Christian Universities: Moving Ahead by Standing Still

The fall term has begun in North American universities and colleges, and what’s increasingly distinctive about Christian institutions is that as North American secular universities continue to evolve, the Christian ones aren’t changing.

To be sure, some of that refusal to change isn’t positive. Some Christian schools manifest regrettable attitudes and policies toward women, racial minorities, and people of other religions and philosophies. Some Christian schools continue to pay their employees as if they are missionaries to foreign countries, rather than professionals having to pay North American prices along with everyone else.

Some Christian schools insist on a defensive narrowness of outlook that amounts to indoctrination rather than true education. And some Christian schools suffer from administrations backed by business-oriented boards who have no conception of faculty governance and no sense that it might be well for the directors of a school to include in their number at least some people with professional experience in higher education.

Let me leave my complaints at that for today, however, because I want to celebrate a positive point. Christian universities and colleges are becoming increasingly distinctive not only because of their faithfulness to traditional doctrine and commitment to spiritual transformation, but also because of their academic convictions and commitment to traditional university ideals and practices.

Increasingly, that is, Christian schools are distinguishing themselves by maintaining a commitment to humanistic study, by which I mean taking the human person seriously as deserving of respect as a multifaceted agent charged with responsible freedom and capable of both loving creativity and wicked destructiveness.

Such schools continue to foreground the humanities and fine arts, yes. That in itself is increasingly unusual. And you can still study novels and poems and plays at Christian schools as literature, for example, rather than only as sites of ideological conflict and power struggle that then require students to decide and declare where they stand amid fractious campus politics.

But these schools also refuse the reductionism of humans to machines or animals or viruses that is so common in secular faculties of social science, natural science, education, social work, health care, law, and so on.

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