Why I Love Teaching at a Christian University

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, General

I love teaching at a Christian university. I appreciate the civility of the Christian campus. I savor seeing lives changed by the gospel and ministry opportunities afforded to students. I’m thrilled to work in an environment that openly confesses Christ and refuses to believe that a “real” education occurs only in a sterile secular environment. My affection, though, runs deeper than these visible characteristics. I’m enamored by the very idea of a Christian university—education, conducted Christianly.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul writes: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Paul speaks of believers as a building of which he had a hand in constructing. As a master builder, he laid the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. Now, each believer builds on that foundation. He mentions materials, some precious and some mundane. The point is clear: we’re to be constructing our lives on the message of Jesus. In some areas of living, the implications are simple to discern, even if not easy to obey. For educators, though, building life on the gospel foundation includes the classroom endeavor.

To explore the implications for academics, consider an earlier section of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In 2:2, Paul writes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This saying perplexed me for longer than I want to admit. How is it that Paul would say such a thing when, during his visit to Corinth, he so obviously spoke of matters beyond the mere facts of the cross, as his letter bears witness? Slowly, I came to understand that Paul speaks of the cross as his worldview—the lens through which he sees reality. In other words, he knew nothing apart from Jesus Christ and him crucified. If the gospel of Jesus is the foundation on which we build our lives, then everything must be connected to it, seen through it, and built on it.

So, what does this mean for a professor who teaches business, interior design, criminal justice, nursing, visual and performing arts, education, social and physical sciences, the liberal arts, or even theology? What does this mean for a Christian university? It means that we approach the academic disciplines Christianly.

Each discipline portrays some aspect of the Christian story. For example, some disciplines deal directly with the structural and functional components of being made in God’s image. One who teaches education empowers humanity’s seemingly infinite reservoir for learning. The social and behavioral scientist stands in awe of our transcendent orientation as he or she observes the patterns of individual and social conduct. The interior design professor enhances a human’s God-given ability to order his or her environment. Those who teach visual and performing arts magnify and celebrate our remarkable aesthetic capacity. The business professor roots his approach to human transaction in the common respect that is due to all of God’s special creatures. The one teaching English or communication improves our ability to speak, reflective of our special endowment as speaking creatures, modeled after a speaking God. The history professor passes on anew our story, which is, ultimately, His story—God at work in the world. These disciplines are special to humanity, because indeed, humanity is special—created just a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor, as Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 testify.

Other disciplines employ the special endowments given by the Creator to study His creation. The mathematician practices the universal patterns of logic and value that transcend time and space. Professors in the physical and life sciences who observe the intricacies of the universe here below can’t help but marvel at an unsearchable, inscrutable Creator up above.

Still, other disciplines wrestle with the realities of a fallen world and seek answers both temporal and eternal. One who teaches nursing demonstrates the dignity & treasure of human life through times of suffering, healing, and sometimes death. The criminal justice professor seeks justice in a way that points to a day when God Himself will make all things right. My colleagues in Christian studies teach what ultimately blows the mind: that God is actively accomplishing and will finally complete his plan to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ Jesus.

Each individual discipline specializes in telling one part of the great and true story of the Christian faith: the story of a good creation; a tragic fall into sin and suffering; and the promise of redemption and final restoration in Christ. In this, truly we are university—viewing all reality according to Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Together, we’re building knowledge on the foundation of Christ, but Scripture demands our caution. “Let each one take care how he builds,” Paul says. “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire.” Academe foreshadows an eschatological reality: a professor may hold a terminal degree, but a final exam awaits. So, in building a new generation of Christian thinkers, instructors at a Christian university must do so carefully, as those who will be examined by Christ Himself.

This is why I love teaching at a Christian university, and the even the very idea of it.