What an amazing—and perilous—time to be a Christian scholar. The modern intellectual world, of which I am part, is adrift, unwilling to allow any claim of certainty by which judgments are to be made. Dominant forces work toward fragmentation, limiting reason, and breaking down fundamental truths. In institutional terms, this has led to what Charles Krauthammer has called “the Balkanization of American education.”

Secular pluralism, long prevalent on university campuses, is nearly as pervasive in everyday life. Furious debates over abortion and homosexual rights, values education, and multiculturalism engage common folk in Peoria and Spokane, not just the intellectuals of Cambridge or New Haven. In his recent book, The Disuniting of America, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., notes that we are losing any common national identity as rival ethnic groups retell the American experience from their own point of view. “Will the melting pot,” he asks, “yield to the Tower of Babel?”

The call to retreat

In the face of such daunting challenges to morality and truth, Christian higher education is scrambling to respond. For example, Roman Catholics have attempted to address these concerns from the top. American bishops, departing from precedent, are openly discussing the possibility of granting licenses or mandates to theologians at Catholic universities in an apparent effort to thwart maverick scholars. And, in a new encyclical, “The Splendor of Truth,” Pope John Paul II expresses alarm at the extent of disagreement among moral theologians and calls for vigilance in protecting the faithful who are “disoriented between so many discordant voices.”

Faced with the same challenges, ...

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