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Christian Study Groups Highlight Cultural Impact

August 27th, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 338-8727

Christian Study Groups in the Fall 2009 school semester will focus especially on the nitty-gritty of culture-changing, according to Patrick Henry College Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith. Using a collection of essays about William Wilberforce edited by Christian activist Chuck Stetson, PHC professors will help small groups of students study the lives and influence of a small group of reformers known as the Clapham Circle. In mid-October, Stetson will himself spend a day at PHC in order to speak in chapel and discuss his book, Creating the Better Hour, with the campus community.

“In the late 18th century in England, people’s morals may have been worse than they are now,” said Veith. “Prostitution was rampant, the churches empty. Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, and a small community of other politicians, businessmen, scholars, ministers, and writers formed the Clapham Circle and intentionally set about impacting the culture for Christ.”

Creating the Better Hour contains essays by modern-day activists such as Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and Os Guinness, founder and senior fellow of the Trinity Forum. It explains what the Clapham Circle did to abolish slavery and reform morals in its time, lays out a number of contemporary ills such as sexual trafficking, and discusses what today’s reformers can learn from this nineteenth-century group.

PHC Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith speaks of his passions -- vocation and culture changing

“How did [the Clapham Circle] change culture? What did they do? Well, that’s what we’re studying in Christian Study Groups,” Veith told students in Convocation chapel on Monday morning.

During a phone interview, Stetson noted that he is “looking forward to coming down to PHC to pass on some of the things I’ve learned working with difficult issues in the public square.”

“I’ve learned a lot from Wilberforce,” he said, highlighting an essay by J. Douglas Holladay in the first third of Better Hour that outlines Wilberforce’s seven principles for success: faith, a sense of vocation, effort worked in common with others, belief in the power of ideas, personal endurance, genuine humanity, and the ability to forge strategic partnerships. One of Stetson’s projects, for example, has introduced a Bible literacy program into the public schools—43 states at last count—and has been featured on the cover of TIME magazine with the headline “Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public School.”

A Christian Study Group led by College President Dr. Graham Walker

“I think the particular value for a Christian college, or Christians in general, is that we need to understand how to engage in the public square,” said Stetson. “We do it very poorly today. [The Clapham Circle] reformed prisons, affected child labor laws, and abolished slavery. They turned a decadent world into a civilized one that became Victorian England.”

In contrast to this focused study, students will use their small-group time for personal devotions during the last half of the fall semester.

“This will give you an oasis of peace in an otherwise hectic time, and we hope it will lay the foundation for a life-long practice,” Veith announced to students.


Regular chapel messages will feature the book of Psalms, King David’s cries to God, also in accordance with the theme of personal devotions.