- Granberg, L. I. (1962, May). Parents and religion: A preface to Christian education. Reformed Review, 15, 60-61.
- Prytherch, D. H. (1966). Freedom and faith: New approaches to Christian education. Pittsburgh Perspective, 7 (2), 26-27.
- Lawson, K. E. (Ed.). (2002). Theology and Christian education in the 20th century: An annotated bibliography. La Mirada, California: Biola University.
- Complete collection of his personal and professional papers housed at the University of Iowa (Ames). Catalogued on http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsC600/MsC580/chamberlinjg.htm
Excerpts from Publications
Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). The church and demobilization. , New York: Abingdon Press.
The church, like the community, will be greatly aided in doing its job among the returning men by having some committee or group responsible for planning its general program. In some churches it is called the Victory Committee, in other a Servicemen's Committee. Some churches have a Director of Demobilization with various committees working under him. In any case, the committee ought to be responsible to the official body of the church â board of deacons, official board, or session. Thus constituted, the committee should be an official part of the church taking responsibility in this phase of its work.
The first point in the strategy of such a committee would be the thorough study of the problems involved. Just as a community committee should study those who are away from the community, so the church committee should study those absent from the church. How many are church members? How many were active in the church? What was their educational background? What were their ages? Are some of them married, have they children, do they own their own homes, are their families still in the community? What proportion of them were active in other community or social groups, what were their occupations, what are the prospects for their return to the community? Such data would give a valuable background of the group with which the committee is to deal.
A second part of the study to be conducted by a church committee is to learn what is being planned by the community and the nation to meet the problems of the demobilization process. It is important that the church should know what is being done by the Veterans' Administration, Selective Service, veterans' organizations, mental hygiene associations, welfare agencies, interdenominational agencies, and its own national offices, so that it may benefit from the larger framework within which it must work.
A third part of the study would be to read all the new books written on problems of demobilization, and articles on the subject by reporters who have been with the fighting men at the fronts and can give invaluable information regarding the serviceman's viewpoints.
The second phase of a church committee's strategy would be to maintain continuous contact with each individual who went from the church. Many churches have kept some contact but not continuous. Many have kept a continuous contract without realizing the opportunities to make it a constructive relationship.
No church is relieved from responsibility for the spiritual nurture and growth of its members just because they happen to be away in war work or in military service. Services conducted by chaplains are not substitutes for the home church, nor are the services provided by churches near campus or in connection with servicemen's centers in cities. These services are certainly needed , but the home church is still where each individual has his membership and from which he should continue to receive spiritual nurture. It is possible to approximate nearly every normal activity of the church with a parallel activity for absent members. (pp. 71-75)
Chamberlin, J. G. (1965). Freedom and faith. , Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
The place of education in the churches â current writers on church education have not attempted to develop a common philosophy, but they do share a common concern for the denigration of education in the contemporary Protestant church. Church education has expanded rapidly in the twentieth century, resulting in huge bureaucracies with vast budgets for immense programs, but paradoxically, the activities that they conduct are peripheral to the life of the churches.
Although condemning illicit passion, Protestantism has glorified in the miracle of the changed heart and has condemned as tragic the intellectual approach to faith. Suspicion of intellect is justified when faith is vested in the power of man's reason to understand and possess God's truth, but even the scientific preoccupation of liberal Protestantism was devoted to the psychology of feeling and attitude that turned away from the rigors of disciplined theological activity and found common ground with the subjectivity of pietism. In the context of an anti-intellectual culture the actual situation of education in the churches can be more clearly understood.
The consequence of the peripherality of education in that Biblical ignorance is proverbial among Protestants. No church would think of requiring its lay mean and women to pass and examination on Biblical, historical, or theological knowledge before they could become members of the council, a session, the vestry, or the official board. Education has been used as a tool by churches to press virtue into young sinners or pry conversion experience out of unwilling hearts, but the churches have not expected that a valid objective of the Sunday or church school was that members should be "educated." In the modern church the idea that membership should require continuous responsible study throughout life is usually met by incredulity. Such a requirement would be a threat to most church members.
The contemporary church needs an approach to Christian education that respects the 'miracle of intellect' and provides a basis for its responsible development throughout life. (pp. 15-16, 18)
Chamberlin, J. G. (1968), Churches and the campus. , Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
The overwhelming testimony of the men and women visited at these five campuses was that the Christian church and the modern college have little need for one another. What a sad denouncement to the twelve centuries of intimate and fruitful relationships between these historic institutions. Instead of vigorous cooperation, or even heated contention, most people in each institution had only nice things to say about the other.
This bland relationship was marked by great diversity of point of view among both educators and church members about the function of higher education. On occasion this diversity represented a healthy, vigorous struggle between competing philosophies, but more often it only reflected confused and superficial thinking. Each institution, as represented by its spokesmen, held unrealistic expectations of the other. No college could provide all the influences on students' lives, nor all the contributions to society, nor all the preparation for professional leadership that churches often expect. Administrators and professors expressed fewer 'expectations' of the churches (which is significant in itself), but some of these were equally unrealistic.
The first step in developing a significant relationship between church and college is for the churches to discover what those on campus believe to be the mission of the college. They will find diversity and confusion, but only when they discern the major ideas that motivate and direct the course of the college's life and work can they hope to make any contribution to that work.
The second step for the churches is to accept the college's own idea of its mission as the basis for mutual study and discussion. While the university may not pose its questions of meaning in religious categories, any dialogue with the church will inevitably involve the church's basic theological concern.
Thus the two points of significant and relevant contact between the church and the college are vocational and theological. Since the church has a responsibility for continuous reexamination of its own mission and the nature of its faith, it does not relate to the college by pronouncing on what the college should be or do. Rather it offers the college the occasion for participating in a parallel reexamination. The distinctive contribution of the churches is not in their dogmatic answers but in their readiness to provide a significant dialogue with the university on the level of its deepest concern about its central educational function.
It is important for churches to accept that fact that the modern (nonchurch) university does not recognize any responsibility to the Christian faith For the church to expect special consideration, old privileges, or simple mutuality of purpose is unrealistic. Churches can make an important contribution to higher education only if they accept the college as it is and then proceed to examine the ways in which Christian faith can relate to the essential function of the secular university. (pp. 131, 141-143)
Chamberlin, J. G. (1969). Parents and religion: A preface to Christian education. , Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
The church has a responsibility to help children to understand their relation to God, to see that they are in a world of meaning and purpose and that their lives have ultimate significance. The church has a responsibility to parents, first of all to provide an opportunity and an incentive for them to deepen their understanding of God's relation to them and their place in the world and to help them grasp the responsibility placed on them to introduce their children to the Christian faith. The church has a responsibility to God to be a faithful witness to the gospel, to present Christ in meaningful terms, and to represent God's will for men and for the world. The church has to be true to itself as a servant of the Lord. Its best insight, its most sensitive awareness, and its most competent learning have to be applied to its teaching function.
Christian education in its larger sense goes on throughout life. Responsible discipleship has implications for every part of our lives. Responsible church membership involves participation in every aspect of the church's mission. Christian decision is not limited to choosing to follow Christ, but is involved also in every subsequent decision we make.
The test of Christian education, then, is not the number of people who join the church, nor the number who stay in the church. The final judge is God, who alone knows whether or not we have used our talents of life and mind faithfully. Education does not give us decisions or even the wisdom for making them. It provides us with perspective upon the present, which a study of the past affords, so that we may recognize ourselves as part of the whole church of Christ and become responsible citizens in 'the colony of heaven.' (pp. 77, 89)
Chamberlin, J. G. (1969). Toward a phenomenology of education. , Philadelphia: Westminster Press. pp. 157-159.
EDUCATION IS A CONSCIOUSLY SELECTED SET OF ACTIVITIES through a variety of specific actions is involved in each step of an educational occasion, such as speaking, location, group arrangements, etc. education incorporates a set of these consciously placed in relation to each other for some purpose
IN WHICH AN INDIVIDUAL OR A GROUP INTENTIONALLY The intentionality of education is primarily that of the individuals or groups planning and presenting educational activities for others.
PRESENTS SELECTED IDEAS OR ACTIONS Education involves initiation on the part of those conducting the educational program, and the initiation involves some matter to be thought about or considered. The subject matter of education may include all ranges of learning, but those conducting the activity select from limitless possibilities the content that is germane to this particular occasion.
TO PARTICULAR INDIVIDUALS: Education, as a conscious, intentional, planned activity, is adapted to the persons toward whom the activity is directed.
IN A PARTICULAR SETTING: All education is particular, also, in its physical, geographical, cultural, and temporal setting. Every factor in the surrounding circumstances influences motivation, structures, and processes. Programs designed for middle-class suburban schools cannot be the same, nor can they produce the same responses, in schools in poverty-ridden slums.
BY A CONTROLLED PROCESS Education implies that the process employed is as much a concern as are the ideas or behaviors being presented, because the two cannot be separated. The process may be simple or very elaborate, may involve only a few people or very many. The process incorporates some measurements or teaching to provide a basis for future planning.
THAT SEEKS THE STUDENT'S UNDERSTANDING … The point of the process is that the student shall understand the ideas or actions being presented. One of the qualifications, therefore, in considering the particular individuals toward whom the program is directed, is their level of comprehension, their ability to understand the ideas and actions being considered.
AND HIS CONSCIOUS CHOICE OF RESPONSE. The learning that take place in the response by the student to whatever is presented and to the setting in which the educational occasion takes place. There is always response, but education implies that the student is conscious of his own response and thus is able to articulate it, either in words or in action, with an understanding of what he is doing and saying. (pp. 157-159)
Chamberlin, J. G. (1999). Upon whom we depend: The American poverty system. ,New York: Peter Lang.
Poverty is ingrained in our total culture and involves all of our educational, economic, governmental, and religious institutions. Their structures and practices perpetuate poverty. Nevertheless, these institutions provide the means by which systemic poverty can be overcome. In the embrace of our culture these institutions are interrelated, but because each has a distinctive social role they need to be examined one by one. As we do so our attention moves from what poverty does to the poor to what poverty does to us, the non-poor.
While most people know that poverty is a blight, they do not realize that deprivation [sic], isolation, hostility, and loss of talent which characterize poverty threaten the nation's social fabric.
Present attitudes and limited knowledge are barriers to understanding poverty's threat to all of us. And the most serious barrier is the common assumption that the causes of poverty are the inadequacies of poor people. Most people have never had an opportunity to learn that poverty is also caused by the arranged structures of our social system. So for most of us the barrier is simply ignorance.
For this reason overcoming poverty must begin with helping the non-poor understand the realities of a system which depends on poverty. That is an educational task. (p. 69)
Chamberlin, J. G. (1945). The church and demobilization. New York: Abingdon Press.
Chamberlin, J. G. (1963). Churches and the campus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
Chamberlin, J. G. (1965). Freedom and faith: New approaches to Christian education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
Chamberlin, J. G. (1969). Toward a phenomenology of education. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
Chamberlin, J. G. (1981). The educating act: A phenomenological view. Washington: University Press of America.
Chamberlin, J. G. (1994). Church vs. education: A battle lost. Greensboro, North Carolina: The Education press.
Chamberlin, J. G. (1999). Upon whom we depend: The American poverty system. New York: Peter Lang.
James Riley Estep, Jr.
James Riley Estep, Jr. is the Professor of Christian Education at Lincoln Christian Seminary, as well as an Associate Dean at Lincoln Christian College. He also serves as Director of Academic Assessment and Faculty Development for the campus. He was a student of Warren Benson's from 1994-1999 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL).