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Two recent pieces in CHRISTIANITY TODAY make the strong case for more and better Christian scholarship. Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch, both respected evangelical scholars in their own right, ask that evangelicals devote more energy to the difficult task of cultivating a Christian mind. To be sure, worshiping God with one's mind is a worthy task, one even commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ. But such pleas on behalf of Christian scholars overlook significant problems and perils that beset academic life.
The most significant feature of modern higher education that weakens prospects for cultivating the kind of mind for which Drs. Hatch and Noll call is the scholarship that universities and colleges produce. At the time of the modern university's founding, roughly the post-Civil War period, a profound debate-even more profound in some respects than the questions surrounding Darwinism-was taking place about the nature and function of higher education. On the one side stood the new learning, which placed the natural and social sciences on equal footing with the humanities. The new curriculum stood for academic specialization. Pitted against the new learning was a curriculum built around the classics and moral philosophy.
While the old-time college may have produced terrible results in some cases, it was truly interested in asking questions about the nature and meaning of human life. Today it has lost out to the modern university and its ideal of specialized research. Latin and Greek did not make a whole lot of sense in the world of emerging cities, expanding industry, and immigrant labor. Neither did the perennial issues of truth, beauty, and goodness. Indeed, the mindset that came to prevail in the university rarely asked questions about the standards that should be used to evaluate scholarship or the society such research was supposed to improve.
In the process, the university transformed learning and called into question the existing foundations of higher education. Education ...