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The German state at that time invested its resources in promoting scholarship designed to strengthen the national interest during the Industrial Revolution. This process gave birth to the modern research university. Colleges and universities have enjoyed a special status in the United States since the first institutions were founded during the colonial period. The emergence of the research universities in Europe influenced higher education in the new world in another way as well. The European higher education reformers began including knowledge generation as part of the faculty role which had previously been defined more narrowly in terms of teaching and mentoring.

This challenged the classical education model, which had disciplining the mind as its stated purpose. In , President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which helped to democratize higher education in the U. The language of the legislation creating the land-grant institutions framed the task of higher education in terms of the needs of local communities, the nation, and the world. More recently, the privileged position of higher education has come under sharp attack by critics who argue that colleges and universities have failed to use their scholarship to benefit society. Professors are spending their time on research to further their own career goals at the expense of teaching, some claim.

Undergraduate instruction is being sacrificed in order to develop higher-status graduate programs. While failing in their service roles, these critics argue, higher education institutions have become complacent, arrogant, and unresponsive to the needs of those who fund them. This perceived disconnect between scholarship and service has led policy makers to call for greater transparency and accountability in higher education.

Meanwhile, Christian colleges and universities have been chastised for failing to focus inward and guard their theological centers. In this article, I argue that although faith-based higher education institutions should be vigilant in looking inward, they must invest more energy in looking outward and speaking into the culture. An understanding of the historical context of American higher education helps to explain why Christian colleges and universities have not been more significant players in social transformation. Our first universities were nearly all faith-based institutions developed to prepare people for leadership within the church.

Many believers have viewed Christian universities as safe havens where students can be mentored by Christian faculty. Mennonites came late to institution building and higher education, Keim suggests, but moved forward vigorously at the beginning of the twentieth century. Our young people will have an education and if we cannot give it to them in well-guarded schools of our own, they will go out into other schools and get it, and according to past experiences we need not expect more than a small percentage of them to return to the church.


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This is an age of education. We may stand aloof and oppose it, but it will come just the same. If not through our own schools, our young people will go out into other schools and many of them will be led astray. Many bright young minds have been lost to the church by going out into the world schools to acquire an education. The great fear of many denominations and alumni of independent faith-based colleges and universities is that their schools will lose their spiritual moorings and Christian identity.

Built on this foundation of primarily Evangelical Protestant colleges, higher education institutions were usually led by clergy-presidents. Marsden tells the story of the subsequent disestablishment of religion and the secularization of the American university. This concern is extenuated among those institutions with Evangelical traditions whose constituents see Christians as an embattled minority under attack by a hostile world.

Looking at 17 different cases that represent a range of institutions with different theological origins Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, and Evangelical , Burtchael describes how the links between churches and their schools eroded away:.


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The church was replaced as a financial patron by alumni, foundations, philanthropists, and the government. The regional accrediting associations, the alumni, and the government replaced the church as the primary authority to whom the college would give an accounting of its stewardship. The study of their faith became academically marginalized, and the understanding of religion was degraded by translation into reductive banalities for promotional use. Presidential hubris found fulfillment in cultivating the colleges to follow the academic pacesetters, which were selective state and independent universities.

The faculty transferred their primary loyalties from their college to their disciplines and their guild, and were thereby antagonistic to any competing norms of professional excellence related to the church. Christian colleges and universities are perhaps more vulnerable to the marketplace than public institutions which receive state and federal support.

A Biblical Foundation for Engaging with Culture

Tuition-driven, independent schools must compete with each other for students and money. Denominational leaders came to expect their own institutions to compete for students and prestige with their secular counterparts even as they decreased the level of financial support to their own schools. This has forced Christian colleges and universities to aggressively recruit students from outside the denomination. With the growing demand for formal degrees, many denominational and independent Bible institutes evolved into four-year colleges; many added graduate and professional development programs as well.

The challenge to Christian institutions came from another direction as well, Benne suggests. Christian college faculty members have usually been trained in graduate schools that reflect the Enlightenment paradigm.

Christians As a Minority

In some cases, exposure to postmodernist thinking and practice fostered this process of secularization, Benne argues. So did the failure of these faith-based institutions to articulate an adequate theological identity and mission. The forces of secularization present a challenge to Christian institutions, but many have retained their commitments and identity, as Hughes and Adrian have clearly shown.

This is certainly reflected in the minds of many constituents and alumni today. An alumnus recently approached me about a possible gift to Fresno Pacific. Have you remained true? Litfin suggests that there are two different ways Christian universities have defined themselves: one offers a Christian umbrella under which a diverse range of voices can be expressed as long as they reflect and support the broad educational mission of the school.

This study examines the intersection of reflection and action in the Christian college and university agenda. To what extent do they foster critical reflection on their basic faith assumptions, and to what extent do their faith commitments drive a particular view of service to humankind?

An examination of how Christian colleges and universities frame the relationship between thinking and doing, reflection and action, may clarify the role of service in faith-based higher education institutions today. The following matrix suggests one way of looking at Christian institutions based on the extent to which they foster reflection on their underlying faith-claims, and the extent to which they engage with the culture in uniquely Christian ways on the basis of those core values. Some institutions maintain the pretense of being Christian but fail to engage their students in examining their core faith commitments.

Nor do they reach out in service in ways that explicitly reflect their founding values. These are the higher education institutions that Burtchaell suggests have disengaged from their denominational, cultural, and spiritual roots. Their faith claims are historical artifacts rather than guiding principles for decisions and action.

Direction: Christian Higher Education: Engaging Society and Culture

Their acts of service are indistinguishable from those carried out by nonreligious institutions. Their faith claims are historical artifacts rather than guiding principles for decisions and action. Their acts of service are indistinguishable from those carried out by nonreligious institutions. Though reflecting a faith-based culture and label, they are neither explicitly reflective of their founding values nor purposively Christian in how they reach out in service to society.

Some institutions consciously chose to expand the intellectual diversity of their campuses in response to a driving, pluralistic vision. Disclaiming any distinctive Christian vision, Burtchaell suggests, the resulting alienation. It is a change they might not, on reflection, have intended. As we have seen, however, reflection was lacking and was nervously replaced with rhetoric.

Other institutions have focused primarily on reflection. Plato located his Academy and Aristotle his Lyceum on the outskirts of Athens; close enough to reach the town easily but far enough removed to foster contemplation. The Medieval universities were places to which one retreated in order to study, think, and learn. They have focused their attention primarily on promoting right belief, celebrating core values, and maintaining their religious and cultural identities—disconnected from the broader, socio-cultural context.

However, they give little attention to engaging their faculty or students in programs of outreach or service. Just as some Christian institutions define their agendas in preservationist terms, many view research universities as battlegrounds between the forces of secular humanism and people of faith. You poor man! She and others like her view the contemporary university as a lethal synthesis of postmodernism, cultural relativism, and political correctness—all perceived as antithetical to belief. Therefore, the argument goes, Christians should develop higher education institutions that view the world through the lens of faith.

The task is promoting orthodoxy, not orthopraxy. These institutions are places of retreat where students deepen their faith or celebrate their cultural identities. While some view Christian colleges and universities as safe havens for fostering belief, others view them as denominational conservators of traditional values and cultural identity.

What are the defining characteristics of Anabaptist-Mennonite institutions of higher education?

Some religious traditions promote the life of the mind more or less than others. Some faith-based higher education institutions are very active in outreach and service but not particularly reflective about their Christian orientations. Noll also points to the false disjunctions that often characterize their world views:. To make room for Christian thought, evangelicals must also abandon the false disjunctions that their distinctives have historically encouraged.

The cultivation of the mind for Christian reasons does not deny the appropriateness of activism, for example, but it does require activism to make room for study. We prepared the campus community for the visit with special seminars, chapel presentations, Bible studies, and small group discussions on the topic. In a letter to alumni, I explained the context of this visit and outlined our preparations. Critical thinking and thoughtful reflection are not characteristic of activist institutions.

Instead of being taught how to think, students are told what to think.

Christian Higher Education: Engaging Society and Culture

Activist colleges and universities are characterized by mission trips and outreach programs, disseminating their core values, and extending their reach. Confident of their own values, these institutions extend their belief systems to others but leave their own faith claims largely unexamined. These Christian activists want to transmit their own theological understandings, extend their influence, and expand their cultural boundaries.

Drawing on their own intellectual resources, they build partnerships with people, communities, and institutions in ways that promote student learning while also solving real-world problems. Professors draw on their disciplinary scholarship not only to teach students in the classroom but also to address the needs of society. This commitment to the integration of faith and learning, reflection and action, however, is not unique. He quotes Professor Roger Lundin, who writes in an unpublished paper:. Wheaton College exists to help build the church and improve society worldwide by promoting the development of whole and effective Christians through excellence in programs of Christian higher education.

They promote applied research, model building, experimentation, and testing. Some universities have built their agendas for outreach around the problems facing their own communities. Members of the faculty carry out research that is not only published in scholarly journals, but also benefits their own communities.

Engaged Christian universities do more than protect their own place in a hostile social and cultural environment. They seek to transform the public square through the strategic application of their intellectual and human resources. Hughes and Adrian suggest that Christian higher education institutions can nurture their faith commitments and develop into higher education institutions of the first order. All evolved into full-blown universities with a commitment to excellence. Though all had strong counter-cultural characteristics, they engaged the culture at personal and practical levels.

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All learned to relate their faith experience to the world around them. A sectarian strategy on the other hand, Noll suggests, has its limits. He points out that Bob Jones University has a wonderful art gallery, but no one outside the university constituency looks to the institution for leadership in art history or representation. Brigham Young University has a number of young faculty working in Semitic Studies, Noll points out, but few outside the Latter-day Saints look to the university for leadership in hermeneutical theory or Scriptural interpretation.

This integration does not happen by accident, but rather in response to a defining vision for the institution. It positions the university to look at the world through the lens of faith, fostering community in ways that promote learning and speak to—and help transform—the culture. The growing movement to strengthen the civic mission of higher education 29 has focused on the link between engagement and student learning. In reviewing the literature examining the role of youth in community-building, Camino summarizes a number of studies that found that being involved in meaningful participation in communities helps young people withstand the negative impacts of neglect, poverty, and other problems.

Engaging in reflective practice fosters social awareness and conscience in students, and exposes them to community and justice issues.

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These and other studies clearly show the power of reflection in producing meaningful learning by connecting the service experience with the academic content. Research shows that service-learning in K institutions positively affects social development increase in civility, greater sense of responsibility, increased self-esteem, etc. Students who engage in service are more likely to avoid high-risk behaviors and more likely to know how to function appropriately in a diverse society.

Paul needed different tactics to relate the Gospel to them. Paul had time on his hands. Now he had to wait some days for Silas and Timothy to join him. He went to the synagogue as usual. But he also sat in the market-place day after day, talking with people there. In particular he disputed with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

Philosophy was a way of life. Your philosophy was what you lived by, your worldview. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophies were the main worldviews in Athens at the time. So he rolled his sleeves up, found a good spot and got stuck into conversations with others there. The Areopagus, Athens.

Before long, the Areopagus the council of Athens that met on the Areopagus, i. Mars Hill wanted him to explain his teaching to them. Paul could have spotted this altar in strolling around the city. He was not a casual observer, but was alert to potential bridges for the gospel. Paul could have used any one of a number of starting points. That way he could get their attention in order to build a new worldview.

He then worked through the doctrine of God and the doctrine of humanity and finished with a call to repentance. It takes under two minutes to read it aloud. Paul would undoubtedly have gone on for much longer this was the man who went on so long on another occasion that Eutychus nodded off and fell out of a window. I once read that speeches in the Areopagus were often three or four hours long. Along the way, Paul quoted Greek poets and philosophers. It is almost certain that Paul used others during the course of his message given that we have two in this short summary.

In fact there are likely references to five others Euripides, Plato, Posidonius, Cleanthes and Aeschylus even in the summary Luke has given us. Paul was picking up on points where these Greek writers had got it right. Alister McGrath. The Epicureans had got some things right; the Stoics had other things right. Paul takes the trouble to affirm these things. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles , rev.

What was Paul doing here? Or that he went along with everything these Greek writers said? Not at all. Paul was also careful to refute some of the Epicurean and Stoic beliefs. The resurrection is the major example. Where and when did Paul learn all this Greek poetry and philosophy? He also debated with the philosophers; it was not idle chat. Paul listened carefully to what was said and genuinely engaged with it both in the market-place and in the Areopagus. Could he be quoting from material he had known since his youth?

Before his conversion Paul was a Pharisee. But Paul was brought up a Roman citizen as well as a Jew, so it is just possible that he grew up reading Greek writers. Or had he been purposefully studying them for years? I think this is most likely. Surely he would have wanted to understand the cultures of the gentiles that he was striving to win for Christ. The fact that he did so matters very much indeed. The point is that Paul was very familiar with both the ideas and the details of Greek writers.

He knew them well enough to do more than lob some everyday saying into his speech so that he could appear relevant. He knew them well enough to engage with the ideas seriously, respectfully and yet critically. He understood the culture well enough to take his thoroughly Biblical message and express it in the thought forms, ideas and phrases that were part and parcel of that culture.

He understood where his listeners were coming from well enough to move at least some from complete ignorance to faith. But does Paul, as some people have suggested, then backtrack on this approach when he gets to his next stop, Corinth?