Not your father's Bob Jones University?

My Scripps Howard column today took me back into the faith-integration wars at Baylor University, my alma mater, and the growth of institutions that try to blend ancient Christian faith and modern learning, which required a reference to the Council for Christian Colleges and my work there. As I said before here on the blog, I have refrained from writing much about the Baylor conflict because I have family ties and I have friends on both sides of the battle. Still, I wanted to try to explain how the Baylor conflict is linked to some larger issues in higher education, both secular and sacred. If the mood strikes you, take a look.

Writing the column reminded me of several recent pieces I have read about related topics. The first concerns a controversial new book called God on the Quad by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley. Here is the top of a Wall Street Journal piece on her thesis, which focuses on a small circle of religious schools and the growth of the CCCU in general.

It's not news in academia, although it may come as a surprise to the rest of us: America's 700-plus religiously affiliated colleges and universities are enjoying an unprecedented surge of growth and a revival of interest. . . .

(The) number of students attending the 100 schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities -- an organization of four-year liberal-arts schools dedicated to promoting the Christian faith -- rose 60% between 1990 and 2002. In those same years the attendance at nonreligious public and private schools stayed essentially flat. The number of applications to the University of Notre Dame, the nation's premier Catholic college, has risen steadily over the past decade, with a 23% jump last year alone.

But numbers don't tell the whole story. Many religious schools, traditionally regarded as second-tier or worse, have improved the quality of their students and of their academic offerings, sometimes dramatically.

The Boston Globe recently dug into a related trend -- the growth of traditional Christian ministries on a wide variety of campuses. To explore that angle, click here.

But the article that intrigued me the most was a Newsweek online exclusive, an interview with Stephen Jones, the next heir to the presidency of Bob Jones University (see webcam). This is one institution that fits almost any historian's definition of "Christian fundamentalism." Yet check out these exchanges with journalist Susannah Meadows:

NEWSWEEK: Why does your father feel the university needs a younger leader?

Stephen Jones: He said in the last two or three years he really doesn't understand this generation, with all the dramatic changes socially and culturally our nation's gone through. It just kind of creates a gap there.

Which changes specifically?

The inroads the culture has made even into the church. The MTV generation, pop culture, all of that has been significant and has really increased in intensity over the past 15 years. His whole generation has a hard time with it. Doesn't understand. . . .

What do you see young people struggling with?

The philosophical view point that there is no absolute truth, that one person's belief is just as good as another, that two different things can both be right. That's a completely postmodern view of truth and one that's insupportable by scripture. A student has to wrestle through that because it's definitely not popular. It's definitely not the message of the culture and the media. It's one of the things I have to wrestle through, what will orient my life.

George Barna! Call your answering service. The raised-on-MTV students at Bob Jones University are struggling with postmodernism and the loss of transcendent moral absolutes?

Of course they are. Meet the new mall, same as the old mall.

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