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Esteban Vazquez

APU does rule! I was there in January and loved it so that I almost moved to SoCal to beg them to let me in. And as for APU mugs, this is the one I know best.

Alan Lenzi

"Azusa Pacific Rules": So you're not going to talk about the doctrinal and lifestyle rules the university requires of its faculty?

Isn't it wonderful that such places of openness and free and critical inquiry (within clearly and rather narrowly circumscribed boundaries) are the pinnacle of American religious higher education?


Hi Alan,

As it happens, many colleges and universities affiliated with a particular religious tradition enforce doctrinal and lifestyle rules of one kind or another and with across-the-board or specific application. The reason is paradoxical: we live in a free country, where the right of institutions to set rules of that kind is largely respected.

Have you read Martha Nussbaum's Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education? She explores with considerable empathy the ways in which the ideal of a liberal education is kept alive - and not - in confessional contexts. The results of her exploration are more positive than one might expect.

The schools and programs she looks at include those of St. Lawrence, Belmont (Nashville), Brigham Young, Morehouse, Harvard, State University of New York at Buffalo, Nevada at Reno, and Notre Dame.

I don't think it's possible to come away from reading Nussbaum's narrative without thinking of the confessional aspects of American higher education as a resource and a contribution to pluralism rather than something which imposes itself on people against their wishes.

Plenty of tension is created in the process of schools having strong identities at odds in some respects with the prevailing Zeitgeist in purely secular institutions. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Alan Lenzi

I don't deny private religious institutions the right to formulate doctrinal statements and lifestyle expectations and to require faculty to acquiesce to them. And although I haven't read Nussbaum's book (yet: it sounds interesting), I can grant the point that schools that do this kind of thing may be in a position to contribute alternative viewpoints to public discourse on this or that issue--perhaps not cogent ones, but alternative nonetheless. That's not my issue.

The reason I posted my smart-alec comment was your celebratory tone about the growing power of Evangelicalism: "This says something about the place evangelical Christianity now occupies on the cultural slope of American religion: at its peak. Runoff from the crest now enriches (and muddies) the streams of all other components of the symbiotically interconnected world of American religion. . . . It is a sign of the times. Evangelicalism is a very powerful force on the American scene."

I wanted to counter your religious romanticism because I happen to see the growing power of Evangelicalism and the amount of press such views receive as problematic, even scary, for historical reasons that we have discussed before. If Evangelical schools circumscribe intellectual exploration and limit genuine criticism of what they hold most dear, then graduates very well may be ignorant of the problems and limitations of the religious lens through which they see the world. If these young people are the leaders of tomorrow, then I have reason to be worried.

By the way, this: "the confessional aspects of American higher education [is] a resource and a contribution to pluralism rather than something which imposes itself on people against their wishes," is a false dichotomy. Graduates of a school like APU may provide alternative viewpoints, etc. But there are plenty of situations in which a person begins at a confessional school believing one thing and for whatever reason changes their mind. In my case, it was because I did a lot of reading outside of class. Or, as they mature, they see the lifestyle restrictions the school decrees in opposition to their Christian liberty. This happened to me in undergrad. And since I wanted to get through in 4 years and many of my credits wouldn't transfer, I was stuck. So the rules became an imposition, one that I could not have anticipated when I was a senior in high school. And what about the faculty member whose ideas are found to lie out of bounds? There is plenty of imposition / inquisition that goes on at a personal level. (I hope Nussbaum brings that kind of thing up!)


I see your points, Alan. I did mention "mud" and "pathologies," but with insufficient emphasis, I'm sure, for your taste.

Of course, the reverse of your story also happens. That is, people start at a secular institution, find it constricting in its own way, and switch to a confessional context in which they are more at ease.

What happens more often, however, is that students with a confessional identity at a secular institution supplement their course work by reading outside of class as you did, and by participating in the life of parallel institutions, such as campus ministries and churches.

For example, I really enjoyed being part of Christian grad circles in InterVarsity around topics like "Faith and Literature" and "Faith and Science." We heard some excellent speakers and in the small groups, the diversity of opinion and background was large.

David Clark

I think the use of an evangelical produced textbook at a Catholic university says more about the Catholic Church being open than it does about the power of the evangelical movement. It also says that for the most part American Christianity has become more ecumenical than it has been in the past.



Interesting point. Once upon a time, however, and not many moons ago, Catholic openness would have expressed itself through adoption, not of a textbook published by Hendrickson Publishers, but by, for example, a much meatier but also stolid liberal Protestant textbook published by Fortress. In that case, furthermore, it would have been used in conjunction with a Catholic text.

I found it striking that this was the sole text for the class. But when I paged through it, the choice made sense. After reading it, students really would have a good working knowledge of the theological debate as currently framed "in the street," so to speak, and the terminology that is used in that context.

David Clark

After reading it, students really would have a good working knowledge of the theological debate as currently framed "in the street," so to speak, and the terminology that is used in that context.

I am not trying to be impertinent here, but if this is true, in what sense is this an evangelical textbook? Further you say that the book is not meaty, at least in comparison to a liberal protestant textbook, so I assume that means that the book is either ecumenical in character or milquetoast evangelical theology. Is it an evangelical textbook merely because he works at an evangelical university or is this "red meat" evangelicalism.

If this book is not "red meat" evangelicalism then could this also be a sign that people are simply playing less identity politics with theology and biblical studies and are paying more attention to good argument, good writing, and good pedagogy?

In any case, thank you for the book recommendation (I assume you are recommending it), I have been wanting to purchase a good introduction to theology book for some time, but none has impressed me much. Your recommendation carries much weight with me because of the high quality of your thinking which comes out in your writing. I just added it to my amazon "to purchase" list.



Thanks for your questions. Thorson's text is a fairly elementary textbook. If your knowledge of theology is at an elementary level, it will serve as a fine introduction.

It is not a "red-meat" or any other kind of introduction to evangelical theology. It is an irenic introduction to Christian theology tout court.

To be honest, if you are an evangelical, I would encourage you to consider reading an excellent introduction to Catholic theology.

For example, you might try something by Peter Kreeft. Go here:

David Clark

Thank you for the further recommendations. I am neither an evangelical Christian nor a Catholic. I'll stick with the original recommendation, though perhaps a good introduction to Catholic theology would also be a good read.

Alan Lenzi

John, I won't be able to read all of Nussbaum now with class starting, but I read her chapter on "Socrates in the Religious University" the other night quickly. She examines Notre Dame and BYU. Here's a quote that captures her evaluation:

"The examples of Notre Dame and BYU challenge the claim that religious institutions of higher learning are in peril because they have followed the norms of academic freedom and merit-based promotion that are current in the secular academy. In fact, they are in peril to the extent that they do not do so. Hiring in accordance with religious membership seems a perfectly appropriate way to maintain a distinctive tradition; on the other hand, penalties for unorthodox speech and research cut out the very core of a university" (291).

She gives Notre Dame fairly high marks for its tolerance and openness, though she points out room for improvement. BYU, on the other hand, gets a fairly negative evaluation. The school I attended was much more like BYU than ND. So perhaps my general view of confessional college education is skewed. I wonder where APU would rank on her scale.

I know the Jesuits are generally open to dissenting views in America. For example, Jacques Berlinerblau, an atheist, teaches Hebrew Bible at Georgetown and Stewart Guthrie, an anthropologist that wrote a book that explains religion in terms of cognitive mechanisms, tells me he didn't have any problems at Fordham. I wonder how Evangelical institutions as a whole would compare.


In the recent past, evangelical institutions have struggled more than Catholic institutions with incorporating a diversity of viewpoints among its teaching staff. Given evangelicalism's relative lack of "secular" in the sense of age-old historical depth, that is not too surprising.

However, the trend is now toward convergence. That is, a Jesuit institution, now more than in the past, may choose to have a more coherent program, particularly in a sensitive subject matter (perhaps you are aware of the problems Thomas L. Thompson had at Marquette University). Conversely, evangelical institutions like Baylor University, more than in the past, are experimenting with diversity.

Another case that comes to mind: Mary Daley and Boston University.

In a confessional institution, it is possible to incorporate diversity into one's teaching staff, but at a certain point, it should surprise no one if the mission of the institution will be thought to be compromised if diversity rather than confessional identity becomes the prevalent characteristic of the institution's pedagogy.

The situation is complex for another reason: ongoing processes of de-confessionalization and re-confessionalization.

Alan Lenzi

Yes, it is a complex issue. Thanks for your further thoughts.

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