Tract VI – The Idea of the Anglican University

This entry is part 10 of 16 in the series Erlandson: Tracts for the Times 2.0

The Need for Anglican Universities

Martin Luther allegedly once said: “If I believed the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.” And so, in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, I’m planting the idea of the Anglican university today.

If the church is to create and sustain her own faithful culture, then she needs to create and sustain her own schools for transmitting this culture. In my last Tract, “The Necessity of the Parochial School,” I introduced the concept of The Threefold Cord of Christian Catechesis: the Christian church, family, and school, working in harmony. In that article I had in mind especially the parochial K-12 school, but now I’d like to extend the idea of our need for ecclesial education to include the Christian university and, in particular, the need for a uniquely Anglican university.

The parochial Anglican school movement is now under way (thanks, in large part, to the Anglican School Association), and we have at least a few good Anglican seminaries in North America (Nashotah House, Trinity School for Ministry, Philadelphia Seminary (REC), Cummins Seminary (REC), and Cranmer Theological House (REC). But to my knowledge, we still do not have a distinctively Anglican university in the United States.

If education were value-neutral or if university-level education could and should be generically Christian, then I suppose no need for a distinctively Anglican university would exist. In my previous article, “The Necessity of the Parochial School” I argued that one of the most important reasons why parochial schools are needed is because education is inherently religious and Christian education must of necessity be tied to the Church. I believe the same is true for the Christian university, if we conceive of education in holistic terms as spiritual, moral, intellectual, and practical maturity in Christ. Christian universities, severed from a close connection with the Church have a tendency to drift and die.

The three-fold cord of the Christian Church, family, and school should not be unraveled just because our children go off to college. The statistics of how many Christian teens go off to college and come back as agnostics, atheists, or nominal Christians should be enough to provoke a radical reassessment of higher education for the Christian.

I used to believe that the primary reason Christians seemed to lose their faith when they went to college was because they had not been taught to hold and defend a Christian worldview. When highly intelligent and powerful professors strongly catechize undergraduate Christians into the postmodern worldview, Christians are swept away. I still think this is part of the problem.

But now I believe that an even more important reason Christians become non-Christians when they go to college has less to do with the education of the mind and much more to do with the education of the heart, the habits, and the tribes we choose to join. Imagine this: that an eighteen-year old Christian goes away from home to a secular college. He is gradually inculturated into campus culture, a youth culture, a party culture, and a culture autonomous from parents. On campus are many bright, shiny people who are fun to be around but who do not hold to Christian beliefs and are, often, antithetical to them. The student makes little effort to find a home church or campus group, and is increasingly distant from his parents.

What is likely to happen to such a student after four (or more) years of such inculturation? He is likely to be converted away from Christ and His Church.

All of this strongly suggests the need for a specifically Christian college. But why the need for a specifically Anglican university? For the same reason we need specifically Anglican churches. The Anglican way of living in Christ is a catholic way, a comprehensive way, and a holistic way. Education at an Anglican university ought to be about life in Christ, which means life in the Body of Christ. If there ought to be a deep connection between the Christian university and the Christian church, this can only happen if the university is closely related to a specific church, or denomination, and not to a generically Christian identity.

What Would the Anglican University Look Like?

What would an Anglican university look like? I’m glad you asked!. I haven’t fully worked this out in my heart and head, of course, but I have composed a handy Wish List of things I’d like to see.

1. It is Attached to a Cathedral or Parish

If the Anglican university is to be tied to the life of the Church, then it needs to be attached to a local cathedral or parish of sufficient size. It needs to be overseen by the diocesan bishop and whatever board he ordains. Christian university education should always be related to our life in Christ, which, of necessity, means related to the Church and a local body.

2. It Keeps the Anglican Rule of Life

The Anglican Rule of Life is the life in Christ incarnated in the local parish and its use of the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book is the essential Anglican Rule of Life, which helps us make sense of the various components of a life in Christ and live them out as the Body of Christ. We worship together in the Anglican 3-fold Rule of weekly Holy Communion, Daily Office, and private devotions. We keep time together by the Prayer Book calendar, which establishes for the Anglican university the daily rhythms as well as the times of fasting and feasting together. We read the Scriptures together by the Prayer Book lectionary, as the Daily Office is kept together every day.

The catechizing of university students into the Anglican Rule of Life is the most important part of the Anglican university’s curriculum.

3. It Catechizes into the Life of Christ

When John Henry Newman wrote his Idea of a University, he specifically stated that the university’s education should be primarily intellectual, not moral or religious. Newman should have known better, since the Oxford Movement, in which he played a major role, saw things in more holistic terms and greatly valued the moral and religious side of man. The Anglican university must see education as equipping the saints for ministry, since to be a Christian is to have Jesus Christ live out His life in you through His Spirit. Once again, this life in Christ is manifested primarily in terms of the Church, and not the individual, the school, or even the family.

This common life in Christ and His Body should be manifested in every aspect of university life.

4. Its Professors are Pastors

What I don’t mean by this is that all of the professors need to be Anglican priests, although they should probably be devoted Anglicans. But I do mean that the professors should see that part of their vocation is to shape the hearts of their students in the life of Christ and His virtues. This means that what is being taught is not merely educational information but catechetical transformation.

John Keble, a highly successful tutor at Oxford (one of his students was none other than John Henry Newman), once said: “tuition is a species of pastoral care.” By this he meant that true teaching necessarily has a pastoral component.

Professors at the Anglican university should develop a mentoring relationship with their students, eating with them and socializing with them. They should believe that what they are called to teach is more than information in their discipline but that instead they are to be disciple-makers.

5. It Teaches Practical Arts and Sciences

I haven’t worked this one out as well in my mind, but I think it would be healthy if part of what was required of the student was an education in the practical arts and sciences. This could mean, for example, learning how to manage the university farm, or it could mean learning how to cultivate and keep the grounds, learning maintenance skills. It might also mean employing their experience and expertise with technology to care for the university, promote communication, and help with marketing and raising funds.

6. It Requires Service

Finally, the catechesis would require students to give some of their time, energy, and labor to both the good of the school (see #6) and also to the community in some way. Young people today will have no difficulty in finding opportunities to serve the local community in meaningful ways.

I’m sure there’s much more (I haven’t even addressed the formal curriculum!), but these are some of the things I’ve been thinking about so far.

Making it Happen

It’s fun to dream such sane dreams, but how can we make it happen?

I hope I’ve helped us take the first step by receiving a vision and sharing it with you.

To make such a dream come true will, of course, require money. The obligation placed upon us by the fact that we live in an unprecedented era of wealth creation has impressed itself upon me with increasingly greater clarity and urgency. Every week we hear about how poorly Americans are supposedly doing financially, and we do, indeed, still have the poor among us. As I write this, we are also experiencing what is for most of us an unprecedented period of job loss, which, I pray, will be very temporary.

But the fact remains that many Americans are wealthy. If we honestly examined our hearts and our habits and took a sober reckoning of our spending, we would see that many of us have much more discretionary income than we think we have. The problem is that we’ve frittered much of it away on luxuries and extravagances for ourselves.

Many of us will die with considerable sums of money, which we should happily give to our children. But some of that wealth should go to the church as well, not only the local parish but also seminaries, parochial schools, and, if we ever create them, Anglican universities.

The exorbitant cost of university education today doesn’t have to be that way, especially since creating an Anglican university would give us an opportunity to re-envision what a university education should look like. (Another gift of COVID-19 is that it’s causing us to re-assess how we educate.)

As far as finding professors, I personally know many faithful Anglicans who are intellectually mature and have Ph.D.s and who could teach at such a university. I’m sure some of them could be persuaded to move to be part of this vision.

I have other thoughts but will keep them to myself for the time being. In the meantime, I welcome a vigorous discussion of the possibility of us creating the first American Anglican university.

Series Navigation<< Tract V: The Necessity of the Parochial SchoolTract VII: What is Anglican Spirituality? >>

Charles Erlandson

Fr. Charles Erlandson served as rector of St. Chrysostom’s Reformed Episcopal Church in Hot Spring, Arkansas. In 2009, God called him back home to Tyler and Good Shepherd Church and School, to teach high school and serve as assistant rector. He teaches at Cranmer Theological House and is the Church History Department Head. Fr. Erlandson also writes a daily Bible devotional, available online or through e-mail subscription, called Give Us This Day. He has written several recent books: Orthodox Anglican Identity, Love Me, Love My Wife, and Take This Cup.

'Tract VI – The Idea of the Anglican University' have 3 comments

  1. April 30, 2020 @ 4:49 am Frank Freeman

    I recognize most of the schools mentioned in the tract, but do not see Sewanee. Has the University become so profligate, that it is no longer considered to be an Anglican school?


  2. April 30, 2020 @ 6:42 pm Pat McLaughlin

    An Anglican university would present the opportunity to simultaneously read and study books of a discipline while also reading and studying the Scriptures, which have much to say about many disciplines.

    Rod Dreher predicts a time of difficulty for Christian institutions going forward, and also for Christians in certain vocations in which the politics of sexual immorality will increasingly involve themselves. How true that may turn out to be, and what the best response might be, starting a university that is tied to the church, especially one that does not become dependent on (or, perhaps, could quickly decouple from) the means by which the government may enforce immoral teaching and practice (i.e. federally-mediated financial aid).

    Christian universities may be important in coordinating future responses to a changing world, changes in what areas of work conscientious Christians are allowed to participate in, changes in the requirements for licensure of certain occupations, changes in what is allowed to be studied for discussed in Academia.

    Could it study the Western Classics? What about the Eastern Classics, also, in a similar method of asking the questions that the gospel answers? What about research and development in fields that Christians may be excluded from in the future?

    What is the role of vows of poverty? Will donors, or perhaps professors, or perhaps students and families, have to consider their economics in light of the eternal city awaiting them? Monasticism has not had much success in Anglicanism since it’s destruction under Henry the VIII; a radical change in times could conceivably change that.

    Thanks for the provocative piece!


  3. April 30, 2020 @ 10:38 pm Bryan Stewart

    Sign me up! I’m an Anglican priest with a PhD in church history whose been teaching undergraduates for nearly 15 yrs. I’ve thought for quite a while now that we need an Anglican university precisely along these lines. Glad to hear there may be others out there with a shared vision.


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