Recently, the editor of this blog, Perry Glanzer, asked readers if they had an example of faculty development for Christian mission that has been helpful.
Since I have served on the Faculty Development Committee for the College of Arts & Sciences at Regent University for five years, I thought I would share one. Before I begin, I should note that I bring to this task forty years of experience as chief academic officer (CAO) at seven different Christian universities. The Faculty Development Committee on which I serve addresses issues of student engagement, evaluation, tenure and promotion, and university service, among other concerns.
My niche is faith integration.
The question of “faculty development for Christian mission” for me is very close to the question of faith integration since successfully integrating faith into one’s discipline within the context of a liberal arts education is central to the fulfillment of the Christian mission. At each of the universities where I served as CAO, faith integration and Christian mission were underscored repeatedly: sometimes as the theme for an August seminar; sometimes at a regular faculty meeting; always during faculty hiring, evaluation, and tenure review.
I am currently revising a presentation I am scheduled to make in October 2023. My presentation is especially relevant for those newly hired faculty who are on the tenure track because they are required to include in their portfolio a substantive essay demonstrating/defending the integration of their Christian faith into their discipline, and thereby their support of our Christian mission.
My presentation takes the shape of a “thought exercise,” but it also adumbrates the actual essay they must produce:
Imagine we are in a graduate seminar. I am your professor directing the production of a three-credit hour thesis-like paper on the topic of faith integration in your discipline. (It is 90% self-directed independent research, only 10% in-person direction or classroom interaction.) It should address the following requirements:
1. Annotated bibliography of material relevant to the issue of faith, values, and worldview in your discipline. These materials need not be explicitly Christian, especially if the thought leaders in your discipline are not Christian. However, the fewer Christian authors in this bibliography, the greater your burden on point 3 below.
2. Define either (a) the most important thought-shapers in your discipline, going back historically and/or contemporarily (preferably not more than five; just who are the best, most influential shapers of thought?), or (b) the prevailing presuppositions in your discipline: i.e., taking your discipline as a whole, what is the prevailing view of God, humankind, right and wrong, good and evil, truth and beauty?
3. What would be the shape of your discipline if its practitioners properly understood and fulfilled its mandate to view the world through the lens of Fallenness and how it could contribute to restoration by fully embracing a Christian worldview, and probably especially general revelation and natural law? (If your discipline is religion and/or ministry, then you can of course rely more heavily on faith, special revelation, and the Bible.) This section of your paper should identify the points of friction between how it is currently being practiced and its God-given potential. (The best example of this in my opinion would be C. S. Lewis, Abolition of Man.1)
a. What has been your experience so far in your professional career on this topic? Have you been affirmed, attacked, shunned, or encouraged?
b. Convince me that, based on your research, you could flavor all your teaching at Regent University accordingly.
My presentation typically lasts no more than fifteen minutes, which leaves time for these discussion questions:
Q: On a scale of 1-10, what is your confidence that you could produce this essay?
Q: If this assignment seems inappropriate or incongruous with your discipline or your experience, please explain why.
Q: What obstacles do you anticipate, and what modifications would you ask me to make to these expectations if we were to proceed with the assignment?
Our new faculty in every discipline—behavioral and social sciences, the hard sciences, business, politics, literature, communication, and the arts—have almost never faced this type of challenge in their degree programs: it was simply a non-issue. But scholars always take a values and worldview perspective, whether they acknowledge it or not. And we ask our new faculty to deliberately self-analyze, reflect, and even deconstruct their training for the purpose of reconstructing it along the lines of a Judeo-Christian worldview, and especially through the lenses of general revelation and natural law, the common ground upon which they can confidently engage their secular counterparts.
This practice has proven to be an enlightening and encouraging thought exercise. It helps new faculty, who have typically earned their degrees in a secular university with no support—or even thought—given to the question of faith integration or Christian mission, to imagine how they could proceed. I should add that these new faculty are hired based very much on their evidence of clear thinking, and their potential and willingness to support our Christian mission.
Senior faculty serve as mentors to help faculty develop their bibliographies and their ideas, and I have personally proofed drafts. Moreover, this is an ongoing developmental process for individual faculty, academic departments, and faculty as a whole. At the risk of truncating complicated results and insights, I will offer these anecdotes:
- The biology professor, who is very enthusiastically pro-life, shifted her focus from Biblical proof texts to genetics- and evidence of life-based instruction.
- The history/anthropology professor who shifted his research from geographic- and biome-based determinism of cultures to ideas- and beliefs-based influence of cultures and governments.
- A college of business transformed its curriculum, which largely mirrored the secular universities from which the faculty had graduated, into a faith-based affirmation of democracy, capitalism, and free enterprise.
- The cinema/television professor who became disillusioned with Christian filmmaking as too saccharine and is now pursuing storytelling from a basic morality, “promotion of the Good, True, and Beautiful” perspective. (The recent success of The Sound of Freedom makes it hard to argue with her new perspective.)
I can’t claim universal success. As with any population, some faculty come more naturally to this way of thinking. Nor can I claim universal support and agreement. The most vigorous objection I have faced is that this approach minimizes the role of Biblical narrative and theology. My response is that (a) nothing in general revelation or natural law can possibly contravene the Bible and special revelation, nor (b) does this prevent or discourage our faculty from supporting their positions and teaching with the Bible. How could we do otherwise?
But this approach is one successful way of getting at the challenge of developing faculty for the support of Christian mission. I aver this is Christ-animated learning.