By Dr. Eric Johnson
The Apostle Paul referred to Jesus Christ as “the Beginning, the first-born from the dead” (Col. 1:15). That’s because in Christ’s resurrection God initiated the long-promised new creation (Isa. 66:22) in which all that had gone wrong in the first creation was—mysteriously—redeemed and resolved, and a new way of life—in relation to God—was established. Since then, God has been inviting human beings through the gospel to follow Christ into the new creation (Rom. 10:8-13; 2 Cor. 5:17), to get raised from the dead of their sin (Eph. 2:1-6), created anew in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10), and enabled to become increasingly new persons (Eph. 4:22-2; Col. 3:9-10), as they co-author with Christ a new story through a renewal of their understanding, feeling, and relating to others. Nowhere on earth is there greater potential to realize the new creation than at a Christian university. Most undergraduate students are at an age when they can personally lay down a Christ-centered foundation for their lives that they can build upon thereafter. Graduate students have the opportunity to make their Christian faith more integral to their vocation or pursue a new vocation for God’s glory and their own joy. Setting the stage for such personal transformation is the prayerful study, research, dissemination and teaching of the faculty, which advances the new creation by taking every discipline, more and more, captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). For this to happen, the Christian university needs to open itself up to Christ afresh, in every era, seeking from him ongoing renewal of its educational activity and curricula. But this task has become especially difficult in our era.
The Secular Revolution and the Modern University
According to Christian sociologist Christian Smith, a “secular revolution” began in the late 1800’s in the West, and by 1950 all of America’s major universities were thoroughly secularized. As a result, reference to the living God who created and ordered the universe, and who now offers salvation to humanity, is not permitted there. The only worldview allowed expression in the modern university is some kind of secular humanism, which affirms the existence of nothing beyond the material universe.
The Christian community, therefore, has a tremendous need today for its own institutions of higher learning, where the light of the new creation is allowed to illuminate human understanding, affections and practice. However, two daunting problems have faced the Christian community for the past 150 years: 1) how to develop new-creation versions of all the disciplines, when secular humanism sets the academic standards in our day, and 2) how can faculty members be trained in new- creation education when secular universities offer the vast majority of doctorates they need to be appropriately credentialed.
Visioning the Christian University According to the New Creation
Such tasks far exceed the capacities of any single institution and will require the efforts and resources of the entire Christian community. But there is no hope of that happening apart from the spiritual power unleashed in the new creation that began in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 1:4; 2 Cor. 4:6). What would that look like?
The new creation, now, is found anywhere that hearts, minds and lives are being renewed by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:26; Rom. 12:1-2; Titus 3:5). This happens whenever God’s people see the way things really are in the universe and live accordingly. For example, that God is the ultimate source of everything good in the universe (James 1:17); that God’s glory (or His beauty) is being continuously manifested all around us (Ps. 19:1), from the farthest reaches of the universe to the activity of bacteria at the bottom of the ocean to the location of quantum particles in the Large Hadron Collider; and that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is ordering everything by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3); that all people are made in God’s image, and therefore always manifest some glory, and so, are to be valued and treated with a corresponding respect, regardless of their economic power, political persuasion, disabilities, or criminal record; that sex, gender, and family are a part of God’s loving design plan, and so display his glory, but so does our compassion for those saddled with a disordered sense of gender or sexual attraction; and that the world’s racial, ethnic, and national diversity just begins to illustrate the infinite beauty (or glory) of God. Most importantly, God’s glory is especially manifested in his people becoming more like him—more righteous, more loving, and more humble, in part because they’re better able to see, and repent of, their own hindrances to His glory.
Christian universities would seem to be the best place, after the Church, to enhance the ability of Christians to see all of reality spiritually, by training its participants (students and faculty) throughout the curricula how to grow in wonder and awe, more and more, throughout their lives, at the glory of God being manifested everywhere in the universe. For this to happen, in addition to the necessity of the Holy Spirit mentioned above, the Bible will also play a major role. As Dr. Sloan suggested in his introduction to the Ten Pillars 2030, the scriptures give Christians a set of what we might call “worldview- spectacles” that we need to re-vision the universe so we can see more of God’s glory, and to rightly interpret— according to the new creation—the knowledge, values, and practices coming out of modern universities. Some disciplines, of course, will rely more directly on Scripture than others, depending on how much the latter shines light on the former (e.g., the humanities and social sciences more than mathematics and computer science), but all the disciplines require an ongoing re-visioning, especially in our day. One implication of this is that all the departments of Christian universities would benefit from biblical, theological and Christian philosophical expertise and resources, to help them better critique the reigning assumptions of their disciplines and develop new-creation versions of those disciplines, insofar as a Christian worldview makes a difference, so the true glory that resides in them can be best discerned.
Where better to be schooled than a Christian university with a new-creation agenda. The Ten Pillars 2030 is an inspirational document that could serve as a manifesto for Christian higher education in the 21st century, and it offers HBU’s faculty, students and constituency a unique blueprint for how to realize the new creation on a university campus. Let’s go look for some glory, shall we?
About Dr. Eric Johnson
Dr. Eric Johnson is a Professor of Christian Psychology in the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and Asst. Director of the Gideon Institute of Christian Psychology and Counseling. He earned his BTh in Theology from Toronto Baptist Seminary & Bible College, an MA in Christian Studies from Calvin College, and an MA and PhD in Educational Psychology from Michigan State University. Johnson has edited, written or co-written five books and published over 50 peer-reviewed articles in psychology, theology, and a Christian approach to psychology. Before coming to HBU, he taught at University of Northwestern and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.