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Discipling the Mind
Christian higher education helps us bear witness to the full implications of our faith in all areas of life

What a difference a generation makes. There has been tremendous growth in Christian higher education in Canada since the 1960s. Consider the number of institutions and facilities, the academic quality of the teaching and the range of programs.

The desire is to equip students … seeking to integrate their faith with their area of study…

There are now four affiliates of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) that belong to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the most recent addition being Canadian Mennonite University. I expect a fifth, Tyndale University College, may well be next. The other three scored very well in a recent assessment by AUCC students of their universities. In the “very small” category, The King’s University College, Redeemer University College and Trinity Western University all ranked in the top five in most areas from teaching to facilities. Their only low marks were for campus pubs – not surprising since they don’t have pubs. It’s amazing what others consider to be an important factor in the provision of higher education.

Evangelicals have invested heavily in higher education and have contributed to the development of the evangelical mind. The desire is to equip students for ministry, whether for pastors, church leaders or laypeople seeking to integrate their faith with their area of study, be it art or economics or their profession. It is in this promotion and facilitation of an integrated faith that institutions of higher Christian learning are significant contributors.

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Integral faith emanates from the affirmation and commitment that Jesus is Lord, that our faith involves a renewing of the mind and that all things are to be reconciled to Christ.

Integral faith rejects the presumption that faith and religious devotion can be separated from other activities of life – for example, that belief in God’s transcendence and revelation should have no bearing on how we think about economics or politics. While our faith denies the possibility of a compartmentalized religion, our western culture continues to reinforce a divide between personal and social, public and private, sacred and secular.

Our faith instructs us that, if Jesus is not Lord of an area of our life, then something or someone else is. Our western culture tells us there are areas of life that are “a-religious” or religiously neutral, that we can separate facts from values and faith from reason, and that when we step out of our churches and enter the public square we need to ensure our religious identity does not infringe on our ability to adopt a secular stance and behave as secularists want us to behave – like them.

We can anticipate continued questions about whether an integrated faith is socially acceptable. The EFC is participating in a Canada Revenue Agency consultation about the meaning of “advancement of religion.” This is the term under which all religious charities in Canada are granted charitable status. But what is included in advancing religion? While most agree that preaching and conducting worship services would qualify, what about caring for the vulnerable people around us: the foreigner, the widow, the orphan and the poor? In an evangelical understanding of the gospel and following the example of Jesus, caring for others is an act of service to God and an act of worship – it is how we demonstrate love for God and neighbour.

Restricting religious observance to what transpires Sunday morning in a church is a truncated understanding of religion and foreign to a biblical understanding of faith and discipleship. It is a secular understanding of religion that is not shared by the other major faith traditions.

Integral faith is one of the five characteristics of evangelicalism that the EFC has included in its mission statement.

In an increasingly secularized society, where a narrow and shallow understanding of religion is being promulgated on various fronts, our challenge is to bear witness to the full implications of our faith. Christian higher education is a critical component of this shared task.

The increased capacity of our institutions of higher learning is a testimony both of the passion of educators and the commitment of so many who have shared the vision of renewed minds. It is demanding work that requires patience, but that too is part of discipleship.

Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Read more columns at www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/clemenger.  

Originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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