Christian Higher Education at a Crossroads

Christian EducationThe last couple days I’ve extolled Christian higher education. I believe in it with a whole heart. Yet that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. In fact, a battle royal is currently waging for the soul of the Christian college and university. Let me comment on that today.

Where does one receive a doctoral degree? Overwhelmingly, if you attain a doctorate, you’ve gotten it from a non-Christian university. Relatively few doctoral programs exist within evangelical Christian universities. I, for instance, have my doctorate from American University in Washington, DC. There was nothing very Christian about the program. I had to examine what I was being taught and filter it all through Biblical principles. Consequently, most professors teaching in evangelical higher education have a thoroughly secular education at the doctoral level. How many have gone to the effort to rethink the premises or assumptions behind the knowledge they imbibed? Have they come to a Biblical understanding of that basic information?

Doubt-FaithAll too often, that rethinking has been abortive. I’m afraid many teach primarily what they have been taught, sprinkling a prayer or a short devotional on top of it. That leads to a confused, inconsistent worldview being passed on to their students. Back in the 1980s, I remember reading about one study that concluded that a higher percentage of churched young people lose their faith in Christian colleges than in the worldly ones. Why? They were dismayed by the false advertising; they were told they would receive an education based on Biblical principles, but, in fact, they weren’t getting anything all that different from what a state university would have given them. Disillusioned, they abandoned the faith.

 Here’s what’s transpiring in most of the Christian colleges with which I’m familiar:

  • A significant minority—and in some cases a majority—of the professors have jumped on the bandwagon of social justice teaching. Social justice, simply as a term, is not pernicious. Surely Christians want to see justice in society, at all levels. The problem is the definition making the rounds today: it always equates with the liberal/progressive worldview that sees government programs as the solution to poverty and all other social ills. All too often, it exonerates the crimes of communism/Marxism/socialism and tries to convince students these are movements based on Biblical teaching.
  • This quest for social justice manifests itself through nearly all the disciplines. Sociology and social work professors, sincerely concerned for those living in terrible circumstances, believe that Christian compassion demands more government help, making almost no distinction between legitimate Biblical compassion and government programs. They are not the same.
  • English departments will concentrate on “cutting edge” literature espousing radical ideology at the expense of classics that have stood the test of time and that teach some valuable spiritual and moral precepts.
  • History and political science professors will make heroes of some of the worst dregs of humanity: Lenin, Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara, to name just a few. Liberal political ideology is promoted as the natural outgrowth of Christianity. I recall one history professor’s door at a well-known and respected evangelical university littered with peace signs and all other standard liberal propaganda. And if you see a Christian professor walking around campus with a Che shirt, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • This battle even invades the religion and theology departments. Sometimes, those professors can be the greatest promoters of the progressive, semi-Marxist philosophy. Again, this will be done in the name of Christian compassion for the poor and downtrodden. Yet I’ve also noticed that, among such professors, concern about abortion is minimal. Somehow, the most innocent of all, who are losing their lives in the most awful holocaust in history, are marginalized; they take a back seat to those who supposedly need a higher minimum wage or some other liberal nostrum.
  • I’ve also perceived that Christian professors of this stripe aren’t all that concerned about homosexuality. They seem to have bought into the trendy idea of diversity, believing that since God loves sinners, He will probably accept their sexual orientation. Even using the language of “sexual orientation” is to dismiss the Biblical truth of personal responsibility for one’s actions, otherwise known as “sin.”

Many of these professors who espouse liberal views are sincere Christians in their personal lives. I won’t say that of all of them; God is the ultimate judge. However, for those who know they’ve been rescued from their own sinfulness, the problem lies with their grasp of how Biblical principles are to be applied to society. Bottom line: they have little understanding of the Bible’s teaching on government in general, and on civil government in particular; they have spotty comprehension of economics based on Biblical principles; and they are quite muddled in their definitions of compassion and social justice.

The very soul of the Christian college and university is on the line. Christian higher education may be at a crucial crossroads. Will we reaffirm basic Biblical teachings or allow ourselves to drift into modern thought tinged with a vague type of Christian compassion? The stakes are high. The next generation of Christian leaders is at risk.