The History of McKenzie Study Center

In February 1979, McKenzie Study Center (named for its proximity to the McKenzie River) quietly arrived in Eugene, one block from the University of Oregon (UO) campus.

R. Wesley Hurd (Wes) had finished a seminary degree and had come to Eugene to start a Ph.D. program at the university. From early in the seventies, he had been thinking about the concept of a Christian study center—something like Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri in Switzerland. But he wanted to locate such a resource for teaching, research, outreach, and dialogue about Christianity where, as Luther put it, “the battle rages”—namely, near a secular university community.

Wes and his wife, Carol, were the first staff of McKenzie Study Center (MSC). Doug Groothuis, a recent UO graduate, became the first ministry intern. He joined the staff full time a year later, along with Greg Spencer, another UO graduate student. Carol’s sister and her husband, Doug and Diane Schell, launched a study center ministry in Gothenberg, Sweden. Together, Centrum for Kristna Studier and McKenzie Study Center formed Christian Alternatives, Inc.

MSC focused on reaching out to university students, teaching and discipling in the Christian worldview. The staff taught several courses in university classrooms, in both credit and non-credit formats; and they developed courses for university curricula that they offered to students who wanted to gain deeper understanding of such topics as intellectual history, the thought of C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, and the biblical view of love, sex, and marriage.

Also in 1979, Wes met Jack Crabtree and invited him to speak at a seminar for MSC. Jack, a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University, had been a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church (PBC) in Palo Alto, California, for eight years. While there, Jack had helped establish Scribe School, an institute for biblical languages, exegesis, and pastoral training. Scribe School proved very effective, making a deeply felt theological and spiritual impact on the lives of a number of young men and women. The relationship and friendship between Jack and Wes proved pivotal in the history of MSC.

In 1981, Jack joined the MSC staff with a desire to establish a fresh version of Scribe School in Eugene. The new program required more staff with skills in teaching biblical languages and interpretation. To meet that need, David Smith, Ron Julian, and Dick Booster—who had been Scribe School graduates and/or teachers—came from California to work with Jack. David Crabtree, Jack’s brother who already lived in Eugene and was a Scribe School graduate, also joined the teaching team. The new study program, called the MSC School of Biblical Exegesis opened its doors in 1982, offering full-time students an in-depth course in biblical, theological, and church historical studies; it emphasized hermeneutics, the study of interpretation as applied to the Bible.

Until the summer of 1981, MSC’s ministry had been located in a small two-story house on the corner of 18th Avenue and University Street. Adequate classroom and office space was a serious problem, and the staff had been looking for several months for another facility to meet that need. Then an unexpected but much needed “mega-miracle” arrived from God: a local foundation gave MSC a sorority building at the corner of 19th Avenue and University Street. From “out of the blue” God had provided what the study center desperately needed but had no earthly way of providing for itself—a 13,000-square-foot facility to meet the needs of offices, classrooms, and student residents. Several financial gifts, including a one-time foundation grant of $30,000, provided for a much needed renovation of the building’s interior.

From 1982 to 1987, three groups of students matriculated through the School of Exegesis. MSC’s other classes, seminars, and outreach efforts also continued, although some of the original MSC staff had departed to pursue other ministries. Because the School of Biblical Exegesis was not a degree-granting program, however, attracting enough students to support the program proved difficult, and the program was discontinued.

The MSC staff explored different ministry opportunities. In addition to its traditional “Tuesday Night Classes,” MSC offered Saturday conferences; developed seminars on such topics as education, homemaking, business, and sexual ethics; and produced two radio programs, In Search of Truth (with Jack Crabtree, Ron Julian, and host Tony Arlyn) and Christianity@Work (with Jack Crabtree and marriage-and-family therapist Christine Barber). MSC also launched its monthly newsletter, News & Views, and this website, both of which make the MSC ministry available to a much wider audience.

While continuing the MSC ministry after the School of Exegesis ended, the staff also pursued its own education, with the goal of preparing themselves to be able to offer a degree-granting program. Wes completed his Ph.D. in educational policy in 1988, Jack completed a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1992, and David completed a Ph.D. in history in 1995. During their years of teaching students to interpret and apply the Bible, the MSC teachers had seen a need for giving students a broader education, one that would provide the learning skills essential to understanding the Bible and other writings and to understanding life. Discussions (among the staff and with others whose lives MSC had touched) as to what should constitute such a program and, more generally, what should constitute a quality undergraduate education resulted in a program largely consonant with the “Great Books” colleges.

In September 1994, all the discussions came to fruition when Gutenberg College welcomed its first class of undergraduates. Gutenberg College, which offers a B.A. degree in liberal arts, has stayed true to its roots: most of its faculty are also on the staff of McKenzie Study Center; and consonant with the goals of MSC, the college seeks to foster a love for learning and a desire to follow the truth wherever it leads.

Although McKenzie Study Center gave birth to Gutenberg College, accreditation and licensing concerns prompted a “business” reorganization. Gutenberg College, Inc., thus became the “umbrella” under which the undergraduate program, McKenzie Study Center, and now Art Project operate. In 2001, McKenzie Study Center and Art Project became institutes of Gutenberg College.

Over the years, many talented and dedicated people have labored alongside the MSC staff; some have joined the staff themselves for a season; many others have helped while pursuing other vocations. The result is that today the McKenzie Study Center ministry is alive and well. In addition to the ministry opportunities mentioned above, MSC teachers have published three books: Righteous Sinners (1998) by Ron Julian; The Language of God: A Commonsense Approach to Understanding and Applying the Bible (2001) by David Crabtree, Jack Crabtree, and Ron Julian; and The Most Real Being: A Biblical and Philosophical Defense of Divine Determinism (2004, Gutenberg Press) by Jack Crabtree. And through this website and the activities it describes, MSC continues to promote an accurate understanding of the Bible’s teaching, conformity to that teaching’s truth, and uncompromised commitment to biblical Christianity as a philosophy of life.

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