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Since it is an election year, I wondered if I could find evidence that Christian universities help their students contemplate excellent Christian citizenship. As mentioned in an earlier post, my research team examined the general education requirements at 231 Protestant colleges requiring at least one Bible or theology course. We chose these institutions because they showed evidence of operationalizing the Christian identity in their general education.

We then examined the general education course descriptions for signs of Christian language or framing. In the process, we discovered that most Protestant universities give little evidence that they use the curriculum to form Christian citizens.1

Before I describe these results, I want to note that one of the interesting things about this topic is that although various educational leaders claim that creating good citizens should be a primary purpose of higher education,2 only a minuscule number of students share that view. For instance, we have collected responses from 382 students from 26 institutions (public, private, small, and large) to a question about the purpose of higher education. Only 16 mentioned that they thought the purpose of higher education should be to form or produce better citizens. 

Interestingly, the reality is that the creators of Christian general education also appear to side with the students. In our study, we found most institutions do not require a political science course in general education, and even when they do, they take the batch of knowledge approach. For instance, although my institution requires a political science course on constitutional law, it simply expects students to learn a batch of knowledge about the Constitution. It does not aim to form excellent Christian citizens. 

 We found only four institutions with a required general education course description that addressed a Christian approach to politics or citizenship: Concordia (WI), Dallas Baptist University, Geneva College, and Welch College. What makes their course descriptions different?

The required course description at Geneva, POL 352 Great Issues in Politics, provides a helpful opening example. It states: “This course discusses significant questions asked by philosophers in the study of politics, including writings of Christian political theorists, and focuses particularly on the implications of the kingship of Christ for the political process.” Not only did it make clear the course included Christian political theorists, but it also recognized that any course on politics must engage with the political claims of Jesus Christ. 

Dallas Baptist University’s course, POLS 2301 American National Government, indicated that it takes a more practical approach:

A study of the organizations and functions of the American national government with a particular emphasis on the responsibilities and duties Christians hold in the public arena. The course places emphasis on what it means to be politically active and civic minded. Finally, the course encourages students to analyze public service and the public sector from a Christian worldview.

It indicates that the topic of citizenship will be approached first through the identity and theological lens of Christianity.

The most impressive course description was the CCE 130 Christian Citizen course at Concordia, WI. It stated that its goal is to help shape excellent Christian citizens in ways that no other course articulated:

This course serves as a Freshman Seminar and provides a common intellectual experience to all students by engaging students in important questions, discussions, and activities on responsible social action and civic engagement as a Christian citizen. The course defines citizenship broadly—wishing to be good neighbors as well as good citizens—while looking at citizenship from both a Christian and secular context. Based on readings and resources students will explore vocation and are encouraged to live out their vocations as student, citizen, neighbor, professional, and Christian in a thoughtful and constructive manner. As service is essential to citizenship, the course creates an opportunity for students to engage in moral discernment, active engagement and service at the local, national, and/or international level(s).

The course made clear that it sought to do what every general education course on this subject should do. It aimed to foster a common intellectual conversation about what it means to be an excellent Christian citizen. It also connects the answer to this question to other key human identities. I also love how it explores the actions and practices necessary to be an excellent Christian citizen and not simply the theory.

Again, as I have written before about this project, I recognize that course descriptions do not tell you what actually is taught in a class. Still, they do give evidence of the important practice of Christian framing that is currently missing among Protestant Christian colleges and universities.

I remember a few years ago hearing Joel Carpenter lament in an address devoted to celebrating CSR’s 45th anniversary, that Christians did not appear to listen to Christian thinkers. He noted, “[Mark] Noll had warned repeatedly about the fallacies and failures of Christian nationalism, but not many evangelicals were reading or heeding him it seems.” Based on my findings, he’s correct that evangelical students were not reading him.

The question though is: Who is to blame? I contend the reason why evangelical students are not reading evangelical academics regarding the relationship between Christianity and politics, and taking some of their wisdom to heart, is the fault of our educational leaders and faculty who designed their general education. General education courses are simply not designed in ways that prompt students to ask the core question with which they will have to wrestle all of their lives: What does it mean to be an excellent Christian citizen?  


  1. In cases, where the institution used a distribution model and allowed students to choose from three or more courses, our research team did not evaluate all the listed courses. We wanted to focus on the core courses that all or close to half of the students at the institution would be required to take.
  2. See my book, Perry L. Glanzer, The Dismantling of Moral Education: How Higher Education Reduced the Human Identity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022).

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.


  • Joseph 'Rocky' Wallace says:

    Dr. Glanzer, sadly, you remind us that Christian institutions also share the blame for a largely illiterate young adult populous in regard to our nation’s core value model.

  • Doug Koopman says:

    Some very good points here. I think, also, that Christian institutions tend to expect too much of the average Christian citizen, and too little of Christians who are in public office or candidates for public office. Not everyone needs to be fully engaged in public policy and the machinations of government. Officeholders and candidates, however, should be skilled in both issue articulation and conflict resolution–knowing how to ask for a “full loaf of bread” but also knowing how to get a slice or two at a time. Reviving ideas around Christian magistrates and office holders can be a more helpful, and realistic, part of Christian education in citizenship.

  • Dave Shaw says:

    Geneva’s POL 352 course is also a capstone course, requiring a firm foundation in the humanities as prerequisite knowledge. It has been a part of the core curriculum at Geneva College for most of the 175 years of its existence. When I saw the article title in my email I was hoping that it would be mentioned. It is also worth noting the college motto “Pro Christo et Patria”.

  • I very much appreciate the article. it is a serious crisis point. Exacerbated by the fact that many Christian colleges and universities are far too timid on the cultural and social issues and are afraid to be labeled as politicizing their institutions.
    But you may have overlooked a university doing exactly what you have described. At Cairn University where I preside, we have a civics requirement for all students that uses the United States Constitution as the textbook. Students are required to write a paper on the stewardship of citizenship. We’ve launched a Politics, Philosophy and History department under the leadership of Dr. Steele Brand, and we have just approved an undergraduate statesmanship initiative in conjunction with the John Jay Institute. Here is an article I wrote for the Martin Center that addresses some of the issues you raise. Thank you again for this good work

    • pglanzer says:

      Todd, thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear about the work you’re doing at Cairn in this area. What I could not tell from the article is whether the course you’re now requiring frames the course using Christian theology or whether the course explores the end of what it means to be an excellent Christian citizen. We were looking for courses with that kind of explicit framing, end, or even some evidence of theological language.

  • Gordon Moulden says:

    It must be modelled, especially by leaders, because I doubt many 18 year olds entering college have becoming excellent citizens as a prime concern, if it is even a concern at all. It certainly wasn’t for me. That said, that does provide all the more reason for a course that requires critical thinking on the topic. But let the church also challenge its young adults to strive for excellence in citizenship from a spiritual perspective, and to model the same, and let Christian parents do so as well. Model it, discuss it, encourage it.

  • Sheri Popp says:

    I appreciate the work you are doing in this area. I serve as a peer reviewer for the Association of Biblical Higher Education and while on a recent sight visit, asked students a question along the lines of, “How are the courses here different from those at community college?” Many of the students were transfer students with experience both in secular institutions as well as Bible college. While the students could actually articulate fairly well what set their Bible college Gen Ed’s apart, I couldn’t find language in the syllabus, course descriptions, or outcomes that supported what they said.
    My main concern with this is that many of the Gen Ed’s are taught by adjunct faculty. So the infusion of Biblical a worldview in the curriculum is possibly just a fortunate happenstance, and certainly not a foregone conclusion. Program descriptions, outcomes, curriculum maps, course descriptions, and course outcomes must intentionally identify k,s,a’s that students will aspire to if we want to claim this education helps them achieve (and hopefully act from) a Biblicla worldview.