One of our local newspapers recently ran a series of articles and editorials focusing on the rise of crime in West Tennessee. Each author addressed the crime issue solely from the standpoint and perspective of economic deprivation. I read — and re-read — the articles thinking I was missing something. One approach was anthropological, another sociological, another economic — each dealing with systemic issues, which I don’t doubt for a moment exist. But missing from the articles was any sense of human responsibility. Crime was discussed without raising the issue of morality. I couldn’t believe it. Then it dawned upon me that there were diverse worldviews at work between those authors and me, the reader.
A Chinese proverb says, “if you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.“ Water is the sum and substance of the world in which the fish is immersed. The fish may not reflect on its own environment until suddenly it is thrust onto dry land and struggles for its life. Then it realizes water provided its sustenance.
Immersed in our environment we have failed to take seriously the ramifications of a secular worldview. Daniel Yankelovich, sociologist and social watchdog, defines culture as “an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives. A genuine cultural revolution is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meaning of the past. The break particularly affects those meanings that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and nature of human life.”
Particularly in the last three decades we find ourselves the hapless possessors of a culture unhinged from its Creator’s mooring. The foundations of life, the vantage point from which we see, interpret, and respond to our world, are being seriously challenged.
One of the most symbolic structures of our time is the Wexner Art Center on the campus of Ohio State University. It is a fascinating building that has no pattern. Staircases go nowhere. Pillars support nothing. The architect designed the building to reflect life as he saw it. It signifies confusion, chaos, and the lack of absolute truth. Life from this vantage point is mindless and senseless, going nowhere.
Yet, even in this postmodern architectural feat the foundation of the building is quite traditional. You can’t do to the foundation what was done with the hallways and stairways without the building crumbling. You can’t do with the foundation what can be done with the infrastructure without serious implications. You can get away with random thoughts that sound good in defense of a worldview that ultimately doesn’t make sense. However, when you begin to tamper with the foundations you begin to see serious effects. Today our cultural foundations are in jeopardy. They no longer provide coherence for our contemporary culture.
Ravi Zacharias has said that there are four indispensable dimensions to our life that have been significantly impacted by enlightenment and post-enlightenment worldviews, representing the zeitgeist of our times.
These are the loss of eternity, the loss of morality, the loss of accountability, and the loss of charity. He says:
“Ours is an age where ethics has become obsolete. It is superseded by science, deleted by philosophy, dismissed as emotive by psychology. It is drowned in compassion, evaporates into aesthetics, and retreats before relativism. The usual moral distinctions between good and bad are simply drowned in a maudlin emotion in which we feel more sympathy for the murderer than the murdered, for the adulterer than the betrayed, and in which we have actually begun to believe the real guilty party, the one who somehow caused it all, is the victim and not the perpetrator of the crime.”
By losing eternity we have redefined existence. By losing morality we’ve destroyed essence. By losing accountability, we’ve eradicated conscience. By losing the dimension of charity, we have lost the idea of benevolence.
I’m sure you are asking what all this has to do with higher education. I would respond “everything,” precisely because the loss of eternity, the loss of morality, the loss of accountability, and the loss of charity strike us every day in areas of healthcare, business, economics, and education.
I believe that now may well be the moment of opportunity to strengthen, expand, and emphasize the distinctive approach of Christian higher education. “Why Christian higher education?” you might ask. Aren’t others providing similar kinds of preparation? The answer is yes and no. Yes, they are providing similar programs, but the uniqueness of a thoroughgoing Christian approach to higher education is its commitment not only to content, but to value-added education, to character development, competencies, and a Christian worldview that challenges the predominant secular way of seeing life and work. So what must we do?
First, as Chuck Colson has exhorted institutions of the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities, we must train the mind by inculcating truth and developing graduates who will go out and infiltrate the world with what some call a “backyard apologetic.” We want professors, staff, and students who are competent in their profession, caring in their relationships, but who also confess and, if necessary, contend for the truth of God that is foundational for life and living.
This once was the goal of every college in America. It is no longer the case. Prior to the 19th century, every college started in this country — with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania — was a Christian college committed to revealed truth. It all changed in the 19th century with the rise of secularization and specialization, creating Kantian dualisms of every kind — a separation of head knowledge from heart knowledge, faith from knowledge, revealed truth from observed truth, and careers from vocation.
What happened was a loss of worldview in the academy. There was a failure to see that every discipline and every specialization could be and should be approached from the vantage point of a Christian worldview.
Those involved in Christian higher education must be intentional about integrating faith and learning in every discipline — not as a cliche, or public relations watchword, but as a foundational reality. We must be intentional about a commitment to truth, for by Him and for Him are all things held together.
Science and health care programs must be seen from a Christian vantage point. Science is measuring what is; it is observed truth. But observed truth need not conflict with revealed truth. They are complementary. We could really have no science without recognizing that God has created an orderly universe. If it’s not orderly, nothing applies. For as Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch thinker and statesmen, said in his Stone Lectures given at Princeton in 1898:
“God created the world and cares for His entire creation, and by His saving grace He brings regeneration and justification to His own, but by His common grace He sustains the creation He has made and He calls us to be participants in that common grace, to be agents of it — as He cares about its expression in every single aspect of life.”
Such a worldview is also at the root of mathematics, which is foundational to business, accounting, and economics. This does not mean there is a Christian mathematics or Christian multiplication tables. No, what is affirmed is that there is Christian truth and order at the root that makes it possible to make mathematical calculations.
A Christian worldview shapes our view of education, pedagogy, and the social sciences, for all must answer the question: what is it that motivates humans? This is at the root when we talk about the nature of men and women. There are several implications of these truths.
First, faculty and students at Christian colleges and universities should be better teachers and learners because our motivation for learning is different. We want to learn more about God and His world, His purpose and His activities as they impact our areas of focus. The purpose of learning is different. It is shaped by values different than just wanting to get a good job, as important as that is.
Second, education that integrates faith and learning can help restore the loss of morality and loss of accountability. It can help us be better people, better citizens, better employees. It gives us standards and ideals to which we can aim in order to be better people, because it is an education concerned not only with content, but character. Then we can know what is right and do what is right. So a Christian worldview not only impacts and shapes the mind, but the will as well.
Education shaped by a Christian worldview can better prepare someone for his or her vocation. This is not vocational education, but it helps us see that our own unique vocation is a calling from God, a holy thing from God.
The goal is to enable men and women to be prepared for their chosen vocation in such a way that they can be salt and light in the marketplace. The goal of these programs is to help students become servant leaders and change agents in our world. The goal is to help us be prepared for work and to see it from God’s perspective in a way that will bring glory to Him — preparation for vocation — not just job training or careers, but work, calling, vocatio. The Bible tells us that in the state of innocence, humans, as the apex of creation, were given work to perform as part of their normal existence (Gen. 2:2). This is contrary to much modern thinking that adopts the skewed attitude that work is something evil, to be avoided if at all possible — again, a difference in worldview.
Certainly Genesis 3 tells us that sin has corrupted and degraded work. Specifically it states that, because of sin, work will change its character to become the cause of humankind’s ultimate physical disintegration. Thus, work at times in Scripture embodies the idea of weariness, trouble, and sorrow, especially in Ecclesiastes.
Yet, in some sense the Genesis story tells us that humanity has been graciously invited by God to get in on the work. A rabbinic paraphrase indicates in effect that God said, “I’ve enjoyed so much creating this garden that I want you to come in and help me tend it.”
Yet work, that gracious gift from God, is transformed because of human sin. Adam and Eve are cursed to spend all their days fighting with the once benevolent world, fighting in work, and kicked out of the garden.
Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. Thus, we are right to seek meaningful work and to prepare ourselves for it as well as we possibly can.
The Christian tradition has affirmed that all work is divinely ordained. Martin Luther attacked medieval monasticism by saying one need not be a monk or a nun to serve God. Thus the servant, the plowman, and the maid, he claimed, all do their work for the glory of God.
Luther’s thought on work is not so much a glorification of human activity. It is rather a celebration of the continuing creativity of God. Luther’s emphasis wasn’t on jobs, but on vocation, calling (from the Latin vocatio). We are called by God not just in our jobs but in everything we do to glorify God in all things. Our vocation, then, is not so much work as it is worship. We seek to do on Monday at the office what we do in church on Sunday — glorify God.
What does this mean for students? It means they can glorify God by studying hard. Students have been called to the vocation of student. They have gifts and graces that come from God for study and for carrying out God’s call on their lives. Study is not just for the self, but so that one can better contribute to others through study. So we urge students to study. That’s their current vocation.
As we prepare students to be better employees, we recognize that work can be carried out as service unto the Lord. Our work, our vocation, is a blessing from the Lord.
As we prepare to be business leaders, ministers, managers, missionaries, nurses, teachers, artists, or scientists, we recognize that Jesus is Lord of all. Thus, there is no partiality in His sight.
In summary, the implications of a Christian worldview for vocational preparation are five fold. Christian higher education should be committed to the preparation of students in all areas of life …
1. Because work is essential and is a gift from God (Gen. 2:15).
2. Because work is to be pursued with excellence for it is done for His glory (2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Cor. 10:31).
3. Because all honest professions are honorable: Adam was a gardener, Abraham a rancher, Joseph an administrator, Deborah a judge, David a shepherd, Lydia a businesswoman, and Paul a tentmaker.
4. Because we recognize that the gifts and abilities we have for our vocation come from God (Rom. 12:6; Daniel 2:21).
5.Because we recognize that prosperity and promotions come from God (Deut. 8:18; Ps. 75:6).
The apostle calls us to work as unto the Lord with excellence as our standard (Col. 3:23-24). Our responsibility is to plan and prepare well, to utilize and mobilize the resources, the capacity, the intellect, the drive, the ambitions and all that God has given us, use them to the fullest, and perform them with the highest degree of excellence.
Or as the wise preacher said almost 3,000 years ago: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
And we would add with the apostle Paul — do it all for the glory of God!
Soli Deo Gloria.