To solidify recent gains in evangelism, missions, and literature, ought evangelical forces to rally cooperatively to the high vision of an accredited Christian university? Has the providential hour struck for American evangelicals to establish a major supradenominational university strategically located near a great metropolitan area? To lift the Christian college movement to new levels of academic effectiveness in liberal arts and graduate studies, should dedicated scholars now shape a new enterprise to state the Christian claim in the major fields of learning with fresh power, and in this time of secular challenge voice the Christian answer with new relevance?
We think the providential moment is here. The tide of American thought and life makes imperative a Christian university devoted in depth to the biblical revelation of God, of man, and of the world; aggressively challenging pagan and secular theories of reality and history; and supplying a steady stream of spiritual leadership to all professions and vocations, including diplomacy, business, and communication.
THE BASIC IMAGE
What should be the basic image of a Christian university in the modern academic world? If worthy of the name, such a school must deal with the foundational issues of thought and life in the rich context of the Bible. It must be evangelistic in relevance, evangelical in doctrine, and committed both to high academic standards and to moral purity. But unless it is much more, it cannot qualify as a genuinely Christian university.
Besides a deep sense of personal devotion to the Lord, the faculty must grasp the history of thought in systematic orientation to Jesus Christ as the revealed center of history, nature, conscience, and redemption, and thus bring the “ancient mind,” the “medieval mind,” the “modern mind,” the “contemporary mind” under the judgment of divine revelation. To integrate the totality of life’s experiences, qualified teachers must be concerned to unify campus disciplines within the perspective of the Christian world-life view. Aware of the tragic cultural crisis of our times, moreover, they must delineate the political, economic, and social implications of Christianity, and expound a consistent criticism of and alternative to collectivistic revisions of the social order which invariably downgrade the biblical view of man.
In addition to individual projects and literary excursions, members of a Christian university faculty must engage in corporate conversation, research, and writing, each contributing toward the production of textbooks to penetrate the collegiate world and to challenge the monopoly now held by secular scholars. Were such a university to realize its greatest potential, it could be a platform for the ablest evangelical scholars of all traditions, and could encouragingly solidify the international witness of conservative Christianity.
To surrender any of these high objectives will necessarily weaken the full potential of a Christian university. The present status of one or other of these imperatives in existing evangelical institutions makes doubly imperative the establishment of a Christian university devoted primarily to these objectives. For a variety of reasons, evangelical colleges have had little corporate faculty research and writing to advance the Christian view of God and the world over against non-Christian expositions, and therefore have posed less serious academic challenge to secular thinkers on the modern scene. With a vested interest in his institution, an administrator of an existing college may be tempted to view the proposed university as competitive. But such a fully accredited university would operate at a different level from unaccredited schools. (Excluding Bible colleges and junior colleges, 22 out of 36 well-known evangelical colleges have no regional accreditation, in many cases due to lack of finances.) Actually, educators in these schools can benefit from the new enthusiasm a Christian university project will create for the whole cause of evangelical education. Presently accredited colleges have not aggressively fostered the university ideal, however. The envisioned university would not replace nor could it be superimposed upon the existing structures.
In three specific areas a Christian university must aggressively press beyond much of contemporary evangelical education. While a supradenominational institution cannot commit itself to specific denominational creeds, a Christian university ought to seek in this day of doctrinal decline an undergirding statement both biblically authentic and intellectually adequate for depth of faith and a comprehensive world-life view. Equally important, a university’s academic priority and efficiency ought to be guarded so that faculty and students are not deviated into constant preaching or promotional activity, since a worthy graduate school must be devoted to study and research and writing. Moreover, the sphere of campus morality ought to provide a strategic opportunity to dramatize, in personal as well as social ethics, Christian dedication primarily to the commandments of God rather than to the regulations of men.
THE WIDENING DILEMMA
Launching an institution of higher learning is always a colossal venture—the more so in our generation—and the more difficult in the case of a Christian university. But dedicated men who have seen the warmth of Christian vision melt huge twentieth century odds against a new advance in evangelism, in missions, in literature, will have faith, too, for a new era in Christian education.
1. The evangelical penetration of American Christianity, since the theological breakdown of liberalism, has itself turned young people in search of Christ-centered collegiate studies at a remarkable rate. There is limited room for them, if any, in accredited Christian colleges now existing; the enrollment problem worsens by the year, and these institutions now annually turn away thousands of eligible students (Wheaton College alone receives almost 7500 inquiries a year).
On most secular campuses students find an atmosphere repressive of Christian faith and life; where Christian concern survives, it does so often at the evangelistic level, and even in this respect students are far ahead of most faculty members. The classroom tendency is to disregard Christianity as a relevant world-life view. Consequently, many first-rate Christian students are subjected to second-rate education regarding spiritual and moral realities.
2. Most evangelical missionary candidates come from Christian colleges and Bible institutes. The number of candidates for missionary service from secular schools is steadily declining. With the impending population explosion, rising literacy rates, and the earth shadowed by Communist propaganda and aggression, the need for a virile Christian thrust by well-trained workers is apparent. They will require the very best education.
3. Since the number of college students will rise (according to current estimates, from 30 per cent of the college age group five or ten years ago, to 50 per cent in 1970), the need for teachers will be fully as urgent as the demand for classrooms. Dr. Enock C. Dyrness of Wheaton College warns that “unless we are willing to see our educational system completely secularized, we must start to expand the facilities in existing Christian colleges and build a Christian university where teachers and leaders may be trained.” News commentator Paul Harvey prophesies that “such an institution can be the lighthouse for the cause of freedom,” and adds, “the whole atmosphere of the front page reminds us of the acute urgency of the hour.” Leadership of the left-wing movements in our generation has come largely from the great Eastern universities that surrendered their evangelical heritage and now assail the Christian view. Many Christian laymen agree that now only a Christian challenge in depth can rescue an America already hurtling over the Great Falls of secularism. Some have called the Board of Trustees of a Christian university the veritable shock troops of a vast army facing with new courage the enemies of faith and freedom. While a great many Americans are noble and God-fearing, they are disorganized at grass roots and in need of leadership.
4. Although evangelical educators have established vigorous academic ventures through the years, no interdenominational institution launched on a conservative basis compares favorably in reputation with the big-name universities. If they take accredited education seriously, the so-called evangelical universities today are almost all embarrassed by the promotional enthusiasm that generated their past designation as “university” rather than college. Not all have a strong undergraduate liberal arts program, even less do they penetrate the large graduate sphere, and stress primarily, if not exclusively, the ministry among the professions. In view of this void, some leaders feel it would be culpable not to launch a Christian university if the necessary funds can be attracted. Were the plan projected by a company of responsible and respected leaders, it is thought, one source might be interested in providing a library, another a chapel, and another a dormitory, dining hall or gymnasium. The underwriting of faculty chairs and other aspects of the university could attract other participants, while hundreds of thousands of churchgoers, it is hoped, would rally smaller gifts.
Evangelist Billy Graham’s far-reaching vision has brought new courage to the evangelical enterprise at many levels, and it has also revealed an enlarging burden and responsibility for the thousands of teen-age converts in big city crusades. Many have no opportunity in these areas to be graduated from an accredited Christian college. A case in point was the Madison Square Garden Crusade. Here New York laymen were deeply troubled to abandon college-age converts to secular schools and educators for lack of an effective metropolitan alternative. Some of these very laymen are now pleading the cause of a Christian university in the Gotham area and have implored Dr. Graham to gather together evangelical leaders who share this academic vision. There must be action, they feel, before mounting taxation puts to flight the vast resources of private wealth and income necessary to the venture. Insisting that he must be free to give himself to the great task of evangelism, Dr. Graham has refused to entangle himself with academic responsibilities. He has, however, given much encouragement to the plan, though disallowing use of his own name in the naming of an institution. Dr. Graham clearly shares the burden for a Christian university that brings classical distinction to evangelical education, and has encouraged discussion and planning by interested leaders. He has met with such groups when possible and has prayed with them for a breakthrough in terms of site, funds, and, above all, divine guidance.
Present discussions favor a New York area location. Not only is that community of obvious strategic importance, but no accredited institution of the anticipated kind exists among its 12 million inhabitants. The evangelical movement now lacks a firm foothold in the area, and some financial enthusiasm is evident. Others contend that location is relatively unimportant. What is equally important, they insist, is not to encumber the university vision by needless restrictions which will tend to impede academic virility.
IS IT TOO LATE?
This dream of a great Christian university may seem unrealistic. Many liberal arts colleges (let alone private universities) are in financial trouble. Public institutions increasingly dominate the educational scene. Private colleges are becoming quasi-public through dependence on programs like the National Defense Education Act. Church giving is “a drop in the bucket” of private college needs, tuition charges are skyrocketing to meet professors’ salaries, endowment funds are sapped by heavy government taxation that reduces the capacity for philanthropy.
Self-educated men, moreover, seldom weary of pointing out that 85 per cent of Americans over 29 years of age have never entered college, and that some who have plumbed the Great Books, like Charles Van Doren, can graduate to a career of intellectual prostitution. Others complain that of every 10 college students, two are helped, two are hurt, and six waste time.
Even church colleges have a disappointing history; many have lost their early Christian vision, and evangelical conviction often struggles for expression and even survival on campuses to which it once imparted life. Among approximately 600 of the 750 liberal arts colleges in the United States that are church-related, some have not attained high academic ideals, many more neglect the implications of the Christian faith. The founders have had a great vision, churchmen and laymen have given sacrificial support, the campus has a great beginning and tradition. But often when professors in these same schools today close the classroom doors to lecture, they resurrect Aristotle and Hegel, Darwin and Dewey, Kant and Kierkegaard, only to leave Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross, unrecognized and unwanted.
Where evangelical ideals prevail, the problem of funds often predominates. The woeful lack of support for Christian colleges, many of which operate “on a shoestring,” is one of the strange ironies of the evangelical resurgence. In some measure, this situation doubtless reflects the reluctance of donors to establish permanent endowments because they have seen large gifts perverted to alien points of view. More and more it is apparent that no legal device can keep a school doctrinally sound or spiritually alive; the intellectual and spiritual integrity of the Board of Trustees, the administration and the faculty remains the key to institutional integrity. One fact is sure: no provision for a Christian university will be adequate without extensive endowment.
Perhaps it is too late for a Christian university. But of the need, the staggering need, there can be no doubt. To venture or not to venture the project in faith may determine more than the spiritual temperature of the nation; equally much the decision will gauge the nature and depth of evangelical resurgence of America today.
EDUCATION AND MORALS—“Many a divorced professor is teaching in our colleges; some of them are even regarded as authorities in the fields of marriage, sexual adjustment and family. We have legions of divorces and divorcees among our most prominent citizens, including captains of industry and finance, journalists and writers, doctors and lawyers, civic leaders and politicians. Sexual infamy is almost a necessary condition for becoming a star of stage, movie or television; sometimes, it is found to be the only talent possessed by these performers, who are otherwise perfectly innocent of the art of artful acting. Among our public officials, there is a vast legion of profligates, both heterosexual and homosexual.”—Dr. PITIRIM SOROKIN, in The American Sex Revolution, p. 44.
Jacob J. Vellenga served on the National Board of Administration of the United Presbyterian Church from 1948–54. Since 1958 he has served the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. as Associate Executive. He holds the A.B. degree from Monmouth College, the B.D. from Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary, Th.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and D.D. from Monmouth College, Illinois.
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