Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Statements of faith

I was reminded this week of the story of Joshua Hochschild, the erstwhile Wheaton College professor, who was terminated when he converted to Roman Catholicism. Wheaton, an evangelical school, says that Roman Catholicism is inconsistent with its statement of faith. Hochschild begs to differ, not because he thinks Wheaton should be tolerant, but because as he understands Roman Catholicism, he could in good conscience have continued to sign the statement of faith.

I read a bit of the early commentary on the Hochschild kerfuffle, but didn’t have the energy then, in the early stages of my recovery, to write anything.

The more common, and essentially uninteresting, response to Hochschild’s termination is to invoke the shade of academic freedom, identifying liberal education simply with untrammeled inquiry and arguing that any statement of faith is illiberal, retrogressive, intolerant, and hence contrary to the goals of education, properly understood. This conventional wisdom reflexively and uncritically identifies the goals of education with the goals of progressivism. It denies the possibility that an educational community could be organized around the preservation and exploration of a truth revealed in the past.

A rather more interesting line of argument begins from the claim that statements of faith like Wheaton’s may well serve to exclude Catholics, but has a harder time ruling out liberalizing and ultimately secularizing tendencies within evangelicalism. An exclusive reliance on Scripture, so the argument goes, isn’t necessarily proof against "creative" interpretations of Scripture. A statement of faith that accommodates Jim Wallis but excludes J.R.R. Tolkien isn’t a good guardian of orthodoxy.

The current issue of the AAUP’s journal Academe has several articles devoted to this theme. One simply identifies liberal democratic citizenship with tolerance and denies that communities that make faith demands of their members can cultivate it. I’d like a little more nuance, please. Another defends a pluralism of academic communities against the hegemony of liberal tolerance.

Most interesting, however, is this piece, written by a Calvin College philosophy professor:

A religious community is formed by a creed that affirms what that community takes to be the best distillation we have to date of the truth that has been delivered to us about ourselves and the world in which we live. In it, we derive a sense of our origin and destiny, our condition before God, our status in the universe, the virtues that befit a human being, and the basis of human hope and solidarity. We do not take this body of belief to be the simple product of human reflection, poetic invention, psychological need, or social interests. Rather, we take it to be a response to God’s self-disclosure, delivered to us through the agency of the church, so that our ignorance about fundamental matters might be overcome. We receive it gratefully, as one would receive a map and compass in the wilderness.

Clearly, the acceptance of a creed is not irrelevant to the aims of the academy. The academy is dedicated to the pursuit of truth. In expressing and aligning our beliefs about fundamental matters, the creeds—if they are right—can enhance our ability to track the truth about the rest of the world. That is, they can enhance our positive freedom to know the truth by removing a key internal constraint: our striking ignorance of how things stand concerning the ultimate status of God, ourselves, and the world we inhabit. The creeds can therefore be seen as an academic asset, not a liability, as an intellectual resource, not a restriction.

There’s more in the article and in the issue. I have additional reflections about this general issue that I’ll save for another post.

Discussions - 2 Comments

Obviously if Wheaton want to fire qualified faculty members for their sincere Christian religious convictions that is their business. Beyond the issue of academic freedom, however, there is also the issue of purblind fanatical stupidity. How, in both the conservative Evangelical community and the conservative Catholic community, there can still be people who do not understand that the great opposition of our time is between people who believe in the permanent things and people who do not is totally beyond me. All confessional differences are marginal at best in light of the distinction between soul extinguishing secular modernism and Christianity. I saw this silliness first hand at the High School I went to and I am revolted to see it again at Wheaton. It is especially disappointing to see this at Wheaton since they do not seem to have a problem with professors advocating so-called "open theism," but apparently confessing Catholic instructors are not orthodox enough! Wow, the scandal of the Evangelical mind indeed....

Mr. K. Please continue your line of inquiry. It is very helpful.

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