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.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Keeping Relationships in an “Unfriending” World

Perhaps you can help me with this.

I’m trying to decide whether to find a new mechanic for my car. The problem with my current mechanic is not, I should say, mechanical. He seems to be able to figure out quickly what’s wrong with my car. He fixes it properly. And he charges a fair price.

Yes, that sounds good, and it is, but what about this? I noticed a calendar on the wall of his shop the last time I was in, and I was shocked to see that it is from the Pepsi-Cola company.

Well, I used to drink Pepsi, sure. All of us make mistakes when we’re young. But I’ve drunk nothing but fine Coca-Cola products ever since I got married. When you’re an adult, you make adult choices.

So should I cut this guy loose and find a more dependable mechanic?

You’re looking at me funny. Okay, then, how about this other decision I have to make?

The pastor of the church I’ve been attending seems like a good guy. His sermons are wise and funny in appropriate measure. His theology seems orthodox and sincere. He gave very good counsel to one of our kids in a difficult time. And his wife and children seem like pretty nice people, too.

But here’s the thing: He likes baseball. I mean, he’s a nut about it. Talks about it whenever he can, goes to big-league games whenever he can afford it, wears his favourite team’s cap all the time. He’s a super-fan.

I know better. Baseball is a great excuse to sit with a buddy in the sunshine and drink and eat and jaw for two hours or more. And, maybe once or twice a game, baseball offers an interesting few moments of actual sport. But to go crazy over it seems to me to be, in a word, crazy.

So should I switch churches?

Perhaps you don’t yet see the force of these ethical and relational quandaries. Yet all over our society, people are “unfriending” and “blocking” and otherwise virtually killing off other people because, while they otherwise like and respect them, those people support a different political party, or hold different views about global climate change, or are on the wrong side of immigration policy, or are more/less tolerant of one or another LGBTQ+ issue than they ought to be.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

What “Orthodoxy” Is and Isn’t: Some Questions about Statements

When someone sits down to specify orthodoxy, he is up to something. Count on it.

No one ever—at least, no one of note I can think of, in the entire global history of the Christian church—takes up stylus, pen, or keyboard and says, “You know, I think I’ll just bang out a new statement of the central tenets of the Christian religion and send it out into the world to do whatever good it can do.” The same thing applies to groups. No meeting, session, council, synod, assembly, or conference ever, ever, drafts a statement of anything unless—

Well, unless what?

Theological musing can take place anytime, anywhere, by those interested in theological problems, provocations, and puzzles. But the setting out of orthodoxy—which has come to mean “correct doctrine” (especially in the Western Church) or “correct worship” (almost exclusively in the Eastern Church) as it literally means “correct glory,” or the correct manifestation [of God’s truth/reality/revelation]—is always occasional and occasioned. Statements of orthodoxy, that is, always emerge from a deliberate project at a particular time in response to a specific challenge or opportunity.

Orthodoxy thus is always exactly what most people, including most framers of such statements, think it isn’t: provisional. Contingent. A product of a particular set of circumstances and actors, orthodoxy is inescapably historical, and thus human.

Yes, “I believe in the Holy Ghost,” as more than one creed avers. But I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit has guaranteed anywherethat statements made beyond the pages of Holy Scripture are to be treated as timelessly and spacelessly true, binding on every believer in every time and place. The Bible itself is The Book of all Christians who deserve the name. But any other statement of faith is just that: human beings doing their best to articulate what they think needs articulating about whatever happens to be concerning the Church in their situation. See how historically bound that is?

Read the rest of this entry »