Is Christian Education Necessary?
In response to Kevin Bauder's article concerning faculty salaries, Bob Bixby brought up an interesting point of discussion that I'd like to explore deeper. First let me just say that his response to Bauder's piece is dead on and you should read the entire article. But as he was diving into the topic he brought up something I've long wanted to talk about and discuss here. I've hinted at things like this, but now is the time really dive in.
Fundamentalism as a movement is sinking and its waning institutions are the distress signal. Unless radical and innovative leadership appears out of nowhere, the colleges and seminaries will decline steadily until fundamentalism is no more. The institutions have been the bedrock of the movement as the flagship churches began to fade away into irrelevance. Add to this the increased concern parents and pastors have that their young people be adequately trained and the result is long thought and wringing of hands about whether or not to go to a Christian college.
It used to be that the average member of a fundamentalist church merely had to select a fundamentalist college out of the two or three that were promoted in his church. It was a matter of which fundamentalist college. Now the question is much more threatening: should we entrust our children’s future to a Christian college at all?
Many pastors like myself are openly discussing whether we believe in the necessity of Christian colleges at all. Besides the actual problem of a good education, we weary of seeing our young people go away from home and church and come out four years later pressed and molded into the image of bland fundamentalist gingerbread men, and only in exceptional cases academically and professionally sophisticated enough to make an impact in the competitive world. That, however, is another discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that with shrinking enrollments and academic provincialism and inbreeding many parents and pastors are less inclined to believe in the value of Christian university at all.
Though I may be about five to fifteen years ahead in my prognostications, I’m willing to go on the record right now that, barring the emergence of a dynamic new paradigm of education in fundamentalist circles, the fundamentalist Christian college/university will be reeling on the ropes or settling down into a long, drawn-out attrition of trench warfare in a battle against time. It is no longer automatic that conservative pastors will promote Christian colleges as the only viable option for the professional education of their young people. [emphasis in the original]
While we agree with his conclusion I'm guessing we differ on the exact details. Still I agree with what he has to say. We've danced around this topic in many different ways, but the end result is the same. Two major thoughts. First is a college with perhaps substandard education and certainly with substandard credentials worth the risk? This is the angle that I've dealt with the most here due to their TRACS accreditation. Far too many students are finding out that BJU's credentials aren't opening the doors that they thought it would open. We've outlined it here, but stories keep popping up like this recent blog post. This is and should be a very real concern for parents and students alike. Accreditation follows you for a lifetime, and even if BJU has future plans for regional accreditation there is no guarantee that it will be of any real value retroactively.
However, I found it most interesting that he focused on a different angle. One that I've talked about here, but I'm much more guarded about bringing up. He seemed most concerned about an inherent indoctrination that happens at Fundamentalist schools.
we weary of seeing our young people go away from home and church and come out four years later pressed and molded into the image of bland fundamentalist gingerbread men, and only in exceptional cases academically and professionally sophisticated enough to make an impact in the competitive world.
Unfortunately this is exactly how Fundamentalism educates. In other words the problem is endemic. It is at the very core of their doctrines. As Bob Jones III preached in his sermon Keep Loving the Truth, Keep Your Eyes Open, Keep Your Doors Shut. The entire sermon is somewhat anathema to real education/academia, you can tell that from the title (keep your doors shut). And this is just one reason that I believe that Christian education fails the student. By nature it is exclusive. By nature it excludes things that it deems incompatible with the faith. But that is not how education works. Education takes everything and gives the student their own opportunity to decide. True education does not happen when you purposefully exclude competing ideas. Of course you don't necessarily teach competing ideas in Sunday school, but we aren't talking about Sunday school. We are talking about total education. Education that you will depend upon later in your life to make a living and take care of a family. Education that you will use to reach the lost to Christ. Education that you depend on to have the whole picture. When you have to create your own text books or skip whole chapters because "we don't believe that" you aren't educating.
I'm still battling this even now. I was a music major, so I wouldn't expect to have all of the most detailed information pertaining to Higher Criticism, but I took two classes, one on the Pentateuch and one specifically on the old testament. That is two semesters worth of classes and never once was it even so much as mentioned much less discussed. To graduate from the "Harvard of Fundamentalism" having taken 6 credits of classes where it should have been brought up, and not even had so much as a foot note discussing this chart is concerning. But I digress.
He goes on:
Consequently, it is not always true that the sharpest and best thinkers will stay in that environment. Indeed, some will. But many faculty could not get a job in another place because every degree they paid for with their blood and tears is of no value outside the village. When you know that you can get no higher in life than your station at the grill flipping burgers, you are very content to be flipping burgers.
Fundamentalism’s problem is an American evangelical problem. We don’t plant churches or build schools or raise families for one hundred years from now. We plant, build, and raise for camping out on the hilltop and just getting by until the tump sounds. We don’t need to change our eschatological convictions, but we do need to radically overhaul our culture and start planting, building, and raising for generations. We need to get off the ego-trip of short-term gratification with slapstick standards and recognize that true leadership may be choosing to become the kernel in the ground that, invisible to the world, dies so that the fruit will come later. Consider the beginnings of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. The best education may not be flashy.
We also agree here. The best thinkers aren't always at the Fundamentalist schools. Part of this is the pay, but another part of it is the indoctrination. Thinkers don't tend to stay in places where their thinking is not appreciated. And this is a big issue, certainly in Fundamentalist schools, but also in Evangelical Christian schools.
We've talked here about the Myth of Christian Higher Education, and the Myth of Christian Education. I am still convinced that Christian education is not a necessity. I'm convinced that Christianity Happens Outside of Christian institutions. I'm also still convinced that indoctrination is the opposite of education.
So while Bob Bixby and I probably don't agree on the exact details we both come to the same conclusion. If I made one change it would be pastor to parent. It is no longer automatic that Christian Parents will automatically choose Christian colleges as the only viable option for the professional education of their children.
It is no longer automatic that conservative pastors will promote Christian colleges as the only viable option for the professional education of their young people