“It would be simpler, philosophically, to be either a Bible college, on the one hand, or an utterly secular university on the other. To combine spiritual commitment with academic openness is to tread the narrow edge of unrelieved intellectual tension. But it is a more exciting path than either the emptiness of mere secularity or the sterility of fundamentalistic simplicity.”
This quote by William S. Banowsky captures my feelings about both the difficulties and the value of obtaining an education at EMU. Our university sits in a unique position among institutions of higher learning. While EMU identifies itself in its mission statement as a “Christian university” and seeks to train students in Anabaptist values and Christian discipleship, EMU is certainly not a Bible college. Rather than seeking to indoctrinate students for mission work (which was EMU’s mission at the time of its founding), the mission statement explains that EMU educates students to “serve and lead in a global context,” and mentions the diversity on campus and the cross-cultural experience that all undergraduates share.
The word “salvation” is not mentioned anywhere, and the closest the mission statement gets to anything Absolute is the brief mention that EMU seeks truth; the search for truth is, of course, present in secular universities as well.
So what does this mean for the students of EMU? Does the university have a divided personality?
Does EMU fit in with other Christian universities, or secular universities, or neither?
It strikes me that EMU makes many people uncomfortable. Some students entering EMU from an Evangelical background may be uncomfortable by the strong emphasis on social justice and few mentions of heaven and hell.
Some Anabaptists students find spiritual life week uncomfortable. Students at EMU who don’t share the beliefs with the Christian majority may find the continued instance on the importance of Jesus to be uncomfortable.
One way of viewing all of this uncomfortable-ness is to say that the university is divided against itself, and a house that is divided cannot stand. I think, however, that if our campus community chooses to open ourselves up to these things, we will find that the places of struggle and confusion are also places of growth.
This is why, though I think it is difficult, I believe an education at EMU is valuable. Students here have opportunities to grow in ways that are not often found at other universities.
Banowsky says that pure secularity is empty, yet fundamentalism is too simplistic for the inquiring minds inhabiting a university. He proposes a third way. Depending on how this alternative is entered, the third way could become scary or frustrating. Banowsky is able to call it exciting because he is committed to caring about both mind and spirit.
This semester, I challenge us all to open our heads and hearts to “tread the narrow edge of unrelieved intellectual tension” together.
-Emily Harnish, Copy Editor