web analytics

Manifestos

[2] FAITH & LEARNING AND THE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE ADMINISTRATOR

by David Claerbaut, Founder

It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of things to do.

The Dean (and president) is charged with assembling a faculty as first-rate as the school’s promotional literature proclaims.  Then there is the business of contracts, promotions, reappointments, and tenure.  And oh yes, how about those curricular revisions and new programs?  Then, of course, there is the political task of navigating one’s proposals through the rocky intellectual shoals of a faculty often divided ideologically among classic liberal arts advocates, those with a more vocational bent, and still others urging more extreme innovations.  Beyond this there is the matter of encouraging quality publishing and research even in a “teaching institution.”

All this and more, carried on within a budgetary noose.

And there still remains the never-ending charge of offering a truly Christian education—one that integrates faith and learning.

Difficulties

Faith and learning carries unique challenges.  In some disciplines it is just plain difficult.  Exactly what does a Christian mathematics or a Christian geology look like, anyway?  And it isn’t always the most politically popular cause to advance to faculty members.  Some faculty simply resist any nudge in the direction of faith and learning integration. (“I express my personal Christian commitment in my conscientious approach to teaching and my concern for the individual student.”)  Others see its value but are immobilized in the face of engaging the enterprise.  Still others find the whole matter anti-intellectual, privately grousing that “come to Jesus talk” need not be part of a quality academy.

But the need for faith and learning integration doesn’t go away.

Education from a Christian perspective is basic to the Christian college’s reason to be.  It is as essential component as any in defining what makes a college Christian.

Moreover, the excuses and defenses are really not compelling.  Faith and learning call for more than dedicated teaching.  My Harvard educated son received some excellent instruction and personal attention, but it was certainly not Christian.  Yes, it is a daunting challenge, but not beyond our highly gifted faculty members’ capacities.  As for the “come to Jesus” sneer, we exist to bring our students to Christ—body, mind, and spirit.

I have a passion for faith and learning.  I am a product of a Christian college and I have taught in state universities as well as Christian colleges.  As such, I am convinced of its value.  There is indeed a spiritual battle for the mind in a society with competing ideologies and value systems.  Christian college students regularly encounter faith crises that are intellectual in nature.  Quality efforts at faith and learning address these crises.  They constitute a needed ministry, one that can best carried on in the academic sphere.

Many Christian colleges do work faithfully at the faith and learning nexus.  Others, regrettably, less so.  For example, one academic dean told me that the issue of faith and learning was never raised during his interview process at an acclaimed Christian college.  In another instance, a much-published state university colleague–who loves to do faith-learning integrations in his physical science discipline–used his sabbatical to teach at a well-known Christian college.   “I wanted to find out how different it was there,” he told me.  “I found out how different it wasn’t.”

Despite such lapses mentioned, I know Christian college administrators strongly affirm the import of faith and learning integrations.  My conversations over the years confirm that.  Moreover, my purpose is to be part of the solution—in any place and in any way possible.

Definition

What do I mean by faith and learning?  Permit me to relate a few ideas from my book Faith and Learning on the Edge.  It means that all learning begins with God.  It makes God the independent rather than dependent variable in the learning equation.  Independent variables abound in academe.  There are Marxist, feminist, gay, and postmodern perspectives.  We need more Christian ones.

There need not be deterioration in academic standards merely because one looks at one’s discipline through a Christian (rather than a naturalistic or postmodern) lens.  Christian scholars employ the same standards of evidence as non-believers.  “Christians and non-Christians likely will use precisely the same methods of in determining the date when George Washington crossed the Delaware,” states historian George Marsden of Notre Dame, author of The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.  The goal remains truth, empirical and non-empirical.

Three Components

I see three components to faith and learning.  The first is philosophical.  That trail has been blazed by giants the likes of Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, Harry Blamires, Marsden, and others.  The case has been made.

The second is a more applied one. It involves critiquing paradigms and schools of thought from a Christian perspective.  What of postmodernism can a Christian thinker affirm?  Does a Christian scholar approach history any differently from a non-believer?  What aspects of the major psychological and sociological theorists’ work square with Christian thinking and what do not?  Almost every discipline–even many in the physical sciences–provides opportunities for this.  Critiquing goes beyond mere attack.  It involves distilling those aspects of prevailing theories that comport well with Christian thinking as well as those that do not.

The highest level of faith and learning involves theory building–integration.  In an age of pluralism and diversity, I echo Marsden in encouraging efforts at developing identifiable Christian schools of thought in mainstream academe, comparable to Marxist, feminist, and African-American systems.

Solutions

There are many fronts on which the Christian college can engage the faith and learning challenge. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into detail here.  Permit me to cite a few.  There are ways to address the matter constructively during the hiring process.  For established faculty it can be engaged in presentations, workshops, retreats, and task forces.  I am familiar with all these approaches and more.

The most important thing a college administrator can do to empower faith and learning efforts on his or her campus is to promote it—and dare I say—mandate it.  Once faculty know that faith and learning top the dean’s priority list, they will pay attention.

From there, provide models.  Faculties often need examples of how faith and learning can be done at the critiquing and integration level.  That is why www.faithandlearningforum.com exists.  For those with a passion to explore this vital challenge it can take little more than an example or two to get traction and momentum.  That is how I began.  For developed work, there are a variety of publishing options for faith and learning efforts.

The key, however, is desire.  We don’t need reluctant faith and learning warriors in our Christian colleges, no matter who gifted may be their pedagogical or research skills.  Not to value faith and learning is not to affirm the mission of the institution at which such a scholar is employed.

Again, there is so much administrative work to do in the academic sphere of a Christian college.  The faith and learning dimension is only one.  It is, however, the most important one.  It is why Christian colleges exist.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the Founder of FaithandLearningForum.com.

[1]  Christian Faculty: Engaging the Call

by John Thompson, Systems Librarian, Waynesburg University

All of life is in the hands of the Creator.  He made it and sustains it.  He loves it.  And He has given us responsibility for it.  This means transforming all of nature,all of society, and in our case, education, to the glory of God.

 The call is daunting.  We recognize the fracture lines that run through this world but are most evident in everything that the human race interacts.  We see everywhere evidence for the fall. There is something deeply disordered in human affairs, those immediately around us and magnified on a global scale.  And yet we believe that the Creator came to inspect this multidimensional fracture line and to repair the devastating breach, at extraordinary cost to himself.  The cross epitomized the world’s desperate need for a restoration and fulfillment.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to help our young people to become responsible coworkers with God in this fractured and disordered world.  Many of them come to us already so scarred or seduced by our world that they are only barely able to see and undertake this calling God has given us.  Others are more receptive.  In either case, this task is only possible in the light of the resurrection.  St. Paul understood well that our ministry arises out of our weakness, not out of our keen insight or numerical analysis or cultural sensitivity.

In the Light of the New Testament

The Gospels and other New Testament writings stand as witnesses to us to the transformative power of God at work in first century Roman and Jewish societies.  That same power is available to us.  It enables education to take place.  It enables us to send out students who have been awakened from our society’s deep slumber to be agents of redemption, of new life, of an end to the slave trade in souls that pervades our society.

And so we faculty must stand like the New Testament writings, as witnesses to the power and mercy of God at work in our midst.  “The Kingdom of God is among us,” we must say, “and you must awaken to it, hear its call, and understand its implications for you.”  Our teaching should then be in the light of the Kingdom.  Our churches haven’t always done a good job of preparing young men and women to be active participants in the life of the kingdom, nor have our colleges.  But we have this opportunity.

There are questions to ponder: To what extent is it our calling as Christian educators and as participants in the redemptive task of the kingdom to call students to join us in this effort?  How do we help our students to understand what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, and to understand it as the framework for their lives?  In the context of so much academic study, how to we reclaim the simplicity and directness of the teachings of Jesus?  How do we listen for the gospels’ uncompromising demands that will take a lifetime to explore?

The Love of God

In responding to these questions, it is important to be aware that the crucial mark of the Kingdom of God is love. We faculty must first of all be a living exhibition of the love of God.  We must summon our students to embrace a life that will enable them to experience the fullness, the joy, and the fulfillment of love.  We must train them to be equally adept at identifying and rejecting love’s counterfeits.  We faculty and staff can do this.  We must do this.

If in our heart is the love of God—the thunderous, all-encompassing love of God that upsets our plans and challenges our security systems—this will be reflected in our professional life and in the lives of our students. This love is unafraid to assume human flesh, to challenge those who do not live consistently with their commitments, and even to assert itself in the myriad particulars of our lives.

This love of God becomes visible to us as mercy and grace.  The mercy and grace of God are what we celebrate, and what offers itself, unbidden, to every student in every profession.  The mercy and grace of God call us, in the midst of our academic pursuits, to grow and reflect on how things might be different.  Grace and mercy are the lifeblood of the Kingdom of God.

Again, we stand as witnesses, as mere witnesses to the Kingdom of God and its ways of peace, joy and mercy.  Each of us will do this differently, just as different lenses refract the sunlight differently. But the cumulative refraction will shed new light on us and our task, and will shine with a beauty on those outside our midst.  If we are to talk about a genuinely Christian college community, we must ask what lies at the heart of it.  What does the Christian faith offer to us and our students that a Christian college community might be able to supply?

Fullness of Life

We must set our sights high.  The Christian faith offers us nothing less than fullness of life, a transformation of our ordinariness into something extraordinary.  The fullness of life—of enjoyment, of meaning, and of purpose is something that we too rarely think or speak about in our institutionalized, assessment-driven confines.  The fullness of life is inconceivable without a vibrant, personal encounter with the living Head of our faith.  We are not talking about Christ as merely a great moral example or a teacher of wisdom.  We are talking about someone who has already entered our experience—our dreary, decay-ridden, uncertainty-laden experience—in that he has experienced the most gruesome death on our behalf.

To the extent that we are able to enter this experience, to that extent we are able ourselves to become more fully human, we are prepared for life’s shocks and joys.

We can never know for certain how well we are preparing our students for this fullness of life.  But we can make them more hungry for it—and help them realize that it does indeed exist—if they have glimpsed it in our lives, especially as we struggle to live out this fullness of life in faith and learning. If our students are able to catch even a momentary glimpse of this, it will be profoundly significant.

The characteristics which should lie at the heart of Christian higher education should be the same characteristics which were embodied in the earthly life of our Lord, and tangibly expressed in the early Christian community: love, grace, mercy, and service.  If these are truly to be expressed, we must not allow our institutional practices to diminish or overshadow them.

The Christian faculty member should stand as a witness to the integrity and beauty of the Christian story in a world that is so eager to get on with its own agenda. The Christian story has been played out in countless homes and communities and is easily reflected in each of the university’s disciplines.

To embrace the story in its entirety, however, we may also need to embrace its apparent impracticality.  The Christian story is far more than values and morality.  It calls for the transformation of our humanity after it has been crucified with Christ.  It means the inevitability of conflict—conflict within ourselves and within our institutional community.  Conflict and forgiveness are necessary parts of our lives.

Resistance

Embracing a robustly Christian vision in almost any culture will activate a significant countercultural element.  Not only the prevailing culture but education itself has embraced perspectives that are incompatible with the Christian understanding of the “fullness of life.”  Our students’ and faculty’s appetites, dreams, and orientations have been distorted.  The problem, however, is not that we are too appetitive; it is rather that our appetites have been accommodated to being satisfied with too little, far too little.  Part of our task is to awaken desire, to awaken our appetites to what is truly good, true, and beautiful.  To do this for our students and for each other is pure joy,

There is also a threat.  We must be prepared for our own crucifixion.  First, the crucifixion of our own desires as we pursue Christ and His overwhelming beauty.  Second, our crucifixion by those who object to our scheme.

And what is more difficult, we must prepare our students to face their own crucifixions.  May God bless our sacred work.

John Thompson is Systems Librarian at Waynesburg University, PA.  Much of our bibliographic resources here are the result of his contribution.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to this site
Get new Faith and Learning posts sent to you by email: