What are Christian colleges for?
Amid great challenges, past principles can guide evangelical higher education
Full access isn’t far.
We can’t release more of our sound journalism without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.
Get into news that is grounded in facts and Biblical truth for as low as $3.99 per month.
Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.LET'S GO
Already a member? Sign in.
It is not an easy time to be a Christian college. Many face threats from anti-discrimination laws for holding to orthodox beliefs on human sexuality. Even more suffer severe financial challenges due to dropping enrollment, diminished donations, and rising costs. The difficulties at schools like The King’s College in New York City and Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., demonstrate these challenges.
The upheaval only will continue. Thus, Christian colleges are asking tough questions about how to stay open. But as so many Christian educational institutions face upheaval, even extinction, we must ask anew: What are Christian colleges for?
Answering this question requires a vision of education through the lens of Scripture and in relationship to the church. In America, one churchman who had such a vision was George Washington Doane, who served as the second bishop of New Jersey in the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1832 to 1859. Alongside his pastoral duties, Doane taught at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., as well as helping to found both Burlington College and Doane Academy in New Jersey.
In a series of addresses for Burlington, Doane gave a comprehensive and cohesive description of Christian collegiate education, one that can inform us in today’s crisis.
First, Doane said Christian colleges must see the centrality of God in all learning. “Education is a divine thing,” he argued. God bestows the authority for education, through Him we receive the means to education, and in Him we find the ultimate object of education. We must not turn aside toward trends that entice by promising to draw students or donors in conformity with social or cultural developments.
Instead, Christian education must always act in a posture of dependent humility on God, since, Doane noted, “All human means are ineffectual” in themselves for “God, alone … can bestow the increase.” Along these lines, Doane emphasized the centrality of God’s means of grace in Christian learning, that “Its rule is God's most holy Word. Its fountains, for the spiritual life, are the holy Sacraments. Its atmosphere is holy prayer.”
Second, Christian colleges can and must see their education as comprehensive. Doane envisioned an education that at once was spiritual, scholastic, and practical. As spiritual, it sought first to serve the Church in its mission of proclaiming the gospel. Christian colleges thus must teach students to understand man’s fall and make known God’s redemption in Christ, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and final reunion with God in eternity. This point means education cannot merely inform the mind but must facilitate holy habits and dispositions.
As an academic enterprise, a Christian college’s curriculum, according to Doane, “sweeps the circle of sound learning.” God is the God of the mind and the heart because he is the object of all learning. So, we must study all academic disciplines, seeing all knowledge displaying God’s character, will, and majesty. This sweep, this completeness recognized the diversity God bestowed on human capacities, seeing each one’s particular capacity for the good works to which God has called us. Finally, as practical, Christian colleges must educate to prepare students for lives as workers and members of a community. Doane declared that humans were made for action, to put their minds to deeds. Together, the practical applied the scholastic even as it served the spiritual in growing and strengthening the Church.
Thirdly, Doane declared that Christian education includes a political obligation. He criticized those who would make “civil government confined to this life, and for men; a thing apart from God!”—thereby saying Scripture said nothing to the political sphere and thus the church had no role in relation to it. By contrast, he referred to Burlington as “a nursery, for young Americans.” It would inculcate a love of liberty wed to duty as understood by God’s Word and in nature. Incorporating these purposes into Christian colleges was not “selling out” to the world or “immanentizing the eschaton.” It simply recognized God’s provision of government, the blessings received from Him through our own Constitution, and the need to perpetuate those goods as much as God permits.
Fourth and finally, Doane also argued that Christian schools must show practical wisdom in how they operate. Faithful intentions, even a good curriculum, aren’t enough. He acknowledged that schools like Burlington “need pecuniary aid” and that “it requires efficient men” to run it. Christian colleges are not wrong to consider the financial requirements to operate. They must. A good mission isn’t enough in itself. But it is vital to a healthy Christian college spiritually, academically, and financially.
The rough times will not end soon for Christian colleges. But Bishop Doane gives us a foundation for defending their present and future. In light of his principles, let us pray for these schools’ renewal. Let us strive for that renewal. And let it be for the glory of God, the maker of minds and hearts, the ultimate fount of wisdom.
Dear reader: Did you know that more than half of WORLD’s annual revenue comes from donations? Your gifts play an important role in expanding our ability to bring you Radio, Digital, and Magazine stories from a Biblical perspective. If you benefit from WORLD’s hopeful, despair-free news and analysis, will you help us during our June giving drive? Visit give.wng.org to donate.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.
Read the Latest from WORLD Opinions
R. Albert Mohler Jr. | The anniversary of D-Day and the end of an age
D.G. Hart | COVID policy mistakes call for accountability
Eric Patterson | The great communicator and entrepreneur believed the Creator of all deserves our best
Caleb Morell | Have we learned anything from the Northern Baptist debacle 100 years ago?
Please wait while we load the latest comments...
Please register, subscribe, or log in to comment on this article.