I don’t normally write blog posts in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, but I made the mistake of checking Twitter before bed and couldn’t sleep after reading this from John Mark Reynolds, the former provost of Houston Baptist University:
Reynolds referred to Union University‘s decision to leave the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities when the CCCU did not quickly expel Goshen and Eastern Mennonite after they announced in late July that they would now hire faculty and staff in same-sex marriages.
[The preceding paragraph has been corrected after a reader informed me that Reynolds is no longer at HBU. My apologies for the error.]
Earlier in the day Reynolds had tweeted this:
Reynolds is a brilliant scholar and innovative educator (before coming to HBU, he founded the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola), but if there’s any crisis of vision in Christian higher ed, I think it’s to be found among those seeking to tear the CCCU apart.
In the past year I’ve given a lot of thought to vision. Not only did I get to help develop a new vision statement for our institution, but I edited a book sketching a vision for Christian higher education. And while our vision for Christian higher ed is rooted in a particular religious tradition, Pietism, I think that much of it would resonate widely with those in the CCCU — Evangelical, Baptist, Reformed, Wesleyan, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, etc. — who grieve what they see and hear from the leaders of Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Forgive me if this sounds self-promoting, but I do think that the conclusion of my remarks last fall to another Christian college group suggests at least something of the vision that Christian higher ed needs in this moment: not one blinded by fear and articulated with anger, but a vision that prompts us to step together, hopeful and expectant, into the future.
After a brief history lesson on how German Pietism rose from the ashes of the Thirty Years War, here’s what I told the presidents, provosts, and other leaders of the Christian College Consortium:
Over 300 years later we may be exiting a culture war in which Christian conservatives, if not the losers, are certainly not the victors. It would be easy to respond by holding on to whatever territory we control, patrolling the boundaries separating us from our cultured despisers and saying farewell to the traitors within. Meanwhile, those across the border — including other Christians — will do the same. The result is likely to be something akin to what happened to Germany after 1648: ever clearer, and ever more lifeless, orthodoxies.
That, for the Pietist, is the threat to our Christian identity. We have nothing to fear from technological, economic, cultural, political, or legal change — nothing to fear, that is, but our demise as institutions that may potentially outlive their missional utility. But we do need to beware the risk that when we set ourselves over and against others, we may possess the form of piety, even as we lose the power thereof.
The hope, then, is much the same as it was when [Philipp Jakob] Spener wrote Pia Desideria in 1675: to emphasize convertive experience over intellectual assent; to ask “Where is it written?” and not mean a creed or confession; to cultivate an irenic spirit and avoid needless controversy. To be, as the Brethren historian Dale Brown once said of Pietists, the servants of our culture, not its mimics or its rulers — or those watching it burn from a safe distance.
Our hope lies in recognizing that, like the Alsatian Spener, we inhabit a borderland — between faith and reason, church and academy, public and private, commerce and service. Borderlands are often where the combat is fiercest, but they teach their denizens to speak multiple languages, and to move between groups, earning the trust of both. At its best, a Christ-centered university like Bethel is not a garrison of defenders of the faith, preparing for battle in the safety of their citadel; it’s a community of people serving faithfully, fearlessly in contested territory, building bridges, healing wounds, and inviting their enemies to turn towards the Prince of Peace.