Book Review – Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education

Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education. By David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007, 264 pp., $19.99, paperback.

A problem area in Christian ministry is the area of Christian higher education. As we continue to progress through the 21st century we continue to see the decline of the Christian higher education movement. What was once a strong area in the Christian ministry, Christian higher education is failing. The Bible College movement has been in decline for sometime. Schools are folding without the students or the funds to stay open. Most people are going to secular colleges and universities over Christian schools. One of the major problems with Christian higher education has been the failure to critically interact with the movement and offer an approach to dealing with this decline. David Dockery has helped fill this void with his recent volume, Renewing Minds. Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, TN, is extremely qualified to write in this capacity. A clear and thoughtful theologian, he has extensive experience in the areas of leading and administrating a Christian higher education institution. Not only has he lead Union University he also serves as chairman of the board of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. With recommendations from J. I. Packer, R. Albert Mohler, Chuck Colson, and a foreword by Robert P. George of Princeton University, this is a volume that should be seriously considered by all who love Christian education.

In Chapter 1, Dockery highlights the problem in America. He writes,

I believe that the integration of faith and learning is the essence of authentic Christian higher education and should be wholeheartedly implemented across the campus and across the curriculum. This was once the goal of almost every college in America. This is no longer the case…. What happened was a loss of an integrated worldview in the academy. There was a failure to see that every discipline and every specialization could be and should be approached from the vantage point of faith, the foundational building block for a Christian worldview (pp. 5–6).

Tracing the history of the departure of American schools into secularism and surveying the kinds of Christian higher education institutions in  North America leads to a defense of the system derived from Matthew 22:36–40 and the Great Commandment to love the Lord your God with your mind! The rest of the book explains how to go about obeying the Great Commandment in Christian higher education. Chapter 2 builds on this by explaining from the Scriptures the role of the Christian higher education institution and deals especially with the role of the Church, and therefore the Christian higher education institution in society. Chapter 3 explains the process of shaping a Christian worldview and the impact on this on Christian higher education. Chapter 4 is about reclaiming the Christian intellectual tradition. Dockery writes here after tracing the history of the Christian intellectual tradition,

Certainly we all learn apart from the great Christian intellectual tradition, apart from the vantage point of faith. But we cannot connect these things into a unified whole, we cannot fully understand the grand metanarrative; we cannot truly grasp how to explore and engage the issues in history and science, business and health care, apart from this approach to learning. Thus we must seek to sanctify the secular because Jesus Christ has come to earth (p. 84).

Chapter 5 addresses the issues of integrating faith and learning. Chapter 6 addresses the necessary concept of developing a place of belonging and community where scholars, educators, staff, and students live together, share, serve, and learn. Chapter 7 begins to offer practical ways of establishing this grace-filled academic community. Chapter 8 articulates how to develop a theology of Christian higher education. Developing this theology would have positive implications for the academic community and the individual. Chapter 9 serves as the culmination of the book with thinking globally about the future. With the changes in communication we must embrace the new in order to communicate the orthodoxy of the past into a new global world. This means listening as much as talking especially as global Christianity begins to reflect non-Western images, positions, and principles. Christian higher education does not just simply say the West is best but listens to all Christian voices in order to best communicate the timeless truth in new ways. This is then concluded by an extensive bibliography on the integration of faith and learning.

Dockery’s book fills a great need in the area of Christian higher education. He states the issues and the problems, traces the history of Christian higher education, articulates a biblical defense of the integration of faith and learning as well as a comprehensive theological defense. Not only does he articulate this at an academic level but he does not neglect the spiritual aspect of things, emphasizing not just “smart” Christians but “spiritual” Christians. The movement from “theory” to “practice” in Dockery’s book is exceptional. I hardly find anything in it that I would disagree with or anything I wish I say that I did not see in the book. It is an even handed treatment that should be read by those who care about Christian higher education and especially those involved in Christian higher education. May we see a renewal of a close integration of faith and learning on our campuses as we emphasize the great truth that all truth is God’s truth. May we raise up godly men and women who are passionate about the truth and about serving Christ in the world around them through the Great Commission. And may those of us involved in Christian higher education lead the way through authentic spirituality grounded in the truth. Highly recommended!

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