12/19/2019

The Countercultural Idea of a Christian University

"A Christian education, grounded in an ontological realism—a recognition that the universe is, that it has a structure and reality independent of our own thoughts about it—seeks an understanding of the whole and the proper place of humans in the reality we inhabit. Governed by the dictum of faith seeking understanding, Christian schools recognize a source of knowledge and truth – Christian revelation – which is excluded from secular education. Because of this we know that secular universities cannot lay claim to all knowledge. Moreover, the source of knowledge – the Creator of all truth, being, and goodness – makes us confident that truth exists, and that we can hope to draw near to it. We can only draw near in this life: no one academic discipline (let alone a reductionist ideology) can ever embrace the fullness of truth. Nevertheless, in the relationship of discipline to discipline, of past knowledge and wisdom to present intellectual inquiry, and of scholarly activity to personal experience, we can glimpse the unifying wisdom of God. However impossible it is for us to grasp the fullness of truth in this finite life, we know that such a view is possible, that we can grow toward it in community with others, that drawing closer to it both satisfies a deep need and improves our lives.

John Henry Newman, in The Idea of a University, called this practice of putting knowledge into conversation with knowledge, of seeking the whole and of restlessness in the face of partial knowledge claiming to be the whole, a ‘philosophical habit’, an ‘enlargement of mind’. He argued that growth in this intellectual habit is crucial to the formation of the soul, by imparting intellectual humility, freedom, and creativity to the persons who acquire it."