Choosing an institution in which to spend four years of one’s life is difficult. One of the temptations that will face prospective students to Tyndale will be to go to a more-established public institution instead. They appear to be a safer bet.
Yet one of the things that cannot be denied today is that Canadian public universities have largely given up the claim they once made to teach things that are universally true and have lost the desire to be orthodox, in the broad sense of wishing to hold 'beliefs that are correct.'
That is so much the case that even raising the topic of orthodoxy in connection with a university now seems vaguely inappropriate. Maybe that's because orthodoxy is only held to relate to Christian doctrine. But that's a very narrow definition of orthodoxy. At a university, the orthodoxy sought after applies to everything!
The drift away from a desire to hold 'beliefs that are correct' began some time ago. At the turn of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton remarked that in "former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic...The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right. He was orthodox."
But nobody cared about being right any more: "The word 'orthodoxy' not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right. For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical." No one desires to be wrong.
Many would say that Chesterton's words are as true today as they were then. There are few in our day who pronounce themselves 'heretics' of course, but how many simply assume it by stating that the question of what the right thing to do is an utterly irrelevant consideration? Or say that 'what really matters is what works, what is 'practical'?'
Even where the word truth is used it has become relative to one's perspective or relative to one's 'interest group'. One response to this would be to say ‘that’s academic to me, I just want a job.’ But although truth is undeniably an academic concern, that is not to say it is merely the insignificant theoretical distraction of a few odd people called academics. We should not be deceived that it has no practical application.
There are some things that seem right, and may even feel right, but they actually mask more serious problems festering beneath the surface. In the field of medicine, doctors refer to solutions that feel right to the patient but fail to address the real cause of his malady as the 'placebo effect.'
It's our contention that the embrace of relative truths is only a placebo, which is showing its impotence in the face of the malignity we observe in business scandals, in growing social corruption and in political conflict. The university itself is not the answer to these problems, but it does explore them. In fact, the desire to explore matters of universal truth has always been the defining characteristic of a university, as the name itself suggests.
Such a radical change in the focus of the public universities, then, must prompt some questions: if universities no longer teach matters of truth, then what do they teach? And what is the character of their teaching? And what is its substance?
To answer these questions, perhaps we need to observe the three values they promote instead: the value of political correctness; the value of inclusion; and the value of tolerance. The value added by any of these changes at the expense of truth is at best questionable. After all, the first value merely seeks to avoid causing offence; the second calls upon us to avoid all judgements, even just ones; and the final one, tolerance, the Canadian virtue par excellence, demands that we admit the validity of any perspective - except one that claims to be true!
If we take the last value to comprehend the previous two, we can only conclude that public universities, although they claim to encourage tolerance, only do so by refusing to tolerate the idea of truth. This has intellectual consequences of course, but it also emerges on a social level through the invariable demands which emerge that an inclusive form of political correctness be enforced in university life as its truth.
At Tyndale, we believe that the reason for these developments is not difficult to trace. Public institutions have largely lost their raison d’être. A quick survey of Canadian history reveals that the country’s oldest and most prestigious universities were founded by Christians, of varying denominations. The founders of these institutions sought to integrate the Christian faith with the particular subjects of their study, and they did so in the name of objectivity. Objectivity was their method of attaining orthodoxy. In other words, they believed that all truth was necessarily God’s truth.
One-by-one these institutions distanced themselves from the Christian faith; in recent years, they have even repudiated their formal ties to their confessional roots. One of the chief reasons for this development is that the scholarly community as a whole had largely, if mistakenly, believed that the methodology of objectivity was indistinguishable from their orthodoxy. In other words, objectivity became a 'god', and once it was shown to be a false god, they concluded that appeals to orthodoxy, the goal of the methodology, were similarly fallacious and insidious. And they thus understood appeals to Christian orthodoxy, as Chesterton noted, as expressions of intransigent, narrow-minded, other-worldly prejudice. But the reality is that true beliefs furnish a right relation to God, the world and our fellow creatures.
This is not to say that Christians alone have intellectual integrity; on the contrary, the Christian community itself is marked by an alarming neglect of anything but pragmatic considerations in its affairs. Orthodoxy seems to be a matter of theology for many, but has little application to anything else. Yet the dogmatic relativism of our age certainly begs the question whether the loss of the spiritual capital of the Christian faith has also entailed the loss of the life of the mind.
If you were to ground a new university in such a context, what would you do? Start from scratch? A new university such as Tyndale could certainly be said in one sense to be breaking new ground: the institution is evangelical in a way that includes Christian scholars and students from many denominations. Yet it is also rooted in a long history of education as a Bible college, and the Word of God remains central to its identity.
And in character with its renewal of tried and tested things, Tyndale has self-consciously aimed to establish itself as an institution in which the Bible and theology is central, but has also explored how the Christian faith has worked itself out in the great books tradition. It has therefore hired faculty from prestigious institutions with the capacity to teach the development of ideas throughout history on human nature, on politics, on beauty, on ethics, on wisdom.
In so doing, it has not assumed that the only questions worth asking, let alone the right ones, are those that we have been schooled to ask or that our society prompts us to ask. By participating in the ‘great conversation’ with the great thinkers of the past we not only expand our students’ intellectual horizons, one of the cardinal benefits of a liberal arts education, but teach them to be critical of their own assumptions. The task is a difficult one, but in keeping with our aim to develop the mind of Christ in our students and to equip them to engage with the world around them.