A Vision for a Christian University
When Trinity Evangelical Divinity School was incorporated into Trinity International University in 1995, Carson wrote a very helpful answer to the question, “Can There Be a Christian University?” published in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 1:3 (1997): 20-38. (See also his complementary follow-up essay, “What is the role of New Testament studies in a Christian university?” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 1:3 : 76-78.)
In the first and longer essay Carson began by sketching the history of the university and then offered eight theses, explaining each of them in the essay:
- A university is a tertiary-level institution devoted to study and education in a plurality of fields at both undergraduate and graduate levels, controlled by some unifying vision.
- A Christian university is God-centered in the structure of its thinking and in the establishment of its priorities, cheerfully pledging allegiance to the Christian revelation, and in particular the focal point of that revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel he has proclaimed.
- A Christian university is passionately committed to the formation and maintenance of a Christian worldview.
- Because Christians recognize their finiteness and their sinful minds, the Christian university is called, whatever its prophetic voice, to humility of mind and the kind of communal care that fosters integrity and candor.
- Because of its God-centeredness, the Christian university will recognize that it is beholden to the church, to the world, and to the God who inhabits eternity.
- Because of its God-centeredness, the Christian university seeks to maintain a tension between a world-wide openness on the one hand, and cultural integrity and sensitivity at the local level on the other.
- Within the vision of the Christian university already laid out, it is entirely appropriate to provide both liberal arts education and professional training.
- A Christian university will rigorously reflect on academic freedom and confessional fidelity.
He then gave his vision for the four priorities a Christian university should adopt:
- Teach the Bible.
- Teach the Bible worldviewishly.
- Pursue excellence.
- Reflect hard and often on how to preserve the institution.
Under that last point, he offered eight “entirely preliminary” suggestions on how to preserve a Christian university:
- Develop a tradition of a theologically and practically informed Board.
- Chief academic officers responsible for hiring faculty must themselves be vetted in the most penetrating ways, not only for their own orthodoxy, but for their tolerances.
- Encourage candor and integrity.
- It is essential that interviewing procedures be not only fair, but probing.
- Ensure that at least some of the top administrators are theologically informed, orthodox, and current.
- Christian universities with church-based connections have a variety of structural connections they may adopt that would enhance fidelity.
- Pursue faculty members who have not only avowed agreement with the university’s position, but who delight in Scripture, and who are excited about the possibility of studying and teaching in an
environment that takes Scripture seriously and tries to think worldviewishly.
- In the course of time, bring together within the university scholars from diverse backgrounds to work out together not only what Scripture says on certain matters, but how what it says must impact this or that discipline.
Finally, here is his conclusion:
Can there be a Christian university? Of course. But there is a great deal of work to be done, many things to be learned, and many commitments to undertake if we are to establish excellent ones that grow and endure for long periods of time, bringing glory to God, strength to the church, and grace to the broader culture.