Baylor Symposium Features Religious Scholars

Sept. 22, 1995

WACO, Texas - In celebrating the inauguration of Robert B. Sloan, Jr., as the 12th president of Baylor University, an academic symposium was held during the inaugural weekend titled "University, Church, and Society: Traditions in Tension."

The symposium featured three scholars considered among the leading authorities on academic and religious freedom in the country. These lecturers were Dr. James W. McClendon, Jr., Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary; Dr. Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emeritus of history at the Graduate School of the City University of New York; and Richard J. Neuhaus, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life.

McClendon compared a university and a sponsoring religious institution to that of a child and parent.

"Children grow up. Colleges do too," he said. "And in America, the leaving home years have often been tumultuous for the church's academic offspring. Mother church has supposed that her child must stay home and care for her. While daughter university has determined that parents are a nuisance." Though the university evolves to its own identify, McClendon said it must continue to identify with its parenting body.

"The university grows up and leaves home with an unpaid debt to its parent," he said. "Not a physical debt, but a moral one. And that debt can only be satisfied if the university gives to society what it has been given by the church." He did say however, that the work of the university and the work of the church were not the same.

"We should not confuse the mission of the university with the mission of the church," McClendon said. "Our work is to stretch the minds that come to us. To challenge their complacencies, and to open up difficulties."

McClendon also pointed out that secular universities may be limiting themselves by excluding religion and theology from their curriculum.

"A Christian university should not be a special kind of university, but a real university," he said. "Among the arts and sciences that make a university beautiful, one indispensable art is theology. Theology is not merely a religion department or a seminary for professional training. Theology is a chair or chairs among the university's most respected and devoted scholars to discover the deep convictions that have made us the people that we are."

Himmelfarb reminded the symposium audience of some of the history of the reformation of the church and described the role modern scholars play as reformers.

"Luther insisted that he never meant to be a reformer, but he said he was forced into the position of becoming a doctor of the Holy Scripture against his will," she said. "Like Luther, some of the professors in our universities contest that they are forced against their will to become reformers." Himmelfarb said these professors are presiding over a reformation that is causing as much wide-spread change in our nation's universities as Luther's reformation changed the church." She noted however, that these changes are catalyzed from disassociation from the church. Areas of reformation Himmelfarb mentioned include the interpretation of scripture, collegial curriculum, and human identity.

"At the annual meeting of the Religious Education Association of 1904 it was recommended that the Bible be taught as a literary document and not a book of revelation," Himmelfarb said. " By the turn of the century this revelation was well underway in some of the country's major universities which have transformed into secular institutions." Himmelfarb said that once the country's major educational institutions ceased offering education that recognizing biblical foundations for societal direction, these institutions began offering education that was task-based and not focused on enlightening the minds of students.

"The original intention was to open up the university to minorities to make both the student body and the faculty more inclusive and more representative of society. Today, race, class and gender are the Holy trinity presiding over higher education in America. Few people have even noticed that religion is entirely missing from this trinity as if it were no longer an important principal of one's identity."

Neuhaus concluded the speakers with his 11 thesis of a Christian university which are as follows:

1) There is no such thing as a university pure and simply. It is therefore misleading to say that a

Christian university has a dual identity. Freedom and truth cannot be separated from the divine.

2) Church affiliation does not make a university Christian.

3) When conviction is more important than affiliation, affiliation can help with conviction.

4) A Christian university is not a church, but it is part of the church's mission.

5) The faculty determines the character of a university. Discrimination is necessary in hiring and promoting not on the basis of religious belief but on the belief of the great good of a Christian university.

6) Freedom is related to truth. Freedom not founded in truth is vulnerable to power.

7) A Christian university serves the great good of pluralism.

8) In a Christian university there is no role for religion. Rather it is within the Christian understanding of reality that everything else finds its role.

9) A Christian university rejects dichotomies that pit truth against truth.

10) A Christian university will settle for nothing less than a comprehensive account of reality.

11) If Christian truth does not illumine and undergird every quest for truth, it is questionable that Christianity is truth.

Neuhaus concluded his speech with a challenge to Baylor President Sloan and to the Christian academia as a whole.

"Today's Christian university is in crisis. It is often described as the crisis of secularization. I think it is a crisis created by the ambition to imitate other kinds of universities. The question that must be answered is whether the confession that Jesus is Lord limits or illumines the university's obligation to seek and serve the truth."

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