The Christian College: Its Tasks and Opportunities


From: JASA 20 (December 1968): 120-122.

Our bent as a nation is toward the immediate and the "practical." Education is seen by many simply as job training. Trained technicians keep our highly technological society in motion. But any society soon becomes obsolete if its educational institutions produce only technicians. The church, the community, the nation, and the developing community of nations demand leadership. They demand people sensitive to shortcomings, capable of dreaming big dreams (for "where there is no vision, the people perish"), and possessed of the courage, dedication, and self-sacrifice to see to it these dreams become reality.

Such leadership for church and world calls for people who can rise above the moment, people who can rise above their specific task, people whose moral perspectives rise above cultural mores. It is precisely the goal of the liberal arts to help students develop these qualities. Not skills but qualities of person are the goals of the liberal arts.

A liberal arts program differs radically from any program which aims at a specific vocational goal. The desired fruit of a liberal education is a person who thinks logically, who expresses himself with grace arid precision in his speech and his writing, who discriminates the beautiful from the ugly and the fresh and creative from the banal.
The liberal arts do not assume these processes develop in a vacuum, but that they require information, exercise, and norms: the record of the successes and

the failures, the wisdom and the foolishness, the nobility and the knavery, the beauty and the ugliness of mankind-the record of man's efforts to come to terms with the meaning of his life and to form a just and productive society. The student of the liberal arts must be taught to find a vantage point from which he can apply historical and mural norms both to his society and to his times.

It is the central place of norms in responsible living that makes clear the pivotal contribution of the liberal arts college committed to the Christian faith. The Christian faith gives liberal education a view of God, man, nature, and history. Christianity provides the liberal arts with an ultimate norm, a living example of man at his best, a motive and a pervasive sense of vocation which can make plowing as sacred as preaching and the mason serving God as completely as the missionary.

To some this will sound visionary and impractical. Not so. It is, in fact, the most practical approach to education. Northwestern is not indifferent to training in marketable skills. But as a liberal arts college it recognizes with the wise of all ages that man is far more than one who works, and that he needs more than facts and skills even to do well at his work.

"Probably the most important task of any college is to discover able teachers in sufficient number
As the Danforth study (Church Sponsored Higher Education) points out, "If a college intends o he a Christian community and to conduct its whrk within a Christian context, the appointment of faculty members who are sympathetic with this purpose and can make a contribution to such a community is an important factor in [faculty] selection."

To be a college in any meaningful sense means we have as teachers those who are learned in an academic discipline, those whose professional training is recognized as adequate for this task by the academic community. To be a Christian college means that we must search for competently trained people who share with us a commitment to the Lordship of Christ over all human life and endeavor and to the authority of Holy Scripture. To find enough of such people is, at best, a difficult undertaking.

The Danforth study quotes a faculty member from one of our Reformed Church colleges on this score:
"There is a particular breed of teacher who will want to make sacrifices to teach in such an institution. They are the teachers who want to teach first and publish second if at all; teachers who see their role as comprehending, synthesizing, communicating the elements of their discipline rather than adding bits and pieces to it. These are also teachers who themselves hold to a religious philosophy of life. The basic problem facing religion in higher education today is keeping these people in the small, church-related colleges. The opportunities for greater financial reward, wider community recognition, and a better situation for personal intellectual development in the universities are making these teachers, particularly the younger ones, more acutely aware of their sacrifice. (p. 162f., italics mine.)"

Let it he clearly understood that what is needed is not so much a matter of particular labels or specialties as one of attitude. What we need at every point in our curriculum are people with the liberal arts spirit, people who are interested in the intellectual foundations of their disciplines. For this is the work of an educated roan. It is also the realm of common discourse between specialties. C, P. Snow, in his book The Two Cultures, speaks of one culture dominated by the scientific mode of discourse, the other by the humanistic mode of discourse. Where this is the case it is because the educative process has been reduced to specialist training-a process guaranteed to fragment our culture. This is what we exist to prevent.

Whatever else it does, a college should help its students to develop personal standards of excellence. They must be helped to grasp the difference between excellence and mediocrity in music, art, and literature. They must be able to recognize when they are writing poorly or reasoning speciously. The entire campus climate contributes to this, hence the need for an augmented lecture and artist series and for more opportunities for serious conversation between faculty and students. But the principal instrument is the curriculum and a sound longrange plan for academic development.

Worship must be at the center of our lives here, for we are a Christian community dedicated to learning and to teaching. We are the expression of the mission of the Church in higher education. Since the besetting sin of the academic community is the gnostic arrogance that so easily arises from having special knowledge and a special vocabulary that easily awes the non-specialist, we need to assemble for worship. For then our perspective can be restored. We are helped to remember that as our knowledge grows so does mystery.

Once again I beg your indulgence as I mount my soap box. The principal spiritual note on the campus is not skepticism. It is indifference-not a hostile, negative indifference but a complacent, rather positively toned indifference. In effect, "I'm for it, but so what? Isn't everybody?" Most of our young people do not know what it is like not to know Jesus Christ. They do not know what it is like to lack the support and fellowship of the Christian community. The result is a kind of bland, detached consent to the Christian faith -"neither hot nor cold." There is drifting along as "God's grandchildren," banking on a godly heritage and certain cultural practices to see them through.

To be sure, many among our students are devoted to Christ. Some, no doubt, are doubtful. A few may be skeptical. We must be concerned with each of these groups and those in between. Our task is, first, to present to our students an adult version of the Christian faith. This must come from the Department of Religion -which must be among the most academically challenging on our campus-from the chapel platform and from the Christian maturity that radiates from our faculty as they set about to teach well in their field of proficiency.
Our second task is to create a climate in which the young person is helped to move his faith from a merecultural pattern to a personal commitment. Like the Psalmist, the student must he encouraged to "inquire in His temple," i.e., to face his questions, raise them openly and discuss them freely. Where is there a better place to do this than in the Christian academic community?

Finally, no student should hear the attacks on the Christian faith for the first time when he reaches graduate school, the business world, or the military service. This is bewildering and, too often, embittering. The feeling arises that one's church and Christian college were afraid of these criticisms or had no answers that could stand scrutiny. God is not insecure. Neither should those who consider themselves his children be insecure. He has promised that his word shall withstand all onslaughts.

As a Christian college, then, we must listen to criticisms of our faith and conduct, learning to sift the wheat from the chaff. Students must learn to recognize the premises from which criticisms are launched to evaluate these premises and to compare these with Christian presuppositions. In this way our graduates leave us well armed to deal with skeptical or hostile viewpoints.

*Dr. Lars I. Granberg, president of Northwestern College, Orange City, Iowa, has written this article for National Christian College Day, April 28. He is contributing editor of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Reprinted by permission of The Church Herald, Louis H. Benea, editor, from the issue of April 26, 1968.