Jerusalem and Athens

Friday, November 19th, I attended Texas Wesleyan University’s Board of Trustees meeting (one of two universities where I serve as a Trustee).  It was a day of celebration as we elected Frederick G. Slabach the 19th President of the University and cut the ribbon on The Morton Fitness Center, a wonderful new facility.  I am impressed by the mission of TWU and its commitment to reach first generation college students with the opportunity for quality liberal arts education.  The Methodist mission to higher education is long and illustrious.  It is also currently an area of deep concern as we wrestle with the connection between church and higher education in this diverse age. Tertullian, the great early Christian theologian and apologist, around the turn of the 3nd century famously asked the question, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”  Such a revolutionary new way of living, being and thinking, the Christian faith burst on the scene as a rejection of human intellect and accomplishment.  Indeed, the Christian faith always is to some degree a critique on any culture in which it finds itself.  The claim that Christians are to be in the world but not of it is a staple of the faith.  With eloquence, I Peter 2:9-10 declares:  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,* in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[1] And yet deeply cored to the center of the Christian faith is the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”[2]  Note carefully, worship God with your mind.  Even as the Christian faith stands apart from culture, it is immersed in culture and seeks an understanding not only of God but of the created order itself.  Methodists in particular have lived out this conviction through the establishment of something like 87 universities and four-year colleges.  The mantra of Methodism with regard to higher education best comes from Charles Wesley’s hymn “Come, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  United the pair so long disjoin’d Knowledge and vital piety; Learning and holiness combined, And truth and love let all men see.[3]  Even as I celebrate with pride the accomplishments of TWU, the issue of just how Christian our colleges and universities are and how distinctly Christian they should be lingers.  Trite truisms don’t help.  Deep reflection, prayer and conversation is needed.
[1]               I Peter 2:9-10 [2]               Luke 10:26 [3]               Charles Wesley, “Come, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”