Why I’m Going to Houston Baptist University: The Ten Pillars (Part 1)
I am going to Texas! Yes, I am leaving the beaches and breezes of San Diego, to go to Houston Baptist University, where I have accepted the position of Professor starting Fall 2012.
I am a New Englander through and through. Texas was mentally categorized under “people are nice there, and it’s hot and humid. Also, there are cowboy hats.” It was not categorized under “I might work there someday.” Why did I decide to take this step, leaving behind the familiar and secure?
Because we are going to change the world.
The mission of Houston Baptist University is to provide a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual, and professional excellence as a result of our central confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Mission & Values)
Houston Baptist University’s President Robert Sloan articulates the scope of HBU’s ambition for the Kingdom:
“To say “Jesus Christ is Lord” is not merely to affirm a religious confession, nor to say something only about an interior faith or personal, individualistic values. Rather, to say “Jesus Christ is Lord” is to make a statement that touches not only the private spiritual lives of believers, but encompasses all of the ranges of the created order, including the scope and breadth, as well as the complexities, of human social, political, emotional, and physical experience. He is Lord, not only of the church, but over all things visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16), and therefore there is no area of reality which is, or even can be, outside the sphere of His Lordship. For a university to express Christ’s Lordship as a function of its academic mission is to embrace in principle, through research, teaching, and the learning community, all the questions, issues, and intricacies which curiosity and imagination can engender, from undergraduate through graduate experience.”
You’ll hear more from me, soon, about what I’ll be up to at HBU. But in the meantime, let me start to share with you the vision of HBU, as set out in their Ten Pillars, and how my work lines up with that vision.
You can read the full description of each of the Ten Pillars here.
1. Build on the classics.
To engage with the classics is to step into a deep, rich stream of conversation that has nourished great thinkers, writers, and citizens for hundreds of centuries. I am passionately in favor of teaching from the canon, and have done so to the best of my ability for the past six years as a professor of composition and literature. Building on the classics doesn’t mean ignoring contemporary literature or concerns: quite the opposite. By wresting with books and ideas that have made an impact on culture, and by engaging imaginatively with the fictional and poetic worlds of writers like Homer, Shakespeare, or Austen, students develop the depth of vision and experience to make better sense of their world.
Right now in my Shakespeare class, I have thirty undergraduates, from a wide range of majors and cultural and academic backgrounds. I see the recognition in their eyes as we discuss the destructiveness of Leontes’ irrational jealousy in A Winter’s Tale. I rejoice at the way they wrestle with the power of rhetoric for good and for evil in Julius Caesar. And I delight in the insights they have about the role of the arts in culture, the power of creativity, and the importance of story…making connections to The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, Star Wars…
HBU has committed to a liberal arts core curriculum of the classics for undergraduate education. Every student, not just a lucky few, will get to join the conversation. And that vision of building on the classics is not limited to undergraduate education, but is part of HBU’s vision of graduate education too.
2. Recruit for national influence.
HBU is expanding its recruitment beyond Houston, beyond Texas, and growing in size as well. This makes HBU an exciting place to be right now: a small place, building up for the future. We will be a beacon for Christian education in the world.
3. Embrace the challenge of Christian graduate education.
We desperately need academically rigorous Christian graduate programs in a variety of fields. Why should secular schools be the only option for people who are called to the intellectual life?
My PhD (in English Literature) is from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and my first MA is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (also in English); I wasn’t a Christian at the time that I chose my graduate schools, but if I had been, where would I have gone to get the same quality of education in English literature?
Can you imagine a world in which a committed Christian institution offers that kind of excellence? I can.
My second MA (in Apologetics) is from Biola University. Biola is doing amazing things to equip the saints and send them out into the world to work for the Kingdom. But there are more people who need a strong Christian graduate education than Biola can possibly educate, mentor, and equip by themselves. There are regions of the United States (like Texas and the Midwest and New England) that desperately need their own schools to love and support.
Can you imagine a world in which there is an “Ivy League” of Christian graduate schools? I can.