Bob Jones Is Your Spirit Animal: On Christian Higher Education

Posted February 13, 2016 @ 10:50am | by Tripp

Daniel Kirk (someone I respect and, dare I say, love) is a distraction and, to make things worse, I am easily distracted. He wrote a post about the death (or mortal wounding) of Christian Higher Education, Jack Levison responded, and Daniel countered. I am now completely derailed from writing my comprehensive exam essay.

So, to get myself back on track, I offer this brief response to his response to the response to his post from using a little tidbit from my essay on Güngör. 

Often, and sometimes with great vigor, a "Christian musician" will proclaim that they are just a musician who happens to be Christian. Such a claim is usually predicated by some complaint about the Christian music industry as being banal and rife with mediocre talent. The bubble that the "Christian music" industry created insulates mediocre talent from the greater talents (various and sundry) of the wider global music industry. Such logic, for example, is part of why U2 did not sign with a Christian label. Such logic is why some claim Sufjan Stephens to be a Christian artist while others say he is an artist who happens to be Christian. Such logic is why when Amy Grant "switched genres" she was called a musical Jezebel by her enraged Christian fans. 

There's a post on the misogyny of the entire Christian Contemporary Music Industrial Complex out there somewhere. Find it for me? Thanks. I'd appreciate it. 

At any rate, Michael Gungor of Güngör fame penned then deleted and then discovered it has been resurrected a now-infamous screed about the Christian Music Industry. In it he offered:

The point is that the industry that labels things as Christian and sells them to you has far more to do with marketing than Christianity. They are marketing to the mixed bag of values that has created the Evangelical Christian subculture. It’s a mix of some historically Christian values, some American values, and a whole lot of cultural boundary markers that set “us” apart from “them.” This sort of system makes us feel safe and right, and it makes some of its gatekeepers very wealthy and powerful.

The effect is then the filtering down of this subculture to people that don’t necessarily want to think through the viability of every one of these boundary markers, but in their simple desire to belong to what they consider the good guys, they acquiesce to the rules handed to them. At least in public. 

Gungor accused the culture makers of fear, dishonesty, and of killing all hopes of creativity. It was a busy day for him. 

Let us let Christian music be analogous to Christian Higher Educations, shall we?

Harvard was founded as a seminary. So was Yale. Heck, so was the little liberal arts school I attended back in the day, the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA. The cultural history here is essential, but I'm going to trust you and your imaginations to walk with me here. 

Somewhere along the line, a small subgroup of American society began to use the word "Christian" as a modifier for everything they did. In the process, they created the illusion of safety and isolation for their followers. The power-holders sheltered their children from such evils as feminism, Punk Rock, Pabst, gravity, and quantum mechanics. Many still blame Darwin to this day, but that's bunk, too. 

Let me sum up.

There is just Higher Education. Any modifier that narrows the potential scope of inquiry such as "Christian," especially if that modifier is all wrapped up in a cultural power struggle, immediately undermines the very project that is Higher Education. Please note: I include STEM in this. But that's another post. 

Daniel is right to push and moan and grieve. But where he's wrong, and I offer this with all the charity my addled heart can muster, is assuming that any institution of Christian Higher Education is anything more than a small bubble of protective pedagogy managed by power-mongering ner do wells wrapped in a myopic view of scripture and so-called Christian culture. 

It enrages me to watch my friends wrestle and recover from the sins of the powerful. 

Of course, Gordon, Wheaton, SPU, and even Notre Dame are conservative. Of course they are. They were built to protect impressionable young people from the unclean world Jesus died for. They were established to create a pure Christian, whatever that is, and to create a power base in American politics. 

There is no culture war. At least not in the way many have been told. There is no "secularization." Stop it. You're falling for one of the oldest power grabs in human history. Billy Graham owns a mountain. What happened? The Falwells own half of Lynchburg, VA. This is not "the blessing of the Lord." This is politics and rampant capitalism writ Jesusy.

There are just people. There is culture. There is society. There is Higher Education. 

Let's talk about that. Please?

Daniel, your grief is real. And I want to honor it. But you said, "Speak!" and here I am. I love you. 

 
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