David Dockery on Christian Higher Ed's Key Challenges
Book Report: David Dockery's Renewing Minds
David Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Co-editor of two earlier books on Christian higher education (Shaping a Christian Worldview and The Future of Christian Higher Education), he has now written his own book on the subject. Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education, will be published by Holman Academic in October.
CT: You've already edited two books on Christian higher education, and have written extensively on the subject. What motivated you to take it up again in a new volume, especially as there have been so many other books on Christian higher education in recent years?
Dockery: The world in which we live is characterized by change. At the heart of these paradigmatic changes we see that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are ignored if not rejected. The challenges posed for Christian higher education by these cultural shifts are formidable indeed. I believe those of us who are called to serve in Christian higher education at this time in history must step forward to address these issues. Renewing Minds is a call to reclaim the best of the Christian intellectual tradition. In this context we need more than just novel ideas and enhanced programs; we need distinctively Christian thinking. It seems to me that the integration of faith and learning involves, as T.S. Eliot said so appropriately, being able to think in Christian categories.
CT: One of the significant divides in terms of conceiving the Christian university is between the "two spheres" model which aims to provide an excellent secular education in a Christian environment, and the integrationist model, which aims at distinctively Christian education. You endorse the latter. Why?
Dockery: A two-sphere model recognizes the place of chapel, campus ministry, mission trip opportunities, and residence-life Bible studies. This model sees a place for faith on one side of the campus and learning on the other. This model can be achieved with parachurch ministries on secular campuses. I do not believe this model represents the best of Christ-centered higher education nor do I think it represents the best of the Christian intellectual tradition through the years.
The conjunction of faith and learning, the one-sphere or integrationist model, points to the essence of a Christian university. In recent years, among an increasingly large number of intellectuals, there has arisen a deep suspicion of today's thoroughly secularized academy, so that there is indeed a renewed appreciation for and openness to what George Marsden calls "the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship." As Mark Schwenn of Valparaiso University has suggested, it may be time to acknowledge that the thorough secularization of the academy is, at least, unfruitful. There is even a renewed interest in many places in the relationship of the church to higher education. Ex corde ecclesiae is the way our Catholic friends frame this idea, which calls for the church to be at the heart of the university and for the university to be at the heart of the church.
Being faithful will involve more than mere piety or spirituality, which by itself will not sustain the idea of a Christian university. We need a model of higher education that confesses the sovereignty of the triune God over the whole cosmos, in all spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible.