The following commentary is a preview of the inaugural event of Georgetown College’s Center for Christian Discernment and Academic Leadership by GC sophomore Jonathan Balmer. A Christian Leadership Scholar from Mason, OH, he is double-majoring in English and History to certify to teach Middle and Secondary school.

By Jonathan Balmer ‘14

One hundred years ago, when G.K. Chesterton faced challenges from critics that his belief in God was out-of-date, he quipped: “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” The upcoming conference at Georgetown College, “Christian Life and Witness: From the Academy to the Church,” is organized to show the many ways colleges and universities undertake the difficult task of living the Christian ideal. This first public event hosted by the newly formed Center for Christian Discernment and Academic Leadership will explore the ways Christian higher education supports the churches that depend on them to better understand and live out the Christian ideal.  

 “Christian Life and Witness” will be held January 23-24 at the Thomas and King Conference Center and on Campus.  Dr. Roger Ward, Georgetown College professor of philosophy and director of the Center, says the purpose of the conference is to examine two related questions. First, “After all the investment of a denominational school like Georgetown, and given the long and rich history of Christian higher education, what has been the effect on the development of the church?” Secondly, he asks, “What should the effect of Christian higher education be on the churches?”

 Speakers from 15 different colleges and universities, from the Reformed, Mennonite, Lutheran and Baptist Christian traditions will participate in the conference.  Discussions will explore the tension between secular and church life expectations for students and faculty, the relationship of science and religion and how Christian colleges may prepare students to serve the needs of both the world and church.

Dr. Beth Newman, professor at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, says, “Much of the history of Christian colleges and universities has been one of leaving behind Christian identity in an effort to be more ‘sophisticated’ and less bound by a so-called naïve faith.” Newman says that the missions of the Church and academy are very similar and considers the conference as an “effort to discern how the educational and ecclesial vocations overlap, and in fact, interpenetrate one another.” Dr. Newman will present as part of a panel on “Engaging Students in the World of Service and Ministry” in which she will emphasize that service should be a core of the purpose of learning rather than an “add-on” to education. For Newman the most important question is, “What or who do we serve?”

Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale professor of philosophy, will address the relation between scholars and the church in his keynote address Monday evening.  Wolterstorff is a scholar in the Reformed tradition in which the church and the Academy are seen as mutually serving one another. From this perspective Wolterstorff will address what he thinks are the ways to enhance this relationship of mutuality among colleges representing other denominations.  Dr. Paul Fiddes, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, will similarly address the role of higher education in supporting the church as the “mind of Christ” in the practice of congregational discernment. Dr. Fiddes will speak Tuesday at 11 a.m. in John L. Hill Chapel at the Founders Day Colloquium.

Colleges and Universities serving the good of the church is the subject for Dr. Christopher Hall, professor at Eastern University. He explains that throughout Christian and academic history there has been an appreciation for “learning spaces.” Egyptian and Syrian monks, for example, retreated to the desert as a place to learn. The University can be to students what the desert was to the monastics. By providing a learning space, the academy may aide the Church in “cultivating ‘attentiveness’ to God, scripture and creation” in its students. The faith and support of the Church may guide the Academy and the Academy may equip the church for recognizing and responding to the needs of the world. He will discuss the “Academic Witness to the Church” in a panel discussion Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. 

As Georgetown and other Christian educational institutions seek to strengthen and refine their relationship between their religious affiliation and their commitment to intellectual excellence, meetings such as the “Christian Life and Witness” conference become vital.  Dr. Ward says the idea of the conference was attractive because of a desire “to expand the profile of Georgetown in the conversation on Christian higher education. Schools like Notre Dame, Baylor, Calvin and others host conferences to bring leading intellectuals to campus and also to signal their investment in this project.“

                      Registration for the conference begins at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, January 23 at the Thomas & King Conference Center located on Georgetown’s East Campus. The conference proper will begin at 4 p.m. and conclude in the evening with a banquet and the keynote address by Dr. Wolterstorff. The next day (Tuesday, January 24), the conference will resume at 8:30 a.m. at the Thomas & King center before moving to the main campus at 11 a.m. Then, Dr. Fiddes will address conferees and the entire campus community in John L. Hill Chapel. Tuesday afternoon, two concluding sessions will be held in the Hall of Fame Room in the Cralle Student Center beginning at 2 p.m.

    The presentations will be open to the public. Georgetown College students can expect NEXUS/ CEP credit for attending any of these events and will be able to attend the banquet on Monday at no cost (although pre-registration for the banquet is required). For more information go to