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Fall 2012 · Vol. 41 No. 2 · pp. 300–304 

Recommended Reading

Church and School: An Annotated Selected Bibliography

Vic Froese

The literature on church-related colleges, seminaries, and universities is vast and growing. No doubt it reflects the turmoil in the world of Christian higher education (principally in North America) and the considerable soul-searching that has been taking place over the past several decades. Mere samples of the literature will be found in this bibliography, the core of which is a list of recommended readings suggested to me by Dalton Reimer (until recently, ICOMB Education Facilitator), David Wiebe (Executive Director of ICOMB), and Victor Wiens (ICOMB Global Scholarship Fund Coordinator).

Of course, the North American scene (which most of these pieces address), differs in important ways from those in which Christian institutions of higher learning in Paraguay or the Congo or in India find themselves. Different governance, fund-raising, accreditation models, and even different types of supporting constituencies mean that the relevant wisdom from North American observers cannot be directly imported into other global regions. Even so, international readers involved in Christian education are still likely to find some inspiration in the literature listed below, some fruitful ideas or useful principles to help them find ways to work creatively and productively with their churches.

Ahlstrom, Sydney E. “Toward the Idea of a Church College.” Christian Scholar 43, no. 1 (1960): 25–38.

Written over a half-century ago, this thoughtful article can still be read for its wisdom. Among other things, Ahlstrom argues that a church college must “educate” in the original sense of “leading [students] out.” “It leads of course not by taking command but by the natural authority that accrues to excellence and wisdom.” In doing so, the church, and not students alone, benefit, argues Ahlstrom, for a laity broadly educated in the traditions and teachings of Christianity and of their denominations will be the church’s strongest supporters and its most helpful critics.

Astley, Jeff et al., eds. The Idea of a Christian University: Essays in Theology and Higher Education. Milton Keynes, Bucks, UK: Paternoster, 2004.

Contributors to this volume come largely from the United Kingdom but represent a broad spectrum of Christian traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations). Some of these writers engage such important thinkers as John Henry Newman, Kierkegaard, and the late Jacques Derrida as they seek to identify the particular calling of the Christian university. Others carefully consider how its curriculum relates to disciplines (especially philosophy and the sciences) often thought to be hostile to Christian faith. Noteworthy is Elmer Thiessen’s essay, “Objections to the Idea of a Christian University.”

Benne, Robert. Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.

Whereas James Burtchaell’s book (see below) documented what seemed to him to be the inevitable drift of Christian colleges and universities away from their church moorings, Benne’s study looks at six Christian institutions of higher learning that haven’t left them. Benne identifies six factors that together tend to preserve the religious identity of a school: (1) a founding tradition that values intellectual endeavor; (2) good communication between school and church; (3) board slots designated for denominational members; (4) a leadership rooted in the vision of the founding denomination; (5) hiring religiously-committed faculty and recruiting similarly-committed students; and (6) institutional resources dedicated to a chapel program and other religious activities.

Budde, Michael L., and John Wright, eds. Conflicting Allegiances: The Church-Based University in a Liberal Democratic Society. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004.

The editors of this collection of essays suggest that discussions of Christian higher education have largely failed to produce valuable insights because they have assumed the validity of classic liberal assumptions about human life, the state, and the (private) place of religion in that state, and then sought to define the mission of the church within those parameters. All of the contributors reject (or at least have serious questions about) modernity and set out to imagine “new practices of scholarship, teaching and formation appropriate to the service of [a] discipleship-based vision of the church.” William Cavanaugh, John Milbank, Jonathan Wilson, and Michael Cartwright are among the contributing scholars.

Burtchaell, James T. The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

Burtchaell’s monumental study of American colleges and universities has been called “dreary” for the sense of despair one might feel at seeing the relentless pattern of an initial unified purpose of church and school, then alienation, and finally mutual disengagement. But it would be unchristian to abandon hope. And with Burtchaell’s diagnosis in hand, leaders in Christian higher learning may be better equipped to detect and withstand the forces (including the desire for respectability and prestige) that appear to lead to “disengagement.”

Cuninggim, Merrimon. Uneasy Partners: The College and the Church. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.

The author’s extensive experience in Christian higher education as professor of religion, college president, and dean of a divinity school, makes him eminently qualified to write on the titular subject. Unlike later critics like Burtchaell, however, Cuninggim defends the more relaxed, pluralistic, mainline Protestant approach to higher education and argues that the autonomy of colleges and universities from their founding churches need not compromise their religious character. What qualifies a college as “church-related” is that it honors its heritage; explicitly promotes the values of truth, freedom, justice, and kinship; and has a “credible and mutually understood” relationship with its church. But what do these mean practically, and do these qualifications adequately equip a school to resist secularizing pressures?

De Jong, Arthur J. Reclaiming a Mission: New Direction for the Church-Related College. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990.

De Jong traces the malaise of modern Christian liberal arts colleges to their acceptance of the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm of knowledge, which effectively reduces reality to a collection of separate, unrelated parts. Christian colleges should rather embrace a postmodern paradigm which rightly dismisses the notion of “value-free” education but relishes openness and diversity, even “awe and mystery.” In this space opened up by postmodernity, church-related colleges should be less embarrassed about developing a distinctively Christian raison d’être, centered firmly in Christ. The resulting closer relationship between church and school can only benefit both as they clarify their joint mission to the world.

Direction: A Mennonite Brethren Forum 36, no. 2 (2007). Theme: “Christian Scholarship and Higher Education.”

The first four papers in this issue were originally plenary addresses delivered at the 2007 ICOMB Global Higher Education Consultation in Fresno, California. The theme was “Shaping Mennonite Higher Education for the 21st Century.” Topics addressed include postcritical epistemology (Eloise Hiebert Meneses), an Anabaptist view of education (I. P. Asheervadam), higher education for ministry and service (Alfred Neufeld), and Christian higher education that engages society and culture (Merrill Ewert).

Froese, Vic. “Faith and Learning: A Select Classified Bibliography.” Direction 37, no. 1 (2008):138–42.

This longer bibliography lists works that examine a wider range of topics than just the relationship of Christian institutions of higher learning to churches. Readers interested in the latter topic might also find helpful resources under “Christian Minds and Worldviews” and “Critiques of the University.”

Gupta, Paul R., and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter. Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision: Training Leaders for a Church-Planting Movement. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2006.

Paul Gupta, president of Hindustan Bible Institute (HBI) in India, recounts his experiments in theological education for church planters. Finding that adhering to accreditation standards was hindering HBI in producing the number of church planters and pastors needed for the billions of unreached in India, the school put off accreditation and developed non-formal training programs for planters and at the same time made formal training more immediately relevant to the church planting task. Gupta’s book gives us an interesting example of a situation in which a school is establishing churches, rather than the other way around.

Heisey, Nancy R., and Daniel S. Schipani, eds. Theological Education on Five Continents: Anabaptist Perspectives. Strasbourg, France: Mennonite World Conference, 1997.

This book documents the reflections of Mennonites from around the world on their experience with theological education. The presentations and numerous responses were made in a consultation on theological education at the 1997 Mennonite World Conference in India. All the papers reflect an interest in seeing a distinctively Anabaptist theological education. The consultation was also notable for the interest it generated in theological education and for the participation of Mennonite church representatives from twenty-two countries around the globe.

Huebner, Harry, ed. Mennonite Education in a Post-Christian World: Essays Presented at the Consultation on Higher Education, Winnipeg, June 1997. Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 1998.

The eleven essays in this collection cover such assorted topics as a Mennonite theology of education, identity and Mennonite higher education, the challenges of contemporary youth culture, how to teach for peace and for community, the administration of Mennonite education, the curriculum behind the curriculum, and the trials and tribulations of being a Mennonite professor. These papers address issues that educators in other Christian traditions also contend with but here they are approached from Anabaptist-Mennonite perspectives that make discipleship and obedience central concerns.

Kennedy, James, and Caroline Simon. Can Hope Endure? A Case Study in Christian Higher Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

The “case” referred to in the title is Hope College in Holland, Michigan, a mid-sized school founded by Dutch Reformed immigrants in 1851. The authors describe Hope’s approach to Christian higher education as a “middle way”: it early rejected sectarianism but held fast to its Christian roots; required no signing of a statement of faith from faculty but expected them to be Christian; nurtured the faith of students without requiring participation in religious activities; and was uncomfortable with either “mainline” or “evangelical” as labels but displayed characteristics of each. Can such a school resist the gravity of the secular vision of the world? The authors are cautiously hopeful that it can, and write with clear awareness that a “rhythm of guilt, grace, and gratitude” must mark the lives of Christians and their institutions alike.

Litfin, A. Duane. Conceiving the Christian College. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Litfin, president of Wheaton College when this book was published, argues that it is entirely appropriate to require faculty to sign a statement of faith, given the priority of foundational principles over the opinions of faculty. A key foundational principle for Litfin is that a distinctively Christian college must be systemically Christ-centered, and that this center must exert a pervasive influence on the content of teaching as well as its delivery. “No fact, no theory, no subject matter can be fully grasped and appreciated” apart from Christ. But is it only its particular intellectual commitments that make a college Christian? Is a Christian college not a community of Christian practices as well as of scholarly reflection?

Meyer, Albert J. Realizing Our Intentions: A Guide for Churches and Colleges with Distinctive Missions. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2009.

Head of the Mennonite Board of Education for twenty-eight years and consultant for the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools for many of those years, Meyer offers a perspective that is unique among authors of similar books. His argument is that although the pressure on Christian colleges and universities to compromise their distinctive missions is substantial (and this comes from Christian students and their parents as well as from secular sources), maintaining a special sense of mission is essential to supporting the church’s continuing mission in a post-Christendom world. He also offers helpful strategies to educators in Christian institutions of higher learning who wish to strengthen commitment to the mission that inspired the founding of their schools.

Miller, Michael R., ed. Doing More with Life: Connecting Christian Higher Education to a Call to Service. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

The essays in this volume were originally presented at a Callings conference held at Mount St. Mary’s University in 2005. Almost all the contributors are were Catholic (one was Eastern Orthodox), a tradition in which the word “calling” has been closely connected with a vocation to a religious order or to the priesthood. Even so, their explorations helpfully enlarge the notion of calling and, further, explore how a Christian college or university might assist students in discerning their particular vocation. As such, these papers can be profitably read by anyone whose own calling involves them in the lives of sometimes aimless students eager for guidance.

Mission Frontiers (March-April 2003). Theme: “The Scandal & Promise of Global Christian Education.” (Available at

This entire issue is devoted to critical analyses of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats by which Christian higher learning outside North America is confronted. The included articles will give First-World readers a clearer picture of how Christian education is done in other parts of the globe.

Roth, John D. Teaching that Transforms: Why Anabaptist-Mennonite Education Matters. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2011.

Roth argues that a genuinely Mennonite education at any level should be guided by the conviction that Christian truth must be embodied, must take on flesh. This principle, he suggests, should direct the development of academic programs and also how academic success is defined. It ought to inform both the content of teaching and how it is taught. A self-consciously Mennonite/incarnational pedagogy will invite and seek to elicit curiosity, reason, joy, patience, and love. The book is likely to generate much discussion and creative thinking about how an authentically Mennonite faith might inform and reinvigorate Mennonite education.

Shenk, Sara Wenger. Anabaptist Ways of Knowing: A Conversation about Tradition-Based Critical Education. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2003.

In this stimulating book, Shenk argues that the fading of Mennonite traditions in North America can best be checked by developing forms of education that encourage the embodiment of truth through social practices. Engaging such thinkers as Paul Connerton (social memory), Rebecca Chopp (lived theology), Michael Polanyi (critique of scientific objectivity), Alistair MacIntyre (tradition as an historically extended socially embodied argument), and Nancey Murphy (community-based knowledge via discernment and interdisciplinary exchange), Shenk proposes a tradition-based Christian education model which recognizes the vital role of tradition, social practices, and critical engagement. There is much food for thought here for Mennonite/Anabaptist educators who believe that Christian education involves character formation even more than transmitting information and teaching critical analysis.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

The nineteen essays and addresses in this volume document Wolterstorff’s evolving understanding of Christian higher education over almost thirty years. Now eighty years old and once an articulate spokesmen for the position that Christian higher education should pursue the “integration” of faith and learning, his most recent conviction is that Christian education should have “shalom” as its telos. Scholarship at a Christian college or university ought to be “praxis-oriented,” meaning that learning should have an integral activist component that seeks to promote “human flourishing” in the world. Critics have voiced concern that such an approach will politicize education with a partisan agenda. On another reading, Wolterstorff is bringing both the mission of Christian higher education and that of the church closer to a more biblical understanding of the mission of God.

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