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Christian education must press on

At the heart of the Restoration Movement is a commitment to education focused on the Bible and traditional liberal arts. Alexander Campbell, a key thinker in the American Restoration Movement, founded Bethany College in West Virginia. During the 19th century, many schools were started, but few had the financial support to sustain operations. Lipscomb and Freed-Hardeman both developed from schools started in the last quarter of the 19th century. The early 20th century saw the start of Abilene Christian and Harding (after an odyssey from Oklahoma to Kansas and finally to Arkansas). George Pepperdine endowed the school bearing his name in the late 1930s.
During post-World War II years, when churches were growing rapidly and the GI Bill made college education a goal for more Christian families, colleges were founded in various places to provide Bible training, career preparation and guidance for Christian living. Those that have survived include Cascade, Faulkner, Florida College, Heritage Christian, Lubbock Christian, Ohio Valley, Oklahoma Christian, Southwestern Christian and York College. (Many other higher education schools have developed, but I am thinking principally about those designed for students leaving home and entering the first stages of adult life.)
All these institutions rest on the principle that God is the creator of all and that any education worth having begins with knowing God. All these schools have taken responsibility for guiding students to mature Christian values, or in the words of Don Morris, longtime ACU president, “Completing the work of the Christian family.” In the history of American higher education, most of the private schools began with a foundation in Christian principles and a connection to a denominational group. But few have retained those founding values into a second century.
Chapel, regular Bible study in the curriculum and close supervision of social life were characteristic of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and many of the older prestigious universities. But time and social pressure radically altered their mission and curriculum. Almost no institution of higher education is still true to its founding principles or it founding organization after 100 years.
That sobering fact must prompt every institution related to Churches of Christ to examine more closely the trends and philosophy of its work. Typically, chapel gradually changes from a required daily worship to an occasional voluntary gathering of believers. Bible classes are no longer required as part of the core curriculum but are electives or offered as part of a program to ordain new ministers. Social life gradually changes until it is no different from secular universities.
Having studied trends in Christian education for most of my professional life, I am firmly convinced that no institution can be true to its founding principles if the trustees are not committed and resolute in nurturing the faith and understanding of students. Whenever academic excellence, national reputation or varsity athletics begin to be the principal concerns of trustees, institutions will gradually slip away from founding principles.
I also believe that an institution’s Christian principles are no stronger than the Christian commitment of the faculty. Faculty members who are mere church-goers will directly or indirectly weaken the institution’s faith efforts. Church members who are cynical about any core values will effectively erode those values. On the other hand, professors who are firmly convicted about the lordship of Jesus will be models of faith and service for students who are seeking direction and guidance.
For at least 10 years, most of the faculty and administration at our higher education institutions have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue about the relationship between faith and learning. Faculties have wrestled with showing the relationship of their disciplines to a Christian view of this world as God’s domain. Professors are leaders in their congregations, and they take an active interest in mission efforts around the world.
I believe Christian higher education fills a vital role in preparing our best and brightest young people for productive lives of faith and service. The culture of Christian colleges helps youth experience genuine transformation. They gain a vision of a fallen world desperately in need of Christ. The most urgent challenge of Christian higher education is to nurture faith, service and holiness in the lives of students even as the students study to work and live in a secular, materialistic world. It is imperative that Christian education not lose its focus. We have come a long way in Christian higher education. But we must press on and renew the vision of our work in the Kingdom.

  • Feedback
    Thanks for the enlightenment. But please, kindly furnish me with articles or materials the develop the article, “the impact of christian education in the society”.
    Thanks and God bless.
    Daniel Thomas
    Mararaba Central
    Mararaba, Nasarawa
    August, 13 2011

    Thank you for your attention to these important institutions. Though I think there are other institutions that deserve to have been named in the list, I agree with your concern about the secularization of Christian colleges and universities. I have given over 20 years of my working career to three of these institutions and I believe the focus on faith and learning must dominate the culture of these campuses in order to fulfill their mission. Having said that, we must also focus on the quality of the educational leadership and programming provided by these institutions. Too small a percentage of our young people choose to go to a Christian college or university and they chose other options because parents will not invest tens of thousands of dollars to send their children to what they perceive is a four-year church camp. However, it is clear that many parents will spend whatever it takes to send their children to institutions that provide excellent educational programming in the context of a Christian environment. Higher education is a very complex endeavor and it takes uniquely qualified educational leaders to effectively focus their institutions on both aspects of a successful Christian education and reach outcomes worthy of the investment. I pray that the Lord prepares and leads such people to work with these institutions.
    February, 11 2008

    I was so pleased with your article. I have long been concerned with out Christian schools becoming the same as non-christian schools. I don’t like the direction some are taking in letting women train to become ministers. Others are not keeping the guidelines of good christian living. I pray there are more like you out there keeping watch and keeping us informed.
    February, 5 2008

    Brother Bailey,
    I appreciate your thoughtfulness and kindness in writing about something which obviously is of concern to you and to me as well. I have two sons that have attended two different Christian universities and prepared for ministry. But it seems the majority of the advertising for these schools rarely focuses on those programs. Rather, it seems that they are touting their academics and national prestige. I love both schools, but I too have concerns that they may become another “Harvard” or “Princeton” over time. I have been on both campuses. I have been to chapels in both places. I have been to lectureships and special events in both places. I have sons whom are products of these universities. But I’m not convinced that those founding principles are the focal point of the trustees of either of these institutions. That’s a remarkable word, “trustee.” As you mentioned it should “sober” us into examining our trends and philosphies of work. My concern is that “Christian Academics” have become more “academic” and less “Christian.” Thank you for your words and your work.
    Kevin Haynes
    January, 29 2008

Filed under: Insight

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