A few years ago, the University had a billboard placement on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that was simple but clear, only a few words on a plain, single-color background. The words “Because Faith and Truth Do Matter” appeared on a field of burgundy along with our logo. In my more than 20 years at the University, I have never had more comments, calls, or emails regarding any advertisement, billboard, or marketing piece. It resonated with people in a profound way.
I believe it did so because it delivered a very clear message, one with which Christians everywhere who are serious about their faith should connect. It is also a message that clearly captures a Cairn core commitment and makes an argument for the particular kind of education we provide. We believed it was one, and perhaps the most important, answer to the question, “Why Cairn?”
This is why we chose that language then, and why we are launching a new marketing campaign revisiting that and other key themes that answer that question this year. It is compelling language for those who believe in the centrality of Christ and the Bible; inspiring for those who want to study at a university where biblical integration is intentional and evident; and timely as we see the erosion of a commitment to these things not only in the broader culture but sadly in too many institutions of Christian higher education who have succumbed to relativism, and humanism, and so many other “isms” that mark the rising secularism of our day.
It is not enough for a Christian college or university to simply say it is Christian, as though we are merely referencing an association or identifying with a particular cohort or tradition within a more diverse array of higher learning institutions. To declare ourselves as Christian should have force behind it and carry with it implications for what we teach as well as why and how we teach it. What we mean by “Christian” should be known and evident in our institutional priorities and decisions to everyone inside and outside our institution. Being Christian is not how we identify ourselves, as our culture conceives of that term. It is our identity. And the marks of that identity are ones we should bear without apology or reservation. Clearly, this begins with a Christ-centered mission, but our priorities, programs, and even our promotional materials should offer commentary on that mission, provide a vision for its outworking, and articulate our aspirations and expectations for the institution and those who study and serve with us. Students, both prospective and current, as well as parents, both prospective and current, should able to see without looking too hard and know without straining too much what distinguishes us from our secular counterparts and from those colleges and universities who exist within a Christian tradition to the extent of what they really mean by being “Christian.”
One thing to be understood is the degree to which faith and truth are valued—not merely talked about but valued in the sense that they matter—in both philosophical and practical ways. If we claim to be Christian but do not hold firmly that there is such a thing as objective, knowable truth in the world, we are on soft ground. If we waffle on whether or not there is absolute truth, we are on soft ground. If we embrace the idea that we each get to determine for ourselves whether there is truth, or what truth is, or even what is true, we are on soft ground. And nothing substantive can be built upon soft ground. This includes a truly Christian institution and a truly Christian mind; a biblical understanding of God, ourselves, and the world in which we live; and an approach to life and work that has purpose.
Truth matters. There is no question about this. But apart from faith, it is lacking. We must hold to the inextricable connection between faith and truth. And we must be careful that our understanding of faith, including its source and object, be both coherent and biblical. It is not enough to talk about faith as some abstract concept or a shibboleth to signal to others we are with them ideologically. For the Christian, and the Christian institution, faith is central and essential because of its source and object and its role in our thinking, understanding, and action.
Some years ago, I interviewed a prospective teacher who told me how important faith was to him. I asked for an explanation of what exactly that means. What I learned after a few more questions was that this individual had placed a lot of faith in faith. The object of his faith was not clear. The implications of his faith were not clear. What was clear was that faith, to him, was nice, appreciated, even valued, something with which he “identified.” But this is not enough. There was no mention of faith in God, no mention of faith in Christ and His accomplished work, even when prompted to do so.
This is problematic on a personal level, but this perspective is also troublesome for our work of educating students according to the way and Word of Christ. When we allow the same kind of relativistic thinking we see often applied to truth to spill over into our understanding of faith, we have a volatile combination that makes the delivery and acquisition of a distinctly biblical education and understanding of the world impossible. We must understand that for the Christian, it is faith in the triune God that sets our view of truth and knowledge, our understanding of life and its purpose, and our own callings in this world on their foundations. It is from there that we build a knowledge and understanding of God, ourselves, and the world in which we live. Believing that there is a God who exists, who is, who is the creator and sustainer of all things, and who has revealed Himself to us through Holy Scripture and the person of His Son Jesus, our redeemer and king, has significant bearing on our thinking and living but also on our teaching and learning.
By stating without equivocation that faith and truth matter here, we are also making a promise. Faculty and staff will share this commitment and teach and serve accordingly. The institution and its leadership will maintain a direction and make decisions consistent with this commitment. And in our classrooms, students’ faith will be nurtured, not threatened. Their confidence in Holy Scripture will be strengthened, not undermined. They will also be challenged: challenged to know God more deeply, challenged to reconsider their assumptions about themselves and this world in light of the truth God reveals to us, challenged to think critically, and challenged to bring their faith and studies together in a way that actually changes how they not only think but live. Throughout our students’ time at Cairn, we strive to reinforce their commitment to truth in all disciplines because God is the source of all truth. They will also grow in their ability to articulate faith and truth as well as exemplify these things in a world that desperately needs people of action who live by conviction.
The times in which we find ourselves are full of challenges and potential, and the need for a higher education that is serious about the things that matter most is great. Cairn University will remain on that course and continue to maintain core convictions that will not be driven by the winds of secular thinking and sensibilities—because faith and truth do matter.
Dr. Todd J. Williams is the president of Cairn University. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.