Sailing into the Storm: Philip Ryken and D. Michael Lindsay on the Challenges in Christian Higher Education
Is a Christian college for everyone?
Ryken: No, if you look in the Scriptures, you see some notable leaders of the people of God who had part of their formative experiences in very secular environments. Yet it would be my view that probably every Christian high-school student who's thinking about going to college ought to be seriously considering a Christian college or university.
Lindsay: I can't imagine making an informed college choice if I'm a committed Christian without at least seriously considering the quality of what we have in Christian institutions of higher learning. Realize that the majority of what happens on college campuses today is so bad, at least in terms of student life, you can't print it in Christianity Today. The work hard, play hard mindset in American higher education has had corrosive effects on students.
In the early 1990s, Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind challenged traditional paradigms. Is there still a scandal?
Ryken: That book actually presents a double scandal. The part that people mainly remember is that there isn't much of an evangelical mind. But the other scandal is the scandal that Christ himself causes in society when he is exalted and lifted up. I hope that scandal is still with us. In terms of the academic quality of our institutions, we can still aspire to grow. An issue for us is wrestling with the temptation to pursue the approval of secular guilds in academia—the temptation to pursue that success in ways that maybe won't be conducive to Christian discipleship.
Lindsay: I talked with Noll while I was writing my book. He said that if he were to write that book today, it would be more irenic, more hopeful. There's a new horizon. Churches today talk about engaging the culture. There is no institution that does that more faithfully or more successfully than Christian colleges. It's what we do day in and day out. We can actually serve an important function in the church—showing how Christ relates to culture. Christian colleges are at the tip of the spear.
What do you see as the most significant theological issue that you, as president, are facing at the moment?
Ryken: You could go down the list in Wheaton College's Statement of Faith and say, "There are challenges in all of these areas." Three of the biggest challenges that I perceive are:
• Human sexuality and a Christian understanding of marriage and sexual behavior.
• Human origins as it relates particularly to the historicity of Adam and Eve, but more generally questions related to Christianity and evolution, creation and evolution.
• Not losing our zeal for evangelism, particularly for proclaming the gospel in words as well as witnessing to the gospel in deeds.
Lindsay: The theological issue that we're grappling with is cultural pluralism—what's the appropriate response for us as a Christian community to those outside the Christian community. We're going to have more pressure to accommodate on some issues and uphold positions in others. There's not clear agreement within our own community on how to best do that.