Time discovers Christian colleges—at least one of them, anyway
Time has joined the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and a host of other news outlets in noticing the enrollment boom in Christian colleges. But rather than take the typical Time approach (23 reporters in 31 cities), the magazine decided to focus explicitly on one college: California's Azusa Pacific University.
And it truly is focused—so much so that when it refers to APU as "the U.S.'s second largest evangelical Christian college," there's no mention of what the largest is. Here's the summary paragraph:
APU is booming … and it is becoming a model for how a Christian college can reinvent itself in a modern age. The U.S.'s galloping evangelical movement is fueling part of this growth, but so is a population of young adults craving an active experience with God and spirituality. As it expands, APU is challenging the stereotypes of evangelical colleges as weak academically and ultraconservative socially. Can an institution that doubts Darwin and mandates chapel attendance provide an education the mainstream world respects? God willing, say students and faculty at APU.
The article, which characterizes APU as combining "a soft-touch Christian approach with a steadily improving academic program," should give a boost to the school, which has been undeservedly overlooked in most articles about Christian higher education. But one wonders whether such a strict focus didn't create some blind spots. For example, what's this about "how a Christian college can reinvent itself in a modern age"? For Azusa, that reinvention was former president Richard Felix's efforts to take the school from something that was "more like a revival tent than an institution of higher learning" to "a flagship Christian university."
As Time notes, Azusa's "experience reflects the school's roots as the first Bible college on the West Coast, founded in 1899 as a training school for Christian workers." But some other Christian colleges with different roots have struggled more with temptations to secularism than they have with those toward anti-intellectualism.
And while Time's article may help whittle away "the stereotypes of evangelical colleges as weak academically and ultraconservative socially" (or it may not: there's still some odd anecdotes), the magazine has missed the real news that other publications have been reporting. "Can an institution that doubts Darwin and mandates chapel attendance provide an education the mainstream world respects?" reporter Rebecca Winters asks. Other publications (including the LA Times and The Atlantic) have already answered her: mainstream academia is already embracing the work of many scholars educated at Christian colleges. These schools left the ghetto long ago.
This article, like almost every religious newsmagazine article on religion, can be summed up thusly: Gee, it's nice to be noticed; pity that the news article didn't contain any actual news.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Suggest links and stories by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out Books & Culture's weblog, Content & Context.
See our past Weblog updates:
and more, back to November 1999