Welcome (back) to Vanguard University! The start of fall semester always buzzes with excitement! We’re delighted to see familiar faces and meet new friends. The atmosphere is electric with the thrill of new classes, new ideas, and the prospect of deepening our faith as Christ followers. One thing I love about being a professor at a Christian university is that life’s entirety is integrated by the reality of Jesus Christ.
“University”: let me set the historic scene. Universities were first started in the ninth century by Muslims. More influential for western civilization is that Roman Catholics began to form European universities in the twelfth century in Italy at Naples and Bologna, and simultaneously over in Paris. University is a layered Latin word. Unas/uni, means one. Verse is from vertere: to turn. Combined, university means “all together,” or “turned into one.” The first universities then were both religiously founded and shaped by the belief that all of life is integrated by and in the biblical God.
Theology and philosophy were the initial fields of study, but in the thirteenth century students could study other liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. The medieval Christians, who too often get a bad rap in Church history books, believed that there are many good and necessary tools and perspectives for navigating life, but each one finds its starting place, its epistemological point of departure, in God. Each discipline approached the critical question “what does it mean to be human?” with different methods and techniques, but those disciplines agreed together that that question’s answer was somehow rooted in God.
Today’s secular universities are more accurately multiversities; inside their walls each is turning away from a theory of everything. The many academic disciplines are taught in little bubbles. While there’s diversity there is no unity and to quote W.B. Yeats, “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
Contrastingly, a commitment to truth was a huge unifying factor within Christian universities and helped to unify society. True, those academic disciplines constantly haggled and even openly struggled with one another about what was the best way to approach life’s issues, but they served together in the belief that their diverse approaches and studies could, under the providence of God, bless people and help society flourish.
So, again, welcome to a Christian university, a Christ-centered university where the various academic disciplines still engage 700 year-old struggles with one another. Yet, if you listen attentively you’ll realize that all your various professors each approach the questions of life with foundational Christian beliefs.