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The Christian University and the Connectedness of Knowledge

C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities

C. Stephen Evans offers a persuasive account of how we might understand a Christian university in the present age. Drawing on Newman's work, The Idea of a University, Evans argues that the "connectedness of knowledge" in the university depends on the presence and interrelation of all major areas of knowledge, including theology. If theology is removed from the university, then the whole structure of what is known is incomplete and thereby harmed. This concept of the connectedness of knowledge is, however, a contested idea in the contemporary university setting and leads, appropriately, to contested ideas about the nature of the university. Within the context of a diversity of universities, the Christian university surely has a legitimate place, indeed, a particularly valuable place within the contours of American higher education. Evans elaborates on some of the characteristics that are essential components of a university shaped by its commitment to "the grand Christian story," such as interdisciplinary thinking, moral and theological education, scholarship influenced by the Christian narrative, and Christian community. In a word, it is a university in which knowledge, in both its created and disseminated forms, is understood as a connected whole for those who, in faith, are convinced that the Christian narrative is true.

Excerpt

...Christians are those who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. Every Christian must see himself or herself as called by God to become a new creature in Christ. However, the identity of Jesus is only grasped when his story is seen as the central and decisive act in the wider story that I have been describing as the common heritage of Christians. Hence, Christians, through their commitment to Jesus, are also people who understand their lives in relation to this story. Since the story is of course the story told in the Bible taken as a whole, as interpreted by the Church, it is literally true that Christians are, as David Jeffrey has written, a "people of the book." It is this story that is the basis of what C. S. Lewis termed, following Richard Baxter, "mere Christianity." One might say that Christians cannot come to understand what they are called to be concretely except by way of relating their own lives-their personal stories-to the grand story that defines their faith.

I would argue that the central teachings or doctrines of Christianity are best understood as attempts to articulate the meaning of various aspects of this story. Thus, Christians can disagree about the exact nature of the atonement or creation precisely because they share a commitment to this story. The kinds of theological distinctives Hughes emphasizes thus point us back in somewhat paradoxical way to an underlying unity.




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