The Reformation of the University

From what sector of our population will a genuine Christian search for Biblically-directed reformation of our way of life emerge? That is a somewhat imponderable question. And here is another closely related question: How will the university, as a part of our life and experience, function in such a reformation?

As much as these questions seem rather speculative they nevertheless bring before us issues that do need to be thought about. Let us consider the place of students in our society, with special reference to those enrolled in the contemporary university.

In post-WWII Australia there was a general recognition among church-going Christians that the future of Christianity was very much in the hands of those who were able to enter universities to undergo professional training for public service and professional life. Would not this generation of students for whom church-going was still a regular part of daily life become an important stimulus to Christian renewal, make an impact upon church life, initiate Christian unity and bring a sense of Christian hope to civil society? These were the hopes that were still alive in Christian churches in this country up until the 1970s and 1980s. But such hopes have not been realised.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when church-going Christian parents had children heading off to university, there was a general sense of expectation of what their professional futures would bring to this country and to their churches. By contrast, these days it seems likely that there is no such heightened expectation – apart from an anxiety that such study will lead eventually to a sustainable future for their children and their “partners”, there is a prevailing sense of spiritual bewilderment.

One of the reasons for the lack genuine Christian leadership – in church life as much as in the wider public realm – is a chronic lack of awareness of the need for genuine and sustained, generation-to-generation Christian nurture. We have broached this already in our post Quizzing Nurturing Justice.

Here on this page we make available some documents that may give readers some historical background to our situation today.

The first is Sovereignty & the StudentUnion (1987) a series of 4 articles I wrote and had published in the Naked Wasp the student union newspaper when I was a lecturer in sociology at Chisholm Institute of Technology in 1987. This was addressing a context in which the Institute Council was putting significant constraints upon the student union that certainly had a wider political agenda that we did not fully appreciated at the time. This was just before the dissemination of parliamentary reports that signalled the nation-wide reforms that led to widespread amalgamations and the creation of multi-campus “enterprise universities”.

The second document Associative Disorders was a 1999 response to the legislative efforts of the Liberal Party in Government to make membership of university student associations voluntary. This simply confirmed the process of transformation universities from educative academies into academic businesses. For this to happen the “third side” of the academic “triangle” – depicted in the final pages of the 1987 series – has had to be dismantled under bogus “freedom of association” criteria.

A third document is the submission on the above mentioned Voluntary Student Unionism legislation I wrote at that time in my capacity as General Secretary for the Association for Christian Higher Education in Australia. [This was just a short while before ACHEA was constitutionally dismantled under pressure from denominational “niche-making” and no longer exists.]

Now I would also like to note, that the above articles I have linked to this post did not arise from an intellectual vacuum. They presuppose my own contact with and subsequent involvement in a student movement committed to a Biblically-directed revival of Christian scholarship. That movement goes by various names – these days it is known as reformational scholarship. It involves Christian scholars who are also aware of their political responsibilities to promote the development of a committed Christian democratic political movement across our South-West Pacific region with a long-term reformational perspective that not only seeks to comprehensively respect the full expanse of creation, but also proclaim that the work of Jesus Christ. “Him we proclaim” as the apostle Paul said “in order to nurture genuine human maturity blessed by God Himself.” This is indeed confessed by such “reformationals” to be about the full restoration of the image of God, male and female, in the heart of humankind that overcomes the idolatrous rebellion that challenges us on every side, including our deepest presuppositions when engaged in theory construction and hypothesis testing in our scholarship. All the various kinds of human responsibility have been successfully redeemed in Jesus Christ and hence our earthly work needs respect this God given endowment at the very basis of any vocational involvement, in whatever sphere of human society we are called to serve. In deed this is all about “All of Life Redeemed“. The views of Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) on the place of the university within the expansive domain of Christian scholarship are well worth careful consideration.

Nurturing Justice will also have to consider how the validity of student associations can be reaffirmed as an integral facet of the social life of science and scholarship. But a moment’s thought will also reveal that the aim of such a policy these days can not be to advocate a nostalgic restoration of some former state of affairs. Acting formatively in a political sense may suggest an alternative view of the future, but our aim can not be to return to the past! The structure of university education has been seriously distorted and any appeal to a “reformational world-view” should not ignore that fact. So if we are to nurture justice we are going to need deepened understanding of the structure and direction of our current political community in all of its facets, including the way in which our creaking parliamentary democracy now presupposes its connection with higher education malformed by its own idolatry of the free market.

Friday 25th September 2015 Updated Friday 6th November 2015.

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