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Christian universities must examine trends, philosophy of their ministry

At the heart of the Restoration Movement is a commitment to education focused on Bible and the traditional liberal arts. Alexander Campbell, a key thinker in the movement, founded Bethany College in West Virginia.
In the 19th century, many Christian schools were started, but few had the financial support to sustain operations. Lipscomb and Freed-Hardeman universities both developed from schools started in the last quarter of the 19th century.
The first quarter of the 20th century saw the beginning of Abilene Christian and Harding. In the 1930s, George Pepperdine devoted his fortune to founding a college that has become a premier university with a Christian identity.
After World War II, when churches grew 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 Faulkner, Florida College, Heritage Christian, Lubbock Christian, Ohio Valley, Oklahoma Christian, Rochester College, Southwestern Christian and York College.
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 private schools began with a foundation in Christian principles and a connection to a religious group.
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 worldviews radically altered the mission and curriculum of these schools.
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.
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. Trustees must have the vision of transforming lives through Bible study and Christian virtues. Whenever academic excellence, national reputation or 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 churchgoers 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, the Christ, will be models of faith and service for students who are seeking direction and guidance.
For at least 20 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. Professors are not ashamed that they profess Christ as clearly as they profess a philosophy regarding their discipline. Professors are leaders in their congregations, and they take an active interest in mission efforts around the world.
I believe that Christian higher education fills a vital role in preparing our best and brightest young women and men for productive lives of faith and service. The culture of Christian colleges helps young people experience genuine transformation. They gain vision of a fallen world desperately in need of Christ.
The continuing 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. Christian education must not lose the focus on strengthening the relationship of young people to their creator.
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  • Feedback
    I definitely agree with this article! I just graduated from Pepperdine University in December of 2009, and I am so glad I made the investment in a Christian education. Seeing my peers lost in a spiritual wilderness shows me the importance of a Christian foundation. Yet, I do wish that Pepperdine had a stronger commitment to hiring Christain professors, as recommended in this article. It was disconcerting and disappointing to have some professors who were not believers in Christ.
    Rachel McNair
    Culver Palms
    Los Angeles, CA
    February, 8 2010

    I agree that Christian higher education “fills a vital role in preparing our best and brightest young women and men for productive lives of faith and service”.
    However, we don’t stress enough the importance of fathers training their own children. (Eph 6)
    In general, parents have opted out of this responsibility and have handed it over to teachers, youth ministers, counselors, etc.
    Jason Jarrett
    Hamilton,, AL
    February, 2 2010

    We do realise that there are plenty more “Christian universities” than just the Church of Christ-affiliated universities you’ve listed, right?
    Brennon Bortz
    City Church Belfast
    Belfast, County Antrim
    Northern Ireland
    January, 25 2010

    The article sounds pretty good, but fails to consider the now very popular practice by the schools such as are mentioned, and their employees, to claim the schools are operated as “integral agencies of the church” so that the employees (e.g., basketball coaches( can claim ministerial income tax exempt housing. Perhaps the pending federal lawsuit will remedy that practice.
    Robert Baty
    Fort Collins, CO
    January, 24 2010

Filed under: Insight

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