Last week I had the privilege of participating in the grand opening of the new campus of Excelsia College, IWU’s sister institution in Sydney, Australia.
Australia occupies a place of strategic importance in Asia. It is the third most popular higher education destination for international students after the United States and the United Kingdom.
Christian schooling in Australia is surging in popularity among Christian and non-Christian families as they look for values-based alternatives within their secular culture.
While Christian schools are growing, Australian Christians feel the need for strong Christian higher education institutions. Our partnership with Excelsia College was born out of our common desire to create a global Christian learning community, with a strong presence in this most important region of the globe.
Dr. John Collier, a well-known and respected Australian Christian educator, brought the keynote address for the grand opening of our new campus. His speech was a thought-provoking reminder of the nature and critical importance of the mission on which we have embarked together.
Here are some excerpts:
“If [the] comprehensive propagation and integration of Christian faith is important, and I believe it is of critical importance, then the seminal work of Excelsia becomes clear.
This College is one of the only Tertiary providers operating in this domain. There has indeed been a real deficit in the country. Overseas, notably in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and The Netherlands, Christian Universities with the mission of comprehensive equipping of students for vocation and all of life have thrived. Ironically, in this country, and particularly here in Sydney, we have been theologically strong but institutionally weak. Indeed, to provide credibility and full access to the promotion of the Gospel through Higher Education, it is critical that this country have a Christian University which has the authority and capacity to spawn and nourish research degrees. Jesus needs a place in the Academy! These Christian researchers can then be charged with a vital task of taking forward our understanding of Christian faith and culture, and the role of Higher Education in forming these, in ways which are contextually Australian.
It is essential Christians enter this cultural dialogue at the highest level. Unless we do so we will be largely responsible for our own silence.
. . . .
The call then to Excelsia is to do something different: as James K. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom notes, it will not be enough for a budding Christian University to produce professionals who do pretty much the same sorts of things that graduates of Ivy League and state universities do, … students equipped to take up vocations and careers that are largely the same as the graduates of the state university down the road (page 218).
No, Excelsia must be distinctively Christian. To be so, it must attack the dualism of much Christian thinking which restricts faith to liturgical and pietistic activities, which consign faith to everyday irrelevance. As David Wells has written in Above All Earthly Pow’rs, in modern societies, God has been excluded from public life, pushed to the margins of relevance, and made to live out his life, as it were, underground and out of sight. (page 27).
. . . .
It is the role of Excelsia to redeem this situation, to enter the fray of secular humanism for the Gospel, to chastise, prod, badger and educate Christians out of the reductionist theologies of dualism or pietistic withdrawal from the world.
. . . .
Excelsia’s work is therefore vast and challenging. As David Wells says the Enlightenment has produced great dismay in its postmodern inheritors…the human spirit has been overtaken by the anonymity of today’s mass society, by mindless fads and fashions, by a world emptied out of significance and filled instead with banality (page 30).
. . . .
Hence I return to the idea that Excelsia must be distinctively different and powerfully Christian, in a situation where, as David Wells observes commenting on the Western World,
In our own private universes, we are free of external constraints, free of social custom, free of the past, free of values we ourselves have not selected and in that selection authenticated, and free of all beliefs which are incompatible with our internally constructed world of meaning. We have all become free in a most radical way, and in that radical posture we have become as light as a feather (page 238).
So then we come to this new dawn for Excelsia, where it ceases being Bedouin, the saddles of the camel bags have been unpacked and everything is nicely stowed in the Temple. Excelsia College is called to a radical discipleship where we might appropriate the words of Paul and say that it is a time of a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
On then, Excelsia, to excelsius! But be careful! The path of Christian Universities is eventually littered with apostasy, and that is why on days like this I wear my Harvard tie, to remind us.
On then to the equipping and unleashing of students to be transformed for Christ as indeed the Academy itself is transformed, in turn benefiting the world.
Congratulations on this new beginning!”
Dr. John Collier
Head of School, St Andrew’s Cathedral School