In his important and influential 2010 book To Change the World, Christian sociologist James Davison Hunter cautions evangelicals against the dangers of ressentiment. Popularized by Nietzsche, the term describes a mindset in which people come to view themselves as victims of injustice and respond by uniting against a common adversary. Bound together by a perception that others are out to harm them, they rally around what they are against.
“Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action,” Hunter writes. “It is often useful at such times to exaggerate or magnify the threat.”
Ressentiment is found across the religious and political spectrum, and Hunter illustrates how evangelicals of all stripes have been swept up by it, often in quite unhealthy ways — and often with corrosive effects for the cause of Christ.
I mention this as an acknowledgment of the caution with which we have sought to approach this issue’s cover story, which focuses on religious liberty and impending challenges facing Christian higher education. In short, we ask: Are Christian universities in danger of losing the freedom to be Christian?
On the one hand, we do not want to be alarmist or overstate the threats. We do not want to feed an evangelical persecution complex or fuel any particular political agenda or sound any culture-war trumpets. We don’t want to fall into the trap of ressentiment.
On the other hand, we do want you to be aware of the legitimate, serious concerns shared by many leaders within Christian higher education — concerns that may be largely unknown to those outside of the day-to-day world of academia. In recent years and months, faith-based universities have faced unprecedented legal and societal pressures to compromise some of their deeply held convictions about what it means to live in community as followers of Jesus. Schools like Biola are witnessing an erosion of religious freedoms and anticipating some grave potential consequences in the years ahead.
In light of these concerns, Brett McCracken has authored a helpful overview that surveys the changing landscape and offers some practical suggestions for how we can respond as followers of Christ. There is much here to consider about what it means to live out our collective calling as believers with biblical (and sometimes unpopular) convictions in the midst of a pluralistic society.
More than anything, I hope this issue will stir you to pray for Biola and for other institutions committed to Christ-centered education. Whatever the future holds, may we be faithful to our mission of equipping students in mind and character to bring the love and truth of Jesus to a world in need.