These are times of searching for persons interested in relating Christianity to higher education. Those involved with secular institutions of learning are deeply concerned with projecting an authentic Christian presence into their academic sphere. Those with professional relationship to frankly evangelical institutions, on the other hand, are concerned with embodying in their curricula an adequate intellectual presentation.
Such movements as the World Student Christian Federation, the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, Campus Crusade, and the denominational foundations share the desire to penetrate the halls of secular learning with a Christian witness. They are eager to present to those learning the “knowledge of this world” the claims of Him in whom, they profoundly feel, “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” But they are keenly aware that the movements of campus revolt are no less inhospitable to historic Christian faith than to other forms of Establishment.
No person can hope to project the Christian witness on the secular campus if he does not have a thorough and (as far as possible) sympathetic understanding of the dynamics of radical student protest movements. The “new student left” comprises a minority of politically conscious persons, often from affluent homes, who seek to gain prestige by advocating what they believe to be the interests of the disadvantaged in their circles.
It must be said that some student leftists have a deep sense of integrity and a fine degree of social consciousness. Most of them fail to realize that the economic comforts they have known in their homes have come from The Establishment, whose benefits mean much to their parents and others who lived through the Great Depression. The revivalists of the campus left have little or no idea of the economic situation that prevailed in those days; and it is their lack of awareness of this that makes their behavior appear so unreasonable to their elders.
The Christian student or teacher concerned with the Christian witness needs to take a long look at the conditions against which the typical campus rebel protests. He will not always agree with the leftists’ case. He will recognize some of the brash attitudes and acts of the far-leftist as bids for attention or as part of a quest for an identity he lacks. He will also be aware of the very real nature of some of the frustrations that underlie the pejorative use of such words as “organization,” “bureaucracy,” and “power structure.”
Much of the success of the Christian’s efforts to penetrate the felt-alienation of his non-Christian associates will depend upon his ability to overcome, in his own personal bearing and in his presentation of his Lord, the resistance he will inevitably encounter in them. Any pose of formality, or of self-righteous withdrawal, will only remind the campus rebel of the worst traits of the “organization.”
The vexing question arises: Does effective Christian campus work depend primarily upon proclamation or upon dialogue? There is no standard answer. One cannot discount the value of careful, Spirit-directed witnessing; but in some situations careful and respectful discussion is clearly indicated. The Christian who takes seriously the task of campus evangelism must also reckon with the probability that the secular institution will be, at best, benevolently neutral toward his efforts, and at worst, indifferent or actually hostile.
Problems of a quite different type confront the educator in the institution whose position is frankly evangelical. While administrators of such schools cannot take the spiritual life of their students for granted, yet they do operate from a base of faith within faculty and student body. But if they can feel fairly certain about the authentic Christian presence, they must usually acknowledge difficulties in the matter of an adequate intellectual presentation.
Most of our evangelical colleges are middle-sized and must operate on budgets somewhat lower in terms of per-student costs than those of secular institutions. Competition for well-trained and professionally effective teachers is keen and promises to be increasingly so. Many schools must, for now at least, use many faculty members of below-professional rank—some of whom may be superior to their “ranking” colleagues in dedication and ingenuity. But the limitation in number of teachers will dictate a smaller spread of course offerings than is possible at the larger institution. With the so-called information explosion, it remains that there is a body of knowledge, the mastery of which must be regarded as minimal to the educated person. How can this be presented by the evangelical college with fewer resources than those of the secular universities?
During a leave-of-absence from my usual post for post-doctoral studies, I have had the privilege of serving as visiting professor of religion at Eastern Nazarene College in Wollaston, Massachusetts. The college has for three years presented a curriculum structured upon a vertical model, featuring six semesters of carefully articulated and integrated courses, so arranged as to present a coherent pattern of the cultural and intellectual heritage of the race. This Main Currents Sequence involves specialists in the several fields, working in an inter-disciplinary manner.
Academic contacts with upperclassmen suggest to this writer that as students progress toward their final year, they show a broader and better articulated grasp of the basic academic disciplines than is usual among their counterparts in similar institutions. Quite possibly some adaptation of curriculum to the achievement of this result would be beneficial for colleges of similar size and spiritual outlook.
Both of the forms of problem and challenge noted in this survey suggest the need for a revitalized approach to the educational pattern of our day. While attacking the problem from opposite ends of the scale, the witnessing Christian in academic circles and the witnessing Christian college engage a common front and share a common compelling task.
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