Higher education in the United States has its roots in theological soil. The first institutions were founded to prepare young men for the ministry. The first official president of Harvard University, Henry Dunster, was a Baptist who was unceremoniously fired because he did not believe in child baptism.
Because of this long history , it is with interest I have noted that in recent days Christian colleges are being “rediscovered.” George Marsden, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame has written a thoughtful book entitled The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. In it he argues that the perspective of the believing Christian should be taken as seriously as other elements that define a scholar’s identity, such as race or gender. He probes the difficulties of the serious pursuit of scholarship in all disciplines and challenges Christian academics to participate at the highest levels of academic discourse. Another book, The Dying of the Light, by James Burtchaell, analyzes the defection of colleges and universities from their faith heritage. He probes the loss of identification of specific institutions with their church families and reminds us of how easy it is to become just another secular institution. Just this past March, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the most widely read publication among professors and college administrators, carried the headline “Enrollments Surge at Christian Colleges.”
Why all this interest by scholars and students in Christian colleges? I think there are several reasons.
The Christian College offers an environment geared to learning. The transition from high school to the work world is fraught with enough challenges without having to constantly worry about the moral problems inherent in the secular institution. I do not mean that we shelter students. To the contrary, we have students who participate in inner city ministries, who travel to foreign countries, and who wrestle with difficult issues of the day. However, this takes place in an atmosphere that emphasizes healthy sexual values, that deplores substance abuse, and that sees all people as being created by God and thus worthy of dignity and respect.
The Christian College is academically sound. One of the most stinging rebukes of Christian colleges is that somehow they are academically inferior. I am not sure exactly how that perception developed, but nothing could be farther from the truth for the majority of Christian colleges. There are numerous evidences such as average ACT and SAT scores of entering freshmen, percentage of faculty with advanced degrees, and number of academic majors. Following the trend for Christian colleges generally, these evidences have been steadily improving at Missouri Baptist College. Part of the negative attitude toward the academic program at Christian colleges comes from the fact that teachers are not required to “publish or perish” and thus are not as heavily engaged in research as their counterparts at secular schools. However, they are required to be good teachers. A freshman at a small Christian college is far more likely to have a full Ph.D. teaching an entry-level class than his counterpart at a large university where those duties are handled mostly by teaching assistants. Who do you think will most likely get the best instruction?
The Christian College offers a different kind of education. There is a genuine effort at the Christian College to bring together faith and learning. In fact, Christian institutions have at their disposal two of the most potent forces known to man for effecting change, education and religion. By seeking out scholars who can teach in harmony with the Christian faith, our type of institution can encourage critical thinking but with the guidance of a mature teacher. The faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees can all be seriously intentional in efforts to be academically strong and unapologetically Christian. Though demographics and better marketing might help to grow enrollments, it is ultimately this “value-added” difference that brings students to the Christian College.
I am glad for the renewed interest in our colleges. It will certainly help to educate the market place about who we are and what we stand for. I have been told by prospective corporate donors that we were not diverse enough (despite the fact that we have a 17% minority enrollment) and by editors of publications doing college rankings that a “sectarian” school cannot achieve academic quality. In time these folks will hopefully learn what students already know, that the Christian College offers excellent academic preparation in an environment that nurtures Christian faith and deepens and challenges Christian commitment.
Missouri Baptist College is an institution worthy of your support. For all those who have partnered with us in the past year, we are grateful. For those who have not we invite you to rediscover this Christian College. Pray for us in the days ahead as we attempt to become the best evangelical Christian College that we can be.