Christian Higher Education in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities is a varied collection of essays born out of the Toronto 2018 Symposium on Christian Higher Education, the first of its kind in Canada. Within the introductory chapter, general editors Stanley E. Porter and Bruce G. Fawcett maintain that Canadian Christian higher education has a rich heritage, but still room for improvement. This is because “God has called them to a particular institutional purpose” and, with that, will faithfully “provide what is necessary for them, whether that means expansion … restructure or even complete reconceptualization” (10). Porter and Fawcett also state that the need for “individual innovation provides a challenging opportunity for Christian higher education as it looks to its own future within the contemporary Canadian context. We trust that these essays will provide some intellectual content for the ensuing discussion of such opportunities” (10).
Readers will be pleased to discover that despite the intentional temporal foci of each particular collection of essays (past, present, and future) and the broad diversity of papers that were compiled within this not overly lengthy volume, most of the topics that are covered have pertinence for a wide variety of institutional types (see 2–3). It is not unimportant to note that each contributor was “actively involved in the lives of their respective institution as researchers, professors or administrators or … a combination of these roles” (2).
Though some individuals may assert that the concerns of the francophone and/or indigenous communities are not perhaps as fully addressed as they could be, it is prudent to consider that the situation in English Canada is most relevant to the purposes of this volume “given that nearly all private religious institutions of higher education in Canada are Protestant and English-speaking” (79; see also 92). Those persons who may be especially concerned about Canadian Christian higher education; certain LGBQT+ communities; “open,” “selective,” and “faith-based (‘closed’)” admission policies; and the like will most likely be pleased with the close attention such matters are given (see, for instance, 107–8, 160–80, 234–35, 282–303).
For those who self-identify as evangelical, one of the great strengths of the volume is its unabashed concern for those things that characterize that particular movement (see 15, 92, and 153 for more details). By way of example, after drawing on extensive research conducted among “Committed” Baptist Youth in Atlantic Canada (2002–2017), authors Bruce G. Fawcett, Tracey Freeze, Leslie J. Francis, and Renée Embrée state that the “longer one has been away from ‘ministry in the trenches’ with young people, the more attention … leadership … needs to pay to the changing identity, practices, and priorities of the intended audience of their higher education ministry” (55) so that educators may better achieve the goal of “seeing students transformed in Christ, ready to serve in various capacities throughout our world” (58). The three “strategic priorities” as espoused by Kevin N. Flatt in his essay “Navigating Secularization” are also clear in this regard (see 84–87).
It is hard to find fault with this volume. The combination of erudite scholarship, pastoral sensitivity, ample (and thoroughly researched) figures, well-construed tables, graphs, charts, clear editing, relevant application points, and a broad range of contributors make Christian Higher Education in Canada a remarkably impressive and unique text. Porter’s chapter, “The Past, Present, and Future of Seminary Education in Canada,” is the crown jewel of the volume since his essay (the culmination of a wealth of academic educational experience and prior scholarship) is unique, especially given its statistical data (two appendices concerning the Association of Theological Seminaries also provide further information).
Perhaps the most stimulating of the essays, however, is “Can Bible Colleges Thrive? A Case Study of Columbia Bible College.” In this chapter, Douglas H. Berg reflects on certain other Canadian institutions of higher education, such as Canadian Mennonite University and Bethany College. He then draws on the nine categories of the Credo (a partner of Association of Biblical Higher Education framework (courageous and collaborative leadership, vision, institutional self-esteem, institutional story, habit of reflection and intentionality, culture of planning and innovation, net revenue and strategic finance, student learning and success, and transformative elements) in order to provide the rough scaffolding necessary for other Bible colleges. Berg concludes his essay by stating: “Communicating the credibility of the Bible college is critical for surviving. . . . It is hoped that by analysing various categories . . . other Bible colleges will be able to analyse their situation and identity areas that . . . will be strengthened to move the school toward a thriving framework rather than a surviving modality” (149).
Minor irritants with the book include the lack of a subject index (thus making quick reference to certain topics somewhat laborious at times) and, possibly, the lack of detail that is given to the scope and scale of nonaccredited Christian higher education–movement options in Canada (see 105; cf. 318). That this is something not to be ignored is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that Millar Bible College boasts three (!) campuses in Western Canada (including a graduate program) with a consistent overall enrollment of approximately two hundred students per year.
This book will prove to be of immense benefit to many readers, including students, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters of Canadian (and other) Christian higher-education institutions, as well as perhaps certain other pastors and scholars. Highly recommended!
Dustin Burlet is an independent scholar.
Date Of Review:
November 5, 2021
Stanley E. Porter is president and dean, professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He is the author of nearly thirty monographs and editor of over ninety volumes. One of his latest books is When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. Porter is a former chair of the board of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC).
Bruce G. Fawcett is president, vice-chancellor, and professor of leadership and religious studies at Crandall University, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. He previously was academic dean at Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, and has served as a visiting instructor at colleges and seminaries across the globe. Fawcett is a former chair of the board of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC).
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