Christian, Teacher, Scientist, Mentor:
Dr. Russell L. Mixter Visionary for the Role of Science in Christian Higher Education
DOROTHY F. CHAPPELL
Department of Biology
Wheaton, IL 60187
From: PSCF 44 (March 1993): 10-16.
Dr. Russell L. Mixter, Professor Emeritus of Zoology, served as faculty member for more than 50 years at Wheaton College (IL) and additional years at other institutions of higher education where he dedicated his career to Christian higher education. His role in co-educational Christian liberal arts colleges provided mentoring which combined high scholastic standards with devout Christian faith and practice. His career of teaching biology has been rated highly by students and peers. He also has enjoyed a professional and scholarly career that included serving as president of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) and Editor of the Journal of the ASA, and as editor/author of several papers, including the monograph Creation and Evolution (1952, 1968) and the book, Evolution and Christian Thought (1959). His interaction with members of the Christian church and with para-church organizations where he integrated his faith and practice has brought credibility to the study and practice of science by Christians. Dr. Mixter's career has been marked with integration of the Christian faith, learning, and practice, and he has taken a proactive approach in addressing contemporary issues in biology.
Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning so do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a boy in my father's house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said,
"Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.
Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor."
Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
I guide you in the ways of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Hold onto instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.
Proverbs 4:1-13 (NIV)
Contemporary Christian liberal arts colleges maintain that academic excellence, Christian faith, and practice are essential in the education and stewardship of the mind, soul, and body. These high ideals are reflected in the curriculum of such colleges, the types of faculty and staff who are hired to teach and administer the colleges, and in the types of students who are admitted into the college programs. Indeed, many Christian liberal arts colleges "exist to help build the church and improve society worldwide by promoting the development of whole and effective Christians through excellence in programs of Christian higher education."1 Christian liberal arts education at its best trains individuals to effectively relate and respond to issues of contemporary significance. Some contemporary matters are temporal; others are more foundational to the tenets of the faith and involve our limited understanding of the created order of the universe, how humans are to effectively live and serve in the creation, and how humans relate to other humans and the creator of the universe.
Christian students with childlike faith and a strong sense of purpose who enter the "halls of academe" in Christian liberal arts colleges are bombarded with new ideas, marvelous spiritual awakenings, and an ever increasing circle of friends and acquaintances, not the least of which is the faculty. Those faculty serve as disciples of the Lord Jesus and attempt to bring to bear on students the perspectives they have in their respective disciplines and their own life experiences. Noble attempts are made by faculty to integrate faith, learning, and practice, and to model such integration before their students, peers and supervisors. The faculties of Christian liberal arts colleges of the last two decades even enjoy seminars and specially designed courses where they study and analyze faith, learning and practice.
This is the story of an individual who didn't need to learn integration of faith, learning, and practice through seminars and courses especially designed to increase sensitivity to those issues. This colleague, Dr. Russell L. Mixter, Professor Emeritus of Biology at Wheaton College, has successfully led a life integrating faith, learning and practice in total response to the call of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He has inspired students and colleagues who have heard him speak or read his writings.
A graduate of Wheaton College in 1928 (B.A. in literature), Michigan State University (M.S. in genetics) in 1930, and the University of Illinois (Ph.D. in anatomy) in 1939, Dr. Russell L. Mixter's service to Wheaton College (Illinois) as a faculty member completely spanned five decades. In addition to his service at Wheaton College, he also served as a faculty member at Trinity College, Barat College, Judson College, and the West Suburban Hospital School of Nursing Program (1946-77) bringing his total time of teaching in higher education to more than 50 years. He served as Chairman of the Department of Biology at Wheaton College for 25 years (1947-72), Chairman for the Science Division for 19 years, on the faculty of Wheaton College for 50 years (1928-79), and as editor of the Journal of the American Scientific Association for five years (1964-68). He authored at least eight articles, reviews, or editorials for JASA, including an article for the first volume in 1949, and was featured in other ways including photographs, responses to his writing, and other items that related to or demonstrated his interest in and support for scholarly activity in at least several dozen other issues of the JASA.
The Russell L. Mixter who taught at Wheaton College for fifty years seldom let a smile drift from his face, but also carried (as he does to this day) a twinkle in his eye, talk of sincere dedication to his Lord and Savior, tenacious wit, discerning wisdom, and thorough resolve to discover and represent truth. When Dr. Mixter was introduced (with other new faculty) in the Trinity College campus newspaper, the student reporter said "Next on the agenda is Dr. Mixter, whose credentials are just phenomenal," and she enumerated his many accomplishments. She included this quote from Dr. Mixter: "Teaching's fun, no problem. Couldn't imagine an easier job."
Lines like "Life worth living depends on a
liver" or "Education
is the inculcation of the inscrutable into the ignorant by the
incompetent" infused wit into his lectures and demonstrate
some of his clever uses of words to stimulate student minds.
Testimonies to his goodness and of his care for individuals abound. For example, he is known, in his typical benevolent fashion, to have offered fiscal help to a faculty colleague whose plans for international travel didn't materialize in the expected time, and to have painted, without pay, a single woman's house in a summer. Dr. Mixter has lived by the verse, "Let your light so shine before men, that they see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). He continues service honoring his Heavenly Father in many interesting ways. He has known very well dependence upon his heavenly Father in times of need, like the time Wheaton College couldn't pay its faculty. (Although it finally did pay its faculty salaries, they were significantly late.) He knew what it meant to keep a part-time job during the World War II days. He was quoted in one newspaper article saying, "I remember one time in the 1940s when our finances were tighter, when a student sent me a tie, saying he was tired of seeing the same one every day. We're a lot better off now." In surveying archival and personal materials in preparation for this article, I could not help but be inspired with the many spiritual notes that Dr. Mixter has made. Each one has a wealth of inspiring information. The prominent theme, though, lies in the truth that "God is our refuge and strength." Dr. Mixter clearly believes that we are what we are by God's grace and not by our "fancy doings!"
Acclaimed by Wheaton grads who went on to medical school as a teacher who gave them a strong foundation for medical study, he has touched the lives of many students and patients. He was given the Teacher of the Year Award by Wheaton College in 1969. It is no secret that he has never had an attendance problem in his classes. Another delight in his teaching career was teaching the women at Wheaton College's affiliate West Suburban School of Nursing. Throughout his career, he has been known as a youthful, vivacious, and witty professor who used quips to enhance his teaching. Lines like "Life worth living depends on a liver" or "Education is the inculcation of the inscrutable into the ignorant by the incompetent" infused wit into his lectures and demonstrate some of his clever uses of words to stimulate student minds. His students have honored him with their long term success and in other memorable ways, including writing about him, as in these excerpts from an "Ode" dedicated to him in 1979 at his induction as a West Suburban Nursing School Alum.
Ode To Dr. Russell Mixter
The first day we made your acquaintance
We thought you looked "good for your age."
But now that we've gotten to know you
We only hope we'll reach that stage.
In addition to all of the nerve tracts,
Cell membranes and long lists of germs,
You taught us new ways of pronouncing
The old-fashioned technical terms.
Your involvement among us surpasses
The role of teacher alone!
You've transported students to Wheaton
And passed love letters from Rhonda Bone.
And on Valentine's Day in '78
You stole all our hearts away
As dressed in disguise with a gift for us all
The role of Sir Cupid you played.
You've infected us with your humor
nd transmitted equally well
More graciousness and information
Than any of us singly could tell.
So as over the years you've become one of us,
Sharing your wisdom and knowledge and fun
We'd like you to know we think you deserve
To be considered a West Sub "Alum."
The students also honored him by dedicating the Wheaton College album, The Tower, to him in 1950. As current Wheaton College personnel travel throughout the world and interact with Wheaton College alumni, they are nearly always asked "How is Dr. Mixter? Where is he now?" His reputation as Christian, teacher, and scholar reminds those who know him of the rich fulfilled life one can lead as a faculty member in Christian higher education.
The Lord has been Dr. Mixter's motivator to use his innate abilities, mind, heart, hands, and soul for the work of the Kingdom. Viewing him and his contributions in the service of the Lord, he seems so naturally integrated that it is almost unnatural to separate out the qualities that contribute to his wholeness.
"Scripture does comment on the observable
The writers observed the sea and sky and their denizens,
although their purpose was to use these as stimuli to reverence rather
than to analyze them in the scientific manner of classifying and
explaining the mechanics of their processes."
Dr. Russell L. Mixter's scholarship has been exceptional. At a time when it was not particularly "fashionable" for Christians to publish, he entered a realm of publishing scientific articles in internationally refereed journals like Genetics and the American Journal of Anatomy and what we have in recent years called "integrative writings," like those published in the Journal of the ASA. He had no mentor or administration pushing him to accomplish a certain amount of publishing. The research record he established centered in biological sciences and closely related contemporary issues.
The American Men and Women of Science lists his research as "macrophages of connective tissue, flexed tail in mice, evolution, and spiders of the Black Hills." To that list, clearly, should be added a category for Christian attitudes toward scientific explanations. Verbally and in writing, Dr. Mixter has wisely advised those who seek truth that,
The attitude an honest man should have toward differing views of the implications of facts is to evaluate all opinions and hold to the one that is harmonious with the information from both revelation and reason.
Scripture does comment on the observable world. The writers observed the sea and sky and their denizens, although their purpose was to use these as stimuli to reverence rather than to analyze them in the scientific manner of classifying and explaining the mechanics of their processes. Seeds die, the sun rises, the heart believes. These phrases obviously make sense when understood in the manner in which they are used.
He advises us that:
Scripture and science are partners. The Bible reveals the personality of the one who is the `infinite and perfect Spirit in whom all things have their source, support, and end.' And science tries to find how he made things, and when, and of what they are composed.2
Colleagues, as well as students, remember fondly Dr. Mixter's days of teaching. Two female science instructors at Wheaton College tell of his unprejudiced and wholehearted acceptance and professional treatment of them. "Encourager is a good word to describe him," says Cordelia Erdman Barber, who taught at Wheaton College as Instructor of Geology from 1949-1954, and Marie Fetzer Reyburn, Instructor of Anthropology at Wheaton College from 1948-1951.3 "He (Russell Mixter) never spoke to me on a lower level; he always treated me as a colleague" says Cordelia Barber. These two women who practiced science at Wheaton College after attending Columbia University emphasized their excellent collegial relationship to Dr. Mixter and praised him for his mutual appreciation and respect for them. Cordelia Barber also clearly remembers Dr. Mixter "as a clear thinker with a heart for truth and people, not a confronter in personality but a confronter in truth." Marie Fetzer Reyburn says she was always accepted and treated as a professional by Dr. Mixter and he was always ready to consult with her as a professional. This type of acceptance and encouragement for women scientists was rare and was not even found at the larger Columbia University.
"Encourager is a good word to describe him."
Dr. Mixter's teaching career spanned five decades when many significant developments took place at Wheaton College, on national and international grounds, and in the scientific and theological realms of academia. Wheaton College was accredited by the North Central Association in 1929, one year after Russell Mixter took his faculty position there. Numerous buildings and programs were added to Wheaton College. Many monumental advances have occurred in science during his career: humans have discovered penicillin, walked on the moon, visited the depths of the ocean, created freeze dried foods, sent the Word of God around the world in microwaves, isolated genes, spliced genes into other "kinds" of organisms, observed the explosion of stars, and cured "incurable diseases." We can now isolate the genes that code for flexed tailed mice like the ones Dr. Mixter studied at Michigan State University. The work and flexibility required for a faculty member to keep up with all of these changes is immense, and the continued success of the students whom Dr. Mixter taught for five decades is a testimony of his flexibility, thoroughness, and ability. This versatility should have been obvious to everyone when he, a literature major and graduate of Wheaton College in 1928, entered graduate school and completed both a master's degree and Ph.D. degree in biology!
He successfully kept up with the changes in his field through personalized study, attendance at professional societal meetings, and through attendance at workshops. Throughout this exciting career he developed a burden for issues in science and began writing in a way unheard of for a biology professor. He "integrated his faith, learning, and practice" and crossed the classical discipline boundaries to offer perspectives and advice on matters where his Christian faith could be brought to bear. A search of JASA reveals a number of articles and reviews on matters of faith and learning. They include his exposÈ on "Biology and Christian Fundamentals" where he builds an argument for biology providing evidence for a purposeful, intelligent creator and that the natural order contains diversity;4 "An Evaluation of the Fossil Record;"5 "The Science of Heredity and the Source of Species;"6 and "The Scriptures and the Scientific Method"7 where he discussed some advantages and limitations of science and cautioned humans about their own wisdom. Here he suggests that ...
...one should be such a good astronomer as to know all of the stars from Aldebaran to Vega and also follow the Star of Bethlehem which leads men to Christ; one should be such a good botanist as to know all of the flowers from Agaratum to Zinnia but should also possess the fragrance of the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. A chemist who knows all the combinations of the elements from aluminum to zinc needs also to be preserved by the Man of Galilee who is the Salt of the Earth.
"A chemist who knows all the combinations
of the elements
from aluminum to zinc needs also to be preserved by the
Man of Galilee who is the Salt of the Earth."
He strongly suggests in this paper that ...
...he is confident that Christians do not need less science to keep them faithful but will increase in faith as they see more and more of science and how it is consistent with a Purposer and Sustainer in the universe.
1959 marked the 100th anniversary of the publishing of Darwin's Origin of Species, and many articles were published within the scientific community. Paul Bechtel's Wheaton College, A Heritage Remembered (1860-1984)8 records that ASA commissioned a volume of studies, published in 1959, and edited by Russell L. Mixter, which appeared under the title, Evolution and Christian Thought Today.9 The quality of the publications and their content interested the Wheaton College faculty to the extent that they held a symposium to discuss the issues raised by the published series. The discussions were rich and insightful but led to some trauma for those who taught at Wheaton College. According to Bechtel, some ill-founded charges were made regarding the position of some faculty members on the origin of man. Some members of the Wheaton College constituency called for clarifications on the issue of origin of man. President Edman published several statements assuring the Wheaton College constituency of the science faculty's theological orthodoxy and competence in science. Dr. Mixter's wisdom and leadership of the Science Division and insight in subsequent publications brought to light more issues of integration as related to origins and evolution. Also noteworthy is his monograph, Creation and Evolution,10 published by the American Scientific Affiliation. Although the concern over this issue led to an addendum to the statement of faith to be signed by faculty of Wheaton College, Dr. Mixter's persistence in publishing and speaking on the phenomena of origins and evolution clarified the position that scientists who are Christians can take without making the compromises associated with misunderstanding the issues.
These publications are mentioned to demonstrate Dr. Mixter's commitment to advocating the truth and attempting to clarify issues that may have provided stumbling blocks to scientists who consider Christians too conservative to be logical in matters of science. As a result of Dr. Mixter's clear articulation of matters of origins and evolution, he became a nationally known speaker and was invited to speak in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship groups at many colleges and universities, including the "Big Ten" universities. In fact, perhaps there are readers of this article who are from a "Big Ten" university where Russell Mixter has been invited to speak at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Groups on matters of integration of faith and learning.
Dr. Mixter has demonstrated an ongoing
commitment to advocating the truth
and attempting to clarify issues that may have provided stumbling blocks
to scientists who consider Christians too conservative to be logical in matters of science.
Perhaps some of Dr. Mixter's professional associates best express the gratitude that we feel for the example of this brother in Christ. The first is from Dr. Robert W. Morris Director of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology to a Wheaton College administrator re: Dr. Mixter:
I am pleased to advise you that a member of your staff, Dr. Russell L. Mixter, was awarded a National Science Foundation stipend for participation in our summer Institute in Marine Biology. In my opinion, the stipend could not have been better invested. Dr. Mixter was a diligent worker and applied himself to the studies with purpose and enthusiasm. Any recognition you may give Dr. Mixter for the excellent representation he gave your school will be genuinely appreciated.11
Another letter in the archives of Wheaton College expresses something of the magnitude of Dr. Mixter's contributions to the Kingdom. This came from President Hudson T. Armerding to Dr. Mixter on the occasion of his relinquishing the chairmanship of the Department of Biology.
It is with mixed feeling[s] that I received the recommendation from Dr. Baptista that your successor be appointed in the chairmanship of the Department of Biology. It will be scarcely the same not to have you giving quiet but competent direction to that part of the program.
It is simply not possible adequately to express to you the gratitude of all of us for your years of service. To me, you will always be a splendid illustration of one who worked tirelessly to challenge and assist the students but with no endeavor to gain personal glory in the process. This is a rare quality of life that is pleasing to the Lord and inspiring to your colleagues.
As one who had the privilege of being a student of yours and through the years has valued your friendship and fellowship in the work here, I speak on behalf of our colleagues as well as myself in expressing appreciation. I know that the numerous generations of students you have taught would endorse this word of commendation.12
Viewing Dr. Mixter's career is a bit like viewing a "Man for All Seasons" in the Christian tradition. He entered his teaching career at a college where his faith could actively count as he dedicated himself to helping develop one of the most precious resources of our time, the life of the Christian mind. He served by being an excellent teacher, counselor, advocate for women in science, administrator, scholar in pure science and integrative issues, and mentor of Christian character for scientists. He strongly supported and has been active in the ASA, which was founded 50 years ago by evangelical scientists concerned with the attributes of Christian witness on science and religion. It is noteworthy that the leadership and traditions maintained by Dr. Mixter, Dr. Paul Wright, and others in the Science Division of Wheaton College, were and are of such outstanding quality that a recent analysis of the degrees awarded shows that one out of every four graduates of the Science Division during the last twenty five years has received a doctorate in some field of science. A tremendous challenge has been set before scientists who are Christians: to follow this example of stimulating students to accept science as legitimate study for Christians, mentoring the Christian lifestyle while maintaining families and effective fellowship, and worshipping the Lord of the universe.
As you might imagine, a number of student scholarships have been set up in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Mixter. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June of 1991 and they continue to actively honor their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in every aspect of their lives. It is a joy to honor Dr. Russell L. Mixter as an effective servant of Jesus Christ, as a scientist who continues to heed God's words in Proverbs 4:1-13, and as one whose total servanthood to the Lord of the universe remains his highest priority.
1 Inform Bulletin of Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL: 501 E. College), 1990-91, 4
2 Russell L. Mixter. Christian Attitudes Toward Scientific Explanations (unpublished manuscript)
3 Personal conversation, July 25, 1991<P7MJ247>
4 Russell L. Mixter. "Biology and Christian Fundamentals," JASA 2(1):20-23
5 Russell L. Mixter. "An Evaluation of the Fossil Record," JASA 11(4): 24-27
6Russell L. Mixter. "The Science of Heredity and the Source of Species," JASA 1(3):1-6
7 Russell L. Mixter. "The Scriptures and the Scientific Method," JASA 4(1):6-8
8 Paul M. Bechtel 1984. Wheaton College, A Heritage Remembered (1860-1984) Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers. 415 pages
9 Russell L. Mixter (Ed.) 1959. Evolution and Christian Thought Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Pub Co. 222 pages + illustrations
10 Russell L. Mixter. Creation and Evolution. Monograph Two: American Scientific Affiliation
11 Letter from Dr. Robert W. Morris, Director of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology to a Wheaton College Administrator: Wheaton College Archives, Buswell Library
12 Letter from Dr. Hudson T. Armerding, President, Wheaton College to Dr. Russell L. Mixter: Wheaton College Archives. Buswell Library