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To nurture students, Christian higher learning must remain true to founding principles of faith

Education — focused on the Bible and traditional liberal arts — is at the heart of the Restoration Movement. 

As Alexander Campbell called followers of Christ to reject manmade creeds and embrace the simple truths of God’s Word, he also encouraged them to pursue higher education, founding Bethany College in West Virginia.

Many more schools began during the 19th century, but few had the financial support to sustain their operations. Some survived, however, and thrived, including Lipscomb and Freed-Hardeman in Tennessee.

The early 20th century saw the beginning of Abilene Christian University and Harding University. In the late 1930s, George Pepperdine devoted his fortune to founding a college that has become a premier university in southern California.

Others followed, providing Bible training hand-in-hand with career preparation and guidance for Christian living. Among them are Crowley’s Ridge College, Faulkner University, Florida College, Heritage Christian University, Lubbock Christian University, Ohio Valley University, Oklahoma Christian University, Rochester College, Southwestern Christian College and York College.

These institutions believe that an education worth having begins with knowing God. They willingly accept responsibility for guiding students to mature Christian values, or, in the words of Don Morris, a former president of ACU, “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 connection to a religious group. Chapel, regular Bible study and close supervision of social life were characteristic of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and many private universities. But time and worldviews radically altered the mission and curriculum of these schools.

Almost no institution of higher education remains true to its founding principles or to the religious organization that created it. That sobering fact must prompt every institution associated with Churches of Christ to examine more closely the trends and philosophy of their 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 its trustees are not resolute in nurturing the faith of students. Trustees must have the vision of transforming lives through Bible study and Christian virtues.

Whenever academic excellence, national reputation or athletics takes over as the principal concerns of trustees, institutions begin to slip away from founding principles.

An institution’s Christian principles are no stronger than the Christian commitment of the faculty. Faculty members who are mere “church-goers” weaken the institution’s faith. Church members who are cynical about core values erode those values. Professors who are convicted firmly about the lordship of Jesus are models of faith and service for students who seek direction and guidance.

For at least 20 years, faculty and administrators at our higher education institutions have engaged in dialogue about the relationship between faith and learning. Faculties wrestle with showing the relationship of their disciplines to a Christian view of the world. Professors strive to profess Christ as clearly as they profess a philosophy of their discipline.

Christian higher education fills a vital role in preparing women and men for productive lives of faith and service. The culture of Christian colleges helps youths experience genuine transformation. They gain a vision of a fallen world desperately in need of Christ.

I urge parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to encourage students — young and old — to consider seriously the value of Christian education.

Filed under: Insight

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