Is it possible for a culture to fill its mind while simultaneously emptying its soul? I believe that is the looming challenge facing higher education. Digital culture has put a world of knowledge at our fingertips…literally. But the most fundamental concern of education remains fixed and unchanged. How do we use the knowledge in the right way? In a world of on-demand knowledge, the college professor matters now more than ever before. But the role of the college professor is also changing.
No longer are professors the source of information, data, and knowledge. Now, the professor needs to become a filter and evaluator of that knowledge. Good professors are skilled at helping students make sense out of an overwhelming ocean of knowledge, much of which conflicts, contradicts, or is flat-out wrong.
Anybody can get their hands on information, anybody can access learning in the sense of acquiring data. But true learning involves so much more than merely the acquisition of data and skills. It involves values, emotions, beliefs, relationships, and worldview. True learning is ultimately about understanding reality and one’s place in that reality in relationship to others.
In a world where expert knowledge and skill training is no longer restricted to the academy, now, more than ever, Christian higher education institutions need to become abbeys, places of spiritual reflection and an anchoring of one’s soul. And Christian faculty members, whether full-time or adjunct professors, need to learn to flourish in both worlds. For Christian colleges and universities, this will no longer be the domain of the schools of religion but of every school and department.
One example is Oklahoma Wesleyan University, who has built their mission around 4 Pillars: The Primacy of Jesus Christ, the Priority of Scripture, the Pursuit of Truth, and the Practice of Wisdom. These 4 pillars infuse the university’s institutional identity and culture. Walk the halls or campus sidewalks and you see the banners and signs everywhere. Talk to professors or staff and they can recount the mission and these 4 core truths. Listen to the President speak, look the literature, sit in on classes, or read course syllabi: it’s everywhere. There is a clear and bold recognition that a Christian liberal arts education in the 21st Century goes far beyond the acquisition of knowledge and information.
The view of reality produced by Christian higher education is needed in our world more than ever. Christian professors and faculty bring these four essential realities to the classroom:
There is the PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST at the center of that destiny that redefines our relationships and social systems.
There is a story revealed in SCRIPTURE that is unfolding across the ages for humanity and their destiny.
There is a TRUTH that orders and makes sense of all other truth and knowledge
There is WISDOM for living lives of meaning, destiny, and significance.
What does this broader view of higher education mean for faculty, though? What is it we do that is unique and makes a real difference? There are obviously many ways to answer this question, but I want to offer these 5 principles as a means of focusing our calling and work as Christian faculty in higher education, whether you are a full-time or adjunct, Christian or secular university:
- Be Learners of Learning. Be a student of what a digital-oral culture means for the very basic fabric of human society.
- Be Apologists for a Biblical, Christian worldview. Recognize that the world around you is hungry to hear of the validity of Christian (biblical) truth as a coherent model of reality even though they don’t know it. When you offer this view of reality, you are offering the greatest gift imaginable to a culture who has lost its soul.
- See yourself as Shepherd-teachers (Ephesians 4) who are nurturing the soul as they guide students along the academic journey.
- Embrace Education as Discipleship. Recognize that higher education is never just about the academic gains and degrees but the cultivation of the whole person. That reality starts in the classroom with the faculty.
- Personalize your Teaching. Even if you are in an online structure where content is pre-packaged, do not be content with the argument that you are merely a guide pointing the way to information. Who you are as a unique person matters and students are hungry for a personal connection to you, to your experiences, to your wisdom, insights, and passions. Find a way to make your teaching a powerful expression of who God has made you to be.
As a Christian university professor, embrace the challenge to live in the world of both the Academy and the Abbey. Be a scholar, be the best you can be at your area of expertise. Model for your students how to think critically, how to filter information, how to gain skills, how to apply that knowledge. Be an example of thinking deeply, creatively, and passionately. Love God with your mind!
But be a priest and shepherd as well. Help your students see that the whole person matters. That knowledge and truth that leads to wisdom is meant to change who we are. We ought to become better people, better employees, bosses, or citizens because we have learned. To have studied about God and his world but to have not become more like him is to have missed the greatest truth of all.
So, Christian college professors: Be Learners. Be Apologists. Be Shepherd-Teachers. Be Disciplers. Be Yourselves!