The Christian college today is called upon as never before to justify its survival as a serious educational effort.
Education seeks above all to lead the mind to truth, to defend truth against the onslaughts of error, and to unmask the frailties and fallacies of false views of reality and life. “The academic approach” means truth consistently held and persistently applied.
From such regard for truth Christianity has little to fear. In fact, the neglect of truth—its fragmentation or compromise—alone can obscure the superiority and finality of the Christian religion.
If there is any religion that places a premium on truth, ours is that religion. No other religion like Christianity regards the Logos as intrinsic to the Godhead, man by creation as a bearer of the divine rational-moral image, revelation itself as intelligible divine communication to fallen man, spiritual conviction as a work of the Spirit by the use of truth as a means, and man’s redemption as his rescue from sin and his restoration to the knowledge of the one true God.
The academic approach obviously can mean something quite different. We need but look at the world around us—its climate of ideas and the mind-set of the colleges and universities—to realize this. The pride of reason, the mind of man fixed on the secular concerns of this life, or in pursuit of supernatural realities only along the roadway of speculation, is its characteristic hallmark. One can well understand, even if he cannot justify, the misgivings about higher education that crowd many of our devout evangelical homes. It is incredible that great institutions like Harvard and Columbia found their origin in the desire to train a competent evangelical ministry—incredible, that is, if one thinks of the contemporary curriculum of such schools as supplying what the original founders envisioned. But that is hardly the case. Today, on the great campuses of America, biblical religion is engaged in a constant battle for survival; in colonial times, higher education found its incentive and inspiration in the Christian revelation of God and the world. That vision has, of course, long been darkened in the collegiate world.
The loss of this spiritual and moral axis has made American education more and more vagabond and vagrant. Not only has the classroom, and the curriculum as a whole, and the spirit of the campus, drifted at uncertain distances from any recognizable harbor of the soul, but the American university has steadily lost the prospect of the rational integration of life’s experiences.
The academic approach therefore is something that evangelical Christianity dare neither evade nor neglect. Our confused generation can recover the unity of truth only by a return to the revelation of the living God as the key to creation, the key to conscience, to history, to redemption, and to judgment. This supernatural axis offers education today its only prospect for lifting our vast learning to the spiritual service of God and man. If modern learning has lost this sacred vision—even its sense of ultimate moral and spiritual obligation—the evangelical movement nevertheless retains the duty of reaffirming that responsibility, and of providing the academic world with an example of what it means to crown human wisdom with the lordship of Christ.
Perhaps the most serious weakness of contemporary evangelical education is the fact that during the past generation its witness to the secular schools has scored so low. Beyond doubt Christian scholars continue to make their mark in many areas of study, winning recognition for proficiency in this discipline or that. But in one department of learning after another in the whole gamut of modern study scarcely an evangelical scholar is any longer mentioned for his contribution as a believer. What is at low ebb is the evangelical contribution to healing the rupture in modern thought, to bridging the gap between the Christian revelation and modern interpretations of reality and life. It is only of partial importance for the evangelical cause in the world that devout scholars attain a desirable professional stature and respect in their spheres of specialization. Of equal importance is their creative contribution from the vantage point of such professional distinction to the Christian world-life view. However renowned a scholar may be in a given field, if beyond his personal piety he does little more than pose academic problems to Christian belief, and contributes little if anything to their solution, he has failed to strengthen the ties of revealed religion at a time when secular unbelief has virtually snipped the thread of Christian relevance.
Behind this failure of some eminent evangelicals to advance the Christian view on the level of learning stands the virtual indifference of many of our evangelical institutions to the higher academic task incumbent upon the educational enterprise. It may be that a course in theism, or some other study designed to grasp the whole range of life and reality from the standpoint of God as its central explanatory principle, still survives—although interest in a comprehensive world-and-life view is less fashionable today than a few decades ago. But such a course, imposed toward the close of the college years, hardly fulfills the academic duty of evangelical education in this matter.
Are the faculty members themselves, in the educational thrust of the campus, concerned for correlation of their classroom convictions? Are they themselves inspired by the grand ideal of a unified campus outlook, finding in Jesus Christ the true center of life and reality? As an academic mirror of the evangelical heritage, does the teaching staff in their respective disciplines sense their duty to advance the interests of a Christian view of God and the world? Does the administrative leadership sense the obligation of the Christian college to seek under God a rational integration of the whole enterprise of modern knowledge and learning?
Unless modern learning is oriented to the scriptural revelation, unless the full light of that revelation is allowed to illuminate the insights of our century, unless the whole range of knowledge becomes a panorama enhancing the centrality of Jesus Christ as creator, preserver, redeemer and judge, the academic enterprise somehow fails to justify its mission as a distinctively Christian effort. It may shelter evangelical youth from the corrupting influences of our age; it may inspire them with a devotional warmth and attract them to a life of personal piety; it may channel them into the vocational service of the church of Christ; or perhaps to dedicate their work in other areas to the service of God and man as a divine calling; it may provide a larger fellowship of kindred hearts whose associations in later life will prove a stimulus to each other and a blessing to the world. All these accomplishments are worthy but are inherent also in the activity of local churches true to their mission, and therefore do not constitute the unique task of our Christian schools. That task is to delineate the abiding truths with precision and power, and at their center to unveil Jesus Christ the Truth. If Christian education fails in this basic mission, it forfeits its great opportunity and defects from its great responsibility.
Why is it, we may ask, that in a century which began with comprehensive works like James Orr’s The Christian View of God and the World, which crowned our senior studies in college days, the whole educational enterprise of American evangelicalism in our century has produced no up-to-date work of comparable merit? Has this responsibility for a unified Christian outlook binding together all the spheres of knowledge from the standpoint of revealed religion ceased to be an imperative? Western theology has shifted from an aggressive liberalism to a pervasive neo-orthodoxy. Philosophy has deteriorated from the regnant idealisms to the vascillating naturalisms of a cynical end-time. The world of invention has staggered man’s imagination with its mastery of speed and space; with incredible momentum the realm of science has moved from theory to theory. For the evangelical academic community to stand on the sidelines of such changes, without interpreting them with bold venturesomeness from the Christian point of view, seems an inexcusable neglect. Our best young minds look for an evangelical philosophy of science, and there is none; they look for an evangelical theology of the Church in the world; they look for literature that points the way through the social pressures of our era. To give them guidance in these areas in classroom and textbook is the task of the academic enterprise. The production of a core of evangelical literature in the crucial areas of modern thought is a duty our evangelical administrators and faculties now neglect only at great cost both to the stability of evangelical forces in the world, and to the effectiveness of the evangelical witness in the world.
To their credit, conservative Protestant institutions have faithfully resisted the levelling tendency of Protestant liberalism and have maintained the vital distinction between revealed religion and religion-in-general. Our times demand a new strategy in academic affairs, however. In our generation of despair and doubt we must challenge the citadels of modern unbelief from the high tower of Christian theism in its pledge of spiritual unction and intellectual unity. To do this effectively, the evangelical cause requires certain guiding principles to which it may well devote its energies these next years.
1. A chain of accredited evangelical institutions from coast to coast should be strengthened and enlarged through evangelical planning. Institutional accreditation easily becomes a fetish and sometimes even an instrument of prejudice, but meeting the highest secular standards of education is an imperative precondition of evangelical academic strength. The evangelical cause would gain from cooperative efforts to strengthen colleges successively in their final thrust for recognition.
2. Evangelical schools will best preserve their academic priorities by seeking the administrative leadership of devout scholars who themselves have earned the highest degrees and thus as a symbol of educational achievement can inspire evangelical youth. Doubtless the veneration of earned doctorates has its perils, for even an earned sheepskin can cloak a worthless wolf. But schools that lean for leadership primarily upon evangelists and public relations experts for their financial and promotional advantage tend almost inevitably to lower their academic sights.
3. The prime academic task of the evangelical college president, beyond securing a competent and trusted faculty, is to communicate and inspire a comprehensive, cohesive delineation of all the areas of knowledge in relation to the Christian revelation. The college president is the main key to an earnest searching of the Christian philosophy of education, to a thorough presentation of modern alternatives to the Christian view, and to the relevant exhibition of the biblical view of God and the world.
4. Modern learning is so extensive and intricate that its coordination with the Christian view requires the mutual effort and contribution of the entire teaching staff. An evangelical faculty that finds its intellectual stimulus in meeting and confronting the world’s challenge to the Christian faith will not soon fall into internal tension and discontent.
5. Few evangelical faculties today can undertake in isolation the burden of a comprehensive literary statement of the evangelical view. In this time of culture crisis the effective pooling of evangelical resources across faculty lines could enhance the Christian witness through symposiums and other joint efforts.
6. Important to the evangelical thrust today are opportunities for scholars’ conferences to provide an orderly exchange of mind and heart in related disciplines. The provision of travel expenses in whole or in part for participation in professional societies, especially as evangelicals develop their own lines of communication in conjunction with such gatherings, is therefore a desirable faculty benefit.
7. Endowment of lecture series for studied contributions on crucial facets of Christian faith and life would enhance evangelical literary contribution at the academic level. Conservative Protestantism needs today to parallel such great works as the Bampton Lectures of an earlier generation loyal to the evangelical heritage. Students on our campuses need the stimulus of such volumes, evangelical libraries require their supportive presence, and reserve reading lists in our nonevangelical schools will benefit from their availability. Any lecture series, of course, is valuable only in proportion to the thought and energy that even the ablest scholars devote to their task. Today the avenues of publication are open wide, and our great need is for published works addressed to the collegiate as well as to the ministerial mind.
We live in an age shadowed by communism, scientism, and secularism. The one great hope for such an age is still the effective and thoroughgoing thrust of the biblical evangel. In this task, responsibility for delivering an aggressive academic impact for the evangelical view devolves upon us who eagerly identify ourselves as evangelical.
Again American Youth Are Off On A Great Adventure
Trek to the halls of learning is the most important experience of the month for millions of American youth. Hundreds of thousands will be entering university, college, or seminary for the first time.
Pastors and other Christian leaders who have helped to nurture these fledgling “trustees of posterity” are undoubtedly sending them off with prayer and good counsel. This business of getting an education is one of the most important adventures of life. The Church must share in this concern of youth and furnish essential guidance.
These neophytes in the art of learning are choosing vocations. Some will go into professions, some into business and, in our sort of world, many will choose science and engineering. The Church needs to impregnate their minds with the conviction that while erudition and scholarship are enormously essential, an education without Christ and a Christian philosophy of life prepares one for only half a career. Unless the vessel is clean, whatever is poured into it may turn sour. There is a distinctive wholeness and wholesomeness to the man who puts Christ first in his life, prepares himself to be a good steward, and sees his basic life mission as an ever-enlarging service to man-kind. A vital relationship to his Lord will enable him to view life in the proper perspective.
When the student becomes aware of the clash between historic Christianity and scientific naturalism he may quickly react against “old-fashioned” truths and virtues. It is the pastor who should be able to help the young scholastic see that the universe is not self-sufficient and self-explanatory and that his religion cannot be defined in naturalistic psychological terms. Christ must be made for him the answer to his deepest personal moral and spiritual involvements, his highest and richest aspirations, the vital and enabling contact with a power greater than his own.
Wise pastors will not cross these absentee sheep off their prayer lists but will keep shepherding them through their crucial years in school. They will have problems galore, the basic solutions being moral and religious. Such young men and women need to feel that at all times they have free access to the House of the Interpreter, especially when doubt and confusion overtake them.
There is no more strategic opportunity for a pastor than that of spiritual guidance to those whom Disraeli once dubbed “the trustees of posterity.”
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