Christianity & Culture: Wheaton-Hawkins #4

It is not within my capacity to follow the Wheaton-Hawkins situation as it proliferates into an array of primary and secondary factors.  So, unless there is something else specifically to address, I will use this as my final post. 

For me, the cultural factors (post #1), the statement of faith issues (post #2), and the theological aspects (post #3) combine in the question, “What is the nature and mission of Christian higher education?”  One blog falls hopelessly short in addressing the question, but I will point to some selected factors which I believe are key components in framing an answer to the question.

First, Christian higher education must exist in a genuine cosmology. The word ‘university’ is derived from the idea of universe; that is, a university is a microcosm of the larger world–or it should be.  For a few years, people of all kinds should live and learn together, so that they can continue to do so for the rest of their lives.  This is the relational mandate in education.

When a school truncates its educational cosmology, it diminishes its students’ ability to develop the integrative capacity to co-exist in society, which is already diverse and global.  It creates graduates who only know how to get along with those who are like them–a problem in its own right, but one that has the seeds to sow suspicion of “the other” who is unlike them.

Second, Christian higher education must be sure to keep religion and ethics connected.  A way of faith must be a way of life.  In the history of Christian education this has often been called character formation–education that shapes a virtuous life, essentially understood as the fruit of the Spirit and a theology of love in relation to the two great commandments.  This is the moral mandate in education.

Without this, people can claim “purity of doctrine” while lacking purity of heart, producing a holiness that is essentially sour godliness.  This only produces mean-spirited Christians who can use their faith to justify attitudes and actions which are not Christlike. 

Third, Christian higher education must deal with conflicts differently. We are not obligated to operate as the fallen world does. We are called to watch over one another in love, not draft severance agreements. This is the communal mandate of education.

The way of love is a long and winding road compared to a juridical “quick fix” that ends a situation without actually resolving it–a process which keeps alive the potential to do the same thing over again to someone else in the future.  It is an approach vacant of a ministry of reconciliation.

Students learn as much, probably more, outside the classroom than inside it.  They particularly pay attention to the attitudes and actions of an institution’s leaders. The educational environment must be congruent with the espoused content, or we will create graduates who can hold and justify deformative separations between beliefs and practices.

To be sure there are other factors that define and direct Christian higher education.  But these three will open the way to further insight.  And most importantly, a commitment to educational cosmology, character formation, and conflict resolution will create a different kind of graduate–a person who can live in the world as it is, without the fear that judgmentalism creates, and to the glory of God.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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