The visible church is always local, and the evangelical clergy were famous for their culture of learning, in which the best traditions of the middle ages and the Renaissance were brought into the service of divine wisdom in particular local schools. So rather than overemphasize abstract categories of affiliation, we think it useful to draw a map, as it were, of the regional centers of learning and their radiant influence, and group significant thinkers around the centers where they taught or whence they derived their primary inspiration. We call these schools after either the academies or the chief cities with which they were associated.
Some of these schools are hardly remembered anymore, or are little known outside their native places or certain small academic and denominational circles; we aim to give special attention to these.
Our purpose in remembering these is to recall them as examples. These were schools in which men wrestled with truth, mastering many disciplines in the love of unitary wisdom, eyes open to the New World opening up before them while bearing in mind the gathered tradition of the old. In our age, when the great universities of Christendom have succumbed to atheism, overspecialization and commodification, and have become metastatically bloated, we can look to these schools as patterns of a better and simpler way. In the revival of the “lost tools of learning”, Christian study centers associated with the gigantic universities may yet become the site of the renewal of the mainline academy, and freestanding centers must become a light to the regions in which they are situated. The example of the old Reformation centers of learning can helpfully inform those ordained to the task.