Discussion Paper - The Basden Model


When universities first began they were founded as places of Christian learning. Many of the ancient colleges of Oxford and Cambridge took their names from key people in Christian history (St John, Mary Magdalene) and even from Christ himself (Jesus, Emmanuel, Christ's, Trinity). The fear of the lord was indeed the beginning of wisdom, and there was no incompatibility between commitment to the Christian faith, and understanding the world aright. As the centuries have gone on, the Western academy has increasingly reflected a worldview that is secular, and for values which are often in opposition to those of the Christian gospel.

Various forms of absolutism have claimed a privileged place for theories of knowledge, which have eliminated God from the agenda. Yet these have rarely recognised the faith basis on which they were built. Now, it is difficult for a Christian perspective on reality to get a hearing in mainstream academic life, even less be taught as a viable and coherent viewpoint.

Yet with the breakdown of secular humanism in the West, and its gradual replacement with a relativistic postmodern outlook, the Academy faces a crisis. If there are no longer any grand narratives, what is there to teach? If the whole presuppositional foundation is not based on some acceptance of truth, how is knowledge possible? There is a limit to deconstruction, not least because a deep philosophical problem lies at the basis of the deconstruction programme. At the same time as scientists are confidently mapping the human genome, in other areas of knowledge there is deep skepticism about what we can know.

Responding to the Crisis

When we revisit a Christian worldview we see its intellectual potential for understanding the world, and for relocating the academic enterprise. It offers us an Archimedean point for seeing reality, and for beginning the work of study. Based on assumptions, which are overt, it challenges those perspectives, which oppose Christian truth to re-examine their own presuppositions. And it offers a way forward which the Christian student can take in confidence and humility.

There are specific aspects to a Christian creative vision for the academy, which are vitally important today.

1. Integration not fragmentation

There is a lack of confidence in the unity of knowledge, and consequently little connection between the difference disciplines. Many scholars see their area of study as autonomous, having no need to relate what they do to any other area. This means that students experience the academy as a place of fragmentation. Christianity offers an underlying Christian worldview, which provides a sound basis for integration. St Paul tells us that it is in Christ that 'all things hold together' and we can work to present this in the academy.

2. Normative structure of knowledge

The sciences are not merely the repository for the accumulation of facts. All knowledge is built on some meaning framework, which involves studying, choosing, analysing, interpreting and presenting data according to accepted values. It is the place of the Christian scholar to make these values explicit, not only in his or her own teaching, but in dialogue with colleagues. It is important too to find the right, biblical, framework of values, which offers the possibility of coherence.

3. One reality, many modes of investigation

Different subject areas all bring an important dynamic of investigation to the subject to be studied. The same phenomena can be analysed from many different specialist areas, each with their own kernel of meaning, and their own investigative methods. It is important not to privilege one area of study over another (for example, biology over psychology, economics over sociology, maths and physics over humanities) God's creation is rich, and can be understood in its richness when we approach each subject area with humility and see the way reality unfolds.

4. An understanding of the Person is central to the academy

One of the most fundamental questions is 'Who am I?' and many of the different sciences and humanities attempt to answer this question in different ways. Today, there is ambiguity, hesitancy and skepticism about the meaning of human personhood, and this is not helped by the absolutising of various scientific disciplines. An integrated view of the person in the context of God's creation, human sin and Christ's redemptive power lies at the heart of a Christian understanding, and can find its expression in many different disciplines.

5. Knowledge is never separate from life

The Academy exists within the rest of life- one institution amongst many others. So what it does must have a bearing on the way we live. A Christian worldview will enable the difference subject areas to link in with life outside the academy and have a two-way process of enrichment, action and understanding. Work there should inform economic life, social planning, political decision-making, family development, international relations and the mass media.

For the Christian, the development of knowledge is central to our calling. It is an inevitable part of the human response to the world around us. But when it begins from the standpoint of human autonomy, rather than in obedience to God it will ultimately fail. For knowledge cannot exist on its own, and must always begin and end with the Creating and Redeeming God.