During our teacher in-service last week, Dr. Stephen Livingston, our Head of School, asked the faculty this question: “Why are Christian schools afraid of academic greatness?”
The question assumes, of course, that Christian schools do indeed possess such a fear. I think that Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind as well as numerous observations and studies on the nature of Christian education (specifically, the desire of the community to shelter its students from alternative points-of-view while inculcating them into their own community) point to the dearth of top-notch intellectualism in Christian schools, especially those of an evangelical bent.1
So, let’s accept Dr. Livingston’s premise and move on.2
To understand why Christian schools might be afraid of academic greatness, I think it’s necessary to reach into the collective psyche of the American evangelical movement and understand the divide between Protestants and Catholics.
I didn’t grow up in church, but I have learned over the last few years that many Protestant groups have a very negative opinion of Catholicism — some even deny that Roman Catholicism is “Christianity.” I wonder if this was really the intent of the reformers. Surely if we had Martin Luther here today, we’d be able to find some common ground between him and the Catholic church. Right?
This anti-Catholic sentiment has caused them to ignore a principle made famous by Augustine and then later by Thomas Aquinas:
All truth is God’s truth.
Whatever is true in the world, points to God. The source of that truth doesn’t matter — even if the devil speaks truth, it is still the truth.
After Dr. Livingston asked his question, I stood up and said something along these lines (I’m paraphrasing here):
I believe that many Christian schools fear academic greatness because they lack faith in the Truth. Many of these groups have built up walls of doctrine and dogma and worry that they are not really correct; they worry that if they allow anyone to shed light on it, it will be destroyed. In short, they fear the truth.
In reality, all truth is God’s truth — St. Augustine told us that some 1500 years ago. The source doesn’t matter. It could be the Bible or the rap lyrics of Eminem. If truth is present, then it points to God and can enhance our understanding.
We must lay open literature, science, mathematics, the arts, and even the Bible, and allow our students’ eyes to examine them critically and find the truth in them. We must separate the wheat from the chaff and allow untruthful ideas, no matter how closely we wish to cling to them, to be eradicated.
Honestly, if all truth is God’s truth, then we should not fear free inquiry neither as students nor as a faculty.3 Such a fear holds a school back from being academically great.
For the record, I don’t intend to use any Marshall Mathers tunes in my class this year.
Ummm…I may have polished that up a bit, but you get the idea, right?
- Allow me to offer this caveat: I am not indicting all Christian schools. However, the results of Christian fundamentalism have been intellectually disastrous and have left evangelical Christianity on the fringes of the academy — an academy that, at least until the late nineteenth century, evangelical Christianity held in the palm of its hand. ↩
- If you disagree with the premise, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below. ↩
- As Houston Christian High School moves closer to accreditation by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), the issue of free inquiry has come up frequently. Me? I’m all for it! ↩