Perhaps no study is more important that that of the role of Christian institutions in the present secular climate of American life. Of the national population, 85 million persons are presently twenty-four years of age or under; by 1980 more than 35 per cent of the population will be between sixteen and twenty-five. Sunday school enrollment is not keeping pace with population growth, and youth evangelism faces growing odds if church colleges do not counterbalance the secular trend of public education and, in fact, sacrifice one biblical truth after another to modern alternatives. The Danforth Foundation, which has made many notable contributions to American education, has undertaken a systematic appraisal of the 817 religiously oriented colleges and universities throughout the United States, with spring, 1966, as the target date for a public report. Statisticians agree that public education will in the future even more overwhelmingly overshadow church colleges and universities in size, facilities, and total financial support than it does now. If, despite this service to a declining percentage of college students, church colleges are to fulfill a highly important leavening role, far-reaching changes are demanded.
So much new knowledge has emerged, along with a growing thirst for its assimilation within a reasoned outlook on life, that Christian colleges face a remarkable opportunity to confront the academic world in a fresh spirit of intellectual adventure. But without constructiveness of purpose, clarity of objective, and authentic spiritual vision, they are doomed first to irrelevance and then to extinction.
Values In A Vacuum
What distinctive role has the Christian college? To emphasize the humanistic values in Western culture? The better secular campuses now do this in their humanities courses. To add a religion department to a secular curriculum? Already eighteen state universities have established full-time religion departments; learning about religion is no distinctive of church-related education but an integral element in a complete liberal arts education. To stress “Hebrew-Christian values” or “the basic truths of life”? An academic institution that seeks to perpetuate these values in a metaphysical vacuum has learned little from the drift of Western thought and life, and its cherished “vital truths” usually become so broad that little depth remains. Sometimes church-related colleges differ little from others except in preserving corporate worship or a moral code that erases biblical patterns less swiftly than that of secular campuses.
Since the questioning of religious beliefs is a widespread characteristic of American secular education, what special obligation have the church-related campuses? They are accused by some of neglecting the development of a philosophy of life and assuming unjustifiably that a reasoned outlook emerges automatically from a college education. At a time when many forces are inimical to historic Christianity, a steady stream of graduates sensitive to modern ideas and equipped for intellectual leadership could exert significant influence both in the churches and in secular society. The Christian campus might thus supply the guiding principles of the future as a by-product of its illumination of the liberal arts by the Christian faith.
No mere addition of “a religious tone” to the liberal arts will dispel the present spiritual vacuum, to which paradoxically many of the churches are contributing. The theological and ethical uncertainty in the seminaries and in the churches is surely one of the chief causes of uncertainty in the church-related colleges. The major universities have, in fact, sloughed off their church-relatedness except when crusading for funds or recalling their origins. Some secular educators cherish the strange notion that the academic excellence of colleges is proportionate to their lack of church-relatedness. And not a few surviving church colleges tend to look upon their church affiliation as a liability. They perpetuate no fixed Christian beliefs, consider chapel attendance optional, pay no serious attention to religion, and emphasize their non-sectarian character.
Despite the ecumenical tendency to speak of “church colleges,” this term now covers a spectrum of institutions of such divergent commitments that it serves only a statistical purpose. For obvious reasons, Roman Catholic educators would rather speak of their institutions as Catholic colleges, while evangelical educators speak of Christian colleges. One Presbyterian college president, asked what religious beliefs he requires of faculty, replied: “Only that they be church members; we assume that this establishes their evangelical commitment.” The term “church-relatedness” implies nothing definitive in the way of theological commitment; what it assures is little more than favored tax treatment for ordained members of the teaching staff.
The weakest link in the effort to revive the importance of the church colleges is their unsure sense of the role of truth in Christianity. This uncertainty is doubly distressing at the present moment, when public education is groping to understand the role of religion in the curriculum and when the main vacuum in many church colleges is their lack of an integrating world-life view.
The Wind-Swept Campus
At a time when the winds of modernity have swept over many religious campuses, administrators speak of the need for faculty diversity—for “ventilation”—as a guarantee of intellectual ferment, despite the fact that the fundamental problem in church-related institutions is their neglect of Christian perspective. When the Christian faith has been all but blown away by modernity, sensitive educators ought to think about closing some doors rather than opening more windows. The times being what they are, the need is not for more “ventilation”—the thing that already accounts for the secularizing of many church colleges—but for greater consistency in the relevant exposition of Christian truth and the relating of all subjects to the Judaeo-Christian revelation.
The plea for vitality in learning is, of course, well taken. It has been rightly said that students ought to “field the question” before teachers suggest the answers. No Christian faculty is worthy of its academic responsibilities if it can sustain intellectual excitement on campus only through the presence of unbelieving colleagues. This device may be dramatic, but it tends to neglect the best resources for academic vitality—such things as the full use of library holdings, the conflict in the minds of students, the spirit of the classroom, panel discussions including outside participants, and visiting lecturers.
The Christian campus does not need a devil on its faculty; a devil’s advocate will do. The devil will be active enough on his own account. Even an ideologically united faculty usually includes a considerable amount of diversity, simply because sanctification is not glorification. Those who make room for a Unitarian on a seminary or college faculty may have a church-related institution, but its Christian integrity is compromised. The advocates of “ventilation” offer no objective gauge of when such contrary winds become objectionable. But faculty members who contend that unbelievers ought to be able to teach in a Christian college classroom should apply to a secular institution, since the main distinction between a church college of diverse religious outlooks and a secular college is usually the latter’s academic superiority.
Behind the advocacy of “ventilation” is not so much a desire for intellectual excitement, which can be achieved in other ways, as a surrender of the traditional view of the Christian college as a propagatory institution or medium of indoctrination. The campus cannot be the church, requiring an affirmation of the historic faith from its students. Its role cannot be defined as pastoral and protective. Nor is the classroom the place to press for conversion. Its main traffic is in ideas; intellectual content is its commodity. But liberal arts education presumably is interested in the whole truth. Just as physicians are bound by the Hippocratic Oath to preserve life, so teachers ought to consider themselves academically responsible to purvey truth in its entirety. And a company of scholars who agree about a corpus of spiritual truth that they are willing to expose to the same searching scrutiny they give other ideologies has every academic right, and in fact an obligation, to pass this truth on.
Non-evangelicals who disbelieve biblical truths will hesitate to inculcate these truths, but it should be clear that it is the truths and not the indoctrination that they oppose. Whoever thinks that only evangelical or fundamentalist campuses practice indoctrination is due for some higher education. Every campus, and, in fact, almost every teacher, does this; the difference between liberal and conservative teachers and colleges in this regard is not whether but what. If conservative colleges are characterized as defenders of the faith, the plain fact is that the liberal college not only has lost the historic faith and is confused about what to substitute but also serves an intellectual smorgasbord, with ardent promotion of one specialty or another by the various classroom chefs.
A Difference Of Degree
The notion that academic freedom is inconsistent with the presentation of a body of truth to which a college faculty subscribes is unconvincing. The difference in this matter among the religiously oriented campuses is one of degree, not of kind. Few if any church-related colleges will tolerate an atheist as a professor, and probably none would tolerate a known Communist. All religious institutions have specific faculty requirements. If academic freedom is thwarted by an intellectual requirement, then all church-related campuses are in the same predicament. What is really objectionable about evangelical institutions from the liberal standpoint is the requirement of faculty adherence to articles of the historic faith that the non-evangelical has surrendered, and that are a barrier to faculty eligibility unless religious symbols are rationalized to mean what they once did not mean. Every educational institution gathers a company of scholars subscribing to its purposes, and no institution grants its faculty members freedom to destroy those purposes. If an institution allows academic license to erode its objectives in the classroom, the dissident faculty will in time preside over the death of these objectives.
Let no one consider this a brief for run-of-the-mill fundamentalist education. It is the academic shortcomings of these institutions that lend artificial credence to liberal contentions. Their ingrown faculties, their worship of Ph.D.’s more than good teachers, their contentment with graduates who have not really won the faith for themselves but “parrot” it, their elevation of the campus code to an authority paralleling that of divine articles of faith, their inclusion in required faculty statements details on which even evangelicals disagree widely, their failure to produce a comprehensive literature articulating the Christian faith in the context of contemporary thought, their smug withdrawal from the secular academic scene—all these elements and more call for a new day in conservative education.
But non-evangelicals are in no position to gloat over this list of shortcomings, since some of their own campuses reflect certain of these tendencies also. And the so-called “liberal” campus that boasts about its academic freedom often has bolted the doors against firsthand reflection of evangelical convictions, and, even more often, presents them second-hand in the spirit of effigy-burning. As a matter of fact, some “liberal” liberal arts colleges wholly bypass evangelical faculty prospects. Nor are theological seminaries an exception; at one period or another campuses of the stature of the University of Chicago Divinity School have displayed this same exclusive temper. As many graduates complain of the academic illiberality of liberal institutions as protest the closed-mindedness of conservative campuses. One would be hard put to it to draw up a list of evangelical professors teaching philosophy in non-evangelical church colleges. The libraries of non-evangelical institutions are often woefully lacking in evangelical reading resources, and course requirements and reserve reading shelves frequently bypass conservative literature entirely.
The liberal complaint that conservative institutions necessarily transgress academic freedom by their doctrinal requirements really springs from a quite different motivation—in a word, from skepticism about basic evangelical tenets. Often, in fact, this skepticism runs much deeper; there is doubt of the reality of any divinely revealed truths whatever, or of the existence of a fixed body of truth of any kind. This attitude implies not so much a concern for freedom, of which Christ is the font, as an uncertainty that Christ is the font of truth and that the Christian campus can know absolute truth about the spiritual world.
Precisely this mood has led the church colleges to their present predicament, in which the relation between religion and truth is highly ambiguous. In fact, religion and intellect are sometimes viewed antithetically. This is all the more apparent when liberal educators, troubled about the decline of Christian conviction on church-related campuses, speak of their institutions as stronger academically than religiously. The contrast of truth and religion is one that neither Augustine nor Aquinas, Luther nor Calvin, would have tolerated. But the liberal tradition from Kant through Ritschl, Schleiermacher, and Kierkegaard refuses to acknowledge the competency of reason in the metaphysical realm. Evangelical scholars insist that this competency has been impaired by sin; but this is quite different from the emphasis that man cannot have objective knowledge of ultimate reality on any basis whatever, divine creation and redemption included.
The Underlying Denial
What underlies the liberal outlook pervading many denominational colleges today is the arbitrary denial of the ontological significance of reason—that is, of the biblical fact that the Logos is structurally constitutive of all reality. That a rational God is Creator of all things, that in Jesus Christ the Divine Logos has become incarnate, that the rational nature of man and the laws of logic belong to the imago Dei—all this has been surrendered to the waves of modernity. The instrumental philosophy of John Dewey, the anti-metaphysical theology of influential European modernist, dialectical, or existential scholars, have squandered all this—and more. What more? The historic Christian assurance that divine revelation has communicated trustworthy knowledge of God and his purposes. In a word, the whole biblical and traditional confidence in divinely revealed truths is gone.
This situational fact, much more than genuine theological renewal, explains the success of ecumenism in our time. And its implications for the church-related colleges are plain. If evangelical confidence in revealed truths is misplaced, if no genuine metaphysical knowledge is possible, if there is, in fact, no body of fixed truth, and if religion thrives in the absence of any universally valid truth-content, then it is perfectly clear why many insist that Christian colleges need “ventilation,” why the “ideal” Christian campus will not defend a “faith which was once for all delivered,” and why the insistence on creedal subscription conflicts with academic freedom. Surely no scholar wants to be chained to what he considers error.
Much of this kind of thinking motivates the emphasis that students best acquire a unified view of life from the encouragement of professorial example. This emphasis is popular among liberals who are disillusioned about the ability of a structure of courses (particularly “the religion department”) to achieve the integration of learning. Surely no one will doubt the importance of professorial example, particularly in the matter of a unified view of life. The teacher should teach by example outside the classroom what he teaches by precept in the classroom. But it should be crystal clear that, at this level, we are speaking of something considerably less than an integrated Christian world-life view, something, shall we say, answering to the Communist Weltanschauung.
The evangelical, the modernist, and the humanist have strikingly different convictions about what delivers man from inner personality discord and unifies his personality and outlook on life. And it is the evangelical today who insists on the role of reason in religious experience. The others insist, no doubt, that the purpose of education is not simply to amass a great quantity of facts but “to make the students’ eyes shine.” But all the “posies, punch, and platitudes” cannot conceal the fact that most church college campuses are evasive at the point that needs most clearly to be articulated—namely, whether the Christian religion is true. That Christianity is the highest religion, that it is unique, that it is redemptive—all this may be asserted. But no college campus that professes to be Christian can evade an academic duty to deal with the truth-claim of historic Christianity in relation to the truth of philosophy, science, and history. Is the truth of the Christian religion universally valid? If a church-related campus cannot give a reasoned affirmative answer to that question, it deserves to go out of business. In fact, it really has gone out of business so far as its religious claim is concerned.
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