The Evolution Controversy in North Carolina in the 1920s

J.R. Pentuff

James Robert Pentuff was pastor of McGill Street Baptist Church in Concord, North Carolina during the 1920s evolution controversy in North Carolina. Born in January 1864 to Barnie and Rebeca Pentuff, he worked on his family's farm and attended school in Rutherford and Cleveland Counties before enrolling in college at Furman University. He graduated in 1891 with a degree in philosophy and went on to receive several other graduate degrees (Master's in Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1893; Ph.D. from Shurtleff College, 1896; graduate work in theology, philosophy, and sociology at the University of Chicago, 1898; and an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Furman University, 1900). While completing some of these degrees, he also served as a pastor at several churches in Missouri.

From 1899 to 1901, Pentuff taught history and Greek and served as dean of the Burlington Institute (Iowa), which was affiliated with the University of Chicago. In 1902 he became dean of Stephens College and was also Professor of Sacred Literature and Philosophy. He was appointed President of the school in 1904. Between his stint at Stephens and becoming pastor at McGill Street Baptist, Pentuff was dean of San Marcos Baptist Academy and pastor of churches in Gonzales, Texas and Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Pentuff took an active role in the public debates in 1925 concerning the Poole Resolution, testifying in favor of the resolution before the North Carolina House Committee on Education. Also in 1925, he published Christian Evolutionists Answered, and President W.L. Poteat's Utterances Reviewed, which is a refutation of Christians who attempted to merge evolution theory with the Bible's creation story. Pentuff's reputation and educational credentials came under suspicion in late 1925 and 1926 when W.L. Poteat and Raleigh newspaper reporters began to investigate his background. With his credibility as a religious and scientific expert undermined, Pentuff did not play a major role during the General Assembly's Poole Bill debates in 1927.

Sources:

John C. Crighton. Stephens: A Story of Educational Innovation. Columbia, Mo.: The American Press, 1970.

William B. Gatewood. Preachers, Pedagogues, & Politicians. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

James R. Pentuff. Christian Evolutionists Answered and President W. L. Poteat's Utterances Reviewed. [Concord, N.C., 1925].

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