Can the Christian University Thrive?

Four years ago, Baylor University announced what it called "Baylor 2012." Its goal is to "propel [Baylor] into the ranks of the nation's top tier colleges and universities," while retaining and even strengthening Baylor's Christian identity. The most important factors in becoming a "top tier" college or university are the faculty and the students. To that end, Baylor has committed itself to recruiting faculty "capable of achieving the best of scholarship, both in teaching and research." More important, new faculty members must "embrace the Christian faith" and be "knowledgeable of the Christian intellectual tradition." The goal is "to exemplify the integration of faith and learning." A symbol of this commitment was Baylor's hiring a first-rank scholar, Dr. Thomas Hibbs, as the head of the Honors College. Hibbs, the former head of the Philosophy Department at Boston College, is a prominent Catholic philosopher whose specialty is the Medieval period-an age that best exemplified the kind of learning Baylor is striving for. Expectations for students are no less demanding. They're expected to combine "high academic merit" and "Christian character." A "nationally ranked research university" with an "unapologetically Christian worldview" is the way that Baylor President Robert Sloan sums up his vision. At first blush, it's hard to imagine anyone objecting to that, but it has prompted a lot of criticism. Some of the criticism is over the cost, and it will certainly be expensive to achieve Sloan's goals. But far more troubling is the criticism of the vision itself. Some suggest that "top tier" scholarship and an "unapologetically Christian worldview" are mutually exclusive. Some faculty members also have characterized Sloan's emphasis on Christian learning and preserving Baylor's Christian identity as part of a "fundamentalist" takeover of the school. As columnist Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News has written, this accusation is laughable. Some of the most visible additions to the faculty, like Hibbs and his former Boston College colleague Rob Miner, are Catholics. When Sloan speaks of the Christian intellectual tradition, his understanding of that term is broad. As Miner told Dreher, "Many people at Baylor are more receptive to hearing and learning from the voices of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas" than those back at Boston College. This is not what you would expect from a "fundamentalist" takeover. The real issue at Baylor is whether the price of academic respectability is the surrender of Christian identity. Is it true that "smart people outgrow God," as secular critics insist? Or can Baylor provide an alternative, namely, a university that, in Dreher's words, "can speak to the broader culture from an intellectually sound but morally distinct vantage point"? That's why every thinking Christian, Baptist or non-Baptist, has a stake in the debate over Baylor's future. The alternative to the worldviews that dominate our culture must come from schools like the one envisioned by Sloan: where faculty and students can come together to show that faith and reason not only go together, but are inseparable. For further reading and information: Learn more about Baylor 2012. Don Riddle, "Don't let Baylor backslide," Dallas Morning News, 19 July 2004. Randall Balmer, "2012: A School Odyssey," Christianity Today, 22 November 2002. Hunter Baker, "God and Man at Baylor," American Spectator, 1 July 2004. Mark Wingfield, "Competing visions of Baylor's future underlie school's current turmoil," Associated Baptist Press, 15 July 2003. Rod Dreher, "Baylor a beacon for intellectual Christians," Dallas Morning News, 17 July 2003. Thomas Hibbs, "Universities can instill a sense of mission," Dallas Morning News, 18 July 2004.


Chuck Colson


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