What makes Christian Higher Education Christian?

Several weeks ago, I was on a panel with other leaders from Canadian Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries. I was asked to answer two questions. 1) What makes Christian HIgher Education Christian? 2) Why does this matter?

In this post, I’ll highlight the answer I gave to the first question. In a subsequent post, i’ll focus on the second question. As I do, you’ll gain a better sense of the vision and mission we have at Heritage College and Seminary.

In the question, “What makes Christian Higher Education Christian?” the word “Christian” shows up twice.

The book of Acts indicates the term “Christian” was coined in Antioch.  Acts 11:26 tells us it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians”.  The term Christian was first used by outsiders to describe believers in Christ.  The term speaks of people who belong to or are closely identified with Christ.  Christians were called by that name because they were all about Christ.

My vision of Christian Higher Education is one where we stay true to that meaning of the word.  Our schools must belong to and be identified with Christ.  Our schools must be all about Christ.  Christ Jesus must be pre-eminent over all that’s done at our school.  Christ Jesus must be at the centre of all that’s done at our school.

What does that look like in practical, observable terms?  Let me sketch the answer I’m seeking to implement at Heritage College and Seminary.  Much more could be said, but let me highlight three key distinctives of my vision for Heritage.

First, the grace and truth of Christ set the standard for our classroom instruction

John 1:14 tells us Jesus revealed the glory of the Father by being full of grace and truth. Grace and truth should set the standard for our classroom instruction.  We want students to experience the grace of Christ in our classes so they feel deeply loved and cared for as individuals.

We also want students to know the truth of Christ in our classes.   Jesus regarded the Old Testament as truth (John 17:17) and promised to lead apostles into all truth (Jn 16:13). This means the entire Bible is God’s truth (2 Timothy 3:16). As a result, every discipline of learning at our school should be viewed through lens of biblical truth.

We want to teach our students to think Christianly—which means thinking biblically. So the first Christ-centered distinctive in this vision of Christian Higher Education is that all our teaching is given in grace and anchored in truth.  We are gracious in how we present truth and tenacious in how we hold to it.

Second, the grace and truth of Christ shape the ethos of our community life

The combination of the grace and truth of Christ is not just for the classroom; the grace and truth of Christ extends to our community and campus life.                       

We want the grace and truth of Christ to shape the ethos of student life on campus.  And it doesn’t stop with students.  We want the grace and truth of Christ to shape the ethos of faculty and staff relations. This means we seek to be a place where everyone treats one another with grace. 

We also seek to be a community where were walk in the truth of Christ.  Since we are Christians—belonging to Christ—we lovingly hold one another to the way of life that Jesus modeled and taught. We look to the Scriptures to show us the truth about how to live. We follow biblical standards for conduct as the expectations we have for our students, faculty, and staff. As we hold to biblical standards for living, we seek to do this with grace, realizing we are all in process and need the Spirit of Christ to live out His truth.

Third, the Church and mission of Christ settle the reason for our existence

Christ Jesus said He came on a mission to seek and save the lost.  Christ Jesus promised to build His Church from every people, nation, tribe, and tongue.  He also commissioned His followers to continue this mission.

My vision of Christian Higher Education takes its mission from this mission of Christ.  Our reason for existence is to serve the mission and Church of Christ.

Early on in my tenure at Heritage, I heard Dr. Riad Kassis, speak on how we should evaluate the success of Christian schools.  He cited some important evaluation benchmarks we often use:  student success; faculty and staff health; institutional viability.  But he went on to say that, while these benchmarks are all important, the chief benchmark for institutional success is how we serve the Church and its redemptive mission.  I would agree.  Our mission is to serve Christ, His Church, and its global mission.

At Heritage we summarize our mission this way:  We help Christians major in the word of God so they can help churches make a world of difference.

We want to instruct and inspire students with this mission so that whether they become pastors or paramedics, ER nurses or a cross-cultural missionaries, they will be passionate to follow Christ and invest their lives helping the Church make a world of difference.

If we do this well, it may be that people around us, like those in Antioch, will say about our graduates, staff, and faculty, “Those people are Christians!”

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