The deepest problems of secular liberal-arts education today stem from the theory that truth and values are relative, a fallout of this generation’s commitment to evolutionary perspectives. The loss of authoritative norms explains, in part, the strident student shift from reason and persuasion to mob pressure and compulsion. An evolutionary perspective provides no basis for universal and enduring human rights or responsibilities, nor can it fix normative limits of escalation or deescalation of protest and disruption. It cannot, in fact, supply any fixed norms of ethics whatever, or any unchanging truths.

Amid lost confidence in liberal learning on secular campuses, evangelical students have—and yet neglect—a tremendous opportunity to counter radical assaults on liberal education by their own kind of demonstrations. To face the reality of the supernatural, the objectivity of truth and values, and the moral and spiritual significance of Jesus of Nazareth is crucial to any honest system of education and culture. Yet few issues are more evaded, and more arbitrarily prejudged, than these.

Nowhere, apparently, has a vanguard of evangelical students raised the pivotal questions bypassed in most modern classrooms, by pinpointing the failure of secular faculties to wrestle with the ever critical problems of the history of thought that are decisive for human dignity and the role of reason in society. Who is God if he is? What is moral?—and so what? Is any truth final? Is Christ just a “four-letter word”? These are great issues that believing collegians should be demonstrating for. However much some of us might cringe at placards and banners, they are an in-thing that bespeaks the importance of symbols in a mass-media age, and they can be appropriated to bring visibility to the really important questions of life.

Why do evangelical students by and large take less initiative for the triumph of truth than for the triumph of grace? Our evangelical colleges champion the Christocentric view of life. But they often fail to dissect the life-situations and thought-struggles that inundate most people today. Amid basic efforts to preserve and herald the truth of the Gospel, they forgo a direct confrontation over the truth of truth and the meaning of meaning. Too easily evangelical dialogue bounces within personal and pietistic dimensions when, in fact, it ought to grapple with the very survival of civilization.

The image that evangelical colleges present to the world must embrace truth, justice, and grace as concerns indispensable to Christian education. We are debtors not simply to the evangelical community but to the whole modern world in which we live. Evangelical schools bear this global duty in respect to truth no less than evangelical missions bear a world-wide task in respect to grace.

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Over half the world population is sealed against overt evangelical proclamation. But the other half is locked up far more than we realize to American evangelical resources for its impressions of the credibility of Christianity. As never before our global burden in these harried years is one of intellectually responsible formulation and communication of the truth. Classrooms where teachers and students use reason to face the agenda of the world, grapple with ideas in the context of the truth of revelation, and apply the test of coherence to every truth-claim are the launch-pads of this witness. Valid ideas presented precisely and attractively through every available means can and must be the stock-in-trade of evangelical education.

The mission of the evangelical college is nothing less than to make known the whole truth for the whole man for new life in a new world. Only a comprehensive perspective like this can undermine the presumptive definitions of human nature and destiny posed by utopian ideologies, speculative rationalisms, and self-fulfillment theories, and can illumine the vision of the ideal man and society by the truth of revelation. This banner maintains, moreover, the indispensable and indissoluble bond linking truth, justice, and grace, and by claiming this present world for God’s spiritual purpose in creation, reopens man’s soul to the eternal transcendent world.


By self-learned charms Pankrator Science flies

Over myths and shadows to the truths of sense.

Iron eyes on scarlet stock, fey with surmise,

Decode all things, miniscule and immense.

Blown like a bubble, kneaded like a paste,

Nature now composes one pragmatic crown.

Roentgen-eyed and flush, Science flies to baste

Seamless truth in one theoretic gown.

Inmost fate says no. The cloud-compelling smith,

Unprogrammed Truth, smites Science in the eyes.

The web is rent, the skeins are split; and myth

Decodes into judgment, free from surmise.

Science avows its Lord, but legions find

Horror before them, vanity behind.


Unveiling the reality of the supernatural and expounding the special method whereby God and his ways are to be known demand an intellectual precision that draws the world of unbelief and doubt inescapably into the crossfire of ideas. For this engagement Bible departments must be keen and exciting, philosophy classes powerful and relevant. Campus achievements exhibited to donors and alumni must involve victories of Christian thought and truth more than physical expansion, athletic prowess, even evangelistic endeavor.

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To say, as some do, that the distinctive contribution of Christianity to the world of learning and life is one of perspective, is not enough. To be sure, the Christian view of God and the cosmos and man does involve a unique perspective on the whole of reality. But so, for that matter, does Buddhism, or any other ism one cares to mention. The unique contribution of biblical religion is the truth of revelation and its implications for human redemption and destiny.

Only if—as we believe—revelational truth is of one and the same order as all other truth, or, as Christians also contend, if the validity of any and all truth depends ultimately on the truth of God and his revelation, have we a platform for integrated learning in the context of Judeo-Christian revelation. Christian education that overstresses the uniqueness of the Christian perspective without attending seriously also to the final truth of the Christian revelation faces rough going in the seething world of thought. Nor is it enough simply to affirm the validity of the Christian revelation; nothing less than lucid marshalling of intellectual evidence will make plain why evangelicals are convinced that they have meshed mind with the eternal world.

If, on the other hand, the truth of revelation is truth of a different order, truth whose validity and authority rest simply on subjective preference or internal decision, then we ought to conserve our time and energy and explore the possibilities of merger with Zen Buddhism.

The world we seek to confront is precommitted to evolution as the ultimate explanatory principle, and the limitation of knowledge to the horizons of human history. Unless we grapple with these prejudices, what seem to us to be bold and brave claims for faith will appear to others as tender-minded credulity. It will not do, therefore, to portray the evangelical campus to the world simply as an institution that believes in the inerrancy of the Bible. To be sure, the Word of God cannot be broken, and the authority and plenary inspiration of Scripture is a foundational affirmation. But our day of intellectual relativism and moral nothingness (even amid notable social concern) requires more than formulas that are mainly intended to reassure apprehensive evangelical donors.

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In a 1965 statement, spokesmen for faith-affirming colleges concurred that “the over-all purpose of the evangelical college, as a distinct type of institution, is to present the whole truth, with a view to the rational integration of learning in the context of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ revelation, and to promote the realization of Christian values in student character.”

Only if evangelical learning highlights and vindicates the presuppositions of this umbrella-statement will this comprehensive purpose become significant. For the contemporary mind neither concedes nor comprehends that knowledge is a unitary whole; that integration is ideally rational; that divine revelation supplies the ideal context for integration; that “Judeo-Christian” revelation is incomparably unique; that academic learning has inescapable implications for a student’s moral outlook and behaviour. Because the academic mood on many campuses is implicitly if not overtly naturalistic and relativistic, demonstrating the viability of evangelical alternatives requires an earnest wrestling with undergirding convictions. As the 1965 statement put it, our faith-affirming colleges are called to exhibit “the rational integration of the major fields of learning in the context of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ revelation.” Without a fulfillment of this intellectual priority, non-theistic views, however weak, will remain pervasively influential, while Christian theism, however superior, remains notably unimpressive.

If we take seriously the biblical correlation of learning and values, knowledge and piety, then our schools will strive to graduate men and women who not only know the truth of revelation but also live the real life. We are not in the business of producing Übermenschen or philosopher-kings, but students for whom Jesus Christ is Logos and Light and Life. No one in the moral history of the West has been more unjustifiably reduced to a footnote in modern texts on ethics than Jesus of Nazareth; in an age suffocating with moral pollution, evangelical colleges have the opportunity to rectify this injustice in word and deed.

Christian education needs to recapture the ethical excitement of this dimension of Christian learning and witness. Forged mainly in terms of negations, as often happens, Christian ethical concern soon loses its critically important role of illuminating the line between morality and immorality in terms of the truth of revelation and scriptural principles of conduct. To say this is not to decry campus rules, nor to imply that the alcohol traffic, the tobacco industry, and the cinema no longer pose any moral issues. Indeed, it is ironical that some evangelical schools relaxed rules on movie attendance precisely at a time when X-rated films began to deluge the theaters; and on smoking just when medical research convinced even government agencies to discourage the cigarette habit. Evangelical colleges could become a moral force in our drifting society by training disciplined, dedicated young people who are able to discuss intelligently the issues of our time—from abortion to vivisection and voodoo and Zen. If recent American politics has failed to inspire youth to anything higher than opting out of the system and its commitments, then evangelical education has the special opportunity of integrating the issues of truth, righteousness, and justice in a claim from which no human being can drop out and still remain human.

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We should note, moreover, that in expounding “the whole truth, with a view to rational integration … in the context of ‘Judeo-Christian revelation,’ ” the faith-affirming colleges in the 1965 declaration consider the Bible to be “an integrating force” and “not merely … an additive.” The Christian Apostle to the Gentiles set even the atoning sacrifice and bodily resurrection of the crucified Jesus in this scriptural context; fundamentally important to the Christian message, he avers, is “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised the third day according to the scriptures …” (1 Cor. 15:3, 4).

This rationale for human life and destiny seems as alien to the modern mind as it did to the Athenians when Paul first proclaimed it. The most conspicuous difference between the first and the twentieth centuries is not that the Christian rationale as such now seems foreign. It is, rather, that for modern man, every speculative alternative has lost credibility. Another difference is that much of the Christian task force today, despite its impressive endowments and properties and libraries, its salaried personnel and small army of young followers, lacks the boldness of apostolic times to put the world on the defensive.

While Christian education centers in the manifestation of God in Christ, evangelical colleges have always sensed the need for a more explicit and articulate delineation of basic beliefs. The theological ambiguity of modern ecumenism has, in fact, unwittingly created fresh respect for succinctly stated positions; open-ended pluralistic ruminations on Christian identity are falling out of fashion if not out of favor. Once again, in a day when ecumenical institutions are more concerned with with structure than with truth, the great ecumenical creeds—particularly the Apostles’ and Nicene—provide a basis for stressing central articles of Christian faith. In view of its criterion of the Scriptures as the divine rule of faith and practice, a tenet reaffirmed by the Protestant Reformation, evangelical education holds the ecumenical creeds of Christendom to be proximate normative expressions of the historic Christian faith.

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Totalitarianism or even tax-supported education is hampered by the interests or antagonisms of ruling forces; evangelical education, on the other hand, thrives where and because open competition prevails in the world of ideas, and can best serve where it fulfills its specific mission with competence. In a non-evangelical college, a student may easily accumulate a kaleidoscopic confusion of views gleaned from left-of-center liberals, conservatives, naturalistic philosophers, relativistic anthropologists, and Marxist economists, with one or two demonstrative burn-the-building-and-de-stroy-the-system activists thrown in for good measure. In such a time as this, it will be scant credit to evangelical education, however, merely to be able to label itself as unlike other education. As far back as 1945 the Harvard Report on General Education in a Free Society saw no possibility of a return to theistically oriented education. How much more today, then, do faith-affirming colleges have the unique responsibility of propelling a systematic theistic view into a naturalistic climate, and of delineating the unified view of life required by revelational theism.

Carl F. H. Henry is editor-at-large ofChristianity Today, professor-at-large of Eastern Baptist Seminary, and vice-president of the directors of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies. He is currently visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

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