What does the existence of a school like Valparaiso University mean for American education? That is the question I propose to discuss as we celebrate the graduation of these young men and women. And I intend to discuss it not as a Christian clergyman preaching a sermon nor as a theologian of the Christian Church lecturing on the dogmas of the Creed, though I am honored to serve in both these ministries, but as a graduate professor in a private university, who is concerned about the state of scholarship and learning in our land. The Church must be reminded over and over how much she needs higher education and what her obligations are to provide both support and freedom for colleges and universities. But my concern today is with the other phase of the alternating current between Church and University, and my thesis is that the higher learning needs the Church and the Christian university to assure that the life of the mind and spirit in America may go on hearing the whole truth. By "the whole truth" I do not mean now the doctrinal convictions that the Christian university shares only with the Church, but the educational outlook that the Christian university brings to the whole of the American academy.
The higher learning in America needs to hear the whole truth about the aim of a university: that the quality of a life, not just the earning of a living, is the primary concern of university education.
For generations of immigrants to the United States, the schools have been an escalator to social and economic success. Many a leader of American society is what he is because his hard working parents were determined that his lot in the world must be better than theirs. I am sure that many of these graduates owe their presence here today to sacrifices by mothers and fathers who looked upon a university education as the best possible legacy to give their children. In the same way, the heroic struggle of the American Negro to achieve at last the rights that have been theoretically his for a century is properly concentrated upon the schools, for the way to genuine emancipation lies through education. And those who are blocking the path to emancipation recognize correctly that once they lose control of their discriminatory school systems and colleges their whole wretched cause is doomed. Thus a college education is still the best way for individuals or groups to raise their social standing and their income.
Yet professional training and schooling for success can be futile and even demonic unless they are based upon that fullness of mind and wholeness of vision which are the results of truly humane learning. Our own lifetime has seen the specialists and scholars of Germany beguiled by ambitions of world conquest, and we have good reason to be afraid of any university system that can train specialists without making them citizens of the universitas, the universal realm of humane thought and discourse. Under attack now by another power ambitious for world conquest, we are sometimes tempted to suppose that the American answer to world Communism is the training of specialists, an even narrower and even earlier training than we have now. Such training, it is argued, will simultaneously strengthen the defense of the nation and enhance the prospects of the individual. After all, statistics do show that the lifetime income of the average college graduate is at least $100,000.00 more than that of the person who did not go to college. And so there is a cry for further specialization and for more vocational studies, and a demand that the colleges and universities do a more thorough job of teaching people to make a living.
In opposition to this demand, the Christian university has a special responsibility to cultivate a depth that is more than specialization and a breadth that is more than dilettantism. Christian higher education is the natural ally of those who contend that a basic part of the answer to Communism must be increased study of the liberal and liberating arts. The Christian understanding of man implies that the only specialist who can be trusted is one who has first learned to think clearly about the ultimate question of what it means to be human. For a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses, nor yet in the techniques he has learned for acquiring them, but in the qualities of mind and spirit that enable him to survive both adversity and prosperity — qualities that spring from the twin sources of Christian faith and liberal education. Only from liberal education can come the respect for man and his worth upon which our culture is founded. Only where a man is respected as an end in himself rather than a means can the specialization of the technician be rescued from manipulation. Therefore, the primary aim of education at the university ought to be this quality of life.
To make its special contribution to this cause, the Christian university will have to formulate a Christian doctrine of enjoyment. The opening question of The Shorter Catechism was: "What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever." The enjoyment of God, the fruitio Dei of which St. Augustine sang, as a direct corollary of central Christian dogmas like the Trinity and is a special motif of the Book of Psalms. It means that a basic element of the life in God is the joyful sharing in the goodness of the world and in the richness of what man has been able to discover and to dream. If the Christian doctrine of creation is true, then — in a sense far more profound than Terence knew — nothing human can be alien to me. Students who attend the Christian university are being swindled out of their inheritance if they are permitted to graduate without knowing the zest of such enjoyment, regardless of how they eventually earn their groceries. Thank God, the Christian university is not alone in its dedication to this aim. Sometimes, in fact, the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light, so that the Christian university has had to relearn this ancient Christian truth from non-churchly sources. But learn it we must, or the whole truth about the quality of human life will be lost.
The higher learning in America needs to hear the whole truth about the mystery of teaching: that the function of the teacher is to make his students outgrow him.
There is no tyranny more oppressive than that of the authoritarian professor — unless it be the feudal autocracy of some department heads. But more insidious is the tyranny of the teacher who is interested in disciples rather than pupils, who seeks to be imitated rather than transcended, and who is so sure of the correctness of his ideas that he can evaluate all his students on the basis of their obedience to his opinions rather than on the basis of their judgment and maturity. My own field of theology has not lacked for such teachers, who have compounded the tyranny by identifying their notions with the Word of God and thus equating their authority with the sovereignty of God. Yet no field of study is free of this temptation, and no college or university can afford to relent in its vigil against the tyranny of the pedagogue.
The Christian university has a special reason to demand that its teachers point beyond themselves, for it is committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Because only One is our Master, even Christ, and all of us are merely His disciples, or at least try to be, no teacher has the right to usurp that prerogative. In the truly Christian university there is, of course, a recognition of the fundamental distinction between the teacher and the learner. Christian community in the university does not imply the sort of fuzzy-minded egalitarianism that dissolves the very structure of the educational process for the sake of "being pals." But Christian community does mean that the distinction between the teacher and the learner, although necessary, is finally relative under the kingship of Him who is Lord of all. And it means that the teacher teaches as one who goes on studying. He inducts the novice into the community of thought and inquiry, so that the pupil may go on to be a student and begin studying for himself.
Please permit me one brief theological digression: because it is the function of the teacher to make his students outgrow him, it follows that Jesus Christ cannot be merely our teacher. For the definition of Christian maturity is growth into Christ, to the measure of the stature of His fullness. Therefore He is our Lord and our Savior, because by the sacrifice of His Cross and by the power of His resurrection He has reconciled us to the Father and by the gift of His Spirit He incorporates us into Himself through the Church, which is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. In that Church we are members one of another, different though our functions may be; but only He is the Head of the body, from whom the members, individually and together, receive their direction. As a teacher, I must work to obliterate myself; Christ is He through whom we are united with the Father, and therefore He is more than a teacher. When I teach, I teach of Another; but when He teaches, He teaches of Himself and of the Father with whom He is one in the life of the Blessed Trinity.
The Christian university, then, lives in the lordship of Christ, in whose service is perfect freedom. Thus it liberates its professors from the onerous responsibility of being right every time. It is no tragedy for a teacher to be mistaken. It is a tragedy if he is so afraid of being mistaken that he refuses to take chances, or if he imagines that his office has endowed him with infallibility. Against such phoniness the present generation of students have been inoculated by the adventures of Holden Caulfield, as ours was by the cynicism of H. L. Mencken. But the Christian university ought to be even more devasting than Salinger or Mencken in its attack upon posturing of teachers who refuse to be "transparent to the ground" of their teaching. And in the Christian university the professor ought to know the freedom and fulfillment that come from an honest and modest definition of his task. It is a shock to every generation of parents and professors to discover that their children have gone beyond them to new insights and knowledge. Even in the natural sciences a theory can become a dogma in a frightening hurry, in fact, just in time to be overthrown by new research and new hypotheses. No one is immune to such tyranny, but the university is pledged to a view of life and of knowledge which should not be surprised if students do outgrow their teachers in order to be outgrown by their students in turn. For this process is part of the mystery of teaching, in which the life of the Christian university is privileged to share. It is also part of the whole truth of creation and the fall, which both celebrates the possibilities and recognizes the limitations of the human mind in its search for knowledge.
The higher learning in America needs to hear the whole truth about the dimensions of genuine sophistication: that there is more reality than the here and now, and that the style of true education depends upon a renewal of tradition.
Whatever else a college or university ought to do, it should provide its students with a sophisticated perspective on their own time and their own culture. It should teach them to appreciate what they have, but to put it into context, especially into the context of the past. Sophistication is usually defined as the very antithesis of tradition. When this happens, students are prevented from developing the style of the truly educated man, which can come only through a renewal of tradition. They have been deprived of the great discovery that the past and the present, far from being opposites, actually require each other for completeness. The thrill of that discovery has perhaps never been stated as persuasively as by Gilbert Chesterton (Orthodoxy, Image Edition, New York 1959, p. 79):
"And then followed an experience impossible to describe. It was as if I had been blundering about since my birth with two huge and unmanageable machines, of different shapes and without apparent connection — the world and the Christian tradition. I had found this hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world — it had evidently been meant to go there — and then the strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery falling into place with a kind of click of relief. Having got one part right, all the other parts were repeating that rectitude, as clock after clock strikes noon. Instinct after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary the metaphor, I was like one who had advanced into a hostile country to take one high fortress. And when that fort had fallen the whole country surrendered and turned solid behind me. The whole land was lit up, as it were, back to the first fields of my childhood."
Seen in this relation to the modern world, tradition is a power for liberation, setting us free from the dictatorship of the claim that our time, our culture, our school, and our ideas are the goal toward which history has been moving. For the Christian university, this renewal of tradition is the only way to find an intelligible connection between the faith it professes and the teaching and research it fosters. Tradition in this sense is the very opposite of the traditionalism that uses the dead theories of the past as a club to beat down all creativity in the present. Authentic tradition is a function of the critical memory and the creative imagination. It is an organism getting out of itself in order to see itself. Only that man is truly educated who has learned this art. Only that school is a Christian university which protects itself against both traditionalism and icono-clasm through the renewal of the tradition of Christian faith, thought, worship, and service. It seems to me that the Christian university can perform no more vital service for the higher learning in America than to show in its concrete life that such a renewal of tradition is the indispensable counterpart of free scholarly and scientific inquiry. If it muffles free inquiry by a false appeal to tradition or if it dismisses tradition as a museum piece, both the Church and our culture will be impoverished and the whole truth will not be heard.
The thousands of students receiving degrees from Christian colleges this month are a smaller proportion of the total graduating class of this year than they have ever been before. There are, I suppose, more Lutherans graduating from one or another of the state universities here in the Middle West than from Valparaiso University. Indeed, the percentage of students receiving diplomas from all private colleges and universities is steadily declining. These statistics have implications for all of American life and for the life of the Church. They mean that the Christian university cannot be content to act as an academic babysitter while the exciting thought and work in education goes on elsewhere. Nor can it assume the negative role of attacking every change and discovery as heresy. Nor may the Christian university surrender its Christian birthright for the sake of becoming up to date. But if it has the courage and the imagination, the Christian university may yet perform a service both for the Church and for the academy that no one else will. Through young men and women like these, this Christian university is an agency of the very Spirit of God, who still broods over the bent world and who condescends to us when we cry, leading all who will hearken into the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: So help us God!