Nov 19 2009

The Left at Christian Universities, Part 14: Does the secular Left believe its faith more firmly than the Christian academy believes its own?

Category: higher education,left,religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 10:16 am

The previous post in this series is here.

There is very little here with which to disagree, so I present in its entirety this post at BLOG and MABLOG

Carl Henry once said, “If evangelicals lose the battle for the mind of contemporary man it will be in their own colleges.” That’s the kind of prophetic and semi-inscrutable statement that we could use a lot more of, and which unfortunately, we don’t hear a very much any more. Since Henry wrote those words, the tide of the battle to which he referred has generally gone against us, and it was grim in his time. There are some hopeful signs here and there, but by and large, the Christian establishment for higher education has presented to a disintegrating world mere echoes of that disintegration, instead of a robust alternative to it. The academic fads that tear through the secular halls of learning stroll through our halls of learning. The virulent forms of unbelief that plague the postmodern mind commend themselves (always in milder forms) to us. We have come to believe that Christian counterculture consists of driving down the road to perdition at a slower rate of speed. But slow damnation is not the biblical alternative. The higher education of evangelicalism resembles the unfortunate politician that Winston Churchill once compared to a seat cushion — he always bore the impress of the last person who sat on him.

Henry again. “My guess would be that on balance the secular universities more effectively communicate humanism than many of our religious colleges succeed in communicating biblical theism.” They catechize their own more effectively than we do. They train their next generation in the tenets of their faith more rigorously than we do.

When the secular great ones assemble in their magnificent banquets, and a faithful believer comes into their hall, his presence will generally take one of two forms. Either he will attend as John the Baptist did, with his head on a platter, or he will attend as Daniel did, in order to translate the words of judgment that were written on the walls by a celestial hand. But we show up with all the confidence of a leper in a rented tux two sizes too large.

This is all very general, so let me mention a few specific areas where Christian higher education has lost its bearings and consequently its way. Our institutions (generally) do not exhibit biblical faith and fidelity on matters of: human sexuality that reflects God’s image, male and female; the doctrine of biblical creation; the meaning of history and the glory of Christendom; the serious idolatry of Enlightenment categories; the risible idolatries of postmodern rejection of Enlightenment categories; and the foundational need for Christian colleges to be free of financial entanglements with the secular state. For starters.

In short, Christian higher education no longer believes that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. Having begun with Carl Henry, let me conclude with another of his most trenchant observations.

“The intellectual decision most urgently facing humanity in our time is whether to acknowledge or disown Jesus Christ as the hope of the world and whether Christian values are to be the arbiter of human civilization in the present instead of only in the final judgment of men and nations.”

And so let me propose a little thought experiment. Suppose that glorious statement above were to be presented to the board of trustees of every Christian seminary, college and university in North America, as well as to every faculty senate, and suppose it were presented for a straight up or down vote. How would the vote go? How would the truth fare? Exactly, and therein lies our problem. And the only way out is repentance.

So, now I am prepared to answer the question posed in the title of this post, “Does the secular Left believe its faith more firmly than the Christian academy believes its own?”

The answer? It depends on what you mean by the notion of “the faith of the Christian academy.”

And therein lies the problem, since, it seems, no one is quite sure these days.  And sadly, with all of that, there seem to be all too many matters of essentially complete agreement between the Christian academy and the secular Left at secular institutions.  Those matters of agreement seem to be far more determinedly defended by Christian academics than the things that make them distinctively Christian.  We can talk about whether Jesus’ message and life were more about personal salvation or corporate lifestyle and social justice, but woe to anyone who questions the underpinnings of anyone’s secularly defined disciplinary methodology, or the theory of knowledge that underlays it.  After all, some things are just too important to trifle with.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?  It depends on what you mean by “rise from the dead.”    If Jesus rose from the dead, does that matter to us today?  It depends on what you mean by “matter.”  Or maybe “today.”  Or “us.”  Or even “Jesus.”

But in some quarters, “diversity” and multiculturalism are without doubt absolutely required perspectives, more or less without nuance, for all good Christians who are listening to the Holy Spirit.

Whatever the Holy Spirit may actually be, I mean.  And whatever you mean by “Christian.”

H/T:  Melody

The next post in this series is here.