• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

What (Public) Good Is a Christian University?

I’ve just arrived in Liverpool after a bit of a journey (nonstop flight from Vancouver to London, then a few hours in Heathrow before boarding a short flight to Manchester, then an hour’s drive to Liverpool). I’m here to participate in a conference drawing together university presidents, provosts, and professors from several continents to discuss what a Christian university can contribute to a pluralistic society. (Over here they use the word “secular” a lot to describe British society, but I think they’d agree that “pluralist” might be as good a term in some respects as “secular.”)

Canada has a few Christian universities, having seen its once-Christian universities secularize one by one until the 1960s. (Was McMaster or Acadia the last one to give over to the state?) The United States has a lot of them–by various definitions and degrees of “Christian.” Britain hasn’t had any for quite some time, but my hosts here at Liverpool Hope University are (re-)introducing the idea to England.

From a Christian point of view, there can be a number of gifts that a Christian university can bring to the common table. But here are two questions with which I’d like your help:

1. What of those gifts will be, or ought to be, recognized as such by our non-Christian neighbours–or even by our Christian neighbours who see the university as the place in which society in all its diversity works out some of its problems? What are the main contributions a Christian university can make to a secular/pluralist society–in terms that that society will affirm?

2. Even more provocatively, can a Christian university contribute to the public good such that it warrants at least a measure of public funding?

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