The founding of private colleges in America has been primarily a Christian endeavor. This was true of the creation and early operation of nearly all colleges, private and public, before the Civil War, and in the great majority of private institutions since. Yet only a few remain avowedly Christian today. Most state universities had become secularized by 1900; however, not until this century did the Christian religion lose its dominant intellectual position in the institutions that began as private Protestant colleges.

The secular character of liberal arts colleges has increased steadily since 1900, so that by 1966 the authors of a major study on small, private colleges in America could conclude that “the intellectual presuppositions which actually guide the activities of most church colleges are heavily weighted in the secular direction” (Manning M. Pattillo and Donald M. MacKenzie, Church-Sponsored Higher Education in the United States).

Analysts are now using terms like “non-affirming colleges,” “Protestant-change colleges,” and “post-Protestant colleges” to describe institutions that either have become or are becoming nonreligious. Frequently these institutions have held a historic connection with mainline denominations. By contrast, clearly Christian institutions most often are aligned with conservative Protestant denominations (e.g., Assemblies of God, most Baptists, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of God, Churches of Christ, Evangelical Friends, Free Methodist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Nazarene, Wesleyan), or are transdenominational in nature.

While one can distinguish a decidedly Christian college from an obviously secular one, it is difficult to separate it from one that has recently begun to change.

Despite this difficulty, ...

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