2005 Conference "The Idea of a Christian University"

A brief review of the earlier part of the book: Sue Halliday

By Dr Sue Vaux Halliday, Senior Lecturer, School of Management, University of Surrey, Guildford.

The idea of a Christian University - this is a volume of 17 independent essays by fine and focussed minds that requires a minimum of some 17 hours of reading - and that is the first reading only - and this is my excuse for narrowing the scope of the review to a few of the early chapters.

Introduction

So can I pick out some key ideas? A new title for the content of the book might be

The Christian university:  Is it a hotel, a family or a retreat centre?

We might object to the idea of a retreat centre.  We might not see a university as an appropriate setting for family life.  We might be quite happy with the current UK model of hotel.  But at least this book makes us think outside the box of what we know and what we know we don't like.  I personally have been challenged in my practice as an academic by the hotel model - it has sharpened my understanding of what a Christian contribution might be beyond the immediately evangelistic and it is a challenge I hope to bring to the University of Surrey's Staff Christian Fellowship.

A Christian university.  A plausible or implausible idea?  Essentially most of us find this implausible. (I am re-reading a book that explains why we find it so implausible, by Craig Gay, IVP, 1999 The Way of the (Modern) World, or Why We Behave as if God Doesn't Exist.  I recommend this book covering post-Enlightenment history of ideas to you).

How then can considering the idea help those of us not keen to realise one in practice?  Is it in fact a waste of time to consider it?  Should we instead keep our minds going down the same tracks they went before we read the book?

I think this book is most useful in showing us where we might want to move our work, our setting and how we might move in fulfilling our vocations as academics in the secular 21st century university in the UK.

All of the three models - hotel, family and retreat centre are given in the chapters of this book.  A range of vantage points is thus provided in this volume of independent essays.  The subtitle - Essays in theology and higher education - and the project editors ( see below) indicates the bias of this book - because, as I am sure we will discover at the conference, even 17 chapters hardly covers the whole topic of the idea of a Christian university.  The editors are:

Ed Jeff Astley, North of England Institute for Christian Education

Leslie Francis, University of Wales, Bangor

John Sullivan, Liverpool Hope University

Andrew Walker, Kings College London

Even the names of the two sections shows us the sorts of things we might consider in our vocation as Christian academics, even where we do not wish to found a Christian University:

A Christian Calling?

A Christian Curriculum?

Background to this book

The preface tells us of the concerns behind this book: of the fragmentation of the theological education area around faith communities and academic departments.  In particular the academy has excluded confessional truth-claims and so is cut off from the interests of faith communities.  Out of concern at this in 2001 there grew a conversation  that became the National Seminar on Theological Education, meeting at KCL.  One outcome, thanks to a range of generous funding sources, is this ‘volume of original essays, bound together by a common commitment to a theologically-grounded understanding of Christian higher education' (p.xi).

Chapter one pp.3-13

The idea of a Christian university, Ian Markham, Hartford Seminary, USA

Ian admits that the idea of a Christian university is implausible to our ears. 

He aims to address questions of market, pluralism and content.

He wants to show how flawed is the idea of a secular university. ‘It is the hotel model of organisation, rather than the family model.  In a family there are expectations of shared values and cultures... in a hotel men and women are invited to behave in whatever ways they consider appropriate in the privacy of their own rooms, and the public spaces will be entirely neutral' (p.5).

The secular paradigm is lent support by the scientific narrative that displaces the religious one.  He quotes Davie when questioning the secularisation paradigm:

An alternative suggestion is increasingly gaining ground: the possibility that secularisation is not a universal process, but belongs instead to a relatively short and particular period of European history

The USA is advanced and not secular and the rest of world is increasingly scientific and technological but not secular.  What we have is perhaps, a decline in belonging, in which the church is outperforming scouts, guides, trades unions and the WI.

He then moves on to question whether the scientific and religious narratives are exclusive - and suggests, that rather, science requires a religious basis ‘If the universe is simply a massive accident emerging from chance then it is difficult to see how one can be confident that the universe is indeed intelligible' and Christianity, by distinguishing between the Creator and creation, permits scientific investigation of natural phenomena that are not god. 

This is of course picked up on elsewhere, most particularly by Sam Berry in his chapte on science and in his review of the book written for this conference.

He then develops the hotel motif - there there is a culture of service for money that is private and individualistic.  He contrasts this with a retreat centre - accommodation and catering, minus the adult movies and with opportunities provided for building up virtue and cultivating spiritual reflection.

He then appeals to postmodernism which is confident that there is no such thing as a value free approach.  So the secular university cannot be what it claims to be - value free.  Instead it actually promotes a whole range of values.  In fact it becomes a temptation to sin.  ‘the hotel in its lack of demands and indulgence of choice and individualism is potentially a place for the depraved satisfaction of immediate desires' (p.8).  The rest of the world sees the West as depraved (although they of course see the US as the worst!!)

This is a most important point, and on the CAN Leadership Team there is a variety of views about the value-free or value-laden understanding of reality open to us in our studies.  I would encourage you to ponder this point.

Markham continues with his 4 features of a Christian university:

1.         It embraces values and is constituted by a tradition (c.f. Macintyre) and stands against the false claim to objectivity of the secular institution;

2.         It will openly attempt to inculcate certain of these faith-based values and discusses morality within certain limitations; again it stands against the false offer of secularism to be open to all options - instead it goes for ‘totalitolerance' (to quote Nick Spencer of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity); he offers a Christian tradition and is probably Catholic; but a sola Scriptura and semper reformanda approach could be the evangelical take on this;

3.         Metaphysics will feature in the curriculum.  This is from John Henry Newman and is a ‘science of sciences ... what is meant by philosophy, in the true sense of the word, and of a philosophical habit of mind ... ‘(cited p.10).  ‘The net result is that students in the sciences or economics or mathematics or whatever should be required to reflect on the assumptions that their discipline makes about the nature of the world' (p.11). 

I can add that the International Baccalaureate requires that all sixth form students do this - something that provided my son with a wonderful opportunity to work through the Christian understanding of knowledge.  Yet this is so rarely required of undergraduates.  Can we as Christian academics take something of value for our practice, for our vocation from this?  Can CAN provide a structure for this?  Another point to ponder at the conference and beyond.

4.         A celebration of rationality and conversation in the quest for truth.
This involves a welcoming of diversity, complexity and a reluctance to have all the answers. ‘The Christian university is a place in which a range of vantage points are encouraged to engage in conversation and learn in humility from the process' (p.11).

He then turns to the question of a market for this.  He says that many want positive values affirmed and that those of other faiths are advocates of Cof E schools. ‘Advocates of a Christian university need to be much more aggressive in pointing out how impoverished the alternative is'(p.12).  This university will engage with difference, rather than privatise it and so exclude debate from the public sphere.

As a marketing academic, I do indeed weight the problem of a lack of a market for a Christian university as a key stumbling block to ever realising the project.

Chapter Two University,  pp.14-34 Christian faith and the church

John Sullivan, Liverpool Hope University

This chapter seeks to explore the idea of a Christian university from within the UK context; this is part of the outreach of the church.  Sullivan has four aims.  He overtly links intellectual life and the life of Christian faith and recommends Friedrich von Hügel  (1852-1925). He then discusses the salience of faith , and what model of church best fits; Sullivan espouses the sacramental view of church, which is an apologia pro Roman Catholicism.  Finally he discusses mediating faith in a plural context.

For Sullivan von Hügel  shows ‘how the intellectual dimension can and should relate to the other aspects of our lives' (p.16).  He argued for a breadth of discipline in being educated as a whole person and stressed the need for interdisciplinary enquiry. He did not draw a line between the sacred and the secular; instead he saw God at work. ‘Faith should not be left to operate as an extra-curricular activity' (p.17).  Christians are standing on firm ground and therefore need not fear, nor cultivate defensiveness in students, as they engage with other viewpoints.  The university should be a balance of authority, rationality and personal experience. 

To those who work in a current UK university the third element is the more problematic or challenging: ‘Teachers have to develop pedagogical approaches that establish links between academic disciplines and the real lives of students' (p.19).  I would like to hear Sullivan apply this - I have a friend who works at Liverpool Hope and with huge numbers in the business school it sounds like the hotel model par excellence to me.  As academics we need to be disciplined to be practical in our thinking of our vocation so as not to discourage by unrealistic idealism.  That way lies cynicism and we are to be people of hope.

Sullivan argues for faith to be proclaimed in the Christian university. ‘The Christian voice at university can be as misleadingly silent or absent as it can be inappropriately loud or intrusive' (p.21).  He discusses Nord (2002) in citing economics as a discipline whose foundational assumptions of people as utility-maximisers, of values as personal preferences, as matters of cost-benefit analysis, are not acceptable to any religious tradition.  He wants this university to link the life of spirituality and scholarship.  There are books on Christianity and economics and again, in practice there is a great deal of disagreement - but let us not fail to discuss because we might disagree.

He then discusses five models of church: as institution, as mystical body, as herald/prophet, as servant and as sacrament.  He follows O'Brien in this categorisation and in the conclusion that the sacramental model is least inimical with the practice of a Christian university.  But what is here for evangelicals who feel that the sola scriptura approach denies the existence of sacraments, I wonder?

Faith mediation is part of building on the MacIntyre insight about a living tradition being constituted in the life of those adhering to the tradition.  He terms the approach ‘engaged pluralism' from Bernstein.  This engagement is from a position of core commitments to the tradition.  Sullivan advocates opportunities for staff and students to pray together, carry out works of service together, as well as study together.  The faith being mediated is to have three theological aspects: nurture, service and prophecy.

As a somewhat crass marketing lecturer, I again wonder where the market is for this kind of institution.

Chapter 4 pp.56-74 A Christian university imagined: recovering paideia in a broken world, Andrew Walker and Andrew Wright, KCL

They note that there are plenty of Christian universities in the US and mainland Europe, but that the UK does not have one.  Those that have a denominational history (e.g. University of Gloucestershire) ‘do not display a critical Christian engagement with the secular world which we would see as an essential hallmark of a Christian university' (p.56).  In fact, I worked there over  the last five years that saw a marked decline in the role of the Christian Foundation and an overt move away from the evangelical stance some took in the 19th century there.  A recent advertisement for a chaplain emphasised social outreach not evangelistic outreach.  So the absence of any critical engagement with the secular world is resulting in a capitulation to the secular world.

The two Andrews imagine something different from the sectarian universities and colleges in the States.  For these are seen to ‘contribute by their very isolationism to the fragmentation of late modernity.  It is precisely this fragmentation ... that we wish to resist though our imagined Christian university' (p.57) The aim of these authors is the ‘reclamation of Christian tradition -  partially buried as it is under the rubble of dislodged and disordered discourses caused by the implosion of the so-called Enlightenment Project' (p.57).   ‘Such a university will be the ground on which we can take a stand - for a distinctive Weltanschauung, for a particular God.  Yet this enterprise is really about more than that: it will also be a commitment to a particular way of conceiving and doing education.  This education, this training ground, calls for nothing less than a Chrstian paideia' (p.58).

Once again, this chapter has challenged my thinking and made me understand that there is more to the Christian calling than intellectual work - we are whole people and want our students to develop as whole people.  Again, it would be good to have these writers in front of a group of academics to see what can actually be done to reform practice and to move towards an idea of a Christian university that is not the American institution so many of us fear.

An idea on the way ahead: Gwynne Davies

Reading the various contributions in The Idea of a Christian University has focussed our minds on how much thinking has been carried out in this field. It is however interesting to note that apart from one contributor almost all others have written from the perspective(s) of Theology/Biblical Studies and Education, so that it inevitably falls within their area of academic responsibility. That is not a criticism of them but rather of us who operate outside those disciplines for perhaps not making our own position clearer. We are grateful to them for communicating their experiences over the years. For many of them there is the feeling of frustration over the need to tone down the essential Gospel message to conform to the ideological pressures exerted in a modern secular university.

During my first few months as an engineering undergraduate I was invited to take tea with the principal J.S.Fulton as indeed were all freshers in turn. We also had to present to a group of four a prepared essay on one of two titles offered, in my case I chose The Function of a University. This was partly based on the fact that the annual Reith Radio Lecture for that year was on that topic. My grandfather, who had quite a benign influence on me also took the weekly Listener in which the talk was also published, so he just posted it on to me, and I had a useful source of material for my essay. Now we both went to University, Dadcu - as I called him. to the University of Life in the early 20th century and myself to the University of Wales, being the first in my family As a coal mine farrier his educational experience was largely social, cultural, religious and partly political, as an active member of a thriving non - conformist chapel in the upper Rhondda Valley. He had the self discipline to develop his soul and mind in the self taught way. As a child I was surrounded by his books; a multi volume veterinary encyclopaedia on the horse; a complete set of the Century Bible Commentaries, a beautiful leather bound copy of the Welsh language edition of Taith y Pererin (Pilgrim's Progress) and some of the other Bunyan works from the Libanus Chapel Library which I've recently had rebound and treasure greatly; and of course the two volume War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. He may indeed have been one of a whole host of colliers who gave a penny a week to establish the University of Wales of which I was to be a beneficiary, and he would have been aware of the educational contribution of the Miners Welfare Halls to the mining community. Recently while clearing out my deceased mother's effects I discovered a Sanitary Inspector's Certificate which Dadcu had received and which carried the signature of one of the examiners Henry Adams F.I.C.E. Lo and behold, it was the same person whose bequest had enabled me to win with colleagues the Henry Adams Bronze Medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers for a paper published in the Structural Engineer. Wouldn't we have had a lot to talk about had he survived. Not only did Dadcu have knowledge and skills appropriate to his need but he also had character and the ability to apply knowledge in a wise way. I mention this to remind us that the right kind of community can produce that special informal university type of experience, which may or may not be replicated in a formal organisation, and we must treasure and nurture it, in whatever form it may arise.

Since Victorian times Universities have been involved in at least three major activities:-

1)      Preserving and recording previous knowledge in the form of artefacts, art and books in their own Museums and Galleries and Libraries.

2)      Digging out new nuggets, or re-presenting old information in a new light  called RESEARCH today.

3)      Making the information available from the above in courses to students and to the public at large called TEACHING.

It is probably true that universities still largely interpret their mission in these terms today, but there has been a tidal movement in the way they do so:-

a)      The development of the desk and lap-top computer has revolutionised the means of communication and cheap access to a whole range of sources of information through the web. This is changing the nature of libraries, laboratories, lectures and the availability of lecture content, but also brings worries about plagiarism in what is now a mass market.

b)     It is this revolution which enables government to work towards an increase of university type education to around 50% of the young adult population to ensure that up-skilling can take place in the potential workforce.

c)      Increased numbers have of course necessitated a re-appraisal of how to finance this through fee charging, maintenance and government loans.

      Research funds are obtained through private clients or through European directed funds. Often such projects need teams in various    countries to bid and work on these schemes.                     

d)   The social structure and interaction of staff and consequently their                     relationship particularly at lecturer staff level has changed so that          lunch   breaks are reduced from a communal experience to that of eating        sandwiches in isolation in front of a plasma screen. Perhaps we shouldn't          laugh too much at the requirement of attending dinners at Oxbridge to           qualify for the transitional BA/MA. Relationships are important, and where           these are poor between colleagues they will also in            due course also be       reflected between students and eventually even the           society in which they       mature and influence.

e)   Society has also changed, and is itself basically more secular and pluralistic, even though a majority would still call themselves Christian, and believe in God. Nevertheless the knowledge and understanding of the Christian Faith in Fresher students brought about by regular churchgoing is largely absent in the increased entry numbers. While this may not be an obvious problem for a secular institution it poses greater challenges for a Christian one.

LIVING WITH THE PRESENT.

God hasn't changed, neither have his intensions and conclusions for the universe and human race. Clearly there is an urgent need for Christian Academics to be involved in initiating the changes needed to allow the Gospel to prosper in the academic public square. At the present time it seems that a brick upon brick approach is appropriate in our individual situations, although always prayerful that the Holy Spirit will guide motivate and open up opportunities even at corporate level. While each academic has a responsibility with regard to the techniques used in personal evangelism, there is the additional responsibility to provide, present and debate the various Christian perspectives as an introduction to any academic course. Where this cannot perhaps be done directly as part of the actual course itself, it can be referenced as appearing on a different website and students invited to view. What is needed to provide such a front end initially is reasonable agreement by a small consensus of Christian specialists for that type of course, and that can proceed immediately for many situations. I have suggested in the Appendix some of the topics which could be introduced as an introduction to a course, say in Civil or Structural Engineering.

CONCLUSIONS.

The idea of a Christian university should be widened from that of a formal organisation to university type education to allow for different access points. Mature development of Christian input should take place (certainly initially) on a brick by brick basis. Small groups(including professionals) in contact electronically should produce a suitable Christian introduction material to a course indicating which parts are value free and which have value significance

APPENDIX.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING front end.

Synopsis of Biblical perspectives on the world we live in including:-

Concepts of uniformity; variation in materials; workmanship; flaws and imperfection; modelling; imposed distortion and external forces; risk and safety; design and construction; environment and demolition.

Every Christian graduate a Bible student: David Booth

Every Christian graduate a Bible student (1)

David Booth

Summary

Since Gutenberg and Wyclif, the international system of universities has matured into a key field of Christian mission.  Education of the UK public and of the churches' staff in Christian theology now needs a national concordat by the Church's membership with the Universities, cp. roles in other school subjects, graduate disciplines and masters or doctoral professions.

Critical realist Universities and the Gospel of Christ's Kingdom (2)

The idea that university education in the Christian faith should be carried out by Christian foundations seems to me to be a denial of the Great Commission. 

The risen Christ Jesus told his followers to take the Gospel into their neighbourhood, to the disparate culture across the border and out to the most distant parts of the known world (3), and to accept and to make followers of all who believe from among every group of people.  Are not the diverse academic disciplines and the graduate and doctoral professions that we now have also ‘people-groups'? 

This call to live the Gospel everywhere, including now within academia, was no innovation following the resurrection.  From his early ministry, Jesus called his hearers to open their ears and to repent.  One of my university's latest slogans uses exactly the same word: "Think. Re-think"!   If a leading 21st century university can't support its undergraduates in a thoroughgoing review of their lives before they graduate in literature or law, or in business or biology, then its operations are a scam.

The Call of course goes much farther back: Jesus was singing from the same hymnsheet as the psalmist (96:3): "Declare the Lord's glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples."  The message to Christians on our production lines for Graduateness goes right back to the start of the history of salvation: "God created humanity in his own image ... male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it'" (Genesis 1:27-28).  Surely this is not just a biological mandate - now close to being delivered, albeit in much corrupted forms, for some of which Christians cannot be excused.  It is also a cultural or political mandate - more widely attained now too than is sometimes acknowledged, while highly corrupted in ways for which biblically undereducated believers are again partly responsible. Yet the wheat must grow among the weeds until the harvest - the final judgement which is as close as only God knows (4).

Critical realism, i.e. disciplined research

As I see it, Christ's call makes the concept of a "Christian University" a contradiction in terms.  However I'm precluded from stating my view in those words (and it would be wrong to quote that clause of mine in isolation).  This is because I am not at all referring to the usual critique of the idea as contradictory, namely that commitment of an institution to a faith is incompatible with academic freedom - or, less ambiguously phrased, a broadly ‘critical realist' approach to truth (5). To the contrary, I see biblical Christian faith as entirely compatible with open criticism and (theistically neutral) naturalistic realism.  More than that, the spread of the Christian gospel depends on just this openness to reasoned argument and observable evidence.

The contradiction that I see within any attempt to found or to run a Christian university is very different.  It is between two notions of Christianity - crudely speaking, between a ghetto and a harbinger of Christ's final kingdom. 

Quite contrary to the presuppositions of arguments for a Christian university, the Gospel requires, everywhere that can accommodate them, organisations that are led by scholars who are full participants in an open research community around the world.  Furthermore, such academically led institutions should be providing the highest levels of education to all who can benefit of the general populace (cp. the New Testament's ‘Gentiles') and of members of the Church (i.e., in NT times, the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and all others who followed his Way).

The ‘critical' epistemology is that any position can be evaluated, not only from within but also from any other position that is relevant.  Positivist and rationalist foundationalisms and postmodern irrationalism all self-destruct as soon as they become fully open to critique. That is, human reasoning itself as well as human tradition is subject to this critical evaluation. This is also to acknowledge that any use of the Bible is human interpretation, including the identification of the canon of Scripture by an historic group of officials of the church.  It precludes the quoting of a text without regard to the rest of scripture and to what the human race has learnt of the material and social creation.  This does not put Christians on the back foot - the opposite: it provides them initiative.  We are to give a reason for the hope that is within us.  In NT times, that opportunity often occurred in the courts of imperial law.  Nowadays, for the academics who are Christians, the opportunities are in the court of human scholarship.

            The ‘realist'ontology is the position that what exist in the empirical world are the entities invoked as basic in our best-tested theories, e.g. the fundamental forces of physics, the biochemical and eco-organismic systems of biology, the mental processes of psychology and the social mechanisms of culture (e.g. language).  This is a type of naturalism but it is not the anti-theistic naturalism that recognises only the creation we live in, not the Creator of this nature and society, nor is it the reductive materialism (physicalism) currently dominant in philosophy and in neuroscience.

University autonomy

            Critical realism is thus a highly disciplined communal activity among highly competent individuals who participate entirely voluntarily.  The word "freedom" has misleading connotations.  "Autonomy" is a better word for the personal and organisational context which critical realism requires. 

The market for critical realism is limited.  There have always been and there continue to be rich sponsors for talented individuals who do nothing but advance the frontiers of high culture (the humanities, the sciences and the fine arts for their own sake).  Such scholars and artists are generally keen to cultivate younger talent and most of their sponsors have supported such apprenticeship as well: today, both state and private funders of university research also support research studentships.  Nevertheless this postgraduate education and professional training are part of a sustainable way of supporting creative scholarship or ‘purely academic' research.  Yet there will never be enough money from private donors and governmental priorities on the public tax yield to pay for everybody who would like to be employed solely on original scholarship with free access to every facility to draw on and contribute to national and international expertise.

A quite different market for the time and effort of original scholars has always been the transmission of the culture from the frontiers at which they operate to those willing to learn what has been achieved so far.  The general public has always included those who valued such research-based education for its own sake, while not wishing to become original scholars themselves. In addition, public administrators, private entrepreneurs and technical experts have always needed new recruits and sought them among graduates from research-led education, just because they had to be bright at the start and they emerge with inimitable mental skills.  Since scholarship has become technical and/or specialised, some employers seek graduates with particular knowledge and skills - although it is more realistic to seek those with the intellectual equipment for keeping up with the latest additions to knowledge and technology in the employers' area.

None of this needs threaten the autonomy of critical realism.  The problems come if employers or government presume to tell the academics where the critical realism must take the research community or the undergraduate courses that they teach.  Among the comments on the recent report of the UK Government's (university teaching) Quality Assurance Agency are important articles (THES, 12 August 2005) by Alan Ryan (head of New College, Oxford) and Geoffrey Alderman (no. 2 at the American Inter-Continental University in London).  Both in effect argue the complete fallaciousness of the notion that the accountability of Universities in their teaching (and, I'm arguing, also their scholarship, research, enterprise and public service) rests on any externally applied criteria.  Ryan claims the only achievement of governmental intervention through the QAA has been to reduce the very small amount of "really spectacular incompetence in the management of teaching" in British universities.

"Higher Education" and the idea of a University

            Consideration of the role of original scholarship (i.e. academic research) in the Gospel and the Kingdom is disappointingly hard to find in the recent collection of essays about education in theology within the universities (6).

            Maybe the closest to recognition of the research basis of university teaching comes in Professor John Sullivan's passage with the subtitle, "University as context for mediating Christian faith" (page 27 ff.).  However, he assumes that this "mediator" must be a ‘Christian university', not the Christians in a genuine university.

There is no need for a campus runs by theologians or by educators in order that individual Christians who are original scholars in their own disciplines may play a leading part in "critiquing the surrounding culture" (what else is original research?), "creative reappropriations of Christianity in a changing cultural context" (what else are scholars to do with the research-relevant parts of their own faith traditions?), "entering into dialogue with [those who believe the same, differently or not at all]" (what else is a productive academic discussion?).  Sullivan acknowledges that this is "a task that is shared out across the various disciplines" but nevertheless seems to share the view of other authors in this book that educators in theology have a primary role in bringing it all together (7). 

Sullivan approvingly quotes the term "engaged pluralism" for this open discussion of different positions.  Yet he seems to fear that the pluralism will destroy the engagement (p28).  This is a strange view of scholarly debate.  An attempt to shift ground or to accommodate inconsistently is as likely to be spotted by an academically strong opponent as by an ally!  Many of us have found some of the greatest gains in understanding of our own position from expounding it to an insightful critic (8).

            The problem for these authors appears to be the difficulty of sustaining the "living tradition" of the Christian faith within the university.  Why try?  We don't ask to run churches within commercial companies, government departments or public service institutions, or to use even the faith schools to replace church activities for children and young people. Nor should Christians ask for the whole life of the church to be accommodated by the academic workplace. This includes the Theology Department of a British University or of its Faculty of Education. Indeed, it also includes a Training College for inland pastors or overseas missionaries.  Such a college may have the time and space for devotions and other practice of religion - but so may the believers working in a university department of any discipline.  Yet should one not be very uneasy if they try to take over functions of a local church?   If the churches are not supporting their members adequately in their workplaces, then it is the churches that should be reformed, not the workplaces.  Just as institutions dedicated to critical realism and the scholars employed to carry out such duties have to take a larger view of pure research, so also the churches must do more than own buildings, recruit members and employ ministers to run meetings on Sundays.

Higher Education and the Christian Church (in the UK)

As well as the title The Idea of a Christian University being self-contradictory, the subtitle Essays on Theology and Higher Education is incorrect.  In the UK, the term "Higher Education" is tightly defined to include only institutions that do enough original research to be competent to award research degrees across a sufficiently wide range of disciplines (= uni[fied-di]versity) or are colleges affiliated to universities for the purpose of awarding bachelors and masters degrees.  A College of Higher Education or a University College only gains University status when the institution meets the criterion of a multidisciplinary research environment for all its activities.  Thus a British university is not a finishing school, a community college or a college that teaches solely to the level of what in the UK is called "Further Education."   Indeed, these latter facilities will also be available in the best (and largest) institutions of Secondary Education, i.e. schools that teach up to at least 16 years of age.  These essays appear to be about the Tertiary Education sector in the UK, i.e. studies after the age of 16 (including Advanced Level, often examined at 18).

            From the Introduction it appears that the genesis of this book lay in teacher-training colleges of education where there is a commitment to religious education and/or research into religion. The authors of the chapters of this book are frank about their parochial and instrumentalist approach to university education.  Yet this means that the book has not only a misleading main title but also the wrong subtitle.  A more accurate name for the book is Problems of Educationists interested in Theology

There is undoubtedly a serious problem for the churches about Christianity in school teaching.  Also there are tensions between the university theology department and the denominational church college model of the training of clergy, ministers and pastors.  Training of local church staff in the UK (at least) and of school teachers responsible for the religious knowledge curriculum has long been a problem within undergraduate and postgraduate university education - probably more than other professions.  Training of both professions is of legitimate interest to academic departments of Theology - and this an ancient university discipline in Christendom and Islam, albeit problematised over the last two centuries by diverse movements in Europe and North America for separating public institutions and religion.  Yet the university disciplines of chemistry, maths and English are ill suited either to industry, accountancy and the writing of novels and plays or to the teaching of those ‘subjects' in primary or secondary school.  Academic theology and biblical research are no less unsuited to the training of most local church pastors and school RK teachers.

However, there are even more fundamental and pervasive issues about the relationships between the University (system) and the Church (across denominations) in this countryThe Church of England and the Non-Conformist denominations seem to be caught in a time-warp, not even of "one-man ministry" (where the key word is one, not man) but of pre-Wyclif times when only the pastor of the local congregation could read the Bible. Congregations have been literate for centuries but the minister has remained the only graduate (unless the local doctor was a member).  That started to change 50 years ago as the universities in Britain began to expand.  Soon if not already, in a majority of families in British churches, probably both the parents are graduates.  So the education leadership of a church should now be a team.  This has two complementing requirements.  (i) All graduates who are Christians should have ‘graduateness' in Bible as well as in their bachelor's degree discipline.  (ii) All pastoral staff of the churches should be supporting their fellow-professionals in their biblical ministry in their workplaces (‘7/5/46' or more out of the 24/7/52).

Christians of the future

Primary and secondary teachers should be educated in the scholarly disciplines crucial to the understanding of human development - child, adolescent, adult and the old.  Arguably the process of teaching does not constitute an academic discipline, as distinct from the discipline of what is being taught, even though training of school-teachers has been the basis for setting up academic Departments or Faculties of Education. The reading and writing of scholarly books and ‘lectures' (nowadays TV programmes) has always been part of an original scholar's stock in trade for passing on the culture to all ages. It not clear that the training even of primary school teachers should be hived off from the undergraduate study of child development, including growth in understanding of maths, language, science, the arts, religion or whatever.  Indeed, several UK university psychology departments started in a Faculty of Education, and child psychology has been dominant where that Faculty has concerned itself with the learning processes rather than management of the school system.

Each church member a Bible user

            In the century before there was universal elementary education and general literacy, the churches ran Sunday Schools to teach reading, writing and arithmetic alongside biblical thinking and living.  In the 21st century, university undergraduate education is available to all who can benefit from it (and believe that they will be able to afford the expense then and later).  So the churches should now be running anytime classes (with full support over the internet) to bring all who want up to FE standard (e.g., A-Level) in educated reading of the Bible for use in their working and domestic life, whether or not they expect to go into (or already have been in) Post-16 education (FE or HE), or left school some decades ago.

Each Christian graduate a Bible student

The desire for a Christian university shows a lack of trust in Christian parents and their vows at the dedication or baptism of their infants.  It presupposes that children in Christian families and members of Christian youth groups reach adulthood uneducated in the faith.  Those from Christian families and young people's activities who spend their late teens and early twenties supposedly protected from the dangers of exploration of the frontiers of human thinking can only become parents and youth leaders who further infantilise the next generation of church members.

Rather, the churches should run courses wherever suitable (also with internet support), or supervise teaching by academic scholars of the Christian scriptures, to bring anyone who wants to the level of a bachelors graduate in study of the Bible and application to all of their own lives.

Each church Pastor a partner to mission by members

Church leaders as a whole in the UK should recognise that the longstanding small minority is now changing to a majority of members who are graduates and professionals.  These are, or should be, in full-time Christian ministry outside the churches and other Christian organisations.  They are serving the Lord on the mission field at work, in the home and among the sports clubs and other leisure groups.  Their primary vocation is not personal evangelism, nor even explicit witness to their faith in Christ.  The purpose of a Christian in employment is certainly not mainly to earn money to keep Sunday services and other meetings going in buildings confined to religious uses.  Jesus has called them to be light and salt, healers and disciplers with no less authority to teach the Bible to any age or either gender than those who have studied academic theology and been licensed to preach.

Since the pastors employed by the churches of all types - from C of E clergy and Non-Conformist ministers to senior elders of the Brethren and the new churches -  have so many members who are fellow graduates in Christian service outside the church organisation, a minister now needs undergraduate education and placement training in some of those other areas of working life, just as schoolteachers need academic and professional graduateness in the subjects that they teach to children (9).

UCCF (IVP) has worked hard and with considerable success to produce books for undergraduates that take a Christian approach to the discipline of their studies.  However there is a dearth of literature for Christian graduates in what a movement for evangelising students must regard as something of an ‘afterlife'.  The exception is

books produced by ordained and lay theologians (e.g. Apollos).  Yet this is quite insufficient because only ordained ministers and teachers of religious knowledge in schools have a professional commitment that requires a theological education.  The other professions need postgraduate education and training in their own areas, with graduateness in Bible being sufficient.  Evangelicals are failing to lift up their eyes and see the fields white ready for harvest in the 21st century.

David Booth

David Booth’s university personal page is at http://psychology-people.bham.ac.uk/people/david.booth which includes an email contact address

C-A-N- do

            The thesis of this paper of course goes to the nub of the Christian Academic Network. All the above applies to the Christian staff in their diverse roles within our universities and colleges.  In particular it bears on those in the academic profession(s) of creating innovative research, sound scholarship, inspirational teaching, effective training, successful enterprise and good public service, within the traditional disciplines and increasingly across them.  On this analysis, the workers over C-A-N- have two primary duties.

(i)                 Cultivate the scholarly practical bases for professional training of graduate Christians to spread the Gospel around all people-groups, particularly in the types of work into which British and overseas graduates currently mostly go.  This means publishing original research in peer reviewed single-discipline or multidisciplinary journals and books, showing the relevance to that area of research, professional thinking and undergraduate education to the academic's individual faith basis, be it atheistic humanism, liberal unitarianism, biblical Christianity, scholarly Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism.

(ii)               Run the best university or college Staff Christian Group in the UK and/or run the best research group with Christian leadership in the world in microbiology, Persian literature or whatever.  In the workwise magazine for July 2005, Mark Greene of LICC writes of "the best law firm in Birmingham" created by Anthony Collins "who broke all the rules ... with a ‘pray and serve' ethos."  To facilitate local activities by campus staff, the CAN LT is considering a proposal that C-A-N-‘s support of ‘local groups' function within the Forum for Christian Workplace Associations as a CWA for HE.

Notes

(1) This title is inspired by the name of a little book by Joe Church that was well known in evangelical circles in the mid-20th century.  It is a guide to serious study of the Bible written by a charismatic leader of the East Africa (‘Ruanda') Revival of that era.  Dipping into it provoked me to start on the series of lengthier guides of that era in Britain, Search the Scriptures, and to move on to consulting professional commentaries (conservative and modernist), learning some NT Greek and using Hebrew and Greek transliterations to dip into theologians' discussions of Old and New Testament text.  That amateur coursework before and after my first undergraduate studies (in the sciences) shapes my understanding and use of the Bible in public and private to this day. 

(2) This paper is a comment on The idea of a Christian University. Essays on Theology and Higher Education, edited by Jeff Astley, Leslie Francis, John Sullivan and Andrew Walker (Paternoster Press, 2004).  However it is far from accidental that these remarks also provide a personal ‘take' on the Christian Academic Network, based in the UK and its universities (HE) and colleges (FE & HE). 

(3) As it happens, the Romans' Ultima Thule may have been (northern) Britain (or beyond): clearly this included Lancaster even if not the barbarians north of Hadrian's Wall. { :-))

(4) The biblical bases for Christians operating in the research, enterprise and teaching of the universities are of course far wider than just the call to mission.

First, the people of God have no territory; nevertheless, Christ is King of all. Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a city on a hill that lights up the countryside at night.  By day in normal times, the ‘city' is not a fortress under siege but a bustling market of goods and ideas, open to all who act civilly. Paul exploited the city (and even its prison) for meetings where he could get his oral publications peer-reviewed and widely cited. He probed soft spots like an altar to the unknown god, used academic jokes like the Cretan's paradoxical claim to be lying and plunged into hot religio-scientific controversy about whether the dead rise or not. The monastic tradition out of which the first universities grew, while open to corruption, was a house of prayer but also a base for service to God among local people, providing employment, nutritious food, safe drink and spiritual comfort - while being largely independent of the hierarchy of the church.  Jesus taught his followers to be salt permeating the dough.  He urged them to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves - right in the thick of this wicked world, while not of it.

            Secondly, any notion of a Supreme Being carries the implication that this God is truth.  Yet no human being possesses God and so we must listen out for God to speak if we are to have any chance of approaching truth.  The most likely media for the voice of God tell us that God spoke and everything came into being.  This is a religious basis for the realist ontology: there is one reality sustained by God, including all the many types of causal process through which God operates. 

Truth is not part of this creation, except as the Word made flesh.  That happened only in one place and time and we have only the writings of witnesses the life, death and resurrection of the Jews' Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (in Galilee of the Gentiles), and the diverse groups of people who claim to be his followers - indeed to be the community which is his continuing embodiment in this mortal life.  There were few writings left three centuries after Jesus Christ on earth but 27 of them, with the Jewish scriptures, were recognised to be sufficient of God's word to guide humanity through time by leaders of the Church convened by the converted Roman emperor.  Thus our access to truth is through a literal book about the Incarnation and Resurrection and the metaphorical book of the Creation.  Neither is God; they are what God speaks through human mediators; we have to listen and to use all the resources to hand to try to understand what God is saying.  This is the critical epistemology of the universities.

(5) This critique is often formulated in terms of the secularity of the contemporary universities.  In my view, the term "secular university" must be resisted, on two main counts.  First, the distinction between religious and secular is a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, contemporary understanding of the term "secular" is riddled with the errors of the humanistic foundationalism of the Enlightenment and of Modernism and the self-stultifying relativism of Post-Modernist reactions that arise from ignoring the achievements of the critical realist epistemology and ontology emerging from the thinking of the later Wittgenstein, Lakatos and others, with expositors such as WW Bartley and Bakhsar.

(6) The search for a specific idea, such as that of research, is not eased by an unscholarly lack of an index to the book.  The word ‘research' does occur on page 68, but merely as a passing acknowledgement of another function of a university besides (undergraduate) teaching - a somehow Christian pedagogy at the university level being the chapter's topic (which, by the way, the authors themselves at one point call a "phantasy" (?phantasm ?fantasy)).

(7) To the best of my information, this is not how Liverpool Hope University operates.

(8) It might be noted that there is an analogous truism about personal evangelism.

(9) We seem to need a National Commission on Church Staff Qualifications & CPD.  It is far from self-evident in principle that the clergy who are academic theologians should run education and training for the ordained ministry.  Other graduate professions now train their practitioners by coordination between national professional societies (in this case it would need to be across denominations) and the mainstream university departments of the relevant academic disciplines.  If holy orders or, more broadly, the Christian pastorate is to become a senior profession again, then like medics and psychologists, for example, ordination to such ministry within the church should require a Professional Doctorate in Christian mission or qualifying as a Fellow of a national College of Christian Ministers, in either case including education and training (or prior experience) in the support of graduates in two or three other professions in their calling to that mission field, not just education in theology and training in pastoral ministries.  From what has happened in other professions, the training colleges run by clergy and/or theologians are unlikely to move rapidly or far enough in this direction without church members, trainers in other professions and academics in other disciplines that are directly applicable to work within the churches exerting an influence that cannot be resisted.  The usual model is the emergence of a national validation body, which includes doctoral leaders in other relevant professions and accredits the standards and range (not content) of academic curricula, the professional quality of practitioner training and the scholarly basis of career-long learning ("continuous professional development").  Since such a process would have to be interdenominational, representatives of the most important extradenominational Christian groups should consult with prominent laity in each part of the church and with the councils of theological colleges.  The chair of such a National Commission could perhaps be a former VC or a senior professor of Philosophy. 

Revised on 9 & 13 September 2005

Comment on the Idea of a Christian University: Andrew Basden

Date: 06/09/2005 By: Andrew Basden

The following is a comment on the book "The Idea of a Christian University", intended for the 2005 annual conference of the U.K. Christian Academic Network. References to the book are in bold, and on the web version I have created hyperlinks for those who wish to investigate further.

1. The Missing Stream of Thinking
There is a very significant stream of thought about the idea of a Christian University that is not represented in this book. It is a stream that has taken seriously the idea of Christian engagement with the secular world and has been trying to work out the idea of a Christian approach to scholarship and of a Christian University for 100 years. It has in fact established a major University that is Christian in orientation, not just in origin (a distinction emphasised by Walker and Wright (ch.4, p.57)). It has tried to work out why and whether a Christian orientation is possible, what a Christian orientation is, how a Christian orientation relates to and might engage with secular thinking, and how this Christian orientation might work itself out in the curriculum of the University (which is the topic discussed in Part II of the book). It might not yet have been fully successful in all of these, but it does at least present us with both a body of carefully argued thought and discourse and a concrete example that can inform our own debates about the idea of a Christian University. It is therefore a shame that this stream of thinking is almost completely absent from this volume.

The missing stream is usually known as Dutch Neo-Calvinism, which was given impetus in the early 1900s under the charismatic inspiration of the Dutch genius and statesman, Abraham Kuyper. The Christian University it instituted is the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) of Amsterdam. Since then, a number of other Christian academic institutions have also been established with a similar orientation, including the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto and, partially, Redeemer College in Ontario. The West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies also seeks to develop and work out this orientation and has become a recognised educational body. The thought in this stream has been taken further by various philosophers, including Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd, whom G.E. Langemeyer, the Dutch jurist, a humanist, described as "the most original philosopher Holland has produced, even Spinoza not excepted."

The shame is that this stream of thought was blocked from coming into Britain by the stubborn refusal of some well-known evangelicals of the 1960s to give it a fair hearing, and it was distorted when it went to the USA by such figures as Van Til and Rushdoony, and used to fuel their antitheticalism.

2. Why the Missing Stream is Relevant
But why is it a shame that this stream is missing? Why might it be relevant and worthy of consideration? Because it provides a wider view and can cope with the diversity and coherence we experience without reducing it.

In chapter 3, Thiessen (p.42) suggests "A reconciliation of the legitimate insights of both modernism and postmodernism will lead to a balanced view of academic freedom ..." But this presupposes that, between them, mo and pomo contain "the whole truth" (at least as far as academic freedom etc. are concerened), as though they are symmetrically placed around a centre that is Truth.

But mo and pomo are of the last couple of centuries. If we take a longer-term perspective, we can see that both come from the same root, the so-called Nature-Freedom Ground-Motive (NFGM), which has been a spiritual driving force of Western thinking for the past 500 years. It itself arose from the ashes of the Nature-Grace Ground-Motive (NGGM), which informed mediaeval Roman Catholic and Scholastic thought from around 500 to 1500 AD, and this in turn arose from an attempt to synthesize the Greek (Pagan) Motive of Form-Matter (FMGM) with the Hebrew (Biblical) Motive of Creation-Fall-Redemption (CFRGM). While the CFRGM is integrative the other three tend to be dualistic-dialectical (material is opposed to mental under FMGM, sacred to secular under NGGM and control to freedom under NFGM). From this longer perspective, we can see that modernism and postmodernism may be seen as adhering to the presupposed opposing poles of the NFGM.

The missing stream I speak of has argued the inescapable effects of ground-motives on thinking, as somethng deeper even than some of what we call world views. No true and self-consistent Christian world view or Christian approach to scholarship or academic life can arise from a dialectical ground-motive (not even the NGGM). They must be developed from the CFRGM, by working out the philosophical (and not theological) implications of createdness, fallenness and the possibility of redemption. This is what Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd and others tried to do. They tried to work out what a Christian philosophy would be like, a Christian world view, a Christian approach to science and knowledge, a Christian approach to theoretical thought, a Christian approach to education and curriculum. The Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam was designed around this approach.

3. What the Missing Stream Might Tell Us
Dooyeweerd"s philosophical working-out of the implications of createdness is particularly comprehensive, and may be summarised as:

In our everyday living we experience diversity and coherence.

Over the past 2,500 years, we have taken a theoretical attitude in trying to understand this. But our very theoretical attitude is based on, and driven by, supra-theoretical presuppositions, the ground-motives. The operation of the three dialectical ground motives have invariably led theoretical thought into antinomies and other problems.

For example, NFGM presupposes the world "just is" (whether this be external to us or of our own construction). If we make this presupposition, it is very difficult to account for diversity that coheres. Diversity is to do with irreducible aspects that cannot be reduced to each other. Coherence is when the aspects all happen to point in the same direction and reinforce each other, rather than conflict with and destroy each other. The more aspects we allow in our thinking, the lower the chance that they will cohere. As a result, all philosophy that is driven by NFGM tends to "disallow" the possibility of diversity that coheres, and there is always pressure to reduce the number of aspects (usually with an uncritical appeal to Occam"s Razor): materialists reduce to the physical aspect (see below), mind-body dualists, to the physical and psychical, interpretivists to the lingual, and so on.

If, by contrast, we presuppose that the Cosmos is created, then by definition, created diversity is likely to cohere. So philosophy is no longer constrained by the need to reduce the number of irreducible aspects. Dooyeweerd, therefore, retained the freedom to consider the nature of diversity and coherence and to consider what aspects there may be. He explored 15 of them, with irreducibly distinct meanings (related to: amount, continuous extension, movement, energy, vitality, sense and feeling, distinction, formative power, symbolic signification, social interaction, frugality, harmony, due, self-giving love, and pistis (faith and vision of who we are)), each of which is intertwined with all the others.

Given a diversity of aspects, he had material for considering what aspects are, and concluded they are spheres of law and meaning, constituting a "law side" of reality that enables the entire cosmos to be and occur in a variety of ways. From this he devised radically interesting theories of being, normativity, law, time, knowledge, etc.

Concerning the last (knowledge), each aspect is the nucleus for a distinct scientific area; science may be seen as the human activity of exploring the laws of a particular aspect (e.g. physical, psychological, social). Each aspect has its own distinctly appropriate research questions, attitudes, conceptual frameworks and methodologies, which should not be imposed on other aspects.

This insight may be used to inform debate about various issues of the university, for example:

Academic freedom, with which chapter 3 is concerned. For example, it is inappropriate to (a) impose methods from physical sciences on social science (e.g. positivism), (b) impose a faith stance (commitments) onto biology (e.g. creationism or evolutionism) (c) impose the attitude of critical distance enabled by the analytic aspect of distinction on theology (which is what the AAUP seems to have done, p.35). Curriculum structure, with which Part II is concerned. It seems reasonable to propose that each faculty of a university centres on a particular aspect - faculties of mathematics, physical sciences, psychical sciences, linguistics, social science, aesthetics, law, faith and so on - together with a faculty of philosophy, which considers the inter-aspect relationships. And within those faculties, teach and research the laws and entities of the aspect, though always in the context of all others.


Study of universals, which Newman held to be important (ch. 5). Universals are found in the law side (the aspects) and so studying the aspects is the study of universals.

Life: "Christian scholarship will concern itself not merely with "what" is known but also with "how" it becomes a life in us." (ch.6, p.107). Dooyeweerd"s philosophy is rooted in everyday living (the lebenswelt), and heals the breach between Is and Ought that Kant and others forcibly imposed on our thinking.

4. Experience of the Missing Stream
My own experience of this missing stream has been very fruitful in the interdisciplinary field of information systems, which includes areas as diverse as the nature of computers and information, the shaping of technologies, the development of systems for human use, the usage of such systems, and the information society that shapes our lives - that is, both technological and social areas. In each area I have found that, with this approach, extant secular theories may be:

  • enriched rather than rejected
  • critiqued immanently, rather than either uncritically accepted or subjected to unfair criticism
  • seen as insight, rather than as either truth or error
  • understood and affirmed as to its concepts, rather than treated as irrelevant
  • healed of some of its problems
  • given a philosophical basis that underpins its central thrust more appropriately.

What I have found myself doing is to "transplant" each theory from the relatively sterile soil of the Nature-Freedom (and sometimes Matter-Form) Ground-Motive to the more fertile soil of that of Creation-Fall-Redemption, thus enabling the theory to blossom and bear more fruit.

Andrew Basden, 28 August 2005.

Reflections particularly on chanpter 11 & 15: John Wolffe

Professor John Wolffe, Faculty of Arts, The Open University, Walton Hall,

Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It seems useful briefly to set my comments in an intellectual autobiographical context. My first degree and my doctorate are both in History, although my postgraduate research took me into areas that are very much in the borderlands of History and Theology. I then taught for five years in a History Department, at the University of York, before being appointed to the staff of the Open University as Lecturer in Religious Studies in 1990. When I was promoted to a Chair early last year I was particularly pleased that it at last became possible to reflect the actual scope of my academic interests in my formal job title, which is now Professor of Religious History.

So I see myself as very much an interdisciplinary person, and I operate in an institution and a faculty that has a strong tradition of interdisciplinary teaching, which I find enormously enriching. I am also proud not to be a theologian, the more so after reading Gavin D'Costa's stimulating chapter on ‘the Babylonian captivity of theology in the secular university'! I very much agree with D'Costa's analysis in his exposure of the ways in which Theology, in order to retain some kind of validity as an academic discipline in secular universities  has sacrificed its claims to teach an integrated Christian world view and has become simply ‘a study of texts that are concerned with religious matters'. It is for that reason, among others, that I personally steer clear of Theology as an academic discipline, not like secular colleagues, because it seems too much concerned with Christianity, but because it is not Christian enough.

Where I part company with D'Costa though is in his subsequent argument that Religious Studies, which has grown up alongside Theology since the 1960s, is primarily secular and reductionist. I strongly believe that the objectivity in the study of religion that the discipline strives for can actually cut both ways, in exposing the problems and limitations of secularism and secularity as well as in refusing to accord any prima facie validity to Christian truth claims. Academic Religious Studies asks key questions that churches are not always good at asking for themselves - why do churches grow and decline? Is our society inexorably becoming more secular? How do we reach a dispassionate understanding of the place of Islam in the contemporary world? Religious Studies is also an inherently interdisciplinary discipline. It draws for example on history, anthropology, sociology, literature and philosophy.  In that sense it leads us to a wider and holistic view of the world that would seem consistent with Christian teaching. From a Christian faith perspective there will indeed be issues that Religious Studies does not address sufficiently explicitly, but I firmly believe that it can be a servant rather than an enemy of the church.

This leads me to chapter 15, William Kay's treatment of interdisciplinary perspectives. There is again much that I like in this chapter, particularly his careful distinction between the institutional and more strictly intellectual dimensions of interdisciplinarity. We are all I suspect familiar with situations where organizational boundaries are a barrier to collaboration with colleagues working in closely related areas. On other other hand, as Kay points out, true interdisciplinarity raises much greater intellectual challenges and opportunities, particularly when one is operating at an interface where rules and criteria do not yet exist. Here, he suggests, there is a real opportunity for Christians constructively to shape academic agendas.

Kay's argument here very much chimes with my own thinking. I am convinced that a key way forward for Christian worldview thinking is an interdisciplinary one. In most, if not all of our disciplines, the limits and rules of enquiry have been set by primarily secular thinking, which implicitly preclude asking the bigger questions that cut across disciplines. Here it may well become possible to introduce Christian perspectives while retaining an appropriate degree of academic rigour. To offer an analogy: in finding someone to service our car, most of us would be more concerned about whether we were employing  a good mechanic that whether or not he was a good Christian. However if commissioning somewhat to draw up an integrated transport policy for a whole city or country, we might well feel that there were distinctively Christian perspectives and outlooks that could legitimately and usefully be advanced. In the same way it seems unrealistic or perhaps even rather silly to look for Christian approaches in the nuts and bolts of academic life, but we should surely be trying to articulate a wider Christian worldview that transcends and illuminates this kind of detail.

I think Kay is though too cautious in his hopes for interdisciplinarity. He writes (p.256) that ‘interdisciplinary study between physics and literature fails to function.' That is a fair judgement on the status quo, and on the very different subject matter of the two disciplines in question. However, in a Christian context, might there not be useful conversations to be had between physicists and literary scholars on how we understand and interpret physical phenomena in creation? Might not a Christian understanding combine the insights of scientists and poets? As a starting point for such a discussion what about Joseph Addison's great hymn, first published in 1712?

            The spacious firmament on high,
            With all the blue ethereal sky,
            And spangled heavens, a shining frame,

            Their great Original proclaim.

            The unwearied sun from day to day
            Does his Creator's power display,

            And publishes to every land
            The works of an almighty hand.

I am not sure whether or not I would want to advocate a Christian university in an institutional sense. While it is a noble vision, it could also easily become an introverted and self-indulgent one. I have taught in secular universities for twenty years, and although I often struggle ‘through a glass darkly' to see, much less to express, a Christian viewpoint, I believe such environments are an invaluable stimulus and discipline as well as a constraint. I am however a convinced advocate of the value of sustained intellectual exploration and conversations among Christian academics, both as a means of strengthening our collective witness to Christ, but also of serving our academic disciplines through the distinctive perspectives and insights we can offer.