Engaging the Culture, Changing the World: The Christian University in a Post-Christian World/Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities/Teaching Undergraduate Research in Religious Studies

By Doenecke, Justus D. | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Engaging the Culture, Changing the World: The Christian University in a Post-Christian World/Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities/Teaching Undergraduate Research in Religious Studies


Doenecke, Justus D., Anglican and Episcopal History


Engaging the Culture, Changing the World: The Christian University in a PostChristian World. By Philip W. Eaton. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011, Pp. 203. $18.00. Paper); Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities. By Warren A. Nord. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, Pp. xii, 344. $29.95); Teaching Undergraduate Research in Religious Studies. Edited by Bernadette McNary-Zak and Rebecca Todd Peters. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, Pp. vi, 193. $55.00.)

In his major classic, The Idea of a University (1852), John Henry Newman called theology a precondition of general knowledge. "To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unraveling the web of University Teaching" (quoted in Eaton, 182). Close to a century and a half later, Yale church historian Jaroslav Pelikan entered into dialogue with Newman in his own book, The Idea of a University: A Reexamination (1992). Like Newman, Pelikan argued that absence of any "faith dimension" in higher education leads to major deficiencies both of knowledge and scholarship.

Our three authors, each in different ways, seek to address this problem. Philip W. Eaton, long a professor of literature, is president of Seattle Pacific University, a Wesleyan Methodist institution. Eaton ably seeks define the task of the Christian university, drawing upon the writings of St. Benedict, Leslie Newbigin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jürgen Moltmann, C. S. Lewis, Walter Brueggeman, N. T. Wright, and Pope John Paul II. No academic Luddite, Eaton concedes that American research universities are deservedly the envy of the world, giving their graduates skills needed to negotiate their place in a complicated world. Usually lacking, however, are efforts at enhancing character or supplying any moral framework. As a result, corruption and dishonesty permeate every aspect of American life. Eaton does much with Nietzsche's affirmation "God is dead," claiming it leaves humanity without a core while causing people to withdraw into private spheres. Not only are tools of discernment missing; many teenagers are ignorant of fundamental facts concerning Moses and Jesus.

Eaton makes one major claim: "We must affirm the story of what is true and good and beautiful, our ancient Christian story, right in the midst of a culture that has grown profoundly suspicious of calling anything true" (8). Challenging claims that the university should make its graduates suspicious of all that is good and true, he calls upon educators to empower students to engage certain texts, ideas, and narratives, in particular the salvation story lying at the core of the Christian faith.

The late Warren A. Nord, director of the Interdisciplinary Program at the Humanities and Human Values at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was engaged in a slighdy different task in his book: to advance the study of religion and ethics as formal disciplines in America's secondary schools and universities. Like Moore, Nord is appalled by today's religious illiteracy and the neglect of value-oriented issues in the curriculum. In terms of absolute numbers, religious societies are gaining over secular ones and therefore it would be sheer folly not to understand them. …

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