David L. McKenna | Christ and the College

Monograph No. 3


The Integration of Faith and Learning

This is an excerpt from “A Concept to Keep: a Concept for Christian Higher Education in the Wesleyan Tradition” from Spring Arbor University Press. Access the full book online via the White Library’s catalog.

The Christian college is a continuing experiment in the task of bringing together the world of the mind and the world of spirit into a common purpose. Its goal is the integration of the continuity of revealed Truth with the contingency of social and educational change. As an institution, which places at the heart of its existence the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the Christian college has the advantage of a historically present purpose, which gives unity and stability to its program. At the same time, however, it is an educational institution, which is subject to the influences and pressures of the social order, which affect any college or university. Thus, purpose in the Christian college is in a state of constant tension between the diverse philosophies, commitments and revelations of mind and spirit. This tension may reproduce either the dynamic or the dilemma of the Christian college. If the academic and spiritual objectives are uniquely interrelated in a singleness of purpose, the Christian college has found its distinctive. If the academic and spiritual objectives are antagonistically opposed in a conflict of purpose, or if they are passively independent in parallel purposes, the Christian college is confronted with its dilemma.

The history of the Christian college in American higher education suggests that the unity of spiritual and educational objectives is a delicate relationship which is difficult to define and more difficult to maintain. Too often the sense of balance between these objectives is best compared to the drunk man who gets on one side of the horse only to fall off the other. In fact, there seems to be a common historical pattern for the Christian college as it evolves from a sectarian institution, which is founded for the evangelistic self-perpetuation of a denominational species to a non-sectarian college with a diluted, if distinguishable, religious purpose. It is said that the watchword of the student body in an eastern college changed from “Are you saved?” to “Beat Yale” in one generation.

In between the extreme emphasis upon evangelism or academics is the situation in which there is conflict of purposes characterized by separate spiritual and academic camps among the faculty and the constituency. Usually, the two groups co-exist in an aimed truce until some minor incident touches off open hostility. Or more commonly, there is the situation in which the conflict is avoided by placing the spiritual and academic objectives on independent, but parallel tracks. The spiritual purpose is maintained by certain social regulations, a required course in Bible, daily chapel and religious emphasis week. The academic purpose is centered in the formal curriculum, which is adaptable to any form of educational change or pressure, which captures the mode for the moment. The regulations or religious procedures change, the spiritual purpose is lost and the college makes the shift from “monitoring morals to monitoring minds.”

Whatever may be the cause for the defection of the Christian college from its historic purpose in the past, the present crisis demands that its contribution to higher education be meaningfully defined in terms of both its spiritual and academic motives. Christianity cannot be confined to extra-curricular affairs. Neither can the intellectual life of the college simply be a doormat for evangelism. Rather, there is a need to come to grips with the problem of making a Christian “college” and a college “Christian.” Jerusalem must find some affinity with Athens in a fresh approach to the concept of the Christian college.


Obligations of the Christian College

The concept of the Christian college must be constructed against the background of its theological, educational and social obligations. First of all, the Christian college has a theological obligation to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. As noted earlier, it is this obligation which can give the college its distinctive purpose. Second, there is the obligation of the institution to the philosophy of higher learning. As the spiritual obligation provides a frame of reference for integrating the purpose of the institution, the philosophy of higher learning will provide guidelines for academic content and quality. Third, the Christian college has an obligation to the persons whom it serves. This responsibility gives emphasis to the place of the student in Christian higher education as an individual with certain needs and expectations, which the Christian college can fulfill. Fourth, the Christian college has an obligation to the culture of which it is a part. The role that the college assumes in its society and the impact of its graduates on the social order will ultimately determine the outcomes of the college.

While one might start with any one of these obligations and proceed to unfold the larger purpose of the Christian college the thesis of this paper is that the concept for the Christian college must begin with the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Having developed some basic premises about Christ and His relationship to the affairs of men, an integrating purpose can be defined for the Christian college. Then, the nature and content of the educational experience can be spelled out in philosophical and personal terms in order to arrive at the end product of Christian higher education in its social responsibility.


Jesus Christ – Focus for the Christian College

Christ-centered education is a claim among church colleges, which frequently goes unchallenged. The appellation is a hidden persuader, which immediately implies educational mayhem tolerated in the name of Christ and spiritual blackmail permitted in the name of education. Too frequently, the Christian college is trying to exist on outmoded claims. In the past, these colleges have relied on their claim for academic excellence, which is fostered by individual attention to students. Also, they have claimed exclusive rights to Christian higher education in opposition to the secular university.

Today, however, the lines of excellence, attention and spirituality among private and public colleges and universities have become blurred so that the former claims of the Christian college may be passé. If so, these colleges need to re-evaluate the purpose for which they exist in order to establish rightful claims or cease to exist. This requires a review of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ as the integrating purpose in Christian higher education.

The meaningfulness of the Person of Jesus Christ rests with the fact that He is the incarnate Son of God in whom is revealed all Truth. From this perspective, the involvement of Jesus Christ in the existence and affairs of men may be summed up in His creative, redemptive and sanctitive works. As the totality of the plan of God is revealed in these completed works, so is man’s responsibility to Jesus Christ as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Likewise, if higher education is to be Christian, it must build into its philosophy and purpose a similar responsibility to Christ.


Creation and Involvement

The creative work of Jesus Christ is concerned with every phase of matter and life from the inorganic to the superorganic. Creation itself may be primary or secondary. Primary creation is an act or process reserved for God Himself as “something” is made out of “nothing” by divine fiat. Secondary creation, on the other hand, is an act or process, which utilizes the products of primary creation in order to accomplish the miraculous result of a refined product. Secondary creation may be a solitary act or process of God alone or it may be a mutual act or process of God and man. If this conception of creation is placed in the context of Jesus Christ, the primary creator, and the Christian college, a secondary creation, the implications are far reaching.

First, reason is a product of the primary creation of God. Hence, the separation of reason and faith is a fallacy, which is responsible for the relativism of humanism on one extreme and the imperialism of Phariseeism on the other. Dichotomized thinking makes reason the humanistic, sophisticated and logical part of man’s nature and faith the theistic, naive and illogical response. Yet in the primary creative work of Jesus Christ, intellect, mind and reason are inseparably linked with the mind of God. As a characteristic of His image, reason itself becomes an act of faith. Thus, militant humanism, rationalism, pragmatism, materialism and scientism are world views of the rational nature of man, which are incompatible with the creative work of Jesus Christ. Rather, the Christian scholar holds reason as an element of human personality, which stimulates intellectual inquiry and investigation in every realm but always with the perspective of appreciation for the full scope of man’s potential through the creative work of Jesus Christ.

Second, the Christian scholar has the responsibility to investigate all fields of human knowledge because the self-realization of intellect is a function which cannot be separated from the creative work of Jesus Christ. Yet, his inquiry in the world of the mind is approached with the humility, the perspective and the reverence, which grows out of the recognition and the faith that intellect is a creative gift of God and the realm of the intellect is the creative domain of God. From this outlook Christian higher education becomes “faith seeking understanding” and “the educated Christian mind becomes the most free even as it is under the greatest debt and possessed of the greatest responsibility.” In action, the Christian college is a community of scholars reverently exploring all areas of human knowledge from the perspective of the Christian worldview.


Redemption and Commitment

The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is usually confined to the formal functions of the church. While it is agreed that the primary function of the Christian college is educational rather than evangelistic, redemption cannot be excluded from its program. The point of emphasis is that redemption is a prerequisite for the life of learning in the Christian college. It is fallacious to assume that one can be redeemed by the intellectual assent to the creative work of Jesus Christ in the realm of reason alone. While intellectual insight may precede emotional insight, nevertheless, redemption is an effective act which is based on an affective need. Hence, while human acceptance of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ transcends intellect, it frees the intellect and gives it an outlook for participation in the larger learning.

For Christian higher education, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ means the commitment on the part of faculty and students to the regeneration of redeeming love in order that they may together proceed with the investigation of the fields of human knowledge. There would be no areas of black-out or alternatives unexplored because the efficacy of redemption through Jesus Christ is perspective based on the human need which is inadequately satisfied by lesser redemptions. The combination of the creative and redemptive forces, which are released in the work of Christ, then, becomes the point of involvement for a community of committed Christian scholars who explore the areas of human knowledge from the perspective of the Christian worldview.


Sanctification and Participation

The third prominent work of Jesus is His sanctitive relationship to the world and men. This work is described as the hallowing of human endeavor through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the separation of hallowed lives for the responsibility of Christian vocation. Although the term “sanctification” carries the wound of corrupted meaning because of misuse, the sanctitive work of Jesus Christ is still the means for the preparation and application of human resources to kingdom tasks. As redemption requires the commitment of the affective life of the recipient as expressed in love, sanctification requires the commitment of the volitional life as expressed in will. Redemption is an act of initial belief, whereas sanctification is a continuing act of faith. The implication of this work for Christian higher education is twofold.

First, there is the divine sanction for the decision to participate in the life of learning as it is earned on in the Christian college. Education itself, in the Christian context, is a sanctified task with a holy purpose. It should not be conceived as a necessary evil before one can really make a contribution to the Kingdom of God. It is the kingdom of God. Nor should the Christian college experience be considered a romantic interlude between the carefree days of high school and the security of a home, a job and a family. Martin Luther said that it was more spiritual for the shoemaker to use good leather and a firm stitch than it was to pass out tracts. The life of learning and devotion to study is a sanctified call to the committed student in the Christian college.

Second, the sanctitive work of Jesus Christ implies a moral responsibility to make the outcomes of Christian higher education applicable to the needs of the world. The sanctitive work of Jesus Christ makes no provision for ivory towers, monastic cells or suburban security. The Christian college must produce “critical participants” for its culture. Commitment to redemption and involvement in creation are only prerequisites to the responsibility for participation and penetration. Each student should be instilled with the sense of Christian vocation, which recognized the spiritual dignity of every vocation and the specific obligation to participate “critically” as a Christian in the ongoing life of the community.


An Evangelical Christian College

This concept of the Christian college may be summed up, then in a statement which is derived from the cognitive, affective, and volitional responses to the creative, redemptive and sanctitive works of Jesus Christ. Christian higher education is a process of involvement in a community of scholars who investigate the areas of human knowledge from the perspective of the Christian worldview. The prerequisite for this perspective is a commitment to the redeeming love of Jesus Christ in order that mind and spirit may be freed for the life of learning and that the achieved knowledge may be integrated by the Christian commitment. From an enlightened reason and regenerated love, the student of Christian higher education will align himself with the on-going responsibility of the Christian in modern society. By exercising the continuing faith of a sanctified will, the outcome will be participation in the social order as a mature Christian who has an active sense of spiritual responsibility for his vocation, whatever that may be. (See “Concept for the Christian College” chart on page 143, which outlines the interrelationship between the work of Jesus Christ and the outcomes for Christian higher education).

In the final analysis, the Person and Work of Jesus Christ also provide the basis for defining an evangelical Christian college. It is a college because its primary interest is given to a process of involvement in – and appreciation for – the life of learning. It is a Christian college because the prerequisite for purposeful involvement in the life of learning is commitment to the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. It is an evangelical Christian college because its end and purpose is to accomplish sanctified participation in the affairs of life through the Christian vocation and social responsibility.

David L. McKenna | Christ and the College was last modified: June 6th, 2017 by sausites

2 thoughts on “David L. McKenna | Christ and the College

  1. Daniel V. Runyon, Ph.D.

    Thank you for publishing this deeply insightful essay on what I believe to be the toughest challenge of Christian higher education. I have felt this tension from the first day I set foot on the campus of Spring Arbor University as a freshman in 1972–a place that has so far managed to stay on the horse.

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