Randolph Crump Miller
By James Riley Estep, Jr. and Kevin E. Lawson
Randolph Crump Miller (1910-2002), Episcopalian priest, was a theologian, educator, author of many books, editor of a prestigious journal, and a guiding light for the Religious Education Association from its Golden Anniversary in 1953 to the end of the 20th century. Just as George Albert Coe was the dominant figure in religious education during the first half of the century, so Miller occupied that position in the second half. The difference between them, however, was that Miller saw religious education as a theological discipline, not one of the social sciences. He was an advocate for theological integration of the Bible into Mainline Protestant religious education. His basic tenet: "Theology in the background, grace and faith in the foreground." Churchman, professor, author, speaker, and editor, his active career enabled him to impact religious education throughout the latter half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. Miller had a contagious faith, a warm personality, and an ecumenical spirit, and because of his extensive work in North America and around the world he can be remembered and honored as a world-class theologian and educator.
Early Life, Education and Family
Randolph Crump Miller was born on October 1, 1910, in Fresno, California, the oldest of three children of Ray Oakley Miller and Laura Belle Crump Miller. His father was born on a West Virginia farm and became a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). His mother was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was the daughter of a coal mine owner. After serving churches in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Fresno, California, his father became Episcopalian and was the pastor of St. James Church in Los Angeles for nearly thirty years.
Miller had written about his father: “My father’s religious outlook was a major influence. He was an intelligent, liberal, Episcopal clergyman.” His father had written a book in 1917 entitled Modernist Studies in the Life of Jesus. Although the word, “modernist,” was a fighting word at the time, his father defended it as “a use of natural and scientific tests in religious thinking,” but “not without a genuine sympathy for and an appreciation and appropriation of the fundamental elements of idealism and faith.”
Miller’s mother was described as a healthy, outgoing, athletic person, who taught his father how to drive. It came as a great blow when his mother suddenly became ill with multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair for the last twelve years of her life. Miller was at Pomona College when the illness first struck, and it caused him to struggle with the problem of good and evil and the nature of God. At college Miller was helped by Professor Robert Denison and was introduced to thinkers such as William James, John Dewey and Henry Nelson Wieman.
Miller was active in his father’s church and first felt a call to ministry, not in some mystical or supernatural way, but because he heard a dull sermon preached by a minister in a church in a little town in the Santa Cruz mountains, where he went with a friend, Ben Lomond, the summer after finishing high school.
After he graduated from Pomona College in 1931, Miller did graduate study at Yale University, where his interest in philosophy was developed further. He took courses taught by Professors H. Richard Niebuhr, Luther Weigle, and Hugh Hartshorne and was inspired by Robert Calhoun’s course on the history of Christian doctrine, but the teaching of Douglas Clyde Macintosh created a life-long passion for empirical theology. In 1919 Macintosh had written a book, Theology as an Empirical Science, which made a profound impact on Miller, and this led to his doctoral dissertation on Henry Nelson Wieman and the Chicago school of process theology. Miller completed the dissertation while he was a special student at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and received the Ph.D. from Yale in 1936. Later in life he wrote:-
“I think the major directions of my thinking were pretty well established by 1936. The influence of such men as my father, Denison, and Macintosh was strongest, among those whom I knew personally, and my reading of Wieman, James, and a few others rounded out my philosophy of religion. I am obviously an empiricist and a liberal, and I liked both labels and still do.”
While at Cambridge he received an invitation to teach at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific – for room and board! The parish ministry had been considered his real vocation, and teaching in a seminary had never occurred to him, but he accepted the invitation immediately. He moved to Berkeley, California, and prepared to teach courses in Christian ethics and the philosophy of religion. He also became a chaplain to Episcopalian students at the University of California. He was ordained an Episcopal priest on January 6, 1937.
On June 9, 1938, Miller married Muriel Hallett, whom he had first met at the beginning of his student work in Berkeley. She was a senior at the University of California, and as a student at St. Margaret’s House the following year she had taken one of Miller’s courses. Muriel used to say that Randy would take her out on a date and quiz her about the course. He wrote: “If she didn’t get something, there was something wrong with my teaching. She was a wonderful student, for she always did all the reading and got her papers in on time.” For their honeymoon the Millers traveled across the country by car. Randy and Muriel Miller had four daughters, Barbara, Phyllis, Carol, and Muriel, but their marriage ended after ten years. Miller wrote about the death of his wife in the preface to his book, Religion Makes Sense:
“On May 13, 1948 my wife died suddenly from poliomyelitis, leaving me with four young daughters and a legacy of love and warmth and help which defies description. Muriel Hallett Miller was for ten years the chief source of my inspiration and creative ability. Her outgoing personality permeated every aspect of our home and work and play together.”
Miller was blessed with a marvelous mother-n-law, who helped care for the children and keep the household organized. In a brief autobiographical reference, Miller described the next event:
“I was in Virginia for some lectures, due to a chance invitation after others had refused. While there, also by chance, I met a young widow. Our meeting was so brief that normally no one would notice it. Yet both of us saw the significance of that occasion. There was some kind of disclosure to which we both responded. Call it chance, call it intuition, call it love. Within a year we were married.”
On June 16, 1950, Miller and Elizabeth Fowlkes were married in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth or “Lib” had a son, Frank, and a daughter, Rives, from her first marriage. Thus, the newly married couple had a combined household of six children. Anyone who has been privileged to read the collection of unpublished letters to his children over several decades is impressed by the busy Miller household. He concluded his volume of letters with these words: “I think that these have been wonderful years for all of us and as I re-read what I have written I realize anew what a fortunate person I have been in both my wife and my children….Our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren have done us proud, and we are proud. And we love you all.”
Philosophy of religion and ethics were the subjects that Miller taught at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and it was not until 1940 that he was asked to teach for the first time in Christian education. He had never taken any classes on the subject and would have preferred to teach theology. He wrote: “I never understood why I was not allowed to teach theology, except that I was considered dangerous.” Miller credited his wife, Muriel, for sharing her notes from a course in Christian education she had taken at Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, which was taught by Sandford Fleming.
1940 was a turning point for this theologian-turned-educator. He completed his work as an Episcopal chaplain and became vicar of St. Alban’s Parish, a small store-front church in
Albany, California, which he built up into a congregation of over 250 communicants. Randy was quoted as saying at St. Albans, “The crying of a baby is a more joyful noise to the Lord than the snoring of a saint.” He soon became chairman of the department of Christian education of the Diocese of California and joined the editorial committee of the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
Yale Divinity School invited Miller in 1951 to teach in the field of religious education, joining Paul Vieth, who was the Horace Bushnell Professor of Christian Nurture. This created a dilemma for Miller because he wanted to teach theology and philosophy. However, as he looked back over the past decade, he realized that he was in great demand as a religious educator and in no demand as a theologian. He was giving lectures coast to coast in the field. His 1943 book, A Guide for Church School Teachers, was in a second edition and a more recent book, The Clue to Christian Education, was outselling his theological book for lay people two to one. Dean Liston Pope at Yale Divinity School made it clear that they wanted a person trained as he was and that they wanted him to make theology relevant in courses in education. Miller wrote:
“Chiefly, I had to decide whether I ought to spend my full time in Christian education, and this I was not sure of. I would rather teach theology (and this is still true), but it looked as if everything was pushing me in the direction of Christian education.”
Miller went to Yale Divinity School and was professor on the Luther A. Weigle Fund. With Paul Vieth as a colleague, he developed a comprehensive curriculum and worked with both B.D. and Ph.D. students. His list of courses included: “Introduction to Christian Education,” “Church and Family,” “The Church School,” “Curriculum Construction,” “Materials of Christian Education,” and advanced seminars such as “Theology and Christian Education,” and “Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” After Hugh Hartshorne retired in 1954, Miller continued his course on “Growth in Religion.” When Vieth retired in 1963, Miller took over the Horace Bushnell chair in Christian Nurture, and Iris Cully joined Miller on the YDS faculty from 1965 to 1972.
Miller directed the doctoral studies of students who became leaders in the religious education field, including Sara Little, Will Kennedy, Neely McCarter, Charles Melchert, Lloyd Sheneman, and David Steward.
In addition to being a professor at Yale Divinity School, Miller served as director of Christian education at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Haven and later at Trinity Church on the Green. As a consultant and author for the Cloister series of the Episcopal Church, he had revised the course Climbers of the Steep Ascent and had written The Challenge of the Church. He also contributed to the development of the Seabury Series, wrote the foundational paper, and revised the resource book, More Than Words, before it was published.
On his first sabbatical from Yale in 1959-60, Miller and his wife studied at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, and visited many centers in Europe. During this time he also wrote a book, Christian Nurture and the Church, and a study guide for the World Council of Churches. His sabbatical in 1966-67 led him to the Far East, the Middle East, and to teaching assignments in India and Lebanon. Out of this trip also came the book, The Language Gap and God. A third sabbatical trip in 1970 was under the auspices of the World Council of Christian Education, and it took him and his wife to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. These trips overseas have greatly enriched his teaching and writing and have provided many opportunities for lecturing and speaking to educators from many countries. His last sabbatical in 1976 was at the Claremont School of Theology in California.
Through the years Miller had been a visiting professor at Harvard, Episcopal Theological School, Union, Berkeley, Serampore (India), United Theological College (British Columbia), New York University, Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and other institutions. He received the honorary D.D. degree from Pacific School of Religion and the Episcopal Divinity School and the Doctorate of Sacred Theology from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
He was a seminar leader at the Golden Anniversary of the Religious Education Association in 1953 in Pittsburgh and served for three years as chairman of the Board of Directors. In 1958 he became editor of the Association’s journal, Religious Education, and his twenty-year tenure was the longest in its history. The journal had been established in 1906 and was read by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish educators in forty countries. Billed as “a platform for the free discussion of religious issues and their bearing on education,” the journal was a springboard for Miller into the challenging issues of the latter part of the 20th century, including civil rights, ecology and the environment, and the ecumenical movement. At conferences and conventions Miller was constantly on the lookout for papers and presentations that would address these issues in a sound and scholarly, yet understandable way.
Miller contributed to the Association and the field of religious education in many ways. From the 1950s he was active in the professors and researchers section of the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches, and attended their annual mid-winter meetings, frequently presenting papers. When this section was reconstituted in 1970 as the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education, he continued as a leader. When one of his former students, Boardman Kathan, left the Religious Education Association executive position in 1982 after twelve years, Miller was appointed executive secretary and served for three years. His relationship with the journal, Religious Education, did not cease when he retired as Editor; he served as the managing editor of the journal until 1997, when the R.E.A. office left the YDS campus to go to Atlanta. In this capacity he worked with three editors: John Westerhoff, Rabbi Jack Spiro, and Rabbi Hanan Alexander.
Miller had one of the finest collections of jazz records, including a first recording of a Scott Joplin piano rag. He lectured in many places on “theology and jazz” and kept up with new developments in the field. The first “jazz vespers,” done by the Singleton Palmer band in St.Louis in 1961 at a mid-winter meeting of the NCC Division of Christian Education, was a singular experience of pleasure for him. Other hobbies included baseball, football, car races, and swimming. He gave up tennis when his appendix started to act up.
Randolph Crump Miller was preeminently a theologian. His theology was shaped and tested by his studies and by his personal and pastoral experiences. Theological fads came and went, but Miller grew and developed as a process theologian par excellence. He wrote: “Process thinking provides a metaphysical framework for all of our thinking. It gives us a view of the cosmos that accounts for the working of God, for the development of novelty, chance, and freedom, for the experiences of suffering and evil as well as those of transformation and joy, for the measuring of living in community and for the validity of being an individual, for understanding that all existence is a matter of becoming and perishing in the context of a continuity underwritten by God, for grasping the meaning of the past and the present as they point to an open future-open even to God himself.”
In his book, The American Spirit in Theology, Miller traced the development of process theology, which he called a distinctive American contribution. The significant elements of this approach were radical empiricism, pragmatism, and pluralism, building upon the insights of William James, John Dewey, and Alfred North Whitehead. Miller was pleased that other theologians, Protestant and Catholic, had adopted the process model. He also pointed out that this approach was helpful in meeting the problems of racism, sexism, and the third world, since process theology was not culture-bound or a closed system. Miller was called a theologian of both process and relationship, and he was indebted to Martin Buber and Reuel Howe, among others, for their contributions to his thought.
Miller had been both a pastor and a teacher through his professional career. His teaching had been filled with concern for the personal growth of his students; his pastoral work had been enriched by educational interests. In his person he tried to bridge the perennial gap between seminary and church, between clergy and laity, pulpit and pew. This commitment to the local church impressed students who wondered whether there was any practical application for the philosophy and theology discussed in the classroom. It was reassuring to know that the theories had been field-tested, and that the professor himself was on the “front-line” of the skirmish. His books on Christian education grew out of many workshops and institutes with volunteer teachers as well as trained clergy and directors, and in manuscript form they were studied in class.
For a seminary student and young pastor during those years there was a sense of excitement as we shared in the development of these books at Yale Divinity School and as we sought to put them to work at local parishes. There was also the frustration of counseling untrained teachers who wanted a step-by-step lesson for the next Sunday morning and not a theological understanding of God. Miller shared these concerns and appreciated the small gains and victories we reported in family worship, preparation for baptism or confirmation, adult education, and parent-youth dialogue. As both pastor and teacher, it was the spirit and personality of Miller that was communicated, and his faith was contagious.
Miller retired from Yale Divinity School in 1981, but not before he was presented with a festschrift edited by Iris V. and Kendig Brubaker Cully. Entitled Process and Relationship: Issues in Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education, the book was a compilation of essays by sixteen people. Five of the authors were former students: Neely McCarter, Sara Little, Charles Melchert, David Steward (along with his wife, Margaret) and Boardman Kathan. Six were professors: Iris V. Cully, James Michael Lee, Ewert Cousins, Rosemary Ruether, Howard Grimes, Donald Miller. The rest were editors and administrators as well as teachers: Kendig Brubaker Cully, Reuel Howe, David Hunter, and Theodore McConnell,
In his Introduction, Kendig Brubaker Cully wrote: “In a work designed to celebrate the career of a particular person it would be natural to seek a thematic structure derived from interests, concerns, and competencies of the one being honored. Thus it was fairly evident from the beginning of the planning of this festschrift for Randolph Crump Miller that its contributors should be asked to address themselves to matters related to Miller’s primary intellectual and pragmatic thrusts. Two in number, they are most aptly designated as process and relationship.”
Miller died of cancer on June 13, 2002, in Hamden, Connecticut. The memorial service was held on June 17 at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, and it was led by Lansing Hicks, a fellow Episcopalian and a colleague at Yale Divinity School. Music was provided by the Galvanized Jazz Band, and a reception was held at the Lawn Club, the site of many parties and gatherings of the Miller family. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, five daughters, as well as his brother and sister, seventeen grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son, Frank Fowlkes.
One way of looking at his prolific career as an author and editor is to divide it into four periods. The first period covered the decade from 1940 to 1950 and is characterized by a generalist approach to religion, reflecting ethical, pastoral, and educational concerns. His first book, What We Can Believe, in 1941 is addressed to the modern person who wants to know what Christianity has to offer during days of tragedy and crisis. His second book, A Guide for Church School Teachers, grew out of a series of lectures he was asked to give at leadership institutes in parishes in Berkeley and San Francisco. It was in his third book, Christianity and the Contemporary Scene, coedited by Dean Henry H. Shires, that he laid down the challenge he has responded to ever since: “A theology for Christian education is needed. The objectives, theory and methods of Christian education need to be undergirded and perhaps altered by a more self-conscious theological reconstruction.” His The Clue to Christian Education was the beginning of an answer and was the first of a trilogy of books published by Charles Scribner’s. Three other books were also published in this period and included reworked sermons and meditations preached at St. Alban’s Church or elsewhere: A Symphony of the Christian Year, Religion Makes Sense, and Be Not Anxious.
A second period of writing, 1952-1965, is characterized by a more specialized, systematic attention to Christian education, roughly coinciding with his first period at Yale Divinity School. In The Clue to Christian Education he had tried “to work out the relevance of Christian theology in terms of the relationship experienced by various age groups.” For Miller the clue was “the truth about God in relation to persons.” Theology was in the background and grace and faith were in the foreground in religious education.
In the second book of the trilogy, Biblical Theology and Christian Education, he looked at the biblical record of the mighty acts of God as the source of theology. He wrote: “Of course, all Christian theology is based on the Bible, but I have been concerned that the Bible itself illuminate the relationships of daily living in terms of the resources of the gospel.” For Miller the mighty acts of God were Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, Consummation, and this understanding was corroborated by G. Ernest Wright’s book, God Who Acts, and Bernhard Anderson’s Unfolding Drama of the Bible.
In his Christian Nurture and the Church, Miller explored the significance of the nature of the church for Christian education. His basic thesis was that genuine Christian education takes place within a Christian community. The church provides an environment for real encounter between persons which gives meaning to key concepts of Christian living like faith, love, hope and grace.
During these years a textbook, Education for Christian Living, was written to serve as a guide for courses in religious education in colleges and seminaries. The textbook was revised for a second edition. Another book, Your Children’s Religion, appeared during this period as a guide for parents, and Youth Considers Parents as People was written for young people to help them understand the needs and developmental stages of their elders. A smaller book, I Remember Jesus, was an attempt to present an eye-witness account of the ministry of Jesus through the eyes of a boy of the time who in later life recalls the story.
The mid-1960s up to 1980 marked the beginning of his third period. It can be characterized as a period of return to some philosophical themes of the first period on a more mature and sophisticated level. Here are the fruits of a lifetime of work and experience. It is no surprise that in these years that there should appear a complete revision of Be Not Anxious under the title, Living With Anxiety, or that he should choose the subject of death for full treatment in Live Until You Die, or that after exploring the language of relationships in many ways, he should examine the language of words in the book, The Language Gap and God. In this period he produced The American Spirit in Theology, a book which had been “in process” ever since his college philosophy course and his doctoral dissertation. He also issued a rewriting of his very first book under the title, This We Can Believe.
The fourth and final period of writing in the 1980s and 1990s saw a return to his passion for process thought and empirical theology. It was during this period that James Michael Lee, founder and publisher of Religious Education Press, turned to Miller as the “go-to-guy” in the theology of Christian education. They had collaborated before, when Lee was on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame and his publishing house was in Mishawaka, Indiana. Miller had been asked in 1977 to write a chapter in the book, Religious Education We Need, on the subject of “Continuity and Contrast in the Future of Religious Education.” In this fourth period, after Lee had become a professor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and moved the Religious Education Press there, Miller was asked to write two books, The Theory of Christian Education Practice, and Empirical Theology: A Handbook, and serve as editor of a third, Theologies of Religious Education in 1995. In addition, seven of the nine books with chapters written by Miller in this period were published by Lee’s publishing house.
Lee explained his choice of an editor in the preface to the 1995 book which Miller compiled: “In order that this book offer the strongest possible case for the proposition that religious education is a branch of theology, it was necessary for me to find a person who is eminent in the field of religious education, who is knowledgeable about theology in general and major theologies in particular, and who is passionately committed to the proposition that religious education is a branch of theology. My choice was obvious: Randolph Crump Miller. More than any religious educationist in the twentieth century, Miller has consistently and forcefully advocated the theological approach to religious education.”
Besides the three books written and edited by Miller during this period that were published by Religious Education Press, he contributed many chapters in books and articles. It needs to be added that Miller wrote several pieces about the development of his thought. Mercer University Press in its Highlands Institute Series in 1993 published Miller’s essay, “How I got that way: An intellectual a utobiography,” in a volume, New Essays in Religious Naturalism , edited by W. Creighton Peden and Larry E. Axel. Earlier, in 1983, Miller wrote a chapter, “How I became a religious educator – Or did I?” in the book, Modern Masters of Religious Education, edited by Marlene Mayr. His .last published essay was on “Bible, theology, and multicultural religious education” in the book, Multicultural Religious Education, published by the Religious Education Press in 1997.
In addition to some comments on his life and work in earlier writings, Miller wrote important autobiographical chapters in two books later in his life. In the volume, Modern Masters of Religious Education, he reflected on his transformation from a theologian to a religious educator. The offer to come to Yale Divinity School to teach courses in Christian education was seen as a change in vocation. He described it as a move from a theologian who gave religious education a high priority to a religious educator with some theological roots.
The change did not come about suddenly, but as a result of some significant events and moments. He had been teaching a course in Christian education since 1940, his book to guide Church School teachers was in a second edition, and he had joined the editorial committee of the Episcopal Protestant Church to help develop the new Seabury Series. In 1948 he presented a paper on theology and education to the editorial committee and it became the first chapter of his 1950 book, The Clue to Christian Education. On the committee were outstanding educators such as Adelaide Case, Dora Chaplin, Reuel Howe, Charles Kean and Theodore Wedel. They also consulted with leaders from other denominations, including James Smart of the Presbyterians and Frances Eastman of the Congregational Christian Churches.
The 1940s was a heady, exciting time of theological reconstruction in religious education. New curriculum materials were emerging, and two books were published which stimulated widespread debate. H. Shelton Smith of Duke University had written Faith and Nurture which challenged the liberal underpinnings of the religious education movement. Harrison Elliott, who had succeeded George Albert Coe at Union Theological Seminary, wrote a vigorous defense in his book, Can Religious Education Be Christian? For years students in introductory courses would be asked to critique and contrast the two books.
In his chapter Miller expressed disappointment that the new Seabury Series was a financial failure and was used in only one-third of Episcopalian parishes. But he expressed great satisfaction in his twenty-year tenure as editor of the journal, Religious Education, especially because of the many special symposia and convention issues. He also described the pleasure of his sabbatical trips to other parts of the world, of meeting Ian Ramsey and Basil Yeaxlee of Great Britain, of writing the first draft of The Language Gap and God at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon, and of teaching at Serampore in India.
The greatest enjoyment in teaching at Yale Divinity School was working with Ph.D. students in the graduate program which had been developed by Luther Weigle and Paul Vieth. This was a partnership between YDS and Yale’s department of education. After the department was abolished in 1968, graduate degrees were given through the department of religion. Miller remembered that the last student to receive the Ph.D. in Religious Education was Charles Melchert.
After he retired, Miller lamented the decrease in the number of courses in Christian education and the number of faculty members. After Paul Vieth retired in 1963 Miller was joined in the faculty by Iris Cully, and he was helped by visiting professors D. Campbell Wyckoff and Kendig B. Cully. Letty Russell also taught a few courses. Dwayne Huebner followed Randy as the Horace Bushnell Professor of Christian Nurture, but fewer courses were taught.
At the end of the chapter, Miller mentioned the festschrift which had been edited by the Cullys, writing: “Boardman Kathan concluded with a personal biographical sketch. In it, he ties in an interpretation of my position with events in my life, and does so with accuracy and appreciation.”
He also explained his delayed retirement because the State of Connecticut had changed the law regarding mandatory retirement. It was assumed that he would retire in 1979, but the temptation to continue was appealing to Dean Colin Williams, so Miller had two more years before fully retiring in 1981.
Miller’s most extensive reflections on his work as Editor and managing editor of the journal, Religious Education, appeared in an article he wrote for a 1996 festschrift with the title It Takes a Congregation: The Entire Church Does The Educating. He commented on the many subjects, themes and symposia which had been published, along with convention issues and several special issues. His favorite symposia were on “Religious Education Post Mortem Dei” and “Process Theology and Religious Education.” Miller concluded that his twenty years as Editor were fulfilling in many ways. He wrote: “I was able to keep up on the best scholarship in religious education. I met many people in the field and corresponded with many more.”
In a chapter in another book, “How I got that way: An intellectual autobiography,” Miller raised two questions. One was: How did I end up with an empirical, pragmatic and pluralistic
philosophy? The other was: How did I fit this in with membership and priesthood in the Protestant Episcopal Church?
To answer the first question, Miller reiterated the influence of books by William James and Alfred North Whitehead, the teaching and writing of Douglas Clyde Macintosh, and his doctoral dissertation on Henry Nelson Wieman and the Chicago school of theology. He recognized that his theological training had given him an approach to education that differed from that of many professionals in the field. His dual interest in theology and education stayed alive throughout his life.
As far as the other question was concerned, Miller described his acceptance in his denomination through the invitation to teach at an Episcopal seminary, to work as a chaplain to Episcopalian students, to serve an Episcopal parish, and to join committees of both the California diocese and the national body. In the chapter he filled in more details regarding the events in his life, his teaching, his writings, his family, and his sabbaticals.
Contributions to Christian Education
Randolph Crump Miller has been described as "two parts of theology (one being philosophy) and one part of psychology firmly mixed together" (Murphy 1964, p. 4), and in more recent years as the clue-to-the-clue (Little 1978, S67). His academic life of teaching, writing, lecturing, and providing leadership for Christian educators (for example, his continual role at the Religious Education Association) has spanned over six decades of involvement.
No other religious educator of the middle of the twentieth-century deserves acclaim equal to Randolph Crump Miller. What he established in the 1950's and 1960's as precedents, in both theology and education, are today foundational assumptions. In short, over the course of his professional career Miller has moved from the trend setter to the elder statesman of Christian religious education. Burgess (1996, 10) describes Miller as representing a "mid-century mainline model," voicing a moderate alternative between the extreme poles of the "liberal" and "evangelical/kerygmatic" models of religious education. His impact and influence on a generation of Christian educators is self-evident; from mainline Protestant educators, e.g. Sara Little (who studied with him at Yale), to evangelical educators, e.g. Larry Richards. In his earlier volume, Burgess (1975, 94-97) labeled Miller as "the most influential theorist" in the category of "Contemporary Theological Theoretical Approach to Religious Education," which has as its antecedents Horace Bushnell and John Dewey. In short, in the history of contemporary Christian education, Miller is one of its founding fathers.
The significance of Miller must be understood within his historical context. Preceding Miller's teaching and writing career, leaders in Christian religious education spanned the spectrum from Calvinistic to neo-orthodox Barthians to classical liberal. Three significant formative individuals in Miller's approach to Christian education were Horace Bushnell, George Albert Coe, and H. Shelton Smith.
Miller's concept of Christian education held the assumptions of Horace Bushnell, but actually started with Coe (The Social Theory of Religious Education, 1917), who taught Elliot (Can Religious Education be Christian?, 1940), which was rebutted by Smith (Faith and Nurture, 1941), but where does Randolph Crump Miller enter the scenario? Miller's first significant work, The Clue to Christian Education (1950), was written in response to Smith's Faith and Nurture (1942). "I have been concerned about the apparent failure of Christian educators to take seriously into account the problem of the relation of the content of the Christian revelation to the best creative methods of teaching … the weakness of Christian educational philosophy, with H. Shelton Smith's Faith and Nurture being the chief stimulus to my thought …" (Miller 1950, vii emphasis added).
Miller was the religious education in response to Smith's challenge. Hence, Little would note that Miller "said the right thing at the right time… he brought to a close a decade of conflict… After The Clue, the question was no longer whether theology has a place in religious education, but rather what theology should be adopted and how it was to function" (1978, S68). Miller himself confirmed this when interviewed. While commenting on his most recent work, Theologies of Religious Education (1995), he stated:
It shows what the connections are depending on their theology. And they are different for different people. Frequently it is an unconscious connection among religious educators. Religious educators that don't think theologically use theology and have developed their educational theory and practice. Most of us know who have had trouble doing this are saying "What is my theology and how does it affect my religious education outlook?" That question wasn't asked in the days of George Albert Coe! (Miller 1996 emphasis added)
Christian Education as Process, not Content
In 1943 Miller wrote in Christianity and the Contemporary Scene, "Someone has to make a Christian out of John Dewey" (Boys 1989, 71). Hence, he embarked on a mission to create a system of Christian education focused more on process, and less on content, more on the community, less on the individual. His approach attempts to wed Whitehead's process theology with Deweyan process education.
Miller criticized that students "master the content [of the Bible] in order to satisfy their teachers, … But normally they have found the Bible unsatisfactory as an answer to their immediate needs" (Miller Biblical Theology 1956, 1). He wrote in response to the "dissatisfaction [of teachers and parents] with the content-centered teaching … And … distrust of the do called life centered teaching" favoring "the organic relation between doctrine and experience, between content and method, between truth and life" (Miller 1950, 1,4 emphasis added). It was in this context of educational dissatisfaction that Miller introduced his new approach to Christian education.
It is the search for truth, the processing of experience, that Miller believed to be critical for Christian nurture. Sara Little (1978, S67) writes, "Truth is the experienced reality of relationship; theology the interpretation of that reality, informed by the biblical witness; education, the nurture of the experience and the activity of interpreting the meaning to be found there." Miller writes, "The educational process is a way of making suggestions from without, providing structures by which we can see the meaning of a seemingly unstructured experience, enabling a person to grasp the dynamic nature of God against the background view that is more static. The raw material of theology [remember: process theology] is experience, either our own or something we can appropriate" (Miller 1975, 278).
It must be remembered that Miller understood education as "a social process" (Miller 1950, 71), maintaining that "education is what happens to a person in community" (Miller 1961, 1). Specifically, Christian community is conducive to Christian education in all aspects of the Church's life, e.g. worship, preaching, missions, pastoral care, group activity, fellowship. For example, Miller writes that because the church must "translate" theological themes in adult faith into terms of childhood, "We have taken only a few great theological concepts and illustrations what they mean in this twentieth century on the level of adult thinking and experience and then have translated these great themes in terms of the experiences and capacities of children" (Miller 1950, 201). This was indeed later accomplished in his Biblical Theology and Christian Education (1956).
Miller's Four Principle Texts
While he has well over a hundred titles to his name, Miller is most recognized by four main works that demonstrate the significance of Miller's then radical thought on the subject of Christian education. They are as follows:
The Clue to Christian Education (1950) was the first full expression of Miller's con-viction concerning the role of the Bible in the process of "doing theology." As will be noted later the "clue," had a distinct implication for Miller's understanding of Christian nurture.
Biblical Theology and Christian Education (1956), presents the "biblical drama" sys-tematically, relating each major episode to learners of various ages. The Bible presents material "not in dogma or in theological propositions, but in terms of a drama" (Miller, Education for Christian Living 1956, 63).
Christian Nurture and the Church (1961), details how the Church is the permanent institution and context for Christian nurture, with attention given to other institutions that have profound influence on Christian nurture, e.g. the family, school, and community.
The Theory of Christian Education (1982) is Miller's last major work. It deals with the practical implications of the former three texts, i.e. a theoretical expression of theological convictions, and is virtually a consolidation of Miller's understanding of Christian education and Christian nurture as reflected in his previous writings.
The first three books have been described as "a trilogy studying the relationship of theology and doctrine to Christian education in the church" (Rushdoony 1962, 244; cf. Melconian 1962, 334); a description which Miller himself seems to acknowledge (1966, 269 fn. 2). For a list of Randolph Crump Miller's works through 1976, see Cully and Cully (1978, 124-133).
Miller's Theoretical Contribution
Sara Little (1978, S69-S73), a Yale disciple of Miller's, capsulized his "recurring themes" in educational theology and theory in her treatment of his life. She identifies four of them:
- The primacy of relationships, which Miller himself admits that his "work in Christian education has led me to emphasize what has been called a 'theology of relationships'"
- Experience and its interpretation; noting that "relationships are experienced. God's continuing activity in the processes of history is experienced. For Miller, interpreted experience "is education."
- The drama of redemption; which was the theme of Biblical Theology and Christian Education.
- Christian nurture and the fellowship of the Church; as Miller says, "The way to become a Christian is to enter the Church."
Addendum, Fall 2021
Boardman Kathan, a student of Miller’s and later a colleague in religious education teaching and leadership, summarizes Miller’s contributions to Christian Education as follows:
1. First and foremost, Miller advocated and embodied the theological foundations of religious education. His major contribution to the field was to maintain that Christian education was a branch of theology. If indeed this was so, then theology should explain, predict and verify what was happening educationally and should show the educator how to teach. Randy, of course, was a process theologian, but he felt that any specific kind of theology could generate a whole repertoire of instructional practices. This is why the last book he edited, Theologies of Religious Education, dealt with the relationship of major contemporary theologies to the dynamics of teaching religion.,
2. Miller was a prolific author. He wrote or edited twenty-five books, several translated into other languages. Two books went through a second edition, A Guide for Church School Teachers, and his textbook, Education for Christian Living. In addition, he wrote chapters, prefaces or forewords for twenty-six books and wrote over 200 articles for journals and magazines. His writings have profoundly influenced several generations of students, teachers, parents and colleagues.
3. For twenty years he edited the journal of the Religious Education Association, Religious Education, and for almost another twenty years served as the managing editor. It was carried in many countries of the world and was enriched by his sabbaticals and contacts with educators and leaders in his trips. He dedicated the journal to the serious discussion of religious and social issues and their implications for religious education.
4. A major contribution was his work on the development of curriculum materials, first in the Cloister Series of the Protestant Episcopal Church and then in the Seabury Series. He wrote or revised materials for the former and prepared a foundational paper for the latter, as well as revising a resource book, More Than Words.
5. For nearly fifty years he was a leader in the Religious Education Association, which brought together Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and other educators. He was a seminar leader at the 50th anniversary of the Association in 1953, served on its Board of Directors, three years as chairman, and attended its conventions, often presenting papers and leading discussions.
6. His visits to other countries and trips around the world enriched the Association, its journal, and its conventions with an international perspective.
7. With some course offerings and his book, The Language Gap and God, Miller made an important contribution to a subject that concerned Horace Bushnell and well as other theologians and educators since that time.
8. Miller was never a thinker in an ivory tower, but sought to demonstrate the practical applications of his theology, serving as vicar of one Episcopal parish and a director of Christian education at two others. He was in great demand as a lecturer and leader of workshops for volunteer teachers and professionals in the field.
9. He had a great influence on and a wonderful relationship with a host of students, professors and colleagues. Sara Little, for one, would look forward to having dinner with Randy at the annual meetings of the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education or at the conventions of the Religious Education Association.
10. Last, but not least, he made a unique contribution to the understanding of theology and jazz through his lectures on the subject in many places and his collection of records which were used to illustrate his points. This was important in religious education since it showed the origin and development of the jazz style in African-American congregations and its promulgation throughout the world as a unique American contribution to music.
At the end of her chapter on Randy Miller in the festschrift Boardman Kathan edited in 1978, Pioneers of Religious Education in the 20th Century, Sara Little wrote: “Even the incomplete analysis of Miller’s thought offered here would seem to document the conclusion that he is a major shaper of educational theory and practice during this period and that there was a consistency and growing edge to his position that marks its potential for contribution to the serious thinking needed in these days.”
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- (1949) “Things are happening at the pacific.” Witness (January 20), 5-6.
- (1949) “New church school curriculum to offer fine material.” The Witness (March 31), 3-18.
- (1949) “When life seems hard.” The Southern Churchman (March 5), 3-4.
- (1949) “New curriculum under way.” The Churchman (May 15).
- (1949) “Dialogue sermons for radio.” Southern Churchman (July), 5-6, 8.
- (1949) “Shakespeare of the prayerbook.” The Southern Churchman (August 13), 3-4.
- (1949) “The old man and liturgicum.” The Witness (September), 15-17.
- (1949) “Christian education report.” Southern Churchman (July), 5-6, 8.
- (1949) “A barber’s dream.” The Southern Churchman (October 29).
- (1949) “California’s bishops.” The Living Church (October 2), 20-24.
- (1948) “Our common Biblical heritage.” The Witness (November 25), 12-14.
- (1948) “A barber’s dream.” Forth (March).
- (1948) “Education for living.” The Southern Churchman (October 16), 3-4.
- (1948) “Toward a new curriculum.” The Living Church (November 7), 13-14.
- (1947) “God in the atomic age.” The Chronicle (Poughkeepsie, New York) (February), 89-91.
- (1947) “Where our creeds came from.” Pacific Churchman (March), 5-7.
- (1946) “Freedom and jazz.” The Witness (January 24), 11-12.
- (1946) “Medicine and religion.” Pacific Churchman (January), 24-48.
- (1946) “Education in the Episcopal Church.” The Churchman (May 15), 9.
- (1946) “Vocational giver.” The Living Church (June).
- (1946) “Liberal evangelical theology.” The Witness (June 17), 11-12.
- (1946) “Bobby sox religion.” Religious Education 41 (2), 107-13.
- (1946) “Weaknesses and resources of the Christian Church.” Journal of religious Thought (Autumn-Winter), 16-33.
- (1946) “God as idea and as living.” Christendom (Winter), 57-64.
- (1945) “Empirical method and its critics.” Anglican Theological Review (January), 27-34.
- (1945) “Is it true what they say about Henry?” The Chronicle (January), 79-80.
- (1945) “Overcoming our troubles.” The Pulpit (April), 88-90.
- (1945) “The relevance of Christian ethics.” Religion in Life (Spring), 205-15.
- (1945) “Prayer book Christianity,” The Chronicle (April), 152-53.
- (1945) “The church school of tomorrow.” The Southern Churchman (September 1), 3-4.
- (1945) “Why man works.” The Witness (October 11), 11-12.
- (1945) “The prayer book and the red network.” The Churchman (November 15), 12.
- (1945) “The king’s highway,” Chronicle (December) 57-59.
- (1944) “Old themes in new dress.” The Living Church (February 13), 11-12.
- (1944) “The quiz kids invade school of California parish.” The Witness (October 19). 5-6.
- (1944) “Interdenominational education.” The Living Church (October 22), 16-17.
- (1943) “Lessons that children like.” The Churchman (January 1), 9-10.
- (1943) “Liberalism is not dead.” The Witness (January 28), 11-12.
- (1943) “Secondary schools in Christian education.” The Churchman (August 1), 6-7.
- (1942) “Beware of spiritual sabotage.” The Churchman (March 15), 12-13.
- (1942) “Streamlining the church.” The Churchman (February 1), 10.
- (1942) “Easter and prayer,” Pacific Churchman (April).
- (1942) “From Drake’s Bay on…” The Living Church (October 4), 12-15.
- (1942) “Prayer in wartime.” The Christian Century (November 25), 1456-1457.
- (1941) “Is temple a realist?” The Chronicle, (Poughkeepsie, New York) (February), 101-104.
- (1941) “Why I don’t go to church.” The Churchman (March 1), 13-14.
- (1941) “What the seminaries are trying to do.” Los Angeles Churchman (March).
- (1941) “Decently and in order.” The Pacific Churchman (June), 15-17.
- (1941) “Religion in the home.” The Witness (November 13), 4-6.
- (1940) “The new naturalism and Christianity.” Anglican Theological Review (January), 25-35.
- (1940) “God in a world at war.” The Churchman (February 15), 15-16.
- (1940) “Theology in transition,” Journal of Religion (April), 160-168.
- (1940) “Empiricism and analogical theology.” Christendom (Summer), 12-13.
- (1940) “Professor Macintosh and empirical theology.” The Personalist (Winter).
- (1939) “Is Temple a realist?” Journal of Religion (January), 44-54.
- (1939) “The western church grows up,” Los Angeles Churchman (May), 3,6,8.
- (1939) “The importance of our divinity schools.” The Chronicle (July), 232-34.
- (1939) “Adventure of faith.” The Southern Churchman (September 16), 56,8.
- (1939) “What is Christianity?” The Churchman (December 15), 14-15.
- (1938) “What the young cleric studies.” The Los Angeles Churchman (January), 4-5.
- (1937) “O, principle of concretion!” The Chronicle (January), 89-90.
- (1937) “Seminaries and the curriculum.” The Southern Churchman (July 3), 5-6.
- (1937) “Theology and clinics.” The Churchman (March 15), 17.
- (1937) “Religious realism in America.” The Modern Churchman (December), 495-506.
- (1936) “Has liberalism a theology?” The Churchman (September 15), 15-16.
- (1935) “The Church’s social dilemmas.” The Churchman 149 (23), 14.
- (1962) The educational mission of the church. World Council of Christian Education and Sunday School Association, 1962, 55pp.
- (1962) The Holy Spirit and Christian Education. Religious Education Committee, Friends General Conference, 1962, 20pp.
- (1961) Christian insights for marriage (with Leaders’ Guide by Edward D. Staples). Abingdon Press, 1961, 62pp.
- (1945) Let’s Explore the Philippines. National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church. 1945, 32pp.
Church School Curriculum
- (1957) Revised edition of Climbers of the steep ascent by Mary Jenness. Cloiser Series, grade 9. Morehouse-Barlow, 1957.
- (1945) The challenge of the church. Cloister Series, grade 10. Morehouse-Barlow, 1945, rev. ed. 1956.
Reviews of Miller’s Work
- (1996). Leland-Mayer, Polly. “Book Review: Theologies of Religious Education.” Liberal Religious Education, 16, 73-74.
- (1996). Salier, Willis H. “Book Review: Theologies of Religious Education.” Reformed Theological Review, 55, 160.
- (1982). Foster, Charles R. “Book Review: Three Big Books in Christian Education.” Quarterly Review, 2, 98-107.
- (1980). Ratti, John. “Book Review: Special Religious Education Issue.” New Review of Books and Religion, 4, 1-26.
- (1974). Dobihal, Edward F. “Book Review: Live Until You Die.” Religious Education, 69, 93.
- (1973). McClarchey, Harry. “Book Review: The Language Gap and God.” Modern Churchman, 16, 163-164.
- (1971). Deschner, John. “Book Review: The Language Gap and God.” Perkins Journal, 24, 48.
- (1971). Batson, C. Daniel. “Book Review: The Language Gap and God.” Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 68, 108-110.
- (1971). Edge, Findley B. “Book Review: The Language Gap and God.” Review and Expositor, 68, 557.
- (1971). McCarter, Neely D. “Book Review: The Language Gap and God.” Theology Today, 28, 242-245.
- (1959). Burns, E.B. “Book Review: Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” Journal of Pastoral Care, 13, 58.
- (1958). Goodykoontz, H. G. “Book Review: Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” Interpretation, 12, 122-123.
- (1957). Cully, K. B. “Book Review: Education for Christian Living.” Anglican Theological Review, 39, 186-188.
- (1957). Cully, K. B. “Book Review: Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” Encounter, 18, 383-384.
- (1957). Taylor, M. J. “Book Review: Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” Journal of Bible and Religion, 25, 158-160.
- (1957). Stickford, W. W. “Book Review: Education for Christian Living.” Journal of Bible and Religion, 25, 158.
- (1957). Bransford, W. L. “Book Review: Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” Journal of religious Thought, 14, 182-183.
- (1957). Nelson, G. “Book Review: Biblical Theology and Christian Education.” Union Seminary Quarterly, 12, 95.
- (1956). Wyckoff, D. C. “Book Review: Education for Christian Living.” Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 49, 65-66.
- (1956). Lynn, R. W. “Book Review: Education for Christian Living.” Union Seminary Quarterly, 12, 71-73.
- (1951-1952). Homrighausen, E. G. “Book Review: The Clue to Christian Education.” Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 45.3, 52.
Excerpts from Publications
Miller, The clue to Christian education (1950).
The clue to Christian education is the discovery of a relevant theology which will bridge the gap between content and method, providing the background and perspective of Christian truth by which the best methods and content will be used as tools to bring the learners into the right relationship with the living God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, using the guidance of parents and the fellowship of life in the Church as the environment in which Christian nurture will take place (Miller 1950, 15).
Miller, Christian nurture and the church (1961).
I have used the term nurture as a broader term to describe the involvement of the pupil in the atmosphere and relationships of a community including knowledge about it as a means toward loyalty to it. Christian education is the nurture of the total person in all the relationships of life seen from the perspective of membership in the Christian community. This is a program 'from womb to tomb.' The Christian family performs this function on an impermanent basis while children are in the home, but only the Church can do it for children or adults on a permanent basis. A close relationship between parents and the parish is essential if the family and Church are to cooperate in the major project of incorporating members into the body (Miller 1961, vii-viii).
We have said that one becomes a Christian within a Christian community. Education takes place in community. This means that we need to take the idea of koinonia very seriously if we are to educate people to be the Church, for the people to be educated must be brought into that 'atmosphere in which grace flourishes.' The problem becomes clearer. Unless the local congregation becomes aware of what it means to be the Church, we cannot expect genuine Christian nurture to take place (Miller 1961, 17).
Miller, The language gap and God (1970).
Even before a child can use words, the Gospel 'beams out' form the Christian parent … This development of the child, growing up as a Christian, is no automatic process… There is an organic relationship between parents and children, which, when properly structured and supported by love, becomes the means of grace whereby God works within the group.
Miller, The theory of Christian education practice (1982).
… theology and educational theory must be in conversation, with both elements having equal status. This was best expressed in 1943 in terms of a theology that could make use of John Dewey's education theory. In my Education for Christian Living, I tried to bring subject matter and method together by quoting Dewey … The subject matter may or may not be derived from theology… The purpose of method is to make the student stink, and the act of thinking is facing real problems with the resources of the person and the community… A particular theology stands in the background for every educator…One possibility is that process theology, arising from A. N. Whitehead's philosophy of organism, may provide a background for Christian education theory and practice (Miller Theology 1982, 31, 32).
1996 Interview with James Estep, commenting on Coe's influence on his educational ideas, Miller commented when interviewed that though he never actually knew Coe, he had read his works.
"I still have them [Coe's books] in my bookcase. And I've found him influential, but he was quite left of me actually… What Coe did in the 30's and 40's was outstand-ing stuff and I had obtained the same kind of influence in the 50's and 60's, but no-body understood that they were similar opposition, but I think later on I was more sympathetic to Coe than the time I wrote The Clue. Compared to Clue my theory of Christian education practice seemed a little different." "I think that children have an idea of what worship is when they experience it. [It] becomes really the empirical anchor [of Christian nurture]. Most churches have preschool kids in their worship … turning any congregational service into a public squirmers mass."
(1982) The Theory of Christian Education Practice: How Theology Affects Christian Education. Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press.
While Miller published many works after 1982, The Theory represents the culmination of his earlier works. It presents a comprehensive educational theory that is informed by his process theology.
(1961) Christian Nurture and the Church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Christian Nurture details how the Church is the permanent institution and context for Christian nurture, with attention given to other institutions that have profound influence on Christian nurture, e.g. the family, school, and community.
(1956) Biblical Theology and Christian Education. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Biblical Theology presents the “biblical drama” systematically, relating each major episode to learners of various ages. The Bible presents material “not in dogma or in theological propositions, but in terms of a drama” (Miller, Education for Christian Living 1956, 63). It is a narrative of process theology in education.
(1950) The Clue to Christian Education. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
The Clue was the Miller’s first significant work which advocates the use of theology as the background of Christian education. It is a response to the old classical liberal model of religious education, responding to it by suggesting that theology can provide the direction for education theory… it is the “clue” that classical liberalism (Coe and Elliot) missed.
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).
Kevin E. Lawson collected some additional biographical materials to add to this entry. He appreciates those who passed on to him these helpful resources. Lawson served as Professor of Educational Studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, from 1995-2021 as is now a "Senior Affiliate Professor" for Talbot. Email: Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org