The purpose of this blog is to promote a Christian worldview, based on the Bible as God's inerrant and fully authoritative Word, in accordance with the Reformed Confessions.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Freedom in Christian Academia
should academic freedom work within a Christian university? Numerous
Christian institutions have wrestled with this question. A useful
survey is provided by historian Dr. William Ringenberg in his recent
book "The Christian College and the Meaning of Academic
Freedom" (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
how the limits of academic freedom at Christian institutions have
been tested over the last decades, particularly on matters regarding
origins and sexuality.
Ringenberg's own view is that a Christian college should be a
community bound only
by a "mutual
commitment to the central idea that God has come to us in Christ to
redeem us to himself"
(p.231). He believes that a set of secondary convictions is not
necessary to be a Christian college, "and
may be counter-productive to Christian unity, academic collegiality,
and an unfettered search for truth"
Need to Limit Freedom
advice is rather surprising, given that Dr. Ringenberg himself
documented how, in the 20th century, Christian colleges became
secular primarily due to their acceptance of higher criticism of the
Bible, relativism, and, most damaging, Darwinian evolution (see W.C
Ringenberg, "The Christian College: A History of Protestant
Higher Education in America", 2nd ed. 2006, Baker Academic:
Grand Rapids, pp.115-117).
his earlier book Ringenberg described how the first scholars to
embrace Darwinism attempted to reconcile it with the Christian faith.
They believed they were saving Christianity. Yet their campaign to
save Christianity by liberalizing it only helped to establish an
atmosphere congenial to secularism and relativism. Acceptance of
evolution inevitably led to a decline in the belief that the Bible
was divinely inspired.
factors of evolution, relativism, and Bible criticism are still very
much with us today. Are we now to believe that they are no
longer detrimental to the well-being of Christian universities?
as Dr. Ringenberg well knows, there is no such thing as "an
unfettered search for truth", supposedly following the
evidence wherever it leads. The evidence, by itself, leads nowhere,
unless interpreted within some pre-supposed worldview framework. The
question is not whether or not scholarship should be bounded, but,
rather, whose worldview sets the boundary.
might thus think that a Christian university should be a community
united by a common commitment to a comprehensive, and clearly
articulated, Christian worldview, fully grounded in Biblical
for a Christian university to remain Christian it is surely essential
that it stand absolutely firm on its allegiance to the Bible as God's
inerrant and authoritative Word.
Need to be Explicit
a viable Statement of Faith for a Christian university needs more
than mere affirmation of Biblical authority.
example, the full trustworthiness and authority of the Bible are
professed by Christian institutions such as Calvin College, Wheaton
College, Westmont College, Trinity Western University, and Regent
College (Vancouver). Yet all of these have at least some faculty that
actively support Biologos,
an organization dedicated to promoting evolution within Christian
institutions. Likewise, Bible-affirming Christian universities have
faculty that question traditional Biblical norms regarding sexuality.
a Christian scholar might professto
uphold Biblical authority,but
render this virtually meaningless simply by re-interpreting the Bible
so as to make it conform to his own scholarly agenda. Soren Kierkegaard, in his day (1855), already
deplored such world-appeasing Christian scholarship:
vain does the Bible command with authority. In vain does it admonish
and implore. We do not hear it – that is, we hear its voice only
through the interference of Christian scholarship, the experts who
have been properly trained. Just as a foreigner protests his rights
in a foreign language and passionately dares to say bold words when
facing state authorities – but see, the interpreter who is to
translate it to the authorities does not dare do so but substitutes
something else – just so the Bible sounds forth through Christian
scholarship. ["Kill the Commentators!" in
Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard (MaryKnoll,
NY: Orbis, 2003, p.202)].
deeper problem is that many Christian scholars have embraced the
secular academic community as their actual reference point, over
against that of the Christian community. Many factors contribute to
this: most Christian academics have inadequate preparation in how to
apply a Christian worldview to their discipline; rather, they get
their professional training (e.g., Ph.D.) at secular institutions,
are pressured to publish in "respectable" (i.e., secular)
journals, aim to get research grants from secular funding sources,
and so on.
although most Christian universities pay lip service to the
integration of Christianity and scholarship, in actual practice such
integration may consist more in accommodating Christianity to one's
discipline than vice versa. All too often, the Bible ends up being
modified to satisfy worldly norms and values.
short, to foster historic orthodox Christianity, a judicious
Statement of Faith should spell out explicitly (1) how the Bible is
to function as the foundation for Christian scholarship (e.g.,
regarding epistemology and hermeneutics), and (2) what the Bible
states about important basic issues, particularly current hot topics
such as origins and sexuality. This should form the basis, and the
boundary, of academic freedom for the faculty.
Need to be Consistent
a clear and explicit Statement of Faith is adopted, and publicized,
the university governance must ensure that this does in fact honestly
accord with what is actually taught in the classroom and promoted in
practice, for many Christian universities, this is not always the
case. Sometimes it is not possible to find qualified faculty who
fully agree with the Statement; so various exceptions may be allowed.
Sometimes the Statement is re-interpreted in elastic ways. Or simply
is unfortunate, since prospective Christian students, parents, and
donors should be able to trust that a particular Christian university
is indeed what it advertises itself to be.
sum, I question Dr. Ringenberg's recommended minimal bound for
Christian academia. Rather, I believe that, for Christian
institutions to remain genuinely Christian, academic freedom must be
constrained by an explicit Statement of Faith. That Statement must
affirm an inerrant and fully authoritative Bible, clearly outline how
the Bible is to function as the basis for scholarship, and explicitly
spell out what the Bible teaches regarding various important issues.
Further, the university governance must ensure that its faculty
zealously promote the views enshrined in the Statement.
universities lacking such essential safeguards are in danger of
plunging towards the same secular fate as their predecessors of the