Evangelicalism and Higher Education: New Topic at RespectfulConversation.net
Around TCF, we devote quite a lot of attention to the ways in which we can develop an “unanxious presence.” By this we mean simply the ability to live faithfully, trusting in God’s goodness and redemption. This does not mean that we ignore our worries or stifle our fears—but that we entrust these to God in such a way that we can live in freedom and peace in their very midst.
This theme surfaces repeatedly in RespectfulConversation.net’s topic for November: “Evangelicalism and Higher Education.” Professors, administrators, and church leaders write about ways in which they are working to sort out a healthy relationship between robust evangelical faith and the challenges of rigorous academic pursuit.
In the comments section of Sarah Ruden’s post, she describes the capacity of Christian students to resist the temptation of academic hubris, instead humbly acknowledging their human limitations:
[A] great strength in Evangelical institutions seems to be a student attitude along the lines of “I’m just a person, but God is God; so it doesn’t shatter me to admit when I’m wrong or need help.”
As these students acknowledge their dependence on God, they are freed up to take risks and admit their mistakes—their egos aren’t tied up in the obligation to get everything right. Ruden explains that in her experience at secular institutions, her students are less likely to exhibit this sort of “unanxious presence,” as they lack the robust foundation provided by a vibrant—and humble—faith.
On the administrative side, John Hawthorne provides a striking example of “unanxiousness” as well. Whereas the questions and challenges of young students can often be perceived as threats, he chooses to interpret these instead as gifts to the institution:
Christian universities need postmodern students because they will help us address the central questions these students have. This is not to provide them with easy answers but to enable them to engage the questions with the complexity the world sees. This means that Christian universities will have to wrestle with all of the difficult questions the broader society is wrestling with, maybe even wrestling harder and earlier than the rest of culture.
In a sense, Hawthorne explains, evangelical schools are equipped with the resources to lead our society in working through difficult cultural issues. And he suggests that among the key assets are students themselves: thoughtful, honest, and question-asking young people who can encourage their institutions to fearlessly engage academic and cultural challenges. It takes remarkable “unanxiousness” on the part of an administrator to invite students into such a role!
As we at TCF work to foster a sense of “unanxious presence,” we are grateful for these brothers and sisters who willingly engage difficult issues with humility and grace. Their embodied “unanxious presence” transforms potential conflicts into striking opportunities for the church and academy to pursue the Truth together.