February 2002 Issue
For Christian Higher Education
by Michael Duduit
According to a British news report,
the Royal Navy has discovered an innovative cost-cutting measure.
In teaching recruits to fire guns at the HMS Cambridge training
facility near Plymouth, live rounds are no longer used. Instead,
sailors-in-training are given phony shells; they are to then load
the fake shell, aim the gun, and exclaim, "Bang!"
As one might imagine, naval recruits consider it a joke, but
a Royal Navy representative (presumably with a straight face)
insisted that live firing was not necessary in training, given
that real shells cost too much in comparison to the value received
in firing them.
Actually, the HMS Cambridge is itself a bit of a phony. It
is not a ship, but a ship-like structure built on dry land adjacent
to the sea.
There is a great danger in the 21st century that Christian
higher education may become the academic equivalent of the HMS
Cambridge: a feeble imitation of what it purports to be, sending
graduates into a secular culture unprepared to be bold advocates
for a Christian worldview. In the face of the cultural onslaught
of materialism and naturalism that faces our students each day,
we must prepare them to do more than whimper "bang!"
There is a secularized environment that pervades most university
campuses today including many that understand their "religious
heritage" to be an uncomfortable piece of history rather
than a living reality. Those who lead the academy from their outposts
in major universities have set out to "deconstruct"
truth so that the very notion is sapped of its meaning. The search
for truth has been replaced by the glorification of "tolerance"
as the preeminent virtue; all "lifestyle options" (heterosexuality,
homosexuality, premarital promiscuity) are considered "value
neutral" on today's "enlightened" campuses.
In American higher education, the barbarians have not simply
stormed the gates; they have assumed the mantle of academic leadership
and become masters of the castle.
That is why there has never been a greater need than today
for authentically Christian colleges and universities institutions
which understand that all truth is God's truth, and that there
can be no true understanding apart from knowledge of and relationship
to the Creator; institutions which recognize that faith and learning
are not enemies but essential partners in the task of education.
John Leo (U.S. News & World Report, April 19, 1999)
cites an "intellectual climate of meaningless and breakdown
(that) pervades our colleges." He tells about a conversation
with a friend a professor in a Catholic college
who now finds himself "surrounded by a new crop of young
professors who are total nihilists." Says the seasoned prof:
"They don't believe in anything at all." Unfortunately,
such cases are not the exception; American higher education is
increasingly being taken over by views and value systems in direct
opposition to traditional moral values, much less a Christian
Today's Christian colleges and universities must provide an
intellectual bulwark against the secularizing cultural trends
that have swept through American higher education. If any institution
is going to demonstrate the integration of faith and learning,
it will be our Christian universities. If any institution is going
to train America's next generation of leaders that "truth"
has meaning, it will be our Christian universities.
How, then, can we insure that our church-supported colleges
and universities stand firm in these essential tasks? This is
a challenge that faces the entire church, not simply a handful
of academic leaders. Five steps must be taken.
1. The church must learn the difference between "church-related"
schools and "Christian" universities.
Too many "church-related" institutions have opted
for a schizophrenic approach to higher education: the "church"
side sponsors chapel services, campus ministry, maybe even a religion
department, and raises money from churches, while the "academic"
side operates in a manner interchangeable with any other college
What is the difference between a merely "church-related"
institution and a truly "Christian" college or university?
A Christian university is one that recognizes Christ as the foundation
on which education is built. A Christian university is made up
of faculty and administrators who share a deep commitment to Christ
and His truth not as a compartmentalized portion of their
lives reserved for Sunday, but as a guiding philosophy and foundation
which influences every part of the educational endeavor.
At a Christian university, professors understand that every
discipline stands under the authority of Christ. That doesn't
mean teaching "Christian chemistry," but teaching chemistry
from a perspective of faith in a God who created this world and
all that is in it. That doesn't mean teaching "Christian
business," but teaching future business leaders that Christian
values must under gird their future actions. In every field and
every academic discipline, Christian faculty will bring a profoundly
different approach and philosophy to the classroom than that found
in the secularized academy.
In a Christ-centered university, professors help students understand
how their Christian faith is integrated with academic disciplines
and professional vocations. The goal is to graduate young men
and women who enter the future with an enlarged sense of Christian
commitment as well as professional excellence.
If our churches are going to have the kind of leaders who are
equipped and prepared to confront our culture from the perspective
of a Christian worldview, then it is essential that they make
it clear that the academic institutions they support must meet
a higher standard than simply being "church-related."
They can and should expect Christian colleges and universities
at which all programs from the chapel to the classroom
to the residence hall to be "Christ-centered."
2. Denominations and boards of trust must reclaim responsibility
for the direction of their schools.
Trustees and denominational leadership bear a significant responsibility
in setting the direction and tone of the institutions for which
they have responsibility. Yet all too often, trustees and others
spend far more time discussing budgets and athletic programs than
determining if an institution's academic and campus programs are
In his article "Southern Baptists and Higher Education,"
Bob R. Agee cites the role of trustees in what he identifies as
"distinctively Christian" colleges and universities.
He observes: "In these institutions the trustees are chosen
from among the church constituency and are regularly reminded
that they are accountable to and responsible for the Christian
mission of the institution." He adds: "Trustees seek
to hire faculty and administrators who are committed to the core
values of the Christian community which sponsors the institution."
The most critical task of trustees is to protect and enhance
the "Christ-centered" mission of the institution. All
of a board's other responsibilities, even fiduciary, pale in comparison
to this key purpose. And it is important for a denomination, in
electing such trustees, to make clear this central responsibility.
When a board of trustees ceases to place the school's "Christ-centered"
mission at the heart of all its actions, the institution begins
its journey away from that mission.
3. Presidents must be elected who will set a vision for
The election of a president is the single trustee action that
most clearly sets the direction of an institution. If a president
elevates the "Christ-centered" mission of the institution
and wisely manages with that purpose in mind, the institution
will remain faithful to that mission. On the other hand, the election
of a president who does not share a thoroughgoing commitment to
that "Christ-centered" mission is the most important
action toward abandonment of the mission and values which once
characterized the institution.
Almost without fail, institutions that have departed from a
"Christ-centered" mission have done so with the active
leadership of a president who seeks something else for the institution.
That alternative goal may be financial support of non-Christians
or nominal believers (whom the president may believe will not
be attracted by a "sectarian" institution), or the recruitment
of students who may not be attracted to the Christian lifestyle
required by the former mission, or it may even be a desire for
an enhanced reputation among the wider, secular academic community.
Whatever the reason, an energetic president who is determined
to shift an institution away from being a "Christian"
college to merely a "church-related" one can accomplish
that purpose in only a few years, unless he or she faces the active
opposition of an equally-determined board. That is why boards
must be vigilant in their role of electing presidents who share
their commitment to Christ-centered education, and equally vigilant
in working alongside that president to insure that the institution's
mission is faithfully implemented in hiring and other decisions
that impact the institution and its students.
4. Faculties must be taught to integrate faith and learning.
Faculties who view their respective disciplines through the
lens of a dynamic Christian faith are vital to the task of building
and developing a truly "Christ-centered" academic institution.
It is clear that secular institutions have fully understood
integrating their prevailing worldviews with their pedagogical
activities. Today's leading universities are hothouses of secular,
naturalistic worldviews that under gird the teaching of the arts
and sciences, from philosophy to literature to education.
For the Christian college, it is not enough to cling to a veneer
of religious activity such as chapel services and church
emphasis days if the philosophical assumptions that pervade
the classroom stand in sharp contrast to a Christian worldview.
In such a duel for the hearts and minds of students, the classroom
will win in all too many cases.
This is a battle that will be won or lost in the hiring process.
I recall a conversation with a university president some years
ago who commented, "In hiring faculty, if I have to choose
between a mediocre economist who is a strong churchman, and a
great economist who is an inactive churchman, I'll take the great
economist every time." Not only is that a false dilemma,
but it is an attitude guaranteed, over time, to lead an institution
away from its "Christ-centered" mission. Presidents
and academic officers must recognize that every faculty hire who
adheres to and teaches out of a Christian worldview is a stepping
stone toward a great Christian institution. Likewise, every faculty
member who fails to teach thus is a step away from accomplishing
the institution's mission.
Many young faculty will come to our institutions with a commitment
to our mission but little grasp of how to integrate faith and
learning. Such faculty will be wonderful resources and make a
unique contribution as we make an institutional commitment to
train and equip them in integrating a Christian worldview into
their instruction. To do less is to miss an enormous opportunity
to build great Christian institutions.
5. Students must be drawn to the mission of Christian universities.
Just over a decade ago, the Council for Christian Colleges
and Universities did a national study which estimated that as
many as 250,000 Christian high school graduates never even considered
attending a Christ-centered college or university. Given the ever-expanding
marketing budgets of our schools, it's likely that enormous percentage
There are plenty of reasons: cost, location, failure to offer
certain academic programs, and so on. But at the heart of the
issue is a failure to draw students to the mission of our institutions.
If a young person and his or her family are truly engaged in the
mission of Christ-centered education, the other obstacles will
usually diminish in importance.
Overcoming that primary issue will require the combined efforts
of colleges and churches. Together, we must make the case for
Christ-centered higher education. And even as the academic community
provides much of the rationale, the key communication of that
case will take place within the local church. Thus, if we are
to accomplish the goal of reaching most Christian high school
graduates with the case for Christian higher education, it will
involve a strong and ongoing partnership of college and church.
Those who represent Christian higher education must make the
case to pastors, youth ministers, and denominational and church
leaders in a way that goes beyond past relationships. We must
help them understand that a large part of the church's task in
the 21st century will be to confront a secular culture with a
Christian worldview and we must help them understand that
the persons best equipped for this challenge will be the graduates
of authentic Christ-centered universities.
Half a century ago, Winston Churchill played a pivotal role
in saving Britain and the world from the evils of Nazi conquest,
and in that task helped protect democratic rule for millions.
In an essay on Churchill in The Weekly Standard (January
3/10, 2000), Christopher Matthews observed, "He saved Britain
not by protecting it but by rousing his countrymen to brace themselves
for what he assured them would be their 'finest hour.' ... At
the crucial moment, Churchill's understanding of Hitler, of Britain's
danger, of politics, and of his countrymen allowed him to face
down the appeasers and make the case decisively for all-out war."
Today we face a different but no less compelling challenge,
as western culture plummets headlong into a morass of secularism.
As Kingdom partners with the church, Christ-centered colleges
and universities are called to stand in the gap of cultural decay
and point toward a higher, better way. Let us claim that mission
and so carry out that task that future generations will look back
and see that in this pivotal moment, we helped make a difference
in Christ's name.
Michael Duduit, former executive vice president
and associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University
in Jackson, Tenn., is editor of Preaching
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