Blogs - Summit Announcements
October 23, 2012
Summit Ministries: Chronicling Ideas and Their Consequences
The average visitor to Manitou Springs, Colorado, which The New York Times has called a “Hippie Mayberry,” might be surprised that this quaint mountain hamlet is the place where 30,000 young leaders have been trained over the course of fifty years to resolutely champion a Christian worldview. How it happened is a remarkable story of God’s providence and the power of biblical ideas to shape culture.
A Time of Confrontation
To better understand why Summit Ministries was founded in the first place, it’s helpful to look back in time to see when and why the influence of Christianity on American culture began to diminish. Many historians see 1925 as the beginning of Christianity’s gradual exit from the public square. That was the year the Scopes trial, funded by the American Civil Liberties Union, pitted the teaching of creationism against the teaching of evolution. Although the verdict went against the teaching of evolution, the media and the court of public opinion viewed William Jennings Bryan’s attempted defense of the biblical account of creation with scorn, portraying Christians as anti-intellectual.
Eight years later in 1933, the American Humanist Association published its first Humanist Manifesto, which stated among other things that “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created” and that “man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of continuous process.”
The backlash from the Scopes trial cowed many Christians into keeping their mouths shut about issues of import, such as politics, science, and economics. Many came to believe that their non-involvement was actually noble: that to dirty their hands with such issues was unspiritual. Groups like the American Humanist Association were all too happy to reinforce that impression.
And all the while, the menace posed by the philosophies of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin steadily made inroads into American government, academia, and the entertainment industry.
The Battle against Communism
The Summit story actually began with Australian Fred Schwarz, a medical doctor who traveled the U.S. explaining the communist worldview during the 1950s and ‘60s. His articulate presentations even brought him before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities in 1957. One of his speaking-tour stops was Hope College in Holland, Michigan, where David Noebel was a student. Noebel, known affectionately at Summit as Doc, was fascinated by Schwarz’s presentation and afterward approached him to ask questions. As a result of his keen interest, he was encouraged by the president of the college to form a study group for his fellow students. Doc did so and ultimately began working with The Christian Crusade, run by evangelist Billy James Hargis. Doc traveled around the U.S., hosting crusades and bringing attention to the ways that America’s culture was under attack from counterfeit worldviews.
Doc chose 1 Chronicles 12:32 as one of his theme verses: “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.” Doc’s — and now Summit’s — longstanding goal is to train young people to understand our times and to prepare and motivate them to know what they ought to do as Christians in a culture that no longer sees Christianity as relevant.
The Noebels: Pioneers of Christian Worldview
Doc realized that communism was widespread because it was evangelistic — just as biblical Christianity was. He conducted a thorough examination of the communist worldview and found that it had a well-articulated position in each of the ten subject areas critical to students’ success at college: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, politics, economics, history, and law. Ultimately, this approach of “all worldviews are religious, and some are evangelistic” helped clarify the battle of ideas raging for the hearts and minds of the rising generation. Today, Doc’s worldview model represents a highly respected, in-depth, robust mental model of the world of ideas. Millions of people have been influenced by it.
In 1962, Noebel and a couple of his Christian Crusade colleagues discovered the mountain-flanked former resort known as the Grand View Hotel in Manitou Springs, Colorado. After a friend tipped him off about the property’s delinquency status with the IRS, Doc saw it as the perfect place to host youth education conferences, and the Christian Crusade bought it for $20,000 in back taxes. It would soon become known as the Summit Hotel. The Christian Crusade eventually morphed into American Christian College, a four-year liberal arts college located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Doc and his wife, Alice, had moved. Through a series of difficult circumstances Doc became the college president and oversaw the closing of its Tulsa campus in 1977. To this day, though, Summit handles the business of American Christian College, which mainly involves securing its students’ transcripts. In fact, the name of Summit Ministries is legally “The American Christian College, Inc., dba Summit Ministries.”
Doc steered Summit courses to present the trends and events of the day with a biblical critique and perspective. The original curriculum included several hours of training in the morning, several more hours in the afternoon, a lengthy evening session, and a film about global communism. Doc’s sessions included an hour of Bible lecture each day, pointing out major people, places, and doctrines from Genesis to Revelation. From Summit’s earliest days students were required to pass several examinations in order to graduate.
Summit grew slowly in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The classes of students fit comfortably on the old hotel’s main dance floor (now the lecture classroom). Guests and parents were seated in the orchestra mezzanine. All of that changed in 1988 when a student named Ryan Dobson attended a session in Manitou. Summit’s remarkable influence on Ryan’s life led his father, Dr. James Dobson, to record two memorable radio broadcasts with Doc and some former students on his popular Focus on the Family radio show. The interest was overwhelming — approximately 14,000 people requested information about Summit.
The overflow of students led to an expansion of Summit courses, first at the Ridge Haven Conference Center in North Carolina, and then at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. Summit programs have also been held at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Green Lake Conference Center in Green Lake, Wisconsin.
Doc was not alone in the work at Summit. In the early days, the entire Noebel family — David, Alice, Joy, and Brent — did much of the work themselves. Students would often see Doc, hammer or screwdriver in hand, ready to take care of any maintenance situation that arose. Alice served as cook and laundered the linens between sessions.
The Noebels’ son, Brent, and daughter, Joy, were also greatly involved in the ministry. Joy used her interior design talents to great effect. Brent came on strong in the late ‘90s and early 2000s with a campaign to get Bibles, The Jesus Film, and Christian flags into the Sudan. Brent collected donations from Summit students and passed the money on to missionary Peter Hammond, who delivered the goods deep into the Sudan at great personal risk, reaching even into the area of the Nuba Mountains. Brent, although blind, left a great legacy at the Summit and in the Sudan. He was an inspiration to countless young adults as they saw him pressing toward the mark in spite of his painful and weakening physical condition due to diabetes. There were times that Brent was so weak he had to be carried to the auditorium. But he never wanted to miss evangelism night. He passed away in 2002.
Doc’s Vision: ‘Something for the Whole Christian Community’
Though the 12-day student conferences are seen as the heart of Summit, Doc’s vision was always more expansive. “My goal was to have something for the whole Christian community, from first grade through graduate school,” he said recently. Achieving this lifelong dream began its fulfillment in 1991 with the publication of Understanding the Times, a textbook based on Doc’s worldview lecture series. In its first incarnation, its more than 900 pages covered the biblical Christian worldview, the secular humanist worldview, and the Marxist/Leninist worldview. An appendix explored the cosmic/humanist (new age) worldview. A second edition streamlined the chapters and added coverage of the Islamic worldview and the postmodern worldview. Altogether Doc has authored nine books, which have circulated by the hundreds of thousands, with Understanding the Times alone having more than 500,000 copies in print — making it one of the best selling textbooks of all time. The late Dr. D. James Kennedy declared it “one of the two most important books to be published in the second half of the 20th century.”
Over the last twenty years, Summit staff have taken the principles of the successful 12-day experience and Doc’s Understanding the Times curriculum and arranged them into curricula for Christian elementary school, middle school, and high school students. These programs offer the Summit course to more than 20,000 students per year. Put another way, the 12-day program took fifty years to reach the milestone of 30,000 students trained. These curricular offerings compose a complete K-12 biblical worldview training course of study and make it possible to achieve every eighteen months the initial impact that took Summit fifty years to generate.
Additionally, Summit Semester and Summit Oxford, two extended study programs aimed at sutdents who have completed a 12-day summer conference, have provided more in-depth training for college-aged students and post-college-aged students respectively. “The goal was to encourage and mentor students to earn their master and doctoral degrees and then become an influence in the educational system,” Doc said. “The truth is that has already come to pass to a great extent. We have an expanding track record of Summit students who have gone to Oxford and then earned their Ph.D.s. Everyone thinks you have to change culture by the millions. No, no, no. You have to do it by the select few. The math doesn’t make it happen.”
Summit’s Growth in Facilities
As Summit’s work grew, more and more space was needed to house and office Summit employees, serve guests and faculty members, and conduct programming year round. Thanks to a generous bequest from the Cartwright family and others, Summit was able to purchase a three-acre cabin complex across the street from the Summit Hotel and several homes in the surrounding neighborhood. These facilities provide housing for guests and year-round staff as well as office space. These acquisitions bring the total number of buildings under management to forty, necessitating a year-round maintenance staff.
Summit’s Leadership Transition
On September 30, 2011, with both sadness and joy, the Summit Ministries Board of Directors accepted the resignation of David and Alice Noebel so that they could begin enjoying their well-earned retirement. The board unanimously elected Dr. Jeff Myers, a Summit alum who had served as a lecturer, curriculum developer, board member, and chairman, to be Summit’s new president. Dr. Myers began his official duties on October 1, 2011.
Even as we prepare for a new, exciting season of ministry, we recognize that we do so while standing on the shoulders of giants. Doc, to us, is one of those giants. Each one of us recognizes that we have become what we are today in large measure because of his influence.