Saturday, May 11, 2013

Christian Colleges and the Church

In the Epilogue of my forthcoming Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, I challenge Christian historians to use their expertise to strengthen and edify the church. But I say very little to challenge churches to embrace the expertise of Christian historians.

I have done a lot of speaking in churches over the last couple of years, but most of them have been affiliated with a Protestant mainline denomination.  Mainline Protestants do a much better job of creating space for educational opportunities.  Evangelical churches (there have been some wonderful exceptions) are not interested in sponsoring classes, seminars, talks, or conversations about history, politics, philosophy, literature, or serious theology because they are more interested in promoting service, evangelism, missions, spiritual growth, and other forms of Christian activism or personal piety.  Why have a course or seminar that helps Christians think more deeply about how to be responsible citizens or cultural critics when you can devote your time and energy to preparing people to grow in their faith?  (As if "growing in your faith" has nothing to do with understanding how to be a thoughtful witness in the world). The result, of course, is what Mark Noll has called "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind."

Over at Christianity Today, Mark Galli urges the local church and Christian colleges and universities to work together.  Churches, he argues, should care about the fate of Christian colleges and work at developing stronger relationships with such institutions.  Here is a taste of his piece:

In Chicagoland, I've attended churches that have taken full advantage of their location: They have regularly invited professors from local Christian colleges and seminaries to preach and teach. This has enriched the biblical, theological, and practical understanding of these congregations in palpable ways, even if the impact can't be charted on a graph. This has not only matured disciples at the local level, but professors and their institutions walk away more deeply appreciating the challenges and questions of Christians in the pew. This, in turn, only enhances the relevance of their scholarship. 

But what can the local church, a far distance from such institutions, do? First, even distant churches can create budget line items to at least once a year fly in a teacher to give a daylong seminar or even a week of classes—this is well within the reach of even modestly sized churches. And certainly local churches should consider using some of their benevolence giving to support Christian higher education. 

Today we have an unparalleled opportunity. Distance is no longer the obstacle it once was. From video lectures burned on dvds to live streaming to chat rooms, more Christian colleges and seminaries are the proverbial click away from every church in America. 

Here is our hunch: If churches began asking schools for such resources, financially strapped schools will figure out how to make this education happen at an affordable cost. Many are already taking steps in this direction. Some will probably offer some classes for free as a way to market their school. The point is that many schools won't invest in such an effort unless there is some inkling of demand.