Timothy Larsen is the McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College. (Some of you know that this is the endowed chair formerly held by Notre Dame historian Mark Noll). Larsen is an excellent scholar and a thoughtful defender of Christian colleges. I am glad to see that he has written a piece in defense of Wheaton and places like it. (He doesn’t mention Messiah College in the piece, but much of what he says applies to Messiah, the college where I teach).
Here is a taste of his piece at CNN, “Let Wheaton and Other Christian Colleges Be Christian“:
…Indeed, for some of our most thoroughgoing critics it means that we are not at all like the University of Illinois. A statement of faith, they assert, prohibits academic freedom and thus disqualifies us from being a genuine institution of higher education.
It feels differently from the inside. The vast majority of the professors Wheaton hires come either straight from a Ph.D. program at a major, secular school or from teaching at a secular university. Again and again they revel in the luxurious, newfound academic freedom that Wheaton has granted them: For the first time in their careers they can think aloud in the classroom about the meaning of life and the nature of the human condition without worrying about being accused of violating the separation of church and state or transgressing the taboo against allowing spiritual reflections to wander into a conversation about death or ethics or hope.
Just like no Catholic wants everyone to join a monastery, so I would not want every institution of higher education to be like Wheaton. Still, I have no doubt that the intellectual life of the entire nation is stronger because places like Wheaton exist than it would be if all higher education had its academic freedom curtailed by prohibiting theological lines of inquiry.
Wheaton is continually renewing and testing the caliber of its intellectual mettle in the wider academy: Every year we send out students who have been admitted into some of the best graduate schools, hire faculty members who have been trained in major research universities, and have professors present their research at the conferences of leading learned societies and publish it in peer-review journals. We gain the freedom to discuss matters of faith without losing the accountability that comes with having to meet the scholarly standards of the wider academy.
Read the rest here.