WHAT "CHRISTIAN" HIGHER EDUCATION MEANS:
PHILOSOPHY, PROCESS, AND PRODUCT
DAVID J. MASONER
Today's system of higher education has become increasingly secularized, in contrast to its early roots. Rarely are individuals exposed to, or encouraged in the development of an understanding of their unique position as children of God or how such an understanding relates to their studies. There are often little differences philosophically between between public universities and what are identified as Christian colleges. Os Guiness, noted sociologist speaking at a recent conference of Christians in the Visual Arts, related an incident illustrating this "Christian drift." Ten years ago he was challenged by a non-Christian colleague as to the state of the church, morally, at the end of the next decade. This colleague went on to predict that the fundamentalist Christian community would take on the character of the secular world. We see the fulfillment of that sad prediction today. Elizabeth Elliot, noted author and missionary, has recently discussed the current epidemic of promiscuity on Christian college and university campuses. All around us a pervasive lack of the influence of scriptural standards is evident.
Students in secular institutions are inundated by various philosophies, approaches, and biases concerning the fundamental nature of man, our society, and the world. Institutions of higher learning generally promote a world view that is the antithesis of the Christian view and is, in fact, hostile toward Christianity. Today's college students are expected to make judgments, develop a philosophy of life and analyze issues apart from the truth of Christianity or the sovereignty of the living God. In fact, Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, states that the contemporary student is exposed to an environment of openness and indifference which leads to a type of mental vacuum. Reasoning is subjectively based on the dominant world philosophy expressed in the classroom. Education is attempting to find answers, but is ignoring Christ as the answer.
Samuel Shoemaker, a remarkable Christian leader of the 1950's, known for his vitality and perceptions of life, has his words etched into stone at the Frick Fine Arts Building at the University of Pittsburgh:
Our universities are places of learning which will prove to be blind guides unless they lead those insecure seeking young people, not alone to knowledge and the beginning of wisdom but to the source of all wisdom. That which needs to be known most is how to live and how to live with others.
Christian colleges and universities need to address God as the "source of all wisdom." This can be accomplished by standing for and developing a Christian world view throughout the institution. Such a view would reflect certain presuppositions:
1. There is an infinite, personal, triune God who is transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.
2. This God created the universe, without using pre-existing matter, to operate according to regular order with an open system.
3. Man is created in God's image and is, thus, like God. Man is the crown of creation.
4. God can and has communicated to man by revealing Himself.
5. Man was created good but the image of God is now disfigured by the Fall. The possibility of redemption is provided by Jesus Christ. The Fall has affected all areas of human relationships and endeavors.
6. Physical death is only a doorway to further life with God or eternal separation from Him.
7. Ethics, what is right or wrong, cannot be determined by reference to the practices of a fallen humanity but must be based on the character of a just and loving God as revealed in the scriptures.
8. Our historical existence is meaningful because it is created by God and in it His plans from eternity are realized. History is moving toward the goal of the Kingdom of God. (Sire, 1976)
9. All academic disciplines have their origin in the mind of God, and scripture has explicit and implicit information for all disciplines.
10. Areas of education, i.e., philosophy, medicine, teacher education, law, and particularly the arts have been generally abandoned by Christians and should be reclaimed in an integral way.
Furthermore, Christian higher education must concern itself with these basic needs of the clientele based on scriptural injunction:
1. to study to show thyself approved (2 Tim 2:15);
2. to sanctify our hearts, to give an answer (I Peter 3:15).
The educational program must be based on the Christian view--curricula must be developed by academicians who acknowledge and know God as the source of all wisdom, who are committed to the biblical roots of their discipline and who are willing to truly integrate faith with learning.
There are practical considerations. The method a Christian college or university uses to develop a learning environment that is reflective of the Christian view is important. In a competitive society, how can the Christian school be committed to excellence and be distinctively different?
A framework for such excellence follows:
I. The Christian college or university must propagate the Christian world view and, as its prime goal, promote a true integration of faith and learning. This goal is in sharp contrast to the secular institution and many Christian schools in that it addresses the whole man--body, mind, and spirit. Within this context there are several sub-goals which must be realized:
A. The school must be centered philosophically on the Christian perspective.
B. A well-balanced academic program must prepare students for secular and Christian service positions.
C. Attention must be given to both primary and proximate goals. The primary goal being the gospel of Christ preached to all nations and that no man should perish, and the latter, that man has a responsibility to God and society to develop in his particular areas of giftedness.
D. A curricular program of academic excellence and research must be available to and required of all students.
Sound preparation in the liberal arts which emphasizes broad areas of study in addition to specific skill development must beinterwoven with sound scriptural principles.
Scriptural standards for living must also be integrated into the academic program.
E. Students should be encouraged to prayerfully explore talents and to integrate their skills into their academic/personal/spiritual interests and calling of God.
F. Attention must be given to thinking and communicative skill areas. Reasoning and deductive skills as well as spiritual discernment should be taught.
G. Within the parameters of academic excellence, leadership behavior and responsibility must be encouraged and rewarded. A well-grounded study of Christian principles and ethics with regards to administrative leadership and servanthood should be a basic part of the program.
H. Students should be equipped to fulfill their obligations successfully in their professions and as spouses, parents, or single members of the Body of Christ, as contributors to society, using a scriptural definition of success.
II. Curriculum and instructional development are necessary to ensure the excellence and integrity of the educational program. Initial efforts need to address two distinctive but interrelated facets of the school: (1) overall curricular review/reform, and (2) faculty development.
A basic concern regarding the curriculum must first be to identify the purposes of the academic program. Goals, objectives, and values must be viewed candidly by all parties in order to insure adequate agreement and understanding of the direction and aims of the program. This process must be accomplished with great care to insure optimal involvement of all faculty and staff. Upon completion of this task the curriculum must be assessed in the following manner:
a. analysis of faculty interests, special areas of competence, abilities, and understanding of the institutional goals;
b. analysis of current faculty activity, i.e, teaching, research, advising, scholarly productivity, etc;
c. analysis of faculty strengths and weaknesses, i.e., education, training, peer review, student evaluation, self-review. (Masoner, 1980)
Upon the completion of the review the initiation of a major effort in faculty/institutional development would bring together strengths and interests of existing personnel to address identified school and individual needs. This identification and clarification of program purpose in conjunction with a locally initiated faculty development program would further lend to the development of a distinctively Christian school.
III. As the curriculum is analyzed and the faculty development program is implemented, great care must be taken to address the student. There are several distractions to student learning and development. These must be taken into consideration and effect the overall nature of faculty and program development.
Some of these are:
A. lack of a true understanding of the Christian faith or who is the believer in Christ;
B. little understanding of the Christian world/life view;
C. lack of ability/insufficient preparation in elementary/secondary schools;
D. an inadequate grading system;
E. lack of maintenance of academic standards;
F. insufficient definition of scholarship, institutionalexpectations, or objectives;
G. poor student self-image;
H. students' lack of clarity regarding personal objectives;
I. poor teaching, narrow faculty focus, and low morale;
J. poor study habits and/or lack of self-discipline.
IV. There are also some important administrative and faculty implementations that are necessary to facilitate student learning and development:
A. a broadly defined and defended statement of scholarship;
B. clear statements which include specific competencies and knowledge students can expect to have upon graduation;
C. a thoroughly integrated curriculum including professional education, liberal arts, and scriptural integration reflective of the school's goals and objectives;
D. a series of checks insuring that the objectives of the program are being met;
E. a thorough explanation of the school's academic program;
F. a rigorous evaluation of students with specific exit standards required for graduates;
G. a thorough and continuous assessment of students' individual strengths and weaknesses. (Keller, 1983)
The implementation of these activities would be of critical value to both faculty and students in that the clarity given to the goals and expectations of the college would enable students to make increasingly more valid and defined educational and career choices and would enable the faculty to be more effective in their role.
V. Faculty participation in educational planning and decision-making is necessary in order for the school to enhance its quality. Strong leadership from the administration is also important, however, without real and meaningful input from the faculty substantial growth will not occur. Adequate rewards, reinforcement and challenges must be provided by the administration to stimulate additional faculty activity (Masoner, Essex 1986). The following steps illustrate this kind of cooperative administrative/faculty planning and decision making:
A. the establishment of a faculty/administrative planning committee. (Keller)
B. the specific charges to the committee would include:
1. to prayerfully assist in the development of college-wide goals, objectives, and programs;
2. to participate in program review and assessment;
3. to recommend school and programmatic priorities;
4. to assist in the development and initiation of a strategic plan for the college;
5. to encourage thoughtful faculty outreach to students in a hospitable, intra-personal, discipling mode.
The membership of the committee would reflect the entire spectrum of faculty and college interests and attitudes (Keller). The consensus reached would hopefully lead all those involved toward greater clarity of purpose and institutional loyalty.
All of the above activities and considerations are important. The Christian higher education community must effectively address itself to the importance of its call, to be salt and light to the world. It must accomplish this goal in an excellent manner and it must point those involved toward the Truth, by integrating, in specific and meaningful ways, the Christian faith and all academic disciplines.
(And by His Grace and call, it can be done!)
1Bloom, Allan. (1987). The Closing of the American Mind. Simon & Schuster, New York.
2Keller, George. (1983). Academic Strategy. The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, MD.
3Masoner, David J., & Essex, Nathan L. (1987). "Call for Strategic Planning," Community College Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, 31-35.
4Masoner, David J. (1977). "Directions in Faculty Evaluation and Inservice Education," Capstone College Education Society Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1, Feb. 1977, 5-6.
5Sire, James W. (1976). The Universe Next Door. InterVarsity Press, Illinois.