(Stopping the Educational Abduction of America's Children Before It's Too Late)


The Church in the 1990's will forever be in debt to the brilliant work of George M. Marsden for his works which trace "the progressive marginalization of religious sponsors and leaders as well as the current displacement of religious concerns from curriculums and programs—thus exploring a neglected dimension in the history of our colleges and universities."


Charles Colson affirms that "today a cultural war rages in our nation; the struggle between two conflicting world views.  On one side are these who cleave to the Judaeo-Christian understanding of truth, with a corresponding view of life and culture based on two central commandments—love for God and love for people.  On the other side are those who believe truth can be defined by each individual, with a corresponding view of life and culture based on individual choice—'what's right for me.'  The cultural war escalated with each passing day, as those two diametrically opposed perspectives face off on issues like abortion, the militant homosexual agenda, the cause and cure for crime, medical ethics, and economics." (Charles Colson, Faith On The Line (Victor Books, 1994), p. 9).


Will we learn in time the admonition of James D. Hunter (University of Virginia sociologist) that "cultural war always precedes a shooting war." (Hunter, "The Battle to Define America Turns Violent." Christianity Today 25 (Oct. 93), P. 76).  Tom Sires' prophetic voice has been once more raised. In Cease Fire he challenges all Christians who feel weary with some of the excesses of both the "politically correct" left and right.  His suggestion is neither left nor right but in the current debate.  The scripture presents a "Third Way" as the American Church is becoming increasingly polarized, not by theology but by political ideology.  John Seal, an evangelical scholar, 1 observed that modernity defines what is read for modern people—the way things are.  Modernity has led both to heresy and idolatry (J. Seal, "Evangelical Myopia" World Evangelization 18 (Dec, 93); see also Os Gulness, “Reflections on Modernity”; World Evangelization 18, 1993, p. 18).


The Enlightenment promise of a better future is being destroyed in our postmodern cultural wars.  Only the Christian God who is in control of the future is adequate to encounter postmodern idolatry.  The Enlightenment vision of inevitable growth and technological expansion in the here and now is a failure.  Leslie Newbigen charges that "the effect of the post Enlightenment project for human society is that all human activity is absorbed into labor.  It becomes an unending cycle of production for the sake of consumption."  (Newbigen, Foolishness to The Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans, 1986, p. 30).  Those who bought into the American dream have discovered the high cost of high living (see esp. Paul Waohtel, The Poverty of Affluence: A Psychological Portrait of the American Way of Life (Free Press, 1983). In addition, their needs culture has generated a fifth need- the "need for novelty."  This need is destructive both to the individual and culture.  One of the clues of the immensity of or postmodern cultural wars is the marginalization of Christian influence in the academy.



The Demise of Christian Influence in The Academy


There is a long days' journey into our cultural darkness from Charles Malik's educational proposals to New York City's debate over the children of The Rainbow curriculum.  A brief visit through the contours of Christian influence in American culture might help identify The Lost Soul of American Education.  There is perhaps no better guide for our journey than the magisterial work of George M. Marsden, The Secularization of The Academy  (Oxford, 1992); also his The Soul of The American University (Oxford University Press, 1994). American educational institutions (egs. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, University of North Carolina, University of Chicago, Wellesley, etc.) and their Christian foundations obtained until about 1870. The majority of colleges had as their presidents clergymen who taught senior classes on moral philosophy that involved Christian Apologetics and applications of Christian principles to many areas of life and thought. There was a strong Christian presence.  Almost all schools required daily chapel services and many required Sunday Church attendance as well.


Catholic and Jewish Universities and more visible Protestant churches have even more rigorous religious ties.  In Western society higher education had long been under the protection of the Church and the two domains had not yet been clearly differentiated.  Too many citizens today are unaware that until very recently leading American schools promoted Christianity as one index of how secular the current educational scheme has become.  Historians that deal with American education prior to 1870, of course, have to take Christianity into account, since its presence was so pervasive (see esp. D.G. Hart's bibliographical essay in chp. 11, pp. 303-309 in The Secularization of The Academy).


After 1870 Christianity became progressively marginalized.  The stepchild of Christian influence in education is secularized multiculturalism in the 1990's (egs. Dewey, Spock, Derrida, DeMan, Outcome Based Education of multiculturalism). The history of America's education exposes a progressive "disestablishment of religion" in the academy Christianity was reduced to religion by Kant and Schleiermacher, et. al. We must note that the term secularization is not equivalent to decline.  Our progressive debate about the place of the American university is inseparable from the role of Christianity in higher education. For approximately the first century of the rise of American universities after the Civil War, most education scholars saw the disestablishment of religion in higher education as simply a liberation and hence a step toward the laudable triumph of science, free inquiry and liberalism. Since about the 1960's these enlightenment ideals have been under massive attack.


The scientific, technological romantic foundation of the second world war had become radically deconstructed. There had been much criticism, but little constructive contribution to the debate (egs. Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism; Evangelicals, Scholarship, and The Bible (Baker, 1991, 2nd ed); also his The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1992). (Also note our deep problem of anti-intellectualism as response to the radical changes in science and education; see Richard Holfstadfcer's Pulitzer prize winning book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life). He claims that the evangelical spirit had chosen to evacuate the mind (see esp. pp. 55-80; scandal of “Creationism” and “End Times” prophecy emphasis; for documentation see Paul Boyer's When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Harvard University Press, 1992). Christian journals have come and gone. Christianity Today has been transformed into a journal of new and middle-brow religious commentary in order to stay in business. There is not one single Evangelical Journal in existence to confront the cultural/intellectual forces of our postmodern times.


How To Put "Us" Back Into The University


In recent decades right wing critics have focused discontent on "political correctness", the alleged use of academic power to enforce a left wing agenda on the campus. Those who did not run with politically correct horses have spent enormous amounts of time dodging prejudice and occasional persecution in the 1950's as did the critics of big business in the 1890's. There seems to be nothing new under the sun (see Books and Culture: A Christian Review (IVP Sept/Oct, 1996).


Heterodox opinion has run rampant in the halls of Harvard, Yale and Duke since the 1960's, 80's and into the 90's.  The problem is much deeper than mere "political correctness."  It results from a radical paradigmatic shift in the worldview of the university that has organized knowledge throughout the 20th century.  This result has been radical fragmentation. This fragmentation has also patiently impoverished public discourse.  It has made general education virtually impossible.  After specialization won out around 1900 and calls for "interdisciplinary" work became increasingly common since the 1930's aimed to correct the slippery slope into educational ruin.


It is once more time to raise the decibels of outcry like Jeremiah. Laments were heard in the 1820's, 1870's, and once more with intense outcries of Allan Bloom's The Closing of The American Mind, Dinesh D'Souza's, Illiberal Education, and the excellent work of Ronald Nash, The Closing of The American Heart.  John H. Newman's classic work, The Idea of University is again available.  The volume appears in a Yale series, "Rethinking the Western Tradition."  It contains five interpretive essays, among them George Marsden's "Theology and The University: Newman's Idea and Current Realities" and George Landow's, "Newman and The Idea of The Electronic University."  In our post modern era dark Kerr's The Uses of University (Harvard University Press, (4th ed., pb 1995) has been the single most influential work in the American research university.  It was published during the tumult of The Free Speech Movement.  The work defines the emerging "multiversity."  Kerr's work is a caricature of Newman's version of the university and the academic cloister."  Newman's university was a theologically ordered education.  Kerr concludes that the university's place is to produce better knowledge and higher skills.  Bill Reading's, The University in Ruins (Harvard Press, '96) see signs of decay precisely where Kerr see vigorous health.


"The University", Readings says, "no longer needs a grand narrative of culture in order to work."  Rather it has become "a bureaucratic institution of excellence."  Readings further remarks, "the university is no longer primarily an ideological arm of the nation-state but an autonomous bureaucratic corporation."  Indeed, "we have to recognize that the university is a ruined institution, while thinking what it means to dwell in those ruins without recourse to romantic nostalgia." His work is bristling with reference to Derrida, Bourdieu, Lyotard and their ilk.  The University in Ruins is representative of one of the strongest ideological currents in the academy today.


For a radically different perspective on the University see Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys for Thinking Christians (edited by Kelly Monroe (Zondervan, 1996).  The work is an edited document of the works of Glenn Loury, Nichols Woeterstorff, Lanin Sanneh (the journey of Sanneh's conversion from Islam is worth the price of the book).  This work is composed of those who have found a strong fellowship of Christian scholars, students and friends at Harvard.  The war continues.  Futile debate about the place of Christianity (religion) in the academy continues unabated (see G.  Marsden, "The Naked Public Classroom" in Books and Culture, (Sept/Oct, 1996), pp. 28-30).  Warren Nord's Religion in American Education (University of North Carolina Press, 1996) argues that multicultural religious studies curricula can be fair to all faiths.  This is certainly possible.  His insightful work tracing the history of secularization of American education and provides a balanced perspective on the legal, political, ethical, and religious dimensions of our national dilemma.  Christians must promote balanced treatment of secular and Christian views.  Religious studies categories have replaced the university divinity schools as flagships of religious programs in our modern ear (vs. Post Modern).  At the turn of the 20th century the religious programs in mainline higher education schools had high hopes of producing high-level education standards for the "clergy." Conrad Cherry's work, Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools, and American Protestantism (University of Indiana Press, 1996).  Cherry traces the collapse of the hope to Christianize education in the past millennium.


The crucial point of tension was/is how to reconcile the exclusivism of Christianity with demands of inclusivism in a pluralistic culture.  Even the neo orthodox model of the 1950's could not change the integration demands. The combination of the power of pluralism and the existence of specialization led to a new era in university and theological studies (Origin of American Academy of Religion, 1964).  The turn toward postmodernism and politicized theologies are powerless to address the challenge. Cherry is critical of the elitism of the current academic arena. Anti-foundationalism is still prepared to order our fragmented culture.  Such chaos will not play in the pulpits of Lincoln or Cincinnati.  Christian civilization cannot be written off as an unequivocal failure.  Christianity must not become enmeshed in a pre-modern worldview or for that matter, a post modern world view which is monistic new age pantheism.  Still the conflict intensifies—-"miracles" do not play well in a post modern naturalism context.  Authentic Christians cannot tolerate the removal of its worldview which alone makes sense of the Gospel of Christ.  Minor changes here and there will not suffice.  Christian particularism is a stifling pressure on the pluralistic academic culture.


Academic studies of religion too often subordinate religion to a "higher" criterion of truth.  The results are often religious truth claims are relativized.  Ultimately, the post modern resolution produced the privatization, trivialization, marginalization of all God talk, i.e., public expression of Christian commitment (see Neil Postman's, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of_ School (NY: Alfred Knopp, 1995).


Cultural Prophets?  Challenge to Christianity


Where were the Christian scholars who engaged cultural theorists like Marx, Darwin, Weber, Durkheim, Freud, who established the intellectual convention of the modern university?  The same challenge holds true for the principle theorists of the 20th century such Einstein, Friedman, Saussura Braudel, Thompson, Kuhn and Derrida; these men have set the agenda for what goes on throughout the academy.


Mark Schwehn, of Valparaiso University, is to be commended for his proposal to recover student-centered education versus research-centered teaching.  By the 1920's religious pluralism produced virtual abandonment of exclusivist elements in Christianity.  These educational debates are clearly exposed in the work of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Disuniting of America (Norton, 1992); see also Page Smith, Killing The Spirit; Higher Education Politics of Race and Sex On Campus (Free Press, 1991).


Evangelical Christianity exists in a postmodern culture in a Catch 22 tension between the Christian faith and public policy (cultural pluralism). The educational proposals of our academic gurus must be chastened if they are to be salvaged even on pragmatic grounds.  The life of the Christian mind must be recovered if we are to constructively engage the shapers of our educational culture.


A challenge to our educational dilemma: Earlier work had been produced by Cardinal John H. Newman in his work. The Idea of the University and more recently by Charles Malik who described the nature of the intellectual contribution of evangelicals to the cultural debate in the market place. Charles Malik, a Lebanese diplomat scholar and Eastern Orthodox Christian, was invited in 1980 to open the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College with an address.  His speech became a manifesto for many Christian intellectuals.  The center of his analysis was the question of "ends" more directly than the question of "means."  He penetrated the heart of the modern university:


At the heart of all the problems facing Western civilization the general nervousness and restlessness, the dearth of grace and beauty and quiet and peace of soul, the manifold blemishes and perversions of personal character, problems of the family and social relations in general, problems of economics and politics, problems of the media, problems affecting the school Itself and the Church Itself, problems in the international order—at the heart of the crisis in Western civilization lies the state of mind and the spirit of the universities.


These cultural dilemmas are not reserved only for the university but also for the Church and the culture at large.  He further exposed our cultural disease with uncommon force:


The greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism.  The mind as to its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. This cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. . . .  Does your mode of thinking have the slightest chance of becoming the dominate mode of thinking in the great universities of Europe and America which shape your entire civilization with their own spirit and ideas? . . .  Even if you start now on a crash program in this and other domains, it will be a century at least before you catch up with the Harvards, Tuebingens and The Sorbonnes, Oxfords, Cambridges, Chicagos and MIT and think of where these universities will be then!  For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ Himself, as well as for their own sakes, the Evangelical cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence." (Charles Malik, The Two Tasks (Westchester, IL: Cornerstone, 1980), pp. 29-30).


Additional Bibliography and References


William Buckley, God and Man at Yale (Regency Press, 1977 pb).

David Danrosch, We Scholars: Changing the Culture of the University (Harvard University Press, 1996).

dark Kerr, The Uses of University (Harvard University Press, 4th ed., pb) 1995.

Russell Kirk, Decadence and Renewal and Higher Education (Regnery Press, 1978.

Kelly Monroe, ed. Finding God at Harvard (Zondervan, 1996).

John H. Newman, The Idea of University (new ed.) Yale University Press, 1996).

Warren A. Nord, Religion and American Education (University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

Bill Reading, The University in Ruin (Harvard University Press, 1996).


James Strauss

Lincoln Christian Seminary

Lincoln, IL 62656-2111