Higher education is facing, to paraphrase Dickens and Thomas Paine, the best and worst of times, the times that try institutions’ souls. These are the worst of times because of the great challenges facing higher education: escalating costs of tuition, facilities, books and resources, and personnel; increased competition and decreasing enrollment pools; aging adult populations; rising freshmen populations increasingly unprepared for the academic and intellectual demands of college; a near-decade long recession; mounting obstacles in secondary education – lack of funding, falling graduation rates, teacher shortages, growing achievement gaps; a shrinking middle class; and an increasingly polarized political environment. Globalization, immigration, religious pluralization, and technologization put strains on both public and private higher education unlike any ever known.
But for all those logistical and operational challenges, the gravest danger is ideological. These are the times that try the soul, mission, and integrity of institutions. A battle of ideas is being waged for the hearts and minds of our children; nowhere is that battle more pronounced than on university and college campuses, even Christian ones. We are on the frontlines of this cultural collision between truth and its counterfeit. A collision in which the academy is no longer a place of the free exchange of ideas and critical thinking but is characterized by safe spaces, the “snowflake rebellion,” microaggressions, marriage and transgender equality, LGBTQ rights and their identity crises, the intolerance of the new age of tolerance, and, for Christian schools, the even more problematic reduction of Christian theology to one dimensional, self-referential proclamations of love and social justice.
The battle for the mind of the academy is not new. Mission drift has long been a threat to Christian schools. It is no accident that most of the oldest institutions in U.S. history were founded as religious schools whose mission was to ground society’s leaders in the knowledge and practice of God’s divine truth. In 1692, Harvard University’s original motto was Veritas Christo et Ecclesia, or Truth for Christ and the Church, a philosophy occasionally still found in the original seal on certain buildings around the campus. But by the 20th century the motto had been reduced simply to: Veritas, a quest for truth and meaning unanchored to any objective source.
Harvard represents a long list of many significant educational institutions whose beginnings were rooted in a biblical, Judeo-Christian worldview and mission. Yet virtually none of those institutions today bear any theological resemblance to their origins. Their unmooring and drift has often been imperceptible, like the proverbial boiling of the frog. Now, though, the forces against Christian truth, religious liberty, and genuine human freedom rooted in the imago dei are swift and powerful currents. Far too many Christian schools, including conservative evangelical ones and even those in the wider Wesleyan tradition are being swept away from their historical and theological anchors. Indeed, too many campuses have become centers for progressive propaganda and indoctrination.
All of this, in short, points to a pervasive loss of the Christian mind. Harry Blamires reminds us that the most vital task in “reconstituting the Christian mind will be to reestablish the status of objective truth as distinct from personal opinions.” If we ‘unhook’ our Christian worldview from the discussion of spirituality in the marketplace or the classroom, we help perpetuate the discouragement of free intellectual inquiry . In effect, we become theistic existentialists who say that although (for us) truth is rooted in God, it’s validity to the non-Christian world is only determined by its personal value to the individual, not by its nature as divine reality. For a Christian thinker, student, scholar, or professor, this is intellectually dishonest.
As Christian, if we decide we are only going to talk about values and not religious belief, in order to “engage” with those from a non-Christian worldview, we prevent the conversation from moving to the very place we think we are taking it. Indeed, we can and must talk plainly, honestly, and winsomely about our Christian faith while at the same time cultivating an atmosphere of honest intellectual freedom and a respectful listening to others.
This has happened in history and is needed again. Eugene Peterson, pointing to the effect that the Monastic movement and the Protestant Reformation had on human history, said that “Christianity can and will have a considerable impact on culture when it involves thinking at the most fundamental levels…Those who hope to see Christianity affect culture in America and elsewhere must work toward the development of a strong public Christian mind (italics mine)”. . We have no reason to be either afraid of talking “Christian” in the classroom or marketplace.
Too many Christian universities and faculty are increasingly reluctant to face the challenge of remaining truly Christian. The wide path involves either blending or hiding; blending in with the majority silencing the voices of the past, relegating them to the halls of archives and choosing generic spirituality masquerading as “relevance”; or cloistering and hiding away as we become increasingly indifferent and inconsequential, privately holding onto the truth but afraid to let that voice be heard or let its light shine for fear of public scorn, rebuke, attack, or, God forbid, closure.
The narrow, harder way is to be a lighthouse and a beacon to culture, proclaiming truth, offering liberty, and modeling transformation. As Dr. Everett Piper, our president here at Oklahoma Wesleyan, has time and again noted, only institutions that genuinely believe in divine objective truth can be places of truly higher education’s noble ideals of freedom, liberty, critical inquiry, and justice. Our culture is morally adrift and in desperate need of the freedom and power of the classical, Christian liberal arts anchored in a true north of the laws of nature and nature’s God.
No group of people are more significant in that endeavor than our faculty. The recovery effort of Christian higher education begins with the “mind” of the faculty. And it’s not just Blamers or Peterson that beckon us to the recovery of a Christian mind. The medieval Scholastics like Aquinas and Anselm were driven by this sense of “faith seeking understanding,” that God and his nature could be discovered and worshipped using the highest faculty of human reason and intellect.
As Christian professors, we do not live in the tension between faith and intellect. Rather, we can embody for our students a life of integrity in which our minds are in pursuit of divine truth which is revealed and lived out in wisdom and practice. We are called to love God not just with our heart and soul, but with our mind. We find in that, as as thousands of years of history before us, God’s truth is robust and strong enough to not only hold up to the scrutiny of human reason and inquiry, but is the only, ultimate ideal which can fully satisfy and make sense of reality.
So, dear faculty, engaging your students with the full measure of Christian truth as it permeates all disciplines and all subjects is and can be an act of worship and adoration to the God who created and revealed all truth.
 Sirico, R. (2002). The Soul of Liberty. Grand Rapids, MI: The Acton Institute. p. 34.
 Peterson, M. (2001). With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy of Education. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame. p. 206.
Some wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking to find one who had been born King of the Jews. This was a gutsy question, considering they’ve come into the capital city of Herod the Great, who has been King over the Jews for more than thirty years. But the magi know that Herod, who had been put on the throne by the Romans, is an Edomite of Arab descent and, as such, is an illegitimate king. So they come and ask this powerful king, where is the one born the true king of the Jews, for we have come to worship him? Not surprisingly, King Herod, by nature already paranoid and suspicious, was deeply disturbed and angry.
But who were these men? From the east. There is only one clear and obvious place this could be. If you leave Jerusalem and head east, you cross Arabia and come to Babylon, to the land of the Persians.
They are wise men, magi, or mages, astrologer-philosophers and advisors to the royal court. Persia was the home of Zoroastrianism, a somewhat monotheistic religion anchored in astrology and mysticism. As men of great intellect and insight, the magi sought to discover the destiny of their kings in the movement of heavenly bodies. Now a divinely appointed star in the heavens had brought them to Jerusalem to worship the king of the Jews.
But how did they know about this infant king? Why would they care, much less undertake the arduous trek along the trade highway to come worship a foreign king in a foreign land? How did they know and why did they care?
To find the answer, let’s load up on the iPad of our mind a video clip of history and journey back over 500 years. Here we find a Jewish man who has risen to a position of great influence and prestige. Darius the Mede, King of Babylon, has just promoted Daniel to be a ruler over the whole kingdom. Daniel was second only to the king himself.
Over the preceding years in the Babylonian court, Daniel had gained a great reputation as a wise man, a mage, in his own right. He was not a disciple of Zoroaster, but instead devoted to Yahweh. He was not a reader of the stars, but an interpreter of dreams. And so Daniel did time and time again what none of the king’s other wise men could ever do. The One who made the stars was the One who gave him the insights into the dreams of kings. And it was this One to whom Daniel knelt in prayer every day. His insight came not through his intellect, which was great, but through his great love and devotion to God.
Other men grow jealous of Daniel’s success. Plotting and intrigue were afoot in the court and one day Daniel found himself facing a difficult choice: stop praying to Yahweh and bend a knee only to the king or face certain death. When Daniel heard the news, he went to his house and, exactly as he he had done every other day, got down on his knees before God. Before nightfall, he was in the lions’ den.
The next morning, King Darius, a friend of Daniel, is relieved to find Daniel alive and unharmed. And so he issues another decree that “everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God and he will endure forever!”
But this wasn’t Daniel’s first experience with such stark choices and dramatic consequences. Let’s slide our video back just a bit more to Daniel’s youth. Here we see four young Hebrew men, handsome, highly intelligent, skillful, and bursting with potential. The Babylonian custom in conquering other nations was to bring the brightest and best young people back and raise them as scholars and leaders for Babylonian society. It’s how you cultivate the cream of the crop from across your empire. Daniel, along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are chosen for such privileged preparation. They are to be given the best accommodations, the best education, the best food and clothing, the full riches and pleasures of the king’s court.
Daniel, however, resolves that they will remain pure and not defile themselves with privileges and pleasures of the king. As a result, God gives the young men great learning and skill in literature, wisdom, and knowledge. When the time comes for them to be tested before Nebuchadnezzar, he finds them ten times better than all his other wise men. They are given positions of leadership and influence, Daniel in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, and the other three throughout Babylon.
Like with Darius, though, political and spiritual opposition arises. A decree is passed, the people are assembled and ordered to worship before a ninety-foot tall golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is apparently elsewhere at the time, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the statue. They are hauled before the king and threatened with instant execution if they will not bow. But again they refuse, so they are thrown into the blazing hot furnace. There, as you may know, God miraculously protects and delivers them. Nebuchadnezzar, seeing this powerful divine intervention, brings them out of the fire and promotes them to an even higher place of authority in the province. He then issues another decree declaring the supremacy of the God of the Jews and proclaiming praises of the Most High God! Just as Darius will later, Nebuchadnezzar also now bows before Yahweh.
In these two snapshots, four young adult men, perhaps not much older than many of you here, stood strong and tall in the face of a culture that demanded they give in to the appetites of the flesh and bow down in worship to a false god, even while everybody around them was rushing and clamoring to do just that. Can you imagine how hard this was? How easy it would have been to just give in, to go along, to rush forward with the tide of culture and social pressure. Imagine the temptations in their hearts and minds: We are special, were are elite, we are the gifted. We deserve the opportunities, we ought to have the privileges and riches being offered to us.
What conversations might they have had? Do you think they realized what was at stake? Hey, guys, if we don’t bow down here, we will lose this opportunity for a great future, we will lose our place of influence, we will lose our positions or power. We could lose our scholarships. We could lose our place on the team. We could lose our friends. We could be mocked or killed! All we have to do is say yes to culture. It’s easier to conform, to just go along with the crowd. Especially when you are at the top. But Daniel, Shedrach, Meshach, and Adednego stood firm, they stood tall, they stood alone.
How did they do it? It was not the superiority of their intellect, not their skills in debate or their persuasive rhetoric. It was not their creativity or passion. It was not their GPA or SAT scores. They could stand tall because of their love and devotion to God. They could stand tall because their intellectual gifts had been surrendered to the God who had given them.
And because these Jewish young men living in the midst of a hostile culture stood tall, the kings of Babylon and Persia bowed before the God of the universe. Five centuries later, wise men from this same land, bearing in their history and cultural heritage this story of Daniel, would see a star, rightly interpret its meaning, and come seeking to bow down in worship before the baby they recognized to be the true king of the earth.
When culture demands you bend your knee to idols — and it is — or that you proclaim as true that which is false — and it is — or that you celebrate and cheer while society rushes headlong into destruction, how will you stand? It will be only because of your love and devotion to God; only if you have an intimate walk with Jesus, only because your your absolute reliance and trust in him, that you will be able to stand.
We are facing a watershed moment in our nation’s existence. Some of you may sense that just as your parents and I do. If our culture is to be saved, it will be only God who delivers. But if it happens, how will it come to pass?
It will come because young men and women like you, handsome and beautiful each in your own way, talented, gifted in intellect and intelligence, bursting with creativity, passion and skill choose to live first and foremost out of love and devotion to God.
Pursue intelligence, persuasive speech, wisdom, and knowledge! By all means, pursue these. Develop these gifts! But anchor that in a deep and abiding love of God. Do not pursue the one without the other. The Apostle Paul was himself a brilliant scholar and thinker, trained by some of the best Greek minds of his day. Remember his words from 1 Corinthians 13: if we have the wisdom, intellect, or great powers of persuasion but are without love, we are merely harsh, clashing, clanging metal noise, we are nothing, we are useless.
Your intellect can make you great, but it will not make you good.
You may win debates and have the right ideas, but that does not mean you are righteous.
Your resume and academic accomplishments can give you a great career, but they will not guarantee you godly character.
Instead, “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Follow the example of Paul and “count everything as loss for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as your Lord.” Love God not only with your mind, but with all your soul and heart.
If you possess great talent, gifts, and intellect, but are not living out of a deep love of God, like Nebuchadnezzar, you will in time come to expect and demand that others bow down before you.
But if you will surrender your talent, gifts, and intellect to God and pursue a love of him above all else, you will be ready and able to stand strong in the onslaught of a hostile culture. When you and other young men and women like you will stand strong in your love of God, through you, just as with Daniel and his friends, cultures, nations, and kings will someday bow before the King of all Kings.
The Christian Post recently ran an op-ed piece by Rob Schwarzwalder titled “The Truth About Human Sexuality: It All Comes Down to the Bible.”
The crux of his article is his assertion that “what one believes about human sexuality comes down to whether or not the book Christians proclaim as the written Word of God is, in fact, that.”
He then briefly discusses 3 questions:
- Is the Bible authoritative? (Yes.)
- Is what the Bible teaches about human sexuality clear? (Yes.)
- Is what the Bible says about human sexuality sufficient? (And, again, yes.)
I’m sympathetic to his argument here, but I don’t think he is entirely correct on this. Mostly, but not entirely.
For one thing, if it were truly the Bible itself (as a textual document) that was the basis for the belief in the conjugal, complementary view of marriage (cf. Anderson, Girgis, & George), then we would expect this view to be found primarily only those Christian cultures who came along after the compilation of a significant portion of the biblical text.
But that’s not the case. By-and-large, this view truly is a universally held practice in almost all human societies and cultures. Even in societies that practiced polygamy, had a non-egalitarian view of women, or approved of homosexuality, this has been the dominant view of marriage for millennia. Scripture certainly gives us the basis for this reality — the image of God stamped into humanity — but the Bible itself is not the origin of the practice. The practice has been present and observable since the beginning.
As Anderson et al note, this traditional view of marriage has been long recognized and upheld in human society, both ancient and modern. Our legal definition of it is merely a recognition of what is, not the act of defining what we want it to be. The meaning is an ontological statement, not a cultural one. SSM advocates seek to apply this latter, cultural meaning to the government’s role in marriage, and, hence to its definition.
Now, as to his point that it is only in the Bible that we find a clear and sufficient explanation about the nature of human sexuality: on that he is correct. The Bible reveals three essential realities about the meaning of human sexuality. All of them have their root in the image of God. According to Genesis 1-2, God created humans as bearers of his image, to be creatures who shared something of his nature but were not clones (or even equals). Those three realities:
- The full image of God in mankind is expressed in both maleness and femaleness. God’s image required him making both a male and a female. Either one without the other is an incomplete picture of the nature and character of God.
- The image of God is stamped in us through oneness involving two complementary but not identical beings.To be one with the other person required something in the experience that the individual could not provide for themselves (physically speaking, this is literally true). The kind of unity and oneness symbolized by sexual intercourse is not possible with two creatures of the same gender, modern notions of emotional and romantic love notwithstanding.
- The image of God is stamped in us through the possibility of sexual intercourse bringing forth a child. Human sexuality was designed such that its pinnacle was a reciprocal self-giving love of one being (a man) toward another (woman), one of my kind but not the same as me, that resulted in the creation of yet another being who shares the essential characteristics of both parents but is not fully identical to either. Just to be clear here: God does not himself create through sexual activity. Rather, human sexuality is symbolic or expressive of the unity and diversity and self-giving love found in God himself (what the early church would eventually speak of as the Trinity).
That’s a family. Certainly in a fallen world, there are all kinds of realities that have broken that perfect ideal: death, divorce, abuse, abandonment. But the brokenness doesn’t diminish the ideal. The ideal is what we have simply termed “marriage”.
We can redefine our terms but it doesn’t redefine reality.
It is true that the Bible is the foundation of our capacity to understand all of that and to give it names, clarity, and theological or sociological explanations. But the experience and reality itself was around from the start. That is something that was innately fixed in humanity, even when we go astray and seek to bend reality to our own whims. And it’s inescapable, really, because no matter where we want to go with what we think marriage ought to be, we cannot get away from two simple facts.
Fact 1: The government’s interest and, hence, legal definition, in marriage lies only in the fact that human sexual intercourse between two people have the possibility to bring forth children. It is incumbent on society, governments recognized, to ensure that those parents proceeded to care for and nurture the new lives they created. A more crass position might see that simply as the need to avoid the rest of us having to care for these children should they become unwanted after the fact. And, indeed, all societies are a testimony to that happening.
Fact 2: This kind of relationship with the potential for children and thus a family requires a male and a female to bring it about. Even in cases like are all around us in society where we see wonderful men and women stepping up to adopt unwanted or orphaned children, all of these situations required the same thing: a man and a woman.
The perfect ideal is that a child has its birth mother and birth father, both of whom are healthy, loving, and supportive. Obviously that does not always happen. But it does not change the ideal. Family is inseparably linked to two genders. You simply cannot have a family any other way.
Katy Faust had a great article on the Witherspoon Institute blog in which she makes the following argument:
If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out “even better!” when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by “two moms” or “two dads” came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods.
The only possible way to have a same-sex couple family structure (or any other alternative form) is through the destruction of the original structure. In other words, for SSM marriage to be a legitimate family structure, it requires that the natural, original form — a man and a woman — be broken.
It’s that biologically indisputable fact that makes SSM a false premise. SSM is by definition not marriage because marriage refers to that whole package of two complementary, gendered individuals who have the potential for bringing forth life out of their union. And it is not the courts that define this, it is the natural order.
As to the homosexuality argument in more general terms, the question of human sexuality cannot legitimately be divorced from the question of family structure and marriage. Certainly, sexuality exists outside of marriage (to society’s detriment) and certainly marriage is not merely about procreation and raising children. But marriage in its fullest meaning (procreation, covenant, self-giving, unity in activity and body) is the institution that defines and affirms the ultimate purpose, meaning, and nature of human sexuality.
Recent CNN post about the Atheists’ 10 “Non-Commandments” that were voted upon http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/19/living/atheist-10-commandments/:
In our own more enlightened age, we’re perfectly capable of crowdsourcing our own commandments — or, at least, that’s what a new project would have us believe.
Lex Bayer, an executive at AirBnB, and John Figdor, a humanist chaplain at Stanford University, delivered their own 10 “non-commandments” in a book they co-wrote: “Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind.” Bayer said the book forced him to clarify and articulate his own beliefs, and he thought others could benefit from doing the same.
“A lot of atheists’ books are about whether to believe in God or not,” he said. “We wanted to consider: OK, so you don’t believe in God, what’s next? And that’s actually a much harder question.”
Interesting idea. Here they are, with a few thoughts: (more…)