Book Review, Professing Christ: Christian Tradition and Faith-learning Integration in Public Universities

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Book Reviewed: Jonathan Pettigrew and Robert H. Woods, Jr., eds. (2022). Professing Christ: Christian Tradition and Faith-Learning Integration in Public Universities (Pasco, WA: Integratio Press, 2022). Amazon Associates Link

Reviewed By: David W. Kling

Journal of Christian Teaching Practice, Volume 10 (January-December 2023)

Reviewer Affiliation: University of Miami

Total Pages: 223

ISBN-10: 0999146335

Do other religious traditions give as much attention to the integration of faith and learning in college or university settings as Christians, particularly those within the evangelical orbit in America? Can one find comparable attention among Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists?[1] Are atheists, de-constructionists, or neo-Marxists attentive to the integration of their convictions in the classroom and interaction with students? I think not. Is the preoccupation with “thinking Christianly” in all aspects of college or university life peculiar to Christians—at least in America? I think so. Historically, of course, this has been the case since the founding of European universities, when it was assumed that all knowledge reflected the source of that knowledge, the Creator God revealed in Christ Jesus and the scriptures. And in America, beginning with the founding of Harvard, Christian (and particularly, evangelical) impulses shaped higher education, though, of course, that is no longer the case at public universities and private secular institutions. Despite this “dying of the light,”[2] committed Christians in academia persist in the conviction that their faith and learning can and should be integrated. My personal experience, having attended an evangelical college and taught at a Christian one for several years, confirms this abiding concern. Decades ago, I was introduced to the now classic work by Arthur Holmes, All Truth is God’s Truth (1977), then to The Reality of Christian Learning (1987), edited by Harold Heie and David L. Wolfe, and a decade later, Should God Get Tenure: Essays on Religion and Higher Education (1997), edited by David W. Gill. I have on my bookshelf the little book published by Campus Crusade, A Grander Story: An Invitation to Christian Professors (2017) by Rick Hove and Heather Holleman, and I have reviewed Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (2004) by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda H. Jacobsen. These works represent a small sample of the many articles, chapters, and books that address the integration of faith and learning. One wonders: Is there any more to be said?

As Professing Christ makes clear, there is. Indeed, as the editors emphasize in their excellent introduction, a constantly changing cultural context (intellectual and environmental) calls for fresh ways of thinking about and practicing the integration of faith and learning—especially at public universities, the focus of this book. In sixteen short chapters (8-10 pages each), professors in communication studies reveal the shaping influence of the Christian faith on their teaching and scholarship. Because the field of communication is not discipline specific (see the comments of Clifford Christians in the concluding chapter), these probing personal and practical narratives have much to contribute to Christian perspectives in all areas of academic inquiry. Approaching teaching and research from a variety of perspectives—confessional, prayerful, sacramental, theological, and theoretical—the contributors demonstrate the continued significance of faith in secular, public university settings.

While chapters vary in their emphases, each provides a short autobiographical sketch of the author’s background and the trajectory of his or her academic career. A discussion of the diverse approaches toward faith integration in teaching and research follows. The autobiographical narratives fascinate due to the multifarious twists and turns that have led the authors to a career in communication studies. Some contributors grew up in stable, Christian households; others were from dysfunctional and/or non-Christian homes; still others found themselves somewhere in between. Some knew they always wanted to pursue teaching; some took a more circuitous route before entering the academy. Just as diverse as the authors’ backgrounds are the Christian traditions represented, including Baptists, Mennonites, Dutch Reformed, Presbyterians, Catholics, and others (though no contributor from the Orthodox tradition). All contributors are white, with males outnumbering females two-to-one.

Given the varied backgrounds and faith traditions represented, one would expect equally various approaches toward faith and learning. To some extent, as I will indicate later, that is the case, but two consistent faculty practices stand out: praying and caring. Several chapters emphasize the importance of praying for students (and with them if they are Christians), colleagues, administrators, and the university at large. Greater prominence is given to expressions of caring: cultivating of relationships, modeling servant leadership, viewing students and colleagues as neighbors to be loved, demonstrating compassionate pedagogy, and conveying sensitivity when challenging students to examine their presuppositions. Notably, contributor Helen Sterk combines the characteristics of feminist consciousness with love of neighbor.

All contributors acknowledge that their Christian worldview stands in sharp contrast to the reigning paradigm of non-belief in university education, but there are distinct differences in how they confront this reality. On one hand, from the Catholic sacramental perspective of Dennis Cali, which views all of life infused with the divine, there is “an openness to discover and enhance the unique goodness of the Academy as a community of discovery and learning” (33). On the other hand, from the fundamentalist-shaped Protestant perspective of John Katsion, which separates nature and grace, there is the missionary imperative “to be light in a spiritually dark world” (79). Katsion’s view is even farther removed from that of Mark Williams, a convert to Catholicism, whose Christian approach is one of “indifference” in the classroom—a tack that, he admits, “is anathema to many passionate evangelicals” (159).

While the major focus of these stories of faith-learning integration is in the context of teaching, several contributors address the area of research. A few examples will suffice. Douglas Kelley and Brittany Peterson observe that God’s concern for “the least of these” has shaped the subject matter of their research. Richard Olsen explains how his Christian presuppositions enabled him to detect “a trend toward materialism and self-godhood” in cell phone plan advertisements (104). Dennis Cali’s Catholic commitments led him to examine the religious rhetoric of papal statements, and Geraldine Forsberg emphasizes the transforming influence of Jacques Ellul on the way she approaches her scholarship.

Professing Christ is both a welcome primer for Christian graduate students entering the academy as well as a salutary reminder for those of us who have been long in it. The spiritually transformative influence of the contributors to this volume serves as an inspiration to all Christ-followers who teach, mentor, serve, and inquire in the secular academy.


[1] A long conversation with a Muslim colleague made clear to me that Muslim faculty at public universities or private secular institutions do not emphasize the integration of faith and learning to the same extent as committed Christian faculty. To his knowledge, there is no body of scholarship that addresses the issues that preoccupy Christian academics. This absence is in part related to the small number of Muslim faculty, as well as to the choice of academic careers pursued by Muslims—such as engineering, the natural sciences, and in professional schools where faith and learning issues are less prominent than in the humanities and social sciences. A similar neglect of faith-learning integration applies to Jews, even Jewish institutions. When the journalist Naomi Schaeffer Riley contacted Yeshiva University to inquire about a visit, she was told Yeshiva was not a religious institution and did not “inculcate Jewish faith and learning” in its curricula. See Naomi Schaeffer Riley, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation are Changing America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005), 107. By far, the integration of faith and learning has preoccupied Christian (primarily evangelical) liberal arts colleges, whose stated core mission is to pursue this integration.

[2] The phrase is from James Tunstead Burtchaell, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998).


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