Lately there have been a few blog posts critiquing the notion of evangelical education and drawing attention to some of the problematic aspects — and even the potential futility — of such an undertaking.
I agree that this is an important issue and that so-called Christian Education faces a unique set of systemic challenges — but I’d like to respond to such critiques with my personal experience at Wheaton College. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive defense of evangelical education; nor am I claiming that my experience was typical. But my time at Wheaton certainly isn’t consistent with the head down, blinders on brainwashing that many seem to think necessarily takes place at Christian institutions of higher education. For example:
- At Wheaton I learned about the Documentary Hypothesis, the Synoptic Problem and the Two-Source Hypothesis.
- At Wheaton I discovered the world of textual criticism and the work of Bruce Metzger and Kurt Aland.
- At Wheaton I heard Bono speak about debt reduction and the AIDS crisis in Africa.
- At Wheaton I heard Tony Campolo speak about Christianity’s obligation to engage with issues of social justice.
- At Wheaton I met an openly gay Christian for the first time.
- At Wheaton I regularly heard women preach and teach — with authority.
- At Wheaton I heard meaningful dialogue between Muslims and Christians.
- At Wheaton I was introduced to Ferlinghetti, Tarkovsky, Derrida, O’Conner, Gadamer, Lamott, Berry, Foucault and Brâncuşi, among many others.
- At Wheaton I learned Greek from Scott Hafemann, Old Testament from C. Hassell Bullock, New Testament from Norman Erickson, Art History from John Walford, Painting and drawing from Joel Sheesley and Tim Lowly, English Literature from Roger Lundin, Leland Ryken, Sharon Coolidge and Jeffry Davis, Philosophy from Bruce Benson and Robert O’Connor, Writing from Jill Peláez Baumgaertner and Sharon Halvorsen Schreck, Political Science from Bud Kellstedt and a whole lot more that has sadly (for the most part) faded into past.
- At Wheaton I attended lectures and messages given by C. Everett Koop, Arthur Holmes, John Stott, John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath J.I. Packer and many other notable Christian thinkers.
- At Wheaton I heard Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO perform and Li-Young Lee read poetry.
- At Wheaton I walked in the footsteps of Rob Bell, Bart Ehrman, William Lane Craig, Luci Shaw, Jim McDermott, Mark Noll and Wes Craven.
- At Wheaton I learned to think critically and to freely engage with differing ideas and viewpoints.
All of this isn’t meant to express an arbitrary allegiance to my alma mater. There are many troubling issues that continue to foment beneath the placid surface of “integrated faith and learning” at Wheaton. But, though Wheaton is far from being a bastion of liberalism — or even an outpost of progressivism — it nevertheless was, for me at least, an important waypoint in my development as a Christian and as a person.