Why Higher Education Needs to Know Its History

We learn from the apostle Paul: calling the churches back to the truth of the Christian faith.

At the heart of this calling is the need to prepare a generation of Christians to think Christianly, to engage the academy and the culture, to serve society, and to renew the connection with the church and its mission. To do so, the breadth and the depth of the Christian tradition will need to be reclaimed, renewed, revitalized, and revived for the good of Christian higher education.

 

We Need Guidelines

The richness of the Christian tradition can provide guidance for the complex challenges facing Christian higher education at this time. We believe not only that an appeal to tradition1 is timely but it also meets an important need because the secular culture in which we find ourselves is at best indifferent to the Christian faith and because the Christian world—at least in its more popular forms—tends to be confused about beliefs, heritage, and the tradition associated with the Christian faith.

The world in which we live, with its emphasis on diversity and plurality, may well be a creative setting for us to see what Thomas Oden refers to as a “paleo-orthodoxy” for the twenty-first century.2Here we ground our unity not only in the biblical confession that “Jesus is Lord” but also in the great confessional tradition flowing from the early church councils. The so-called postmodern world could indeed become a rich context for recovering a classical view of the Christian tradition.3The current educational emphasis on the interrelationship of all things allows us to speak intelligently of the Christian message historically and globally. Such historical confessions, though neither infallible nor completely sufficient for all contemporary challenges, can provide wisdom and guidance when seeking to balance the mandates for right Christian thinking, right Christian believing, and right Christian living.

At the heart of this calling is the need to prepare a generation of Christians to think Christianly, to engage the academy and the culture, to serve society, and to renew the connection with the church and its mission. To do so, the breadth and the depth of the Christian tradition will need to be reclaimed, renewed, revitalized, and revived for the good of Christian higher education.4

Twenty-nine experts from a wide variety of fields and institutions have come together to offer a renewed vision for the value of a distinctly Christian approach to higher education.

Avoiding the Extremes

Reconnecting with the great confessional tradition of the church will help us to avoid fundamentalist reductionism on the one hand and liberal revisionism on the other. Fundamentalist reductionism fails to understand that there are priorities or differences in the Christian faith. Fundamentalism often fails to distinguish between saying no to an inadequate confession of the deity of Christ and saying no to the wrong kind of movie. It fails to prioritize doctrines in a way consistent with the emphases of Scripture. Liberal revisionism, on the other hand, in its attempt to translate the Christian faith to connect with the culture, has often wound up revising the Christian faith instead of translating it.5To borrow words from the apostle Paul, we are then left with “no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:7 NIV). So we learn from the apostle Paul, who was willing to address opponents coming from different directions in Galatia and Colossae, calling the churches back to the truth of the Christian faith.

Notes:

  1. See G. R. Evans, “Tradition,” in Fitzgerald, Augustine through the Ages, 842–43.
  2. See Thomas C. Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 33–40.
  3. See David S. Dockery, The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement(Wheaton, IL: BridgePoint, 1995), 11–18. 18.
  4. David S. Dockery, series editor, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition, projected 15 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012–); D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005); Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).
  5. See Alister E. McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

This article is adapted from Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition edited by David S. Dockery and Christopher W. Morgan. This article appeared on Crossway.org and is used with permission.