Faculty Dialogue: Issue #25, Fall 1995
Copyright © 1995, Institute for Christian Leadership. All rights reserved.

Nate Olson
Managing Editor

“Why,” I ask myself, “with the plethora of journals and the massive overload of scholarly reading available to faculty, should the Institute for Christian Leadership continue publishing Faculty Dialogue?” Costs alone for printing and mailing each issue exceeds $20,000 per issue; a significant portion of ICL’s budget. In response to the question “why,” a partial answer is found in feedback from readers and those whose manuscripts are published in the journal. In these responses we find a continuing conviction that Faculty Dialogue is a worthwhile enterprise.

ICL’s primary purpose in publishing Faculty Dialogue has been to provide faculty people in Christian higher education and Christian faculty in secular institutions an avenue for exchange of insights, experiences, and encouragement. Access to the journal is intended to encourage a significant increase in the reflective and critical dialogue on the intention and accomplishments of Christian higher education institutions. Faculty Dialogue’s editors seek manuscripts which address issues and choices relevant to facing real world problems from the Christian biblical perspective.

Faculty Dialogue’s role is not that of publishing manuscripts to specific scholarly disciplines. Rather, its focus is the more general area of philosophical issues of Christian higher education which are pertinent to faculty, administrators, and boards of such institutions. In short, as we look toward the 21st century, we believe that an over- riding issue is the philosophy of education extant in Christian higher education today.

Therefore, Faculty Dialogue’s editors encourage submission of papers speaking to these compelling issues. Our call is to writers who will construct appropriate apologetics to combat the encroaching secularization of Christian higher education.

Content issues are a function of the philosophy that an institution endorses. One reader writes that “many schools ignore the issue of educational philosophy which results in the fragmentation of the curriculum. Hence, there is no integration of faith and learning or a coherent world-view presented.” Without a clear articulation of a coherent Christian world-view no basis can be established whereby students can examine or contend with competing world-views.

Never in recent history has the opportunity been greater than now for Christian higher education to articulate its philosophical and educational distinctives. Richard John Neuhaus(1) declares that

A Christian university serves the great good of pluralism...The greatest contribution to pluralism in higher education is to be a different kind of university. Within the university, differences, including religious differences, are engaged in the confidence that all that is truly true is ultimately one...Authentic pluralism does not compromise but is made imperative by the Christian Character of the university.

Os Guiness(2) speaking to the issue of “tolerance” in America’s postmodern condition, states that

Helped on their way by flawed theories, such as values clarification, beliefs today slide toward the same swampy level that “life-styles” and “sexual preferences” have done. Like Baskin-Robbins ice cream, they come in countless varieties, but are only a matter of taste, not truth or ethics. The effect is to create a spiritual and cultural dust bowl.

It is an irony of democratic life that freedom of conscience is jeopardized by false tolerance. At the end of this first road lies the swamp of debased tolerance. Genuine tolerance honestly weighs honest differences. Debased tolerance only waters them down. Genuine tolerance takes matters of substance seriously, agreeing to disagree over things that matter supremely. Debased tolerance concerns itself only with style, allowing disagreements that hardly matter. Tolerance, G. K. Chesterton remarked of this false civility, is the virtue of people who don’t believe anything.

Gertrude Himmilfarb(3) calls for a counterrevolution in the Christian university. She makes an elegant case for the mission of Christian higher education in presentation at the the installation of Robert Bryan Sloan Jr., as President Baylor University. Listen to her following remarks:

It is generally thought that this disestablishment [of the church] was a product of what has been called the “warfare of science and religion” precipitated by Darwinism. In fact, that “warfare” has been much exaggerated. The secularization of the university reflected a secularization of the culture going back at least to the enlightenment and have more to do with the philosophy of rationalism than with science or any other specific scientific theory such as Darwinism... It was the idea of “culture” a secular, rational, cosmopolitan, liberal (in the nonpolitical sense of that word) culture far more than the idea of “science,” that lay behind the secularization of the university in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

The displacement of religion not by science but by culture occurred gradually but firmly... After World War II...in place of a liberal education in Sthe best which has been thought and said” the university was now pleased to provide relevant education, an education in what society deemed to be useful and needful...

But a far more momentous reformation has recently taken place more important, in my opinion, than either the secularization of the politicization of the university which may more aptly be called a revolution than a reformation.

It was the abandoning of this dogma, [that faith in reason and knowledge, in the dispassionate search for truth, and in the dissemination of knowledge for the sake of knowledge] Nisbit said, that ushered in a “reformation of the university a reformation...that was utterly disastrous for the university.

Above all it is truth that is denigrated. This is obviously a by-product of the politicization of the university, but it has received credibility and respectability from the most intellectual movement to sweep the university in recent years: postmodernism... The animating spirit of postmodernism is radical individualism and skepticism that rejects any idea of truth, knowledge, or objectivity. More important, it refuses even to aspire to such ideas, on the ground that they are not only unattainable but undesirable that they are, by their very nature, authoritarian and repressive.

It is in this spirit that much of academic study has been relativized, subjectified, “problematized” (as the postmodernist says), and politicized. It there is no truth, no facts, no objectivity, there is only will and power. “Everything is political.” the popular slogan has it.

“Intellectual honor,” “moral life” these expressions do not come trippingly to the tongue today. Yet these words and the ideas they signify truth, knowledge, and objectivity are the only guarantees of the intellectual and moral integrity of the university. For without them as the guiding principles of learning and teaching, research and scholarship, there can be no standards of merit or excellence, no controls against willful ignorance and deception. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” that was Nietzshe’s definition of freedom. For the university, that freedom, the freedom from truth, is a prescription for intellectual and moral nihilism.

As Christian educators we must recognize that the tables have turned. Today, it is the Christian who is the “radical.” But, too often unable to make a convincing case for the Christian mission in the world. We refer again to Richard John Neuhaus(4):

Today the Christian university is in crisis. There are no doubt many parts to the crisis. It is often described as a crisis created by the ambition to imitate other kinds of universities that falsely claim to be universities pure and simple. It is more accurately described as a crisis of Christian faith. The question that those who lead Christian universities must answer, and answer again every day, is whether the confession that Jesus is Lord limits or illuminates the university's obligation to seek and serve Veritas--to seek and serve the truth.

1. Richard John Neuhaus, The Christian University: Eleven Theses, First Things, January 1996, p. 21.

2. Os Guiness, The American Hour, The Free Press, New York 1993, p. 174.

3. Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Christian University: A Call to Counterrevolution, First Things, January 1996, pp. 16-19.

4. Neuhaus, Ibid, pp. 21-22.


Copyright © 1995, Institute for Christian Leadership. All rights reserved.
Comments: journal@iclnet.org