10/14/97 Faithful faculty called vital to Christian higher education

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Christian colleges and universities should seek faculty who exhibit high standards of scholarship and spirituality, said speakers during a conference at Union University, Oct. 10-11.

"The fundamental task of the Christian professor is nothing other than to incarnate an authentically Christian way of life," said David P. Gushee, associate professor of Christian studies at Union. "We teach with our lives as well as our lectures and can reasonably be expected to do so."

While some secular universities may judge faculty mainly for academic performance, Christian institutions should consider also the personal dimensions of life, said Gushee, who spoke during a conference on "The Future of Christian Higher Education."

Co-sponsored by the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities, the conference was hosted in cooperation with Union's Center for Christian Leadership, of which Gushee is director.

"The 21st-century student may well come from a home in which Christian faith is altogether absent," Gushee declared. "Many of my students do. ... The students of this generation bear in their bodies and in their souls the scars of our society's disastrous moral collapse.

"The primary contribution we (faculty) can make to their lives is simply to invest in students; to live healthy, authentic Christian lives in their presence; and perhaps by God's grace thus to begin the moral reconstruction of their lives where this is needed."

Robert Sloan, president of Baylor University, Waco, Texas, told conferees faculty selection is a key to keeping Christian colleges true to their purposes.

"It is the faculty of an institution who carry the intellectual freight," Sloan stated. "It is the faculty who carry the traditions of learning, which they have received and seek to bring forward."

Employment of faculty members should involve both academic and spiritual considerations, Sloan said.

"Part of the total constellation of what it means to be academically qualified to teach at a Christian institution of higher learning involves our commitment to the lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ," Sloan said.

Christian faculty members should demonstrate their faith commitment not only in properly articulated doctrine but through the practice of spiritual disciplines, said Claude O. Presnell Jr., executive director of the Tennessee Foundation for Independent Colleges.

"For higher education to be Christian, it must be taught by those who not only identify themselves as Christians but live lives with the marks of Christianity," Presnell said.

He urged conferees to consider the impact of a faculty member's personal life upon the lives of students.

"Students can quickly perceive the shallowness of those who intellectually claim to be Christians yet live lives of atheists," Presnell warned. "It behooves us to realize that our worldview is much more evident in our lives than our scholarship. ... Students are longing for professors who are transparently Christian in their scholarship and their lives."

Among the disciplines all Christians -- including believing faculty -- should practice are "prayer, meditation, solitude, fasting and other avenues which enable us to gain a perspective of God's reality," Presnell said.

Joel A. Carpenter, provost of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., said scholars at Christian colleges should avoid involvement in "culture wars."

"A 'culture wars' atmosphere is not conducive to the task of the Christian scholar," Carpenter said. "It is a distraction. The life of the scholar demands perseverance and concentration.

"The noise of battle, out where ideas are used as weapons, can distract scholars from their main work of being the critical weighers, cultivators and imparters of ideas."

Carpenter also warned of a corrupting impact of a scholar's involvement in culture wars upon academic colleagues.

"Scholars can become so ashamed of the excesses of their combative compatriots that they start sympathizing with ideas and perspectives of which they should be more critical," Carpenter observed.

He added it is likely "that evangelical scholars' embarrassed and loathing reactions to (anti-abortion activist) Randall Terry and (religious broadcaster) Pat Robertson have led many to sympathize with contemporary secular ideas more than they should."

George Guthrie, associate professor of Christian studies at Union, said Christian faculty often encounter tough problems that require help from God.

"As visionaries and care-givers, we struggle against workloads that sap us of strength and leave us less than at our best in relating to colleagues, students and even the Lord," Guthrie said.

Other faculty struggles include trying to incorporate biblical values into a university's functioning and to live "authentically and graciously in a pluralistic society" while remaining confessional regarding Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, Guthrie said, a faculty member sometimes struggles with people problems, such as "an unreasonable colleague or students who cause us emotional turmoil. Perhaps most of all we struggle with our own selfishness and lack of growth in following our Lord."

Guthrie acknowledged a faculty member's cries to God for help sometimes seem unanswered, but he urged conferees to remember the teaching of the author of Hebrews.

"He writes that even though we do not yet see all things subjected to (God), we see Jesus," Guthrie said. "Moreover, as we consider Jesus, the now-exalted Lord of the universe, we perceive the last chapters of our stories have yet to be written.

"We will not always live in the 'in-between time.' The age of complete and final victory looms on the horizon, dwarfing the challenges and pains of the present."

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