Is there a case for a Christian University?

Posted by on Nov 3, 2015 in Blog | 6 comments

A few groups are working to form an evangelical Christian university in Australia. Is this wise, or is it a case of misguided zeal? Our last post explored the drift from a soft to a hard secularism. In this post I argue that the formation of a Christian university could help to change the missiological climate in which we are currently located. This is an updated version of an article of mine that was originally published in Perth’s Advocate newspaper in 2012.

While we could argue as to what constitute the major missiological blocks to the Christian faith, my suggestion would be that two significant obstacles are that Christianity is increasingly portrayed as being morally bankrupt and intellectually vacuous. Anyone with the remotest awareness of 2000 years of Church history would realise that while those accusations can be levelled at many specific lapses in the long record of Christian faith, to conclude that this is an even vaguely accurate summary is outrageous – indeed, it doesn’t even work as a caricature.

Those who argue that Christianity is intellectually shallow have to contend with the inconvenient truth that Christianity has shaped the intellectual climate of the Western World, and that its leading universities (Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge and Oxford to name a few) were birthed by those whose active Christian faith saw them embrace the quest for truth and understanding in the name of Christ. Likewise on the moral front, Christianity has been at the forefront of almost every major social advance, including the abolition of slavery, championing the rights of women and children, and protecting the rights of workers through the modern labour movement.

But all this is history. Should the status of the Christian faith be reduced to that of a formerly important player in a now irrelevant past? As a world come of age dances towards a future which rejects the notion of God and tries to find meaning via a radical embrace of the “now” (accepting that no other moment is guaranteed) should Christians accept that they no longer have anything to offer? I think not…

Fifty years ago Christians were well represented when discussions arose about any issue that impacted the wider society. Now they are rarely invited to the table. Their absence is to everyone’s detriment. The loss of a clear Christian presence in the wider community creates a missiological dilemma as the Christian faith is marginalized. While Christians are not persecuted in our society, it is usually assumed that all public forums should be secular, and that faith communities ought to be confined to their particular religious ghetto. In attempting to form a Christian University we envision a thoroughly engaged community of Christian scholars who impact their disciplines by doing what no one else does – seriously thinking through the implications of the Christian faith in areas as diverse as economics, education, counselling, management, social theory… the list goes on and on. These insights will then be shared in the marketplace of ideas. We will not be looking for scholars who want to retreat into an isolated Christian enclave, but for those who relish the opportunity to both nurture their students and interact with the wider intellectual community. We believe this will help renew a thoughtful Christian faith.

And let’s be clear about this. The Christian story is a narrative worth grappling with, be it from the perspective of one who believes, or one who does not.

Take the opening portrait of the Biblical story where we are told that humanity is made in the image of God and then given the task of stewarding creation in a life serving and affirming manner. The first humans have to name the animals, thereby ensuring that animals have a face, a place and dignity. The ecological implications flow thick and fast.

Those who know the account will remember the affirmation that both women and men are made in God’s imageImago Dei for those who like a little Latin. Let that seed idea germinate. We are told that the most fundamental truth about humans is that they in some measure reflect the image of the God who made them. And that image clearly has nothing to do with gender, as both men and women reflect this image. In short, the most fundamental truth of our humanity has nothing to do with gender… How many millennia of patriarchal abuse could have been avoided if this narrative had been championed more vigorously?

Is our creation in the image of God an irrelevant narrative for today? Not if you are unfortunate enough to live in one of the many countries where gender discrimination is rampant. And while it may be controversial to note, it remains true that those abuses are most obvious in lands which have been least impacted by the story of Jesus. Hardly surprising… without a narrative to challenge the fallen default instinct that “might is right”, lesser narratives quickly dominate with tragic consequences.

Of course this founding story of women and men being made in the image of God has further implications… Every image bearer possess what theologian Helmut Thielicke calls “an alien dignity”. Because that dignity comes from “beyond” it is not restricted to humans who meet some imposed standard of acceptability. Again, if this narrative had been championed more vigorously there would have been a world without slavery, a world where everyone matters, a world where the voice of the voiceless is instinctively championed – be it the voice of unborn infants or the elderly in a twilight world of forgottenness, or boat people from distant and hostile shores. How can such radical and liberating concepts be absent from the table of ideas?

The opening biblical story goes yet further. As image bearers humanity is called to steward creation. I know that Christians are sometimes portrayed as ultra conservatives who instinctively say no to everything. But this idea challenges that. Those who steward the creation of the God in whose image they are made are called to a creativity and compassion that reflects the character of their creator. This does not allow a lazy resignation from the quest for a more humane existence. To the contrary, Christians are mandated to work together with God to ensure the flourishing of the human race. Indeed, they co-operate in the missio Dei – or the mission of God, for those whose Latin is not up to it!

I could go on and on… and this is gleaned from just the opening biblical story. Imagine if we add to it the narratives of law and grace, Cross and atonement, resurrection and hope, church and new community… And if we take those insights and filter them through the lens of economics, legal studies, sociology, education, psychology, literature… ah yes, the Christian University. Bring it on…

6 Comments

  1. My biggest concern would be the increased probability for committing the fallacy of suppressed evidence. Would professors who observe and confirm the vast majority of scientific literature that supports the theory of evolution be asked to leave like they are at some evangelical universities in the US?

    • While it is true that some Christian Universities have acted like that, most incorporate statements allowing academic freedom. My understanding is that Australian regulations would require a policy on academic freedom as a pre-requisite of registration.

  2. A Protestant Christian University will be an environment for dialogue about life, the universe and everything that doesn’t omit or exclude an I-Thou relationship with a personal God and with humanity (our sfamily). I welcome the idea and the reality. It is VERY difficult, especially within secular Universities at Post-Graduate level to NOT be discriminated against by staff or fellow students as a Christian, even though University policies say otherwise.

  3. thank you for an insightful statement. I would love to see a Christien University in WA . As regards buildings, a lot of university study is now conducted online, planning for future development of buildings would need to take this into account?

  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful article, thank you Brian. I would be interested to know what further reflection on this topic would look like if we applied the ‘narratives of law and grace, Cross and atonement, resurrection and hope, church and new community’ to this discourse. Perhaps you have elaborated this elsewhere or written on it? If so, I would be interested to read further. Thank you.

    • Hi Anne. I do develop it further in my book The Big Picture. It explores contours of a Christian worldview. The final chapter applies it to education and economics. The book ( or kindle version) is available at Amazon and Koorong ( and other places).

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