Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Vision for a Christian College

[Although I teach at a seminary, not a Christian college, some time ago I drafted a document on what I thought a Christian college should be. Now if someone out there has several million dollars, we can get started.]

A Christian college is place where teaching and learning honors God, is Christ-centered, is faithful to the gospel, and serves to extend Christ’s Kingdom into the entire world. Every disciple should come under the liberating discipline of Jesus Christ and his living and active word, the Bible. The classroom should offer students edification, joy in learning life-changing and world-changing truth, and preparation for glad Kingdom service.

The Christian college should be a city set on a hill, a center for Christian witness and action in the world. Students should be educated to view spirituality holistically, such that all of life brought under the Lordship of Christ, as Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer taught. The “crown rights of King Jesus” (as the Puritans put it) should be lovingly and courageously applied to every aspect of life. I agree with Duane Litfin, in Conceiving the Christian College, that a truly Christian college is “systemic.” The systemically Christian institution aspires to doctrinal consistency (but not uniformity) among its faculty members. It will “seek to make Christian thinking systemic through the institution, root, branch, and leaf.” Every student should be encouraged to develop a Christian worldview (or philosophy of life) as well as the ability to defend Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent to all of life. Every course taught at the Christian college should integrate a biblical worldview with the subject matter through its manner of instruction, class materials, and assignments. The syllabus for every class would state how this goal is to be achieved.

George Barna, George Gallup and others have noted that most Americans and even a large number of self-identified Christians are biblically illiterate and lack a biblical worldview. A Christian college built on the foundation of a deeply biblical worldview can help reverse this trend and be a constructive force for godly change in the church and in the rest of society. Faculty should also be encouraged to engage in interdisciplinary explorations, which would include workshops, collaborative writing and teaching, and attending each others classes.

Christian Faculty: Character and Competence

Faculty should have a solid Christian testimony and adhere an evangelical statement of faith in good conscience. They must have the spiritual gift of teaching, be deeply committed to Christ and biblical truth, be avid churchmen or churchwomen, and be active scholars. The college culture should support all these goals by public recognition and financial incentives and rewards. A “teacher of the year” could be named every year on the basis of student voting. This teacher would give a public address presenting his or her philosophy and practice of teaching as well as recounting memorable classroom experiences. Another faculty member could act as a respondent and the rest of the time be open to audience questions and comments. The address and response could be published in a college magazine or on-line or both.

Faculty should be nurtured through a yearly retreat in which a gifted outside speaker is brought in for spiritual and intellectual inspiration. These times of learning, praying, worshipping, and reflecting help build up the team of teachers in their common task.

Faculty should also be encouraged to be public intellectuals. This means that they should bring their gifts and expertise into the marketplace of ideas, particularly before the unbelieving world. This can be done through public lectures, forums, debates, letters to the editor, editorials, appearances on radio and television programs, Internet postings, quotations in newspapers and magazines. For many years, I have endeavored to do these things and I desire to mentor others in this regard as I continue to seek other venues for the public presentation of Christianity as true, rational, and meaningful for all of life.

Spiritual Formation: Prayer, Chapel, and Chaplain

A prayer chapel is a vital place for renewal and reflection on a Christian campus. Students need a quiet and beautiful place to pray and meditate. Along these lines, the school should be periodically challenged to seek God through focused prayer and fasting, lest we end up depending on ourselves instead of God or exchanging our own agendas for the Kingdom of God.

Chapel speakers should come from the faculty and qualified staff as well as from local pastors and other fitting speakers. Apart from special circumstances, chapel speakers should be able to sign the school’s doctrinal statement. Student involvement would be encouraged at the level of testimonies, presentations, and involvement in worship and prayer.

The Christian college needs a spiritually deep and intellectually competent chaplain. This woman or man needs to be well-educated and to have a well integrated theology and practice of spiritual formation, prayer, and discipleship. He or she could also teach a class in the area of spiritual formation possibly evangelism.

Mentoring: Life-on-Life for Spiritual Development

Students would also be involved in a mentoring program, which connects them with professors and local Christian leaders, and provides a structure for learning and growing as a disciple of Christ. Students need not only the informal mentoring provided by professors, but also a more structured program for spiritual challenge and development. For the past decade, Denver Seminary has been a leader in developing a mentoring program for all students, and its model has been an inspiration to several other schools as well as other institutions. I have participated in this program and have a solid familiarity with how it works. This basic model could be adapted for the undergraduate experience.

Classrooms: Ambiance for Edification

The physical classroom ambiance should be conducive to teaching and discussion. Rooms should be designed in a warm and congenial manner, preferably with soft lighting (not florescent, which is impersonal and bothersome to many people). Each classroom should also be fully accessible by any physically handicapped student. Classrooms should have Internet access for the professor and a computer for presentations. However, these technological aids should never undermine the centrality of the face-to-face, person-to-person classroom environment, a place where ideas are engaged through words, silence, and prayer.

The Library: Truth to Give

The Christian college benefits from a healthy, friendly, attractive, and well-stocked library, which serves as reservoir of knowledge for the teachers and students. It can also be made available to local pastors and church workers and perhaps to the public at large. In a culture of spiritual learning the library is highly prized, open for long hours and staffed by Christians with a deep theology of library service. I have served on the library committee at Denver Seminary for many years and have been active in interviewing staff workers.

Visiting Inspiration

The Christian College should also bring in top-notch and faith-filled scholars, teachers, and writers to edify the staff and students as well as to draw community members to the school and to deeper Kingdom service. Yearly lectureships in various disciples can be established, including the following:

Christian philosophy and apologetics
Speakers might include: William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Lee Strobel, William Dembski, Greg Koukl.

Christianity and social issues: bioethics, philosophy of technology, politics, and so on.
Speakers might include: Nancy Pearcey, Nigel Cameron, Kenneth Myers, Charles Colson

Evangelism and missions
Speakers might include: Ravi Zacharias, Franklin Graham, Rebecca Pippert, Charles Kraft

Biblical studies
Speakers might include: N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock.

These lectureships should be widely promoted in the community. Where appropriate, especially related to philosophy, apologetics, and social issues, speakers should craft their message to address unbelievers as well as Christians. These sorts of lectures should be promoted to the nonChristian world. Professors can either require students to attend these presentations or give extra credit for attendance and reporting on the events. Visiting scholars could be invited to speak in various classrooms or at a faculty lunch or dinner.


Anonymous said...

Excellent! I especially appreciate: "Every student should be encouraged to develop a Christian worldview (or philosophy of life) as well as the ability to defend Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent to all of life. Every course taught at the Christian college should integrate a biblical worldview with the subject matter through its manner of instruction, class materials, and assignments."

It is amazing how infrequently this actually seems to occur at Christian schools (including high schools). Now-- where to get that few million dollars...

Daniel said...

Coming from a Christian college setting I can attest that all these criteria are worthy and very possible. I would also add though that some, not all, Christian colleges lack the outreach that is necessary for all Christians.

The school I attended had opportunities for short term mission trips for students as well as local volunteer outreach opportunities to assist local ministries and churches. From my own experience this has proved to not view Christian college students as confined to a bubble.

Colin Madland said...

My alma mater, Trinity Western University does a fabulous job. www.twu.ca

What would you change (if anything) for a Christian High School?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Groothuis, as an admirer of your writings, a former graduate of a good worldview seminary with my friend James Sennett, and a former student of Bill Craig's who is now an atheist, may I also suggest you bring in people like me to debate? And may I also suggest you do what Michael Murray and Mark Linville do by having seminars to discuss the best of the skeptical authors (they're both planning to discuss my book, when it comes out in a few months)?

As a former apologist I could not honestly answer the questions I was facing. If you'd like to try and answer them I'm all ears.


Adam Copeland said...

I attended a strong Christian college--St. Olaf College--choosing it over several more prestigious but less religiously-affiliated schools. So I appreciate your post.

However, I'm a bit put off by the hints of cultism. If a city on a hill doesn't hear from speakers with whom they disagree, how do they function in the pluralistic world? Doctrinal statements are great, but they don't really encourage dialog.

Shouldn't a Christian college face up to our changing world and fully empower students to be confessing Christians in the context of globalization?

A Wee Blether

Anonymous said...


There is a problem when young Christians are expected to "dialogue" within the "context of globalization" and yet do not know what they believe or why they believe anything. What is the purpose of a Christian school if not to equip its students with the truth and thus allow them to root themselves firmly in a Christian worldview? Without this training and support, two things can happen:

1) Once in the world, students are confused by conflicting truth claims and allow much that is not Biblical to either weaken or infiltrate their faith, such as it is.

2) Students retreat to a sort of fideism, where they assume that Christianity is outside the realm of rational thought and thus abandon the hope of rational dialogue within the "globalized context".

Without training in solid, Biblical thinking (which most younger Christians sadly have not had), Christian students are largely rendered evangelistically inept and intellectually confused.

To deal with an issue you raised, I ask how can students wrestle with the content of what a disagreeing speaker presents if they are oblivious to truth? They simply cannot recognize error, and are then "vulnerable to every wind of teaching and thought". If they do not know truth, can there even be such thing as "a speaker with whom they disagree?"

The "city on a hill" is a necessary training ground and a worthy goal.

D. A. Armstrong said...

I think the solution is a bit of a compromise. There is a need to dialogue with non-Christians. However, perhaps it should be in the lines of teachers dialoguing with non-Christians. That would mean debates and discussions would be key, but afterwards there should be a debriefing session with students.

A good illustration may be found in one of my own experiences. I taught briefly on apologetics to the local Campus Crusade for Christ group. Afterwards, I was on campus with one of the guys from the group gathering video for an event. An unbeliever comes up and asks him questions about why he believed in God. After the Christian stumbled around, though he had some reasons to believe. When we left, I spent some time reviewing the information from Bible study 2 weeks earlier.

Adam Copeland said...

Thanks to Sarah and D.A. for your respectful and thoughtful comments.

I guess I'm just more of the mind that dialog with non-Christians, "the world," secular thought etc, is really quite helpful even while developing one's faith.

In college, I traveled to eight countries--several Muslim, India which is really mixed, China, and Hong Kong. These experiences really challenged me in positive ways to work out what I believe. I came back both more respectful of the global world and more strong in my faith (and more patriotic, actually).

I'm a bit leery of a fortress mentality to faith, because it seems that's unrealistic. I wonder how one could study English without reading the romantic poets (who were far from orthodox), or if Dante's non-biblical vision of hell is unfit for conversation.

I guess my faith is one that really embraces challenges, especially in terms of wider knowledge of the world.

Thanks for your perspectives, though. I'll definitely be thinking about that too.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Dear John:

With your background, I doubt that there is anything I can directly say to you to convince you to come back to Christianity. To me, that is very sad, but I do not take it as an indication of the weakness of Christianity itself as a rational system. I have thought about, taught, and written on all the kinds of objections you raise and am not persuaded by them.

If you are interested, you could look at the arguments--direct and indirect--I make for Christianity in "On Jesus" and in "On Pascal." I am working on a large apologetics book, but that is not finished.

If you want to bring up particular problems in the context of this blog, feel free.

Doug Groothuis

Anonymous said...

Dr. Groothuis, thank you for your kind thoughts. In my opinion if someone is going to make the case for Christianity you probably have the best chance of doing it, and I'll look forward to your large apologetics book.