Integratio Press recently published Professing Christ: Christian Tradition and Faith-Learning Integration in Public Universities.1 Edited by Jonathan Pettigrew and Robert H. Woods Jr., this book includes contributions from 18 current or former faculty at public universities, including a past president of the National Communication Association and one of the world’s leading scholars on ethics in media and human dialogue. To give Christian scholars a sense of this book and how they might benefit from it, I interviewed one of the editors, Jonathan, for this article.
Congratulations on the publication of Professing Christ! The topic of faith-learning integration is de rigeur for actively Christian private colleges and universities, but your book focuses solely on public university contexts. How did that come about?
Thanks, John. The book was born out of a conversation between my co-editor, Robert, and me at a conference about five years ago. Over the years Robert and I had discussed faith integration off and on, but at the conference, he really pushed me to write down an answer to the question: How do you integrate your Christian faith into your job as a public university professor? We chatted about it, then I went back to my hotel room that evening and pounded out the first 1500 words of what would become my chapter for the book.
We believe the Christian worldview is more than just a limited set of propositions about salvation or religion. It encompasses claims on all of human history, anthropology, epistemology, and ontology. It is fundamental to all of life, including the thought-life of the University. Faith generally, and the Christian faith in particular, is part of the history of education. So, faith integration is not just a topic for Christian universities, but one that all Christians need to address. We didn’t see many books focused on that topic in the context of public universities, so we began asking for stories from other university faculty members and collected them into Professing Christ.
What are the big questions that the book seeks to answer? What are its goals?
Our book is designed for professors and graduate students who train or work in university settings. As I mentioned, we believe the question of faith integration is one every Christian academic has to ask themselves.
The night before Jesus headed toward the cross, John reports that he prayed, “Sanctify them in the Truth; your word is Truth.”2 Later in that story, Pilate asks, “What is Truth?”3 Pilate probably wasn’t expecting an answer, and Jesus didn’t respond to his question, but the Master did impart the Truth of himself and his kingdom to his disciples. Today, like Pilate, the Academy is asking, “What is Truth?” and they are answering it in various ways. I think that Christian students and professors have a responsibility to discover, share, and embody truth in light of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word (Logos) of God, who is the source of all Truth.
The question is, how do we do that? Professing Christ includes chapters that answer that question in different ways, with the goal of offering faculty and grad students some handles on how they might be a witness to Truth in their profession.
Reading through Professing Christ, one thing that struck me was the diversity of Christian convictions and approaches among these scholars. Can you give our blog readers a sense of the range of perspectives offered?
Thanks for noting this. Christianity, as you know, isn’t a monolith; it is diverse. Chapters were written by men and women, Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelicals. There also are younger scholars and some who are now retired. We have chapters from professors at R1 universities, R2s, and teaching institutions. We have some contributed by people who trained at Christian universities, but most obtained PhDs from public institutions. The authors hail from the communication discipline, but the field of communication is broad and encompasses social scientists, media scholars, film producers, rhetoricians, and others.
With such a diversity of experiences and perspectives, the book doesn’t provide a single model for faith integration but instead gives nuanced paths for readers to consider. I think having lots of stories from folks with a variety of Christian backgrounds opens up a space for readers to play around with the specific ideas or tactics professors have used. Any of them could be appropriate for people in different circumstances and all of them give food for thought.
Among the contributions, was there anything that you found particularly eye-opening?
I learned something from every chapter I read. I think putting the book together made me a better teacher. It certainly made me more mindful of my teaching craft and introduced me to a wider array of practices to integrate faith into my work at the university. I’ve tried out many of the faith integration approaches described in the chapters. So, in that sense, every chapter was eye-opening.
Personally, I was struck by Tom Lessl’s metaphorical argument that the university, having rejected its Christian parentage, is the “prodigal son” from Jesus’s parable. In class, I’ve fruitfully applied Ryan Bisel’s notion of “Option 3”—attesting to Truth that transcends and reconciles the worldviews of warring intellectual tribes—as exemplified in the Apostle Paul’s witness at the Areopagus.4 A couple of times when walking to my office, I’ve seen, or maybe imagined, a few of the “watchful dragons” that Steve Beebe describes. And, I have felt the passion—and sometimes the sting—of Cliff Christians’s closing charge: we need not just one reformer but a group of academic reformers who embody Christ and engage contemporary debates with a Kingdom perspective. As I say, every chapter has taught me something. I’m sure readers will find their own eye-opening insights that both comfort and challenge.
Other important books on faith-learning integration in classroom content and pedagogy have been published within the last decade, such as Allen and Badley’s Faith and Learning: A Practical Guide for Faculty (2014), Dockery and Morgan’s Christian Higher Education (2020), and David Smith’s On Christian Teaching (2018). What distinguishes Professing Christ from these works? What does it offer to Christian scholar-teachers that isn’t found in other extant publications?
There definitely are several great works on faith integration in teaching at Christian institutions. There also are great critiques coming out about the current state of the public university, books like The Breakdown of Higher Education and The Coddling of the American Mind. What we highlight is the actual work of Christian faith-integration in the context of a contemporary public university setting. It’s faith in context. We offer examples—lived experiences—of working in public university settings, and our contributors’ stories go beyond teaching to talk about research, service, and administration as well. As we argue in our introduction, almost every Ph.D. is trained in public university (often R1) settings, so we need to work through how to integrate our faith in that setting especially.
Professing Christ is published by Integratio Press, an arm of the Christianity & Communication Studies Network. Given that all of the authors work in the field of communication, what might faculty in other disciplines gain from reading this book?
As part of my faith-integration journey, I’ve read and benefited from other faith-integration books, and most were written by faculty in disciplines like material and systems engineering, business, English, and philosophy. I took comfort and instruction from all of them. I’ve also had mentoring conversations with graduate students within and outside of the communication discipline, including life sciences, systems engineering, and psychology. I find that there are many common experiences related to faith integration across all the disciplines, and the public university context is similar, though not identical, across the disciplines. I’m confident that there are experiences that will resonate with any graduate student or faculty member at a public university.
Plus, I highly regard my colleagues’ ability to “eat the meat and spit out the bones.” Graduate students and faculty are expert, professional learners, so they will know how to glean from the stories our contributors share. I’m sure some perspectives won’t resonate and some content won’t apply, but by focusing on testimonies from a diverse set of professors at a diverse set of universities, I’m confident that the book can serve people from any university discipline.
What do you consider the most important takeaways from Professing Christ?
Readers will be able to take encouragement from the stories of others who have been wrestling with questions of how to integrate faith into their teaching, research, and service. I think it will stimulate readers’ thinking about their faith-integration practices. It should have something for everyone, from presuppositional theoretical critiques to prayer-walking practices to ideas for class assignments. We hope it stimulates further conversation on how we can profess Christ in the public university, leading to more effective practice.