by Bernard R. DeRemer
Clarence H. Benson (1879-1954) directed the Christian Education course (in effect, department) at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, from 1923-41.
He also spearheaded an international movement to revitalize the Sunday school. As educator, author, and editor, he "did more to extend the life and improve the quality of church-based biblical teaching than perhaps any other single effort of its kind."
Born in Minneapolis, he grew up in a godly home and early came to know the Lord. His father was a Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian minister as well as a public school teacher. Other family members were also active in education.
After attending the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and Princeton Theological Seminary, Benson was ordained and served pastorates in New York, Pennsylvania, and Japan. In one church, membership and offerings doubled, while contributions to home and foreign missions rose 1,000 per cent!
But his real calling was teaching, to which he gave his life. At MBI he taught and inspired generations of pastors, teachers, and other Christian workers, emphasizing that teachers must reach the "mentality, personality, and spirituality of their pupils."
Benson made a special study of astronomy, especially in relation to the Bible, and lectured widely on this subject, revealing "the glories of God's...universe." His illustrations used "some of the most recent photographs taken at Mt. Wilson Observatory."
It may be hard to realize now, but at that time the venerable Sunday school "was really receiving failing marks." National conventions reached a high point of participation and influence in the late 1880s; attendance in local Sunday schools dropped steadily thereafter. Some even called the Sunday school a waste of time.
Benson saw the absence of teacher-training and the negative impact of modern religious educational ideals as the likely cause. Determined to reverse the trend, he and others founded the Evangelical Teacher Training Association (ETTA). It was seen as "no other effort of greater impact to the Sunday school field."
ETTA's goals were to foster cooperation among evangelical institutions; raise the quality of Sunday school teacher-training nationwide; and maintain standards of evangelical orthodoxy in the publication and distribution of teacher training materials.
Benson's most popular text, The Sunday School in Action, was reportedly "the single most utilized Christian and educational text among evangelical seminaries, Bible institutes, Bible colleges, and Christian liberal arts colleges."
Other titles include An Introduction to Child Study, The Church at Work, A Popular History of Christian Education, Techniques of a Working Church, The Christian Teacher, and Immensity: God's Greatness Seen in Creation.
As associate editor of Moody Monthly, he wrote many articles to help thousands of readers across the country become better teachers and serve the Lord more effectively. He also contributed 31 articles to The Sunday School Times, a major periodical of the day.
He married Rena Pearl Clark, whom he met at a Christian Endeavor convention. They had two sons; one became a journalist, the other a missionary.
Benson supervised the development of a new system of Sunday school lessons to replace the International Uniform Lessons. When no one would publish the materials, he and Victor Cory founded Scripture Press to issue the All Bible Graded Series, and eventually many other publications which have greatly enriched the church.
He also founded Sunday School Promoter, forerunner of Christian Life, another leading periodical.
King's College honored Benson with a doctor of literature degree. His life verse may well have been, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2).
Reference: This article is based on information from the Moody Bible Institute Library.
Bernard R. DeRemer has chronicled the lives of dozens of God's choice leaders,
across recent centuries, in more than a decade of writing for Pulpit Helps.