Note: This article first appeared in the Advent 2012 print edition of The North American Anglican.
We are at a kairos-moment—a critical time—in the history of North American Anglicanism. The crisis within the Anglican Communion comes at a crisis moment in the wider culture. Crucially at stake are the authority of Scripture; orthodox Anglican faith and practice; the integrity and unity of the Anglican Communion; and a faithful Christian witness to reach a lost and dying world.
Nevertheless, crises are also opportunities. It has provided the opportunity for faithful Anglicans, inside and outside the Episcopal Church, to stand for the Gospel as at no previous time. We are learning anew to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ in faithful witness within the Anglican Communion and the wider world.
Not surprisingly, we perceive signs of the Holy Spirit at work to renew North American Anglicanism. Whether it be the founding of the Anglican Church in North America, or the efforts of an orthodox remnant to differentiate themselves within the Episcopal Church, there is a renewed courage to proclaim the Gospel. Anglicans are planting churches again, as attested by movements such as the Anglican Mission or Anglican 1000. We are not retreating in fear, but moving forward with confidence to proclaim the Gospel anew in a time of crisis.
However, if the renewal of Anglicanism in North America is to take deep and lasting root—if it is to speak effectively to our culture and impact the Anglican Communion worldwide—we need the renewal of the mind (Romans 12.2). The challenge to the Gospel in the 21st century is not merely spiritual but also intellectual and cultural. Indeed, as the Anglican Communion has experienced firsthand, Western culture has lost its moorings—its soul is lost, its mind clouded by darkness. We need, therefore, to train our children to hold every thought captive to Christ, and to destroy every lofty opinion which denies Him as Lord (2 Corinthian 10.5).
In short, we need Christ-centered, biblically based education at all levels, kindergarten through graduate school. Alongside faithful churches, we must plant faithful schools, colleges and other institutions of intellectual formation. They are places where we might unite the spiritual and academic formation of our children.
In this effort, colleges and universities committed to Jesus Christ have a special vocation. Higher education is where the highest level of intellectual formation and debate take place. It is the home for articulating and defending a Christian worldview in an ongoing dialogue with the wider culture. Colleges and universities are crucial because they form new leaders in the church and the wider culture. If the movement for Anglican renewal is to succeed, we must raise up generation after generation of faithful leaders intellectually and spiritually equipped to face the challenges before them.
We need a renewal of the Anglican mind—and dynamic institutions of higher learning should lead the way.
Tragically, no institution is playing such a role in North America today. The Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion (CUAC, https://cuac.anglicancommunion.org/members/institutions.aspx) claims eight member institutions in the United States. However, at none of these schools does the Christian faith serve as the organizing core for mission and education. Their Anglican connection appears to be of merely “historic” or “traditional” significance. Read their mission statements or curriculum descriptions and the message is clear: Christian faith is merely one among many in the marketplace of worldviews you will encounter there. “Religion” courses may be taken as a major or an elective, but biblical and theological study plays no role in the core curriculum. What’s missing is the Christian worldview in the classroom, consciously embraced by faculty, staff and institution. Instead, their creed appears to be that of the modern secular academy: intellectual autonomy amidst a plurality of equally worthy worldviews.
In short, Anglican institutions of higher learning in the United States have all followed the well-trodden path of secularization. They are entirely absent from committed Christian higher education. What might have once been a bright witness, no longer is.
What’s worse, this comes at a time when Christian colleges appear to be in high demand. Over the past 50 years Christ-centered, biblically based higher education in the United States has flourished.  The reason is clear: Christian young people and their parents see the struggles the church faces in confronting the contemporary world. So they look to a Christian college experience to equip them with a Christian worldview for vocations of service to the church and the world. Many of our parishioners send their children to such colleges. Some of them even teach or serve in administration at them. But tragically, we Anglicans have nothing of our own to offer.
What the renewal of Anglicanism in North America needs is a college grounded in an unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ. We need a college that forms young hearts, souls and minds in the knowledge and love of His truth—revealed in Holy Scripture, confessed by the catholic Creeds, proclaimed for two millennia by His faithful followers and cherished by the best of our Anglican heritage. This is the birthright of every Anglican Christian—a precious gift we must pass on to the church and the world.
What I am proposing, then, is that orthodox Anglicans found a confessionally Anglican liberal arts college. I believe we ought to plant a small residential college community with three distinctive features: daily worship according to the Book of Common Prayer, a biblical and classical Great Books curriculum, and Christ-centered service and outreach. I envision a worshipping, missional community of intellectual formation preparing students for lives of service to Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
I am provisionally calling it Canterbury College. I am not wedded to this name, but it does reflect our Anglican heritage and to my knowledge, there is no other such college in the United States. Canterbury College should embody, I believe, the passion of St. Anselm, the great medieval philosopher and holder of the See of Canterbury. He sought to submit His intellect to Jesus Christ, and saw learning as essentially illuminated by faith. In fact, his motto fides quaerens intellectum—faith seeking understanding—might serve as the motto for Canterbury College.
Let me unpack the four distinctives I envision for Canterbury College:
(1) By a “small residential” college, I mean no more than 300-500 students. I envision us founding, in effect, an academic intentional community of mentors and learners, united in a common intellectual and spiritual task. Part of the reason for (at least starting) small is indeed practicality. But there is a deeper, more principled reason as well. Increasingly, hi-tech alternatives to the traditional, residential college experience are proliferating across American higher education. The residential college, if it is to survive, must be “hi-touch”—a place where personal mentoring and human community genuinely transform students. That can be done best, I believe, in a smaller context, with smaller classes and mentoring opportunities.
(2) Worship should be the rhythm of College life. We should “keep time,” as it were, “by the Book.” For us Anglicans, the model of Thomas Cranmer envisioned by his Prayer Book is, sadly, a road abandoned by our contemporary educational institutions, but it is our treasure—a gift we can offer to the wider academy. From the first Book of Common Prayer on, the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer was to serve as the daily rhythm of life for all devout Anglicans. Imagine, then, a campus life framed by corporate worship: it would incarnate the principle that all true learning is doxological—to the praise and glory of God.
In effect, we would be creating a neo-monastic community formed by the Benedictine ethos of our Anglican heritage.
Canterbury College should teach young people the historic 1662 Prayer Book. It is our patrimony and should not be treated as a relic. Nevertheless, discernment in worship means being able to evaluate and appreciate the best in the present as much as in the past. So chapel might primarily draw upon suitable contemporary Anglican liturgies (such as Common Worship or the new ACNA 2019 Prayer Book) and incorporate the best expressions of the evangelical, catholic and charismatic traditions.
Of course, part of teaching students the Prayer Book involves training them to be lay readers, acolytes, musicians and the like. (Canterbury College should award just as many choral scholarships as academic!) Daily worship is a golden opportunity to train up a generation who truly knows why and how to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Christian college students work daily to understand more about God, His work and His world. But that understanding will necessarily be incomplete, mere “head knowledge,” if they are not constantly about the work of prayer (lex orandi, lex credendi). Formation that trans-forms is always of the whole person—heart, soul and mind.
(3) Between Morning and Evening Prayer, Canterbury College shall daily devote itself to a program of biblical and classical learning. At Canterbury College, the classical core should be grounded, primarily, in the study of Scripture and the Church Fathers. Bible and theology must serve as the foundation for a classical Great Book-type curriculum. Some Christian colleges have adopted a Great Books approach, but the vision I have for Canterbury College is unique: students shall study the Bible in the original languages of Hebrew or Greek and the Church Fathers shall be our primary guide in developing a comprehensive Christian worldview. That will be our foundation to engage the other great treasures of world learning.
It may seem outdated to some, or impractical to others, but a Bible-based classical education is a time-tried pattern that offers outstanding preparation for any future vocation or further education. It develops the highest level of creative and critical thinking, excellence in written and oral expression, and a confidence to engage the wider culture with the mind of Christ. We live in a rapidly changing world, with a bewildering array of worldviews vying for our allegiance. A biblically based classical education is the strongest possible bulwark against the erosion of Biblical authority amid the swirling winds of competing doctrine. What’s more, on average only 1 in 7 students ever have a career in the field they studied in college. A biblical and classical education prepares students broadly and with skills employers always prize. Such a foundation can help them better negotiate perhaps even several vocational changes.
Canterbury College must maintain the highest standards of academic excellence. We should strive to create a Christian liberal arts college whose admissions standards and graduation requirements rival the very best in the nation. We should want our graduates prepared to be leaders in whatever profession they enter. In an increasingly competitive higher education “marketplace,” excellence is a distinctive value that concerned parents and students are willing to pay for.
Yes, our curriculum should be demanding, but the life-blood of Canterbury College will be its top-flight faculty members, who will serve as academic and spiritual mentors. Personal care from outstanding professors is the best way to spur students on to academic excellence and give them confidence in self-expression. Faculty members should be both excellent teachers and significant scholars, for both activities model intellectual fidelity to Jesus Christ. Good faculty hiring practices are also essential to maintain institutional integrity. We should ensure that each professor is a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ, committed to the authority and infallibility of Scripture, to holy living in all areas of life and to service within the Anglican church.
(4) Finally, Canterbury College shall always strive to be salt and light within its community and the academic world more generally. A community of worship and study may grow stale if there is not a sense of outward vocation to the church and the world. So our life together should constantly be offered “for the life of the world.”
First, our curriculum should require students to regularly engage in mentored service learning and mission outreach. Whether it is serving as an intern at a nearby Anglican church plant or coordinating a ministry to the homeless, service learning gives students the opportunity to apply the on-campus spiritual and intellectual formation to serving neighbors in the surrounding community. Mission outreach opportunities may be at home and abroad. Whether it be a summer or spring break mission trip, students would gain practical experience sharing the Gospel. Both service learning and mission outreach can also provide an excellent context for students to cultivate leadership and ministry gifts. It may also help them discern a call to ministry. With bishops, priests or deacons on faculty or staff, Canterbury College can provide effective mentoring opportunities to those who sense such a call.
Second, the College itself should be a beacon, for institutions as much as individuals serve in their various communities. Historically, in the community of higher learning, Christian institutions of learning have always played such a role. From the monastic schools during the Middle Ages to the Christian school movement of today, schools serve not only as bulwarks against chaos or spiritual decline, but they shed the Light of Jesus Christ upon all human endeavors—to illuminate God’s Truth wherever it may be found.
The question is, can a single, small liberal arts college, rooted in the Bible, theology and the Great Books, accomplish all that much? By design, Canterbury College should begin small. A small beginning is an achievable task—the most academically and fiscally feasible plan with a reasonable chance of success in the near term. However, such small beginnings do not preclude future growth. In fact, a successful start should lay a solid foundation for future growth and expansion. A classical program core could easily branch out into other humanistic disciplines, or might, with vision and funding, seek to offer more comprehensive disciplinary offerings (e.g., in the natural sciences, or at the graduate level)—and in time, evolve into a full-fledged university. For now, however, my vision is: start small and excellent. That is the best way to achieve success, both in educating students and in exerting a wider influence. For size is not the measure of an academic institution, but the quality of its product and its professors is. Indeed, we may exert a very significant influence without significant size.
The more immediate, practical concern is, however, this: we need a place where Anglican academics can gather and pass on their legacy to the next generation. We have many devoted, orthodox Anglican professors at other Christian colleges or at Anglican seminaries. None of them, however, is gathered together in the common project of passing on a quality, liberal education to the coming generation. Something truly unique and compelling happens when an academic institution gives its members a common vision and vocation—then sets them loose to do that very work. For over 25 years I personally have tasted this at some outstanding institutions of Christian higher learning. Canterbury College should provide just such a vision and vocation for the members of its community.
For far too long Anglicans have not set forth a viable model for how this might be done. We have not pointed the way to the wider academy, Christian or secular, but rather have tended to capitulate to secular modernity. We have not lacked “bright lights”—outstanding, widely read Anglican scholars or intellectuals. We certainly have them. Rather, our institutions have ceased to be places where high level scholarship could be undertaken in a distinctively Anglican context with a distinctively Anglican character. The Anglican mind—if there be such a thing!—needs to be recovered and represented by a flagship, standard-bearing institution. I truly believe a new Anglican college could be just such a place.
- Among others, historian George Marsden has persuasively narrated this history in numerous influential works, especially The Soul of the University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (Oxford University Press, 1996). ↑
- For instance, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) is the flagship network of Christian institutions of higher learning, whose mission is “to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth” (http://www.cccu.org/about). Founded in 1976 with 38 members, today in 2011 it features 111 full- and 73 affiliate-member institutions. They span diverse denominational and non-denominational backgrounds, but all are committed to Christ-centered, biblically based instruction and scholarship. None of the CUAC institutions is a member of the CCCU. ↑
- Heading into the 20th century, enrollment at Christ-centered, biblically based institutions of higher learning increased at a dramatically higher rate than their counterparts in the United States educational marketplace. The CCCU reports increases of 40%, much higher than the single-digit growth rate at the alternatives. (See the CCCU summary of U.S. Department of Education data titled, “The Booming Decade: CCCU Enrollment Trends Summary for the 1990s.”) In its later (2003) “State of Christian Higher Education Report,” the CCCU was able to report that: “While national comparison data is only available through 1999, the CCCU is able to report its enrollment in fall 2002 of 215,593 students. This record number of students in 2002 show that enrollment skyrocketed with a 60% increase from 1990 to 2002. Further research shows a higher percentage of student retention with 73.5% of CCCU freshmen returning for their sophomore year in 2001, compared to 71.7% at other similar colleges nationally.” ↑
- Too often Christian colleges make chapel optional, or treat worship as extrinsic to the formation going on in the classroom. Thankfully, Christian higher education is finally starting to realize that worship is not an extrinsic feature of education—it must be its lifeblood—because all of life is worship. Philosopher James K.A. Smith has forcefully made this case in his influential book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Baker, 2009). Liturgy shapes our desires, and it is our desires that are, crucially, at stake in education. Thus, authentic learning will integrate authentic worship at its core—both will share a “common liturgy” in an effective college curriculum. ↑
- Two schools in sister traditions have modeled excellence according to a similar classical vision wedded to deep Christian commitment: Thomas Aquinas College (www.thomasaquinas.edu), a Roman Catholic college in California founded in 1971, and New St. Andrew’s College in Moscow, ID (https://nsa.edu/), which is a Presbyterian-type Reformed college founded in 1994. Both have proven track records of academic excellence. Their graduates are leaders in the workplace and consistently get placed in top-flight professional and graduate programs. Any working group seeking to start an Anglican college would do well to study their examples carefully, especially through on-site visits. ↑