Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Saintly Case at Secular U” (article: Critique)

(Note: This talk, which was given at an apologetics roundtable at Covenant Theological Seminary in January 1994 was printed in Critique of the Ransom Fellowship.)
Francis Schaeffer Institute

Pharaoh to Joseph:
“You shall be in charge of my palace and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you …Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:40, 46)

Daniel to King Darius:
“O king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” (Daniel 6:21-22)

Mordecai to Esther:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will. escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:12-14)

Paul to the Colossians:
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:5-6)

A Cautionary Preface

I offer the following observations and reflections of a Christian teacher in a secular university with your understanding that I am a man with divided loyalties. That is, I own and operate a real estate company which provides the majority of my income and occupies the bulk of my time and attention. I teach as a beloved avocation and as an opportunity to engage in the noble enterprise of the dissemination of ideas. I don’t presume to hold a scholarly calling from our Lord. However, the arena of scholarship, the academy, in my case the secular academy, has been an important part of my life for the last 15 years. With that cautionary preface, here are some personal thoughts from a part-time academic in a secular university environment.

I. A word about my university

The university is a regional state teaching university of about 7,000 students and 300 full time faculty. Its location in rural Washington makes the university community rather conservative. Its senior faculty is distinguished since many have chosen to come to the university over more urban, and often more prestigious institutions, in order to enjoy the casual lifestyle of our city (population 13,000). Its departments of music, education, physical education and psychology are nationally recognized, with outstanding departments in art, accounting and history, along with several fine smaller programs. In the mid-80s, US News and World Report rated the university as one of the ten best small, comprehensive public liberal arts universities in the United States.

II. Teaching Responsibilities at the University

My current teaching responsibilities involve two university disciplines: business and honors liberal arts.

A. Business Administration Department

In the Business Administration Department, I’ve been teaching the real estate classes every quarter (except summer) since winter, 1991 when a retiring Christian faculty member asked me if I was interested in replacing him. My main class is Real Estate Principles, although from time to time I have taught a class in Real Estate Finance. My daily Principles class has three components of instruction:

1) A typical exposition of real estate principles from a standard text book.

2) A short, two-week module on a discussion of the concept of the acquiring and keeping of wealth as discussed in selected literature of Western civilization.

3) An extra-credit option of a 1,000-word essay on some non-real estate topic, which I call “Important Thought,” and which is to be a study in character, plot or thought of some significant work of fictional literature, philosophy, economics or history.

My rationale is that most of my students are junior or senior business majors who have never read the musings of the great minds. This is my meager attempt at broadening their intellectual horizons, and creating an intellectual curiosity about the philosophy of the marketplace into which most of them are shortly going. On the average, I will teach 100 students in my business class(es) each school year. I’m paid to teach these business courses.

The business administration department is very large (about 30 faculty members) and so I seldom see the Chairman. When I do we are very cordial–I am deferential and he is accommodating. My student evaluations over the last three years have averaged between “superior” (4) and “truly outstanding” (5), so I believe I am a contributing member of the department.

C. William O. Douglas Honors College

The other department for which I have teaching responsibilities is the William O. Douglas Honors College (DHC). This college is a typical honors component of a comprehensive, liberal arts university, centered around the so-called, “great books,” patterned after the Columbia University model earlier this century and currently being taught at places like St. John’s College and several small Catholic colleges. No Protestant college has yet adopted this approach to education, although Covenant College has a “Great Ideas” required core curriculum. Students are admitted into the honors program after they have been screened by the director of the college. There are two parts to the program: weekly two-hour seminars, and weekly two-hour lectures. Each class of students (e.g., freshmen, sophomores, etc.) has a unique reading list and so by the time a student matriculates through the college one has been exposed to about 80 great minds. There are about 50 students in the program, taught by 10 faculty members, none of whom are paid for their efforts–it is all a labor of love.

Through my work in the philosophy department, I had the opportunity to meet the director of the college and I expressed an interest in being a part of the program. Much to my surprise and delight, he called me this past summer and offered a faculty slot to me. I have expressed my appreciation and gratitude to him on several occasions. It is a personal privilege to be a faculty member in the DHC. My specific responsibility is to co-teach the sophomore seminar of about 8 students. Additionally, I periodically will give a series of lectures on various great thinkers covered in our program. For instance, I did a four-hour series on David Hume in the fall, and I am scheduled to do a four-hour series on Virgil in the spring. Three credits are given each quarter to the student, so participation in the program is assured. The sophomore seminar for which I am partially responsible covers readings and discussions beginning with the Old Testament running through Milton. The amount of reading is quite extensive (about 250 pages a week), and the discussions can be intense. My faculty colleague in the seminar is the past-interim president of the university with a Ph.D. in history. He is currently a university vice-president. His religious background is Greek Orthodox. He is a good man and a good friend. He is acquainted with my theology and my politics.

The director of the Honors College is also chairman of the computer science department. He is a faculty activist, being on the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. He also is an honorable man for whom I have a fondness and admiration. He too knows my politics and my theology, but I confess I do not yet know his. He has extended to me the invitation to lecture on almost any of the thinkers covered in the four-year program, because I suspect finding full-time faculty to lecture for free is increasingly difficult. In fact, my involvement in the honors college seems to be limited only by my need to earn a living in my real estate business.

Ill. Personal Background at the University Prior to Teaching

My teaching opportunity at the university was born more out of my contacts with administrators and faculty than as a result of my academic achievements or record. That is, due to my administrative, political and financial involvement doors were open for me to engage in a teaching opportunity which I continue to cherish. So to accurately tell my story, I need to briefly share these main involvements.

A. Administrative and Financial Involvements

Prior to teaching at the university, I served the institution as a member of its board of trustees during the 1980s, and for two terms was its chairman. Trustee positions in our state are gubernatorial appointments so they are political and partisan in origination. I am a Republican of the Ronald Reagan-Bill Bennett stripe, but I was appointed a trustee by a moderate Republican governor. Good trustees, however, leave some of their partisanship at the door when they assume the responsibilities of board membership. I think it is fair and honest to say that I was considered a friend of the university during my time on the board. The association of students voted me its “Prominent Figure of the Year” in 1988.

I will note, to complete my pre-teaching involvement in education survey, that in 1988 1 was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be on his National Council on Vocational Education which was a presidential commission to advise the White House on voc-ed matters in the United States, with particular focus on congressional legislation in this area under the Carl Perkins Act. The faculty in the vocational-ed department at the university were aware of this appointment.

On a less formal basis, but as it has turned out important nevertheless, during the years from 1980 (when Kathy and I moved back to my home town to take over my father’s real estate company) to the present, the extended Case family developed a history of being involved in the activities of the university as private citizens, primarily as business people willing to donate time and money to programs at the university.

(My father has been president of the university foundation, which is the private fund¬raising arm of Central, he has been president of the President’s Associates, which is a group of donors who support the university president in his programs, and he was an early chairman of the Central Investment Fund, which is a scholarship project to attract outstanding high school students to Central. Both my father and mother have been the community representatives on the presidential inauguration committees. My wife, Kathy, has her Master’s from Central and has served as community representative on the university committee to select the Distinguished Professor of the Year for several years. During these same years, I have participated financially in the university programs by making several financial contributions to the athletic department, by being a sponsor of the music department’s performance of the Messiah, by contributing to the university symphony (in which my daughter played), and by sponsoring a student tutorial and catered faculty/student reception for Jamie Buswell.)

In sum, the promotion of scholarship and education was something for which I had a reputation.

B. Political Involvements

In 1990, I ran for the state house of representatives as a Republican in our conservative, agriculture district. I ran strongly supporting higher education, specifically, the university. Without going into a lot of painful detail, I was defeated in the Republican primary by a Christian brother as conservative as I, who lived in the farming population center of the district. I have also served as the county Republican chairman for several years. I’ll return to this theme a little later.

IV. Functioning as a Christian Faculty at Secular U.

As I have thought about this since Jerram and I talked a while back, my relationship with faculty colleagues, students and administrators has been an attempt to reflect the three principles of respect, encouragement and co-belligerency. Allow me to explain.

A. Respect for the Mind

When I first went to L’Abri in 1968 as the European Public Relations Director of Campus Crusade for Christ, I believed that ideological pollution was all I could get from a non-Christian. Bill Bright told us that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. But Francis Schaeffer told me that any truth is God’s truth. And that, with a proper categorical framework of understanding, I need not be afraid of ideas because my sovereign Lord said, “I am the truth.” It is a simple message that most of you knew before me and know better than I now, but for me then and now it was and is revolutionary: I didn’t have to be afraid of thinking.

Which meant I didn’t have to be afraid of my ignorance and that, with the proper intellectual framework, my life should be an act of worship as a life of learning, because I would be more pleasing to my savior as a result of my redeeming my mind. (I will share with you that a role model for me in demonstrating a self-effacing, Augustinian intellectual integrity within the Biblical framework has been Covenant Seminary’s David Jones.)

It is with this conviction about truth that I entered Covenant Seminary, later Fuller Seminary, and the university. This illuminating idea of truth which I gained from Schaeffer sustains in me a humility concerning my own abilities, and a great respect for those who have given their lives to a search for knowledge and truth, even if the search is without the guiding light of Jesus. Schaeffer wept tears over the futility of the non-Christian search, he didn’t belittle the search. In humility, I attempt to learn from my secular colleagues because what truth I learn from them is a gift from my God.

Consequently, in my morning family devotions I ask for protection when I am teaching on campus and when I’m doing my studies. But I also give thanks for the secularist scholars who teach me, and I pray for their salvation. I consider it a God-given opportunity and privilege to learn from, and teach with, men and women who care about truth and ideas.

I find it an interesting phenomenon that over the last several years I have increasingly found myself as man without a community. That is, the business community in which I work most of the day doesn’t understand or care for my love of ideas, or my delight in simple philosophic discourse. The evangelical church community where I worship doesn’t seem to understand my appreciation for ideas, and my respect and friendship with the secularists at the university, and the academic community where I teach doesn’t quite know what to make of me because I don’t fit their profile of a member of the academy.

To illustrate, let me cite an example in the academic community. Concerning the evangelical church, I remember a luncheon meeting I attended with three other believers involved in various ways with university ministry. The purpose of the meeting was to determine if and how we, as believers, could have an apologetic ministry on campus. The tone of the meeting was one of “them” against “us,” and that we had to offer an intellectual antidote to what was being taught at our secular university. I must tell you that I was frustrated with the comments and I argued against a secular-sacred mental siege framework. Furthermore, I indicated that I had a great deal of respect and admiration for the scholarly attainments of many of the faculty, regardless of their spiritual convictions, and in my relationship with them I did not think they were, to use Elmer Smick’s memorable phrase, “fiends from hell.” Furthermore, I indicated the faculty of the philosophy department had challenged me to be more thoughtful, careful and understanding in my reformed Christian convictions. Well, if this group of men is still meeting and planning, it is meeting and planning without me for I haven’t been invited back. These brothers may well think that I am compromising my faith by such praise of these secular academics, but I don’t believe so. While I believe that intellectual vigilance must always be preserved, I don’t think I need to reject and discard outright what the secularists teach me
In 1991, I approached the philosophy department at the university to determine if it would permit me to take a master’s degree in philosophy with a concentration in the history of philosophy. The university does not have a master’s of arts in philosophy, so what I was asking for was a unique program for me–to allow me to philosophically shake hands with the great thinkers of the world under the guidance of the philosophy department. It would have to be a tailor-made program to fit my desires and my work schedule. The department is highly regarded on campus as being academically rigorous, venerable and outspoken. It is also politically liberal and theologically non-Christian. The faculty has their doctorates from places like Harvard, Princeton, Tulane, Chicago, Stanford, and USC. Into this mix I came as a forty-eight year old businessman, who is arguably, the most recognizable political conservative in the county and one of the better known evangelicals. Needless to say, there was some skepticism on the part of the philosophers. But, I also came into the department with a bonafide commitment of interest that was highly unusual for a philosophy student at the university–I wanted what they had, that is, knowledge of the great ideas of the world. I wanted them to teach me the history of the great ideas and I was prepared to pay the price for that education. Without much prodding, they agreed to take me as a graduate student and I will always be grateful for their willingness to teach me.

During my program of study, I have consistently let the philosophers know how much I appreciate their working with me. I believe it is a privilege to study with these men. Because I genuinely respect and appreciate the faculty of the philosophy department, I have been an advocate for them in the university community. For instance, I have written to the board of trustees on their behalf, I have attended their public lectures, I have contributed to their retirement parties, and just last week I was able to nominate and see approved one of my two philosophy mentors (a Fuller grad who has become a Buddhist) as Phi Kappa Phi Scholar of the Year for this year–a great honor at the university. So I express my appreciation and respect for these men in a number of tangible and specific ways.

An aside before I move on to my second principle of encouragement: While the number of professing Christian faculty members at the university is small, it is difficult, of course, to determine who is a genuine believer and who simply a church-goer. Still, among those who identify themselves as evangelicals by attending an evangelical church, the testimony on campus of these teachers is tragically silent or watered-down by a lack of biblical thinking. Far too often the believing faculty, lovely and respectable people, have accepted the prevailing orthodoxies of the culture or their discipline, and therefore provide their students with only a diminished Christian framework for their knowledge. It is more distinctive to be a political conservative than it is to be an evangelical Christian, because the cause of Christ has been more eviscerated than the notions of National Review. Indeed, I often believe that my evangelical Christianity is bootlegged into the discussions while flying under the protection of my political conservatism, which is more easily demarcated. That is, more faculty claim to be Christians through church affiliation and yet fewer think Christianly, than admit to being political conservatives. It’s all right to attend church, just don’t let that attendance influence your thinking–an echo of the sound of Stephen Carter’s new book, The Culture of Disbelief.

B. Encouragement to Those in the Academy

Because of my early contact with L’Abri and Schaefferians (including those who influenced Schaeffer, like Machen), I have felt that a contribution I could perhaps make at the university was a demonstration that historic, evangelical Christianity was not anti-intellectual–that it valued the mind as well as the soul. I don’t pretend to be splendidly endowed to make that demonstration, but to the extent that I am able, I see that as important.

Consequently, in my classes I make sure that great thinkers, including Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, etc. are accorded respectful treatment. I also refer to Scriptural teaching in my classes when appropriate. I chose the sophomore honors class because it covered the Scriptures and most of the great Christian philosophers and early writers, and therefore an evangelical Christian would have the opportunity to explain the Christian tradition in a positive and reverent manner.

Another example of this effort is my master of philosophy thesis. The main proposition of my thesis entitled, “David Hume: A Conservative for Our Day,” is that Hume is the first post-Christian political philosopher and that he believed that less government was best government. His philosophical skepticism and his view of social institutions (e.g., the established church) were to be the safeguard of a society against a Leviathan. It is basically an Americanization of the ideas of Michael Oakeshott, the 20th century British political philosopher, a decidedly non-Christian. Under my treatment though, Hume is challenged for his anti-evangelical, specifically anti-Calvinist, sentiments. Even with my mild evangelical critique of Hume, some in the philosophy department have suggested that I teach a class in Hume next year. I will enthusiastically do so, if the suggestion continues to hold.

My relationship with my Greek Orthodox co-teacher in DHC is one of mutual respect, even though I am clearly an evangelical and he is Greek Orthodox. For my part, I make sure that the students know that my colleague is an honored and influential member of the academic community, and has seniority over me. I genuinely don’t presume to usurp his position or authority, and I am deferential to his decisions as is only fitting since he is senior to me. For his part, he gives me absolute freedom to expound, explain and exegete on evangelical Christianity to the extent I choose. We carry on an easy banter between us, much to the delight of the students; they have mentioned to us that this quarter’s seminar has been the most enjoyable one of the four they’ve had.

I have found a sense of humor to be a great ally for this Christian on my secular campus. I suspect it will be increasingly more difficult for me to be humorous and deferential if our culture continues to move in the same direction, but I do believe in the calling of the mind, so I will try to keep my sense of perspective and humor. The people as image-bearers of God, deserve from me, a follower of Christ, my practicing of truth, as well as my proclaiming of truth (as Schaeffer said).

Another example of my attempt to encourage is that when I have opportunity as a lecturer in the DHC or my business classes I make a special effort to discern evangelical students and to let them know that I too am a follower of Jesus. The one evangelical student in my DHC class takes great comfort and encouragement in my profession of evangelical faith, and I take special care to encourage her in her scholarship. Kathy and I plan to hold some informal dinners with evangelical DHC students for the sake of encouraging them in their integration of spirituality with their quest for academic excellence. These young scholars do so adorn the gospel with their bold brightness. It is a privilege for me to listen to them interact with other students.

I should say that I encourage the non-Christian students, as well, to make their case as strongly and as cogently as possible, and not to treat their position in a sloppy or trivial manner; not only for their sake, but also for my sake, for when they do make an excellent case for their views, I can learn from them. I have found this encouragement has helped win their trust, because they realize I really do care for them and their ideas, even when I don’t agree with them.

C. Co-belligerency with Secularists

The American universities are generally under a great attack right now from those who would limit the access to certain ideas–most of the ideas under attack find their roots in the Judeo-Christian framework, although most are not specifically identified as Christian: The secularized American university has long since disposed of purposefully Christian ideas being promulgated from within its precincts. Nevertheless, this broad attack is causing great concern among strange academic bedfellows. This attack is being conducted under the slogan of overcoming neglect, disadvantage and injustice to racial, ethnic, cultural, gender and homosexual minorities. In this attack, group identity is more important that individual accomplishment. Salvation, the attackers say, belongs to the group, not to the individual.

On the defensive in this academic war are all those who believe in freedom of speech, unfettered inquiry and serious exchange, and evangelical academics. C. Vann Woodward, the esteemed Yale historian and to my knowledge not an evangelical, is one of those on the defensive. He wrote earlier this year in a wonderful essay, “Where The Unthinkable Can be Thought,” (published in Academic Questions, Fall, 1993) that those in the university community, whether on the political Right or on the Left (Woodward is a self-noted leftist), must join together, on “common ground” to struggle for the notion “that the individual pursuit of truth and excellence in any field of learning, and that the capacity for appreciating the greatest achievements of intelligence and genius are the very purposes of higher education.” I would add for the Christian, this “pursuit” and “appreciation” is an act of worship to our sovereign God.

What this ideological struggle has meant for me is a door of opportunity. Again, the animating principle behind much of my cultural and political apologetic comes from Francis Schaeffer, in this case from his wonderful phrase–“co-belligerency.” (The Church, at the End of the 20th Century). That is, as a Christian who believes in the efficacy of ideas, freedom of speech and thought is critical to education which is higher. So I join with non-Christians to form a bulwark to protect the free exchange of unpopular, offensive and even painful ideas, many of which I find myself espousing in a public, secular university. Dissent is to be protected in secular universities. Now while civility, amicability and camaraderie may not be guaranteed by university authorities, for the Christian they must be practiced; indeed, they can be the differentiating mark of a Christian academic. To return to Schaeffer, he argued that I must exhibit in my life truth in my relationships or community, as well as truth in my ideas. Such an exhibition I attempt.

Part of the way I exhibit truth in my relationships is by my service to my “co-belligerents.” For instance, I am the campus representative for scholarly, non-sectarian organizations such as National Association of Scholars and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. As such, I help coordinate faculty gatherings and speakers to foster free and rational discourse. For instance, I have been the president of the local chapter of Phi Kappa Phi for three years. Phi Kappa Phi is the small college counterpart to Phi Beta Kappa as a national academic honorary. For instance, I serve as the campus conduit to the Republican Party since I am regularly asked to organize informal meetings between various faculty members and regional GOP politicians. I also served as the community representative on the university search committee to hire the university lobbyist. As the lone conservative on the committee I argued, nevertheless, for the hiring of a liberal, female with a Ph.D. from Oxford as the best qualified applicant. To affirm my support, I asked her to keynote the Phi Kappa Phi initiation ceremony on campus last June. And lastly, as a businessman I organize fund-raising initiatives for various faculty groups.

Concluding Statement

Am I always successful in my three-fold Christian response (respect, encouragement, co-belligerency) in a secular university? Of course not. At times, I hate, I pout, I manipulate. At other times I feel hurt, betrayed, mistreated. But I continue because I enjoy the world of ideas and respect those who live and work in that world. Will the open door of opportunity stay open for me at the university? I don’t know. I have no control over that. I only have my Christian response. As long as God keeps the door open, I will continue to be a colleague with those outside the pale, and an encouragement to those brothers and sisters inside the Way in order that the gospel may be promulgated in my little corner of a state-supported, secular university.


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