Christian higher education
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Echoes of Insight: Past Perspectives and the Future of Christian Higher Education
Date Reviewed: December 12, 2017
In Echoes of Insight: Past Perspectives and the Future of Christian Higher Education, co-authors Patrick Allen and Kenneth Badley mine voices from the past for fresh wisdom to assist Christian universities in their efforts to balance programming (glitz), the pursuit of truth (glue), and the goal of being transforming institutions “for the sake of the Kingdom (300)” (hope).
The text is a response of hope, intended to refocus the mission, identity, and curriculum of Christian universities on its well-being and its ultimate purpose, which is "to provide a clear and rigorous program of instruction, spiritual formation, and vocational preparation (255).” The text, therefore, proposes a distinct move away from the sometimes exclusive, albeit important, conversations around money, branding, and jobs for graduates. To do this work, the authors examine eleven influential thinkers of education. Using a format that very closely resembles the multiple editions of Daniel L. Pals’s Theories of Religion, each chapter in Echoes of Insight offers a brief biography, a synopsis of classic and relevant works, a discussion of applicable ideas, and questions for reflection.
Part One: “The Classroom and the Student Instruction, Formation, and Vocation,” introduces five thinkers and attempts to connect their ideas with the perceived “challenges faced by Christian higher education in the twenty-first century (18).” Part One begins with Alfred North Whitehead, but the works of Dorothy Sayers, Hannah Arendt, Flannery O’Connor, and Maria Montessori, via their respective chapters, come alongside to help to facilitate a larger discussion on the human experience and the current challenges faced by Christian universities. Cooperatively, these works support Whitehead’s claim that “all parts of a student’s education should fit together epistemologically and should connect to the student’s day-to-day life (29).” In other words, how faculty members treat students, how colleagues convey mutual respect, or where the roots of authority lie all contribute to the students’ learning experience.
Part Two: “The Faculty and the Administration: Mission, Vision, and Values,” examines the work of John Henry Newman, Abraham Flexner, Thorstein Veblen, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Robert Maynard Hutchins, and Karl Jaspers. Unlike Part One, the thinkers included in Part Two are those who had a vested interest in higher education and maintained distinct ideas about the university and the pursuit of truth. Allen and Badley found that all agreed that a common mission, a strong academic program, an emphasis on learning, and the freedom to pursue truth were essential.
Overall, the text is an enjoyable read. In fact, although it is written for a scholarly audience, the authors’ often tongue-in-cheek humor makes the manuscript a rather accessible and entertaining page-turner. More importantly, the authors’ passion and genuine interest in the success of Christian higher education makes Echoes of Insight both engaging and insightful.
Echoes of Insight is an important work and a valuable addition to this area of scholarship. Thankfully, the authors are already planning a more inclusive and diverse second edition, because the current text falls short in these areas. Indeed, the glaring absence of writers, theologians, or philosophers of color is problematic. Such an omission not only silences and makes invisible select people groups, but it also disregards the distinct experiences of minority students on predominantly white Christian campuses. Consequently, this text, whose argument is predicated on integration, connection, and the unhindered pursuit of truth, failed to take seriously just how much race and racism in American education and American Christianity unjustly impacts people of color and negatively informs their day-to-day life and learnings experiences. Thereby rendering many of them grossly untouched by Allen and Badley’s vision of a transformational institution.
Given the philosophical and theoretical emphases of Echoes of Insight, graduate students and specialists (namely faculty and administrators) with scholarly interests in this subject matter would benefit most from reading this text.
The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education:Forming Whole and Holy Persons
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
In The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education, Christopher Gehrz convenes an impressive array of scholars to offer fresh, cross-disciplinary reflections on how the Pietist mandate to form whole and holy persons can invigorate institutions of Christian higher education. Gehrz is professor of history and chair of the history department at Bethel University, and his ongoing work is focused on both tracing and promoting the Pietist impulse within Christianity. His co-authors represent a variety of disciplines, including English, theology, ethics, geography, psychology, nursing, anthropology, physics, philosophy, communication, sociology, and library sciences. The breadth of expertise serves to reinforce the underlying thesis of the book: the Pietistic traditions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany, nineteenth-century Sweden, and twentieth-century Minnesota can provide a “usable past” with which Christian colleges and universities in the twenty-first century can navigate the many challenges facing higher education.
Faculty, staff, and administrators need not serve at institutions traditionally associated with the Pietist tradition to find resonance with the authors’ ideas and perspectives. While the chapters offer a healthy accounting of the influence of Pietism on Christian higher education, the calling to form “whole and holy persons” is broadly shared within the Christian tradition. To be sure, the chapters are written squarely from the Pietist perspective. However, all Christian educators can find avenues for reflection and practices for implementation within this book. The dedication to a holistic vision of student formation, mentoring, teaching, scholarship, and service is a shared and unifying value across the diversity of Christian institutions today – and even as this vision is articulated and pursued in different ways, the Pietist vision offers a unique and compelling framework for contemporary application.
The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education is organized into four sections and includes an introduction and conclusion by Gehrz. Part one investigates the themes of teaching, scholarship, and community in the Pietist university. Part two explores how changed people change the world. Part three offers responses to the Pietist vision from the natural and health sciences. Part four then explores problems and proposals for putting the Pietist vision into practice. Each chapter is written by a different author, and this brings a refreshing collaborative tone to the entire volume. Even with seventeen different contributors, the book maintains a consistent tone and stays focused on Pietism’s unique influence on Christian higher education.
The book is a testament to how the Bethel community deliberately embraces the “usable past” of their own Pietist tradition. Each author has a direct connection to the university, and this means that readers receive rare insights into the Pietist workings of an institution from many different perspectives, disciplines, and backgrounds. The downside to this institution-centric approach is that readers may be challenged by how to appropriate the uniquely-Bethel Pietist ethos to other institutional contexts. However, even though we now know what it means to foster Pietism’s usable past at Bethel, other universities can and should glean from Bethel’s insights as they explore the implications of their own usable pasts for innovation in the future.
Twelve Great Books that Changed the University: And Why Christians Should Care
Date Reviewed: December 23, 2014
Amid the fragmentation of both academic and civil discourse, this book audaciously seeks unity through the Christian liberal arts, or at least through Christian assessment of what was considered “liberal arts.” Wilkens, Thorsen, and their contributors -- all of whom teach at Azusa Pacific University -- offer Christian readings of classic texts that have exerted wide-ranging influence over the Western canon. The texts include those written by Plato, Augustine, Bacon, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Smith, Freud, Dewey, and, yes, even Darwin. While at first glance perhaps too traditional, this book provides several avenues for both spiritual and professional reflection. Tertullian aside, this book demonstrates that Athens and Jerusalem do share common ground.
Wilkens acknowledges that things are not what they were. His introductory chapter addresses the book’s intellectual foundations. The university itself emerges from the twin springs of Christian theology and Greco-Roman philosophy. Therefore the book’s Christian interpretation flows from the original nature of academic life itself. However, Wilkens notes, “while the unity of knowledge was assumed throughout most of Western history, knowledge has now become fragmented and siloed” (11). Curricular fragmentation makes the unifying task of education all the more difficult. Pressure to shape students in marketable disciplines compounds the intellectual disintegration. Educating students to become good employees further subverts more traditional goals of pursuing the good and gaining an intellectual appreciation of the Christian tradition. Academic success no longer recognizes Christian religious maturity as a measurable or desirable outcome. That exclusion has not eliminated the human need (not merely desire) to learn and know both skills and meaning (1). Education cannot be limited to merely technical endeavors. These struggles in part explain why the contributors made their particular choices. The “great books” admittedly were written by white males but those, Wilkens argues, have exerted the greatest, if not the most recent, influence on the university (13). Christian scholars remain free to negotiate this legacy in their respective disciplines.
Theology receives its due from Thorsen’s own chapter on Augustine’s Confessions (36-49). After a content review, Thorsen ably addresses Augustine’s autobiography. It remains one of the few Christian texts still read across disciplinary lines. Perhaps the only thing missing here is a justification for not including The City of God. Others offer similarly talented studies, such as Joshua Morris’ reading of Darwin (137-53) and Theresa Clement Tisdale’s assessment of Freud (154-73).
The typical scholarly response might tilt toward dismissiveness. After all, fragmentation is indeed part of academic reality. Wilkens acknowledges this, suggesting that the book could be read chronologically (Plato to Dewey) or by individual chapters to gauge a text’s particular impact (16). No companion course exists where these texts comprise the curriculum, so readers are free to integrate or “silo” as they see fit. Given Azusa Pacific’s confessional identity (evangelical Christian), a parallel volume by Catholic scholars on the same sources might make an interesting follow-up. In an age dominated by assessment rubrics, Twelve Great Books reasserts in quick and clean fashion the older, more radical, identity of academic endeavor.