Russell and Duenes

A Christian Law School: Images and Vision

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That’s the title of a piece that Lynn R. Buzzard wrote for the Marquette Law Review. (Vol 78:267). In it he explores what might go into a truly Christian law school, of which there are very few. Though I wouldn’t say I have strong aspirations to establish a Christian law school, I certainly have aspirations to help more Christians take up the mantle of a distinctively Christian legal education, with a eye toward restoring the biblical worldview that undergirds so much of the Western legal tradition.

Buzzard begins with two fundamental questions: “What does it mean to think as a Christian about law and legal education? To what does the idea of a Christian law school incite us?”

In answer to the first question he writes, “A university knows that education is ideological, inevitably theological…A Christian does not come to the educational process without orientations as to the source of truth and goodness…We come declaring that there is indeed a ‘way, truth and life.’ We do not apologize for that conviction. We find it not confining, but liberating, sparing us from the tyranny of momentary ideologues and the oppression of immediacy. It places us in an historic stream and we do not wish to step outside of it.” Such a winsome and unequivocal grounding of education in the person and truth of Christ should constitute the marching orders for all manner of Christian education, at whatever level.

Buzzard then gives a particularly needful warning: “The history of Christian colleges mirrors a pattern in human nature – the loss of ideals and vision, the triumph of mediocrity, and the seduction of the spirit. The temptations before Christian schools to gain secular credibility, to attract funding, and to assure institutional survival have led many such institutions to sell their birthright.” Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale come to mind as schools that succumbed to such temptations. The process happens almost imperceptibly. I want to see institutions committed to the kind of vision that Buzzard puts forth because, as he says, “[I]issues in bioethics, world peace, human rights, allocations of power, and environmental protection are all value laden. Lawyers play prominent roles in shaping public debate on these issues…Christian law schools may be the most effectively postured for contribution to a national debate.” If Buzzard is correct, and I think he is, I would only add that the commitment to Christian education among Christians must start further down, at the very beginning of the educational process. It is there that Christians have lost their nerve.

Of course, what’s true for a Christian law school is true for all Christian schools, namely, that “[l]aw schools are under enormous social and professional pressures to adapt to the prevailing legal ethics. Accrediting associations add to the pressures to reflect a secular orthodoxy.” I have seen this pressure at work in the Christian secondary schools.

A Christian law school, says Buzzard, will “recognize that there is not just one compelling vision for a Christian law school or university,” that a Christian law school “may be advanced by a wide variety of institutional structures and forms including not only formal curricula, but aspects of institutional life as well,” and that “[t]o be Christian in a rich biblical sense is to recognize that all cultures, all legal systems, and all political ideologies stand in judgment.”

Buzzard then asks: “What are the marks of a Christian law school or university? By what shall it be known? What ideas incite it?” He answers: “‘The first mark [of a Christian college] is the penetration of the total college life by the central Christian convictions.’ This is, I believe, the most central feature which ought to characterize a Christian law school. It embodies the scope of our inquiry, the conviction of coherence, and a declaration of the source of that unity. ‘In him we live and move and have our being.'” Thus, the Christian law school will “take seriously the biblical perspectives that have contributed to the formation of the Western legal tradition…It will take seriously man’s fallen nature, corporate evil, and human pretensions. It will show a special interest in justice, for that is God’s character.”

Yet Buzzard goes further, observing the crucial inseparability of Christian education and the Christian church. He writes: “A Christian law school should provide the locus and stimulus for legal scholars within the Christian tradition to seek and develop through research and collegial exchange an understanding of the relationship between Christian faith and law (including the positive law, the concept of law, and legal institutions, etc.). Such an understanding will serve the church, professionals, and society in its quest for a just society.” Indeed. I have too often lamented the ambivalence with which the institutional church views the project of Christian education, not seeing the value of it.

Buzzard provides other pillars that must go into a Christian law school: “A Christian law school must resist further fragmentation of thought and seek a vital relationship with other disciplines within the university. This is especially true when so many students come to law school with minimal backgrounds in history, religion, political science, and literature. We are in danger of becoming a trade school profession ill equipped for personal growth and virtue, much less the exercise of public virtue.” Unfortunately, the patient’s disease may be far more advanced than Buzzard here acknowledges. In my brief experience of law school, I would argue that it has already largely turned into a glorified trade school. We have speakers that come and decry the horrid ethical culture within, say, prosecutor’s offices, but what would we expect? We ask people to be ethical, we tell them they have “professional responsibility,” but we hold out nothing more to ground them in their ethics than, “Don’t get caught.” As C.S. Lewis says, “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” The “minimal backgrounds in history, religion, political science, and literature” have come about not only because of the utter ruin that has beset our public, government schools, but also because Christian schools have bowed to faddish educational models and methods.

Buzzard says that Christian schools must not become insular, must “be concerned with the development of the whole person,” and must have faculty that, “while properly focusing on areas of special strength, must integrate their academic disciplines with larger understandings of society, culture, ethics, and religious thought.” This last point about Christian school faculties is particularly poignant, and the lack of such faculties leads to the seemingly ever-futile discussions about “integration” of a biblical worldview with non-biblical subjects. We don’t have “integration” because our faculties don’t have the raw material with which to perform such integration, for they too have been insufficiently schooled in history, philosophy, religion, and literature, apparently with not enough motivation to do much about it.

More on Buzzard’s piece in my next post.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

August 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

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