Christian colleges need courage to seek justice, speakers say

(Photo / UCFFool / CC BY 2.0)

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GRAPEVINE—Christian colleges can provide a theological foundation for the justice issues that motivate today’s students—if the institutions have enough courage, the founder of The Justice Conference told Christian educators.

“Christian education is able to speak to the theology of justice,” said Ken Wytsma, president of Kilns College and lead pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, Ore.

Ben Leavitt (left), a graduate student at Baylor University, and Ken Wytsma, president of Kilns College, respond to questions during a breakout session at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities 2018 Forum. (Photo / Ken Camp)

Wytsma participated in a breakout session on “The Theology of Justice: Navigating Reconciliation in Global Society” during the Council for Christian College and Universities 2018 International Forum in Grapevine.

The rising generation cares deeply about social justice causes, and Christian educators can offer students a biblical basis and theological understanding “rooted in more than passion or experience,” he said.

Need for honest discussion

However, Christian institutions must be willing to speak honestly about sensitive issues, he added.

Wytsma, author of The Myth of Equality, described an incident when the chaplain at a Christian university invited him to speak on biblical justice. However, he said, the school’s president barred the use of the term “white privilege” in any chapel speech.

“We must not be afraid of justice,” Wytsma said, emphasizing justice as “a deeply theological concept” rooted in God’s character.

Christian institutions should value diversity, learn from and empathize with the experiences of low-income and minority students, and not surrender to fear, he stressed.

“Don’t see loss of privilege as oppression,” Wytsma said. “Step out of the fear space into faith space.”

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Counter-cultural or reinforcing social norms?

As part of the same session, Benjamin Leavitt, a graduate student at Baylor University, presented a historical examination of Christian higher education and social justice movements in the United States.

Leavitt provided two frameworks for interpreting how Christian colleges have approached their role in providing a distinctively Christian voice in the larger society.

Augustine’s imagery of the City of God versus the City of Man, particularly as applied by historian George Marsden, speaks to the responsibilities of dual citizenship in the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. Historian Mark Noll spoke of loyalty to special revelation that keeps Christian schools from surrendering to secularism and commitment to common grace that keeps them from narrow sectarianism.

“Looking back across their histories, Christian colleges and universities sometimes fought and other times nurtured harmful social norms,” Leavitt said, looking particularly at issues related to women’s rights, racial justice, war and environmentalism.

“In the everyday working out of their dual citizenships, some educators overvalued common grace, mistook the City of Man’s standards for gospel truth, and became part of the problem,” he said. “Yet when Christian higher education was at its best—when its reflection on special revelation led to selective counter-culturalism—it helped to improve American society.”

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