Higher education has taken a different shape in the past fifty years with the decline of modernity and the rise of post-modernism, which has resulted in a pluralistic worldview. In perhaps oversimplified terms, this means that virtually anyone can be an “authority” on anything. In a sense, education has become a free market society—all one has to do is start a blog or contribute to Wikipedia their voice and ideas are instantly being heard. The question is, how should Christians, especially Christian educators and institutions respond to this worldview? Should we simply buy in or should we seek to bring a Christian worldview to education? These are the types of questions that David S. Dockery attempts to answer in his work Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Higher Education.
The most respectable aspect of this work is the manner in which Dockery attempts to dismiss the false dichotomies that we set up. American’s are obsessed with time. We fill major portions of our day with school, jobs, activities, family, and friends. We compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives, and understandably so. When we are at work we are not acting as a father and when we are at home we do not act as an employee. The problem is, faith becomes another aspect of our lives that we compartmentalize. Dockery dismisses this by building a foundation of Christian faith, whereby everything else we do is viewed through a distinctively Christian lens. So, when we are at home we view duties within the home through the lens of our faith as well as duties at work. The same principle works in the realm of education. The primary goal of the educator is not simply to get students through the degree program, but to teach them how to think and act Christianly in their respective fields. If a student desires to be a dentist, Christian education should not only teach him the sciences, but also how a dentist is to think and act Christianly.
Simultaneously, Dockery attacks yet another dichotomy, namely, faith and practice. Too long Christians have separated these two, pointing at the messages of Paul and James as their reasoning. However, these two ideas are not opposed to each other. Neither Paul or James would discredit faith or works. They would simply argue that faith will necessarily bring about works and where works are absent, genuine faith is absent. A variance of this argument is seen in the realm of orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). The question has long been asked, which of these two is more important? Dockery claims that we should work on adding “both/and” into our vocabulary. We simply want to make everything either/or. This does not mean that some “either/or” questions do not exist. There is simply no room for either anti-intellectualism or the belief that education will fix everything. Dockery heavily presses on the absolute necessity for orthodox Christian belief; for example, the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ are nonnegotiable in the Christian faith. To neglect these or redefine them is to come up with some sort of pseudo-Christianity. As Christians seeking to be involved in Christian education, we must think rightly about God because only by thinking rightly can we practice rightly.
As seen in the subtitle of the book, the integration of faith and knowledge, which is the goal of Christian higher education, is for the purpose of serving the community. Another dichotomy that Christian’s tend to recognize is the sacred and secular. We often act as separatist, holding tightly to the command not to be “of the world,” but as a result end up neglecting those who are “of the world.” Dockery does not come out and say it but he does tend to lean towards the belief that there is no sacred/secular divide. The church exists to serve society, yet the idea of the “Lone Ranger” is evident in our culture. Christians are saved, not to hoard the grace that God has given them, but to be conduits of grace in a fallen world. For Christian education, this means training servant leaders who do not recognize the sacred/secular divide, but as ambassadors for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their social setting.
So the question becomes, “How do we accomplish this?” This can seem like some sort of utopia that exists only in the mind, or in perhaps in scattered, miniscule expressions. It begins with unity under a common confession, namely the Scriptures, the Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds. The High Priestly prayer in John 17 records Jesus praying that all the saints would be united. Looking at the church today, one can quickly assess that the unity that Christ prayed for is not yet a reality. As a matter of fact, we seem to be drifting further into autonomy as we force secondary issues into primary issues. Here Dockery is defining orthodoxy much like a playing field: there are boundaries and rules for the game but within those there is room to explore. This unity also points to the necessity for interdisciplinary Christian thinking. As previously stated, the priority for Christian education is to integrate faith and learning. As a Christian institution, it is vital to integrate a Christian worldview within various areas of study. Upon graduation, students should know exactly how faith applies to science, mathematics, economics, art, literature, history, and the various other subjects. It is by this integration that students learn how to think about their respective jobs in a distinctively Christian manner.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic primer on the necessity for Christian education to integrate faith and knowledge. This book would be helpful for someone within any field of study, although it does not gives specifics on every field of study, Dockery provides a bibliography in the last chapter that seeks to encourage interdisciplinary study. A shift in thinking is absolutely necessary in the realm of Christian education if we are going to fulfill the great commission and be conduits of grace in our various respective fields. Renewing Minds is thoroughly biblical, thought provoking, and passionate and is a great read for anyone involved in Christian education.