Russell and Duenes

A Christian Law School: Images and Vision, 2

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A Christian law school ought to incite in its students a passion for justice, a prophetic outrage at entrenched evil, and compassion for the suffering. Such ‘feelings’ and commitments may not, of course, be substitutes for the mental disciplines of legal analysis and strategic thinking. However, such convictions are essential to sustain a principled commitment to law as an instrument of justice in society. Education ought to be about instilling such visions.

So begins Lynn Buzzard in further describing the “marks” of a Christian law school. His point here is that legal education, indeed all true education, cannot be some kind of dispassionate, “objective,” ingestion of knowledge. For everyone has a viewpoint, and this notion of “neutral” and “unbiased” learning is quite impossible, and was intended to be. We are to be educated to the glory and worship of the One who made us the kinds of beings which can learn the things we do. This is the greatest failing of public, government schools. Not the drugs, not the gangs, not the bullying, not the sexual immorality, not the PC nonsense and historical revisionism, and not the idolatry of athletics. The public schools don’t know to what end they are educating, or if there even is an end, and as such, the video games are so much more fun.

Buzzard continues: “A Christian institution…will not shrink from the mystery and ‘otherness’ of God, but will in many ways consistently engage in worship. All who come into its presence and spend much time there ought to sense this quality.” Our Christian law students must come to see that “[t]he secularists have no monopoly on intelligent concern for truth and human values, and their loudly proclaimed preference for ‘the democratic creed itself’ is, in fact, a rival creed and metaphysics which deserves…to be examined on its merits alongside the chief alternatives and not covertly imposed as an arbitrary dogmatism.” Further, Christian law schools must “be sensitive to other’s convictions and values and also to clarify the nature of Christian thought so as to enable informed decision making.” Yes, we must winsomely challenge the baselessness of secular “neutrality” at every turn, proving and proclaiming that it has no foundation, while holding out Jesus and the wisdom He offers as basis for absolutely everything good and right, including law.

I was particularly impressed with Buzzard’s acknowledgement that the church and the university must be constantly working together, and his perception of the vital role that community plays in perpetuating a Christian school. He writes: “A university that owes its life to the church senses that this relationship is vital and symbiotic. The university will thus support the church even as it receives support…The Christian law school…must not only be a resource to the church in its grasp of legal issues, but it must also call the church to biblical faithfulness, and to principles of justice and equity in the public order.” Being at a secular law school myself, I have keenly felt my own need for support and encouragement within the Christian community, but in all honesty, the lack of it has been the most difficult part of my law school experience. Once classes begin, the pressure is intense and the studies intrude into almost everything, and I have simply not found much depth of fellowship with other Christians, particularly within the legal community. Bible studies are nice and needed, but they are not enough by themselves, and the church needs to wake up to this. The difference between the fellowship and support I had at my Christian school and what I have at law school is night and day, and the stresses and pressures are far greater at law school.

Buzzard also sees the Christian university as a prime place for creativity and renewal. He argues that Christians should not allow themselves to be locked into traditional or current educational forms, just for the sake of “doing what we’ve always done.” Faith, he says, should be a restorative and generative thing, moving God’s people out into new spaces and into creative new ways of approaching problems and issues. Further, he says that “there must be a readiness to accept ‘failure’ as normative in the quest for effective models. The tendency to ‘copy’ prestigious institutions or to choose stability and safety over creativity must be resisted.” Along with Buzzard, I cannot stress this enough. Christian schools do not exist merely to perpetuate themselves, nor should we see our own particular Christian institution as, for lack of a better term, “to important to fail.” God does not need any particular Christian school, and if a Christian school is willing to offer what God wants, creatively, passionately, and excellently, then I believe God will bring people so that the school can remain in business. But if He doesn’t, then we should be willing to let the school go out of business, rather than give way to fads and stale habits that ultimately serve ourselves and our survival. Much of our educational methodology needs rethinking. What a shame it would be if Christians schools come late to the party on this front. We have resources and Christians of old who lie by us neglected.

Perhaps the most important component of a Christian law school is the teachers themselves. Buzzard thinks this “might be obvious,” but in my experience in Christian education, it is not. He remarks: “So central is the teacher to the entire university process that a former President of the United Nations and advocate of a revival of Christian university thinking declared as his formula for success: ‘Make sure of your teacher and forget everything else.'” Ultimately, and at the risk of hyperbole, the buildings don’t matter, the gym doesn’t matter, the location doesn’t matter, the techniques don’t matter, the computers in the classrooms don’t matter, and all the other bells and whistles that we think will attract and keep students at our schools don’t matter. The Christian school will never be better than its teachers. Therefore, each and every Christian school, whether a law school or not, should strive, as Buzzard says, “to recruit, affirm, and sustain teachers whose commitments and teaching skills reflect a commitment to excellence in education in the context of its Christian faith,” and “the salary, tenure, and administrative structures of such institutions must be such as to encourage long term commitments to the institution, which provide opportunities for professional and personal growth.” Amen and amen.

Finally, a Christian law school, like all Christian schools, must have a “Christological Focus.” That is, the school must submit itself to Jesus’ lordship in everything, must declare that from Jesus, and through Jesus, and to Jesus are all things, must teach and learn and create and serve with the recognition that in Jesus “are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” must have “its jurisprudence, its servanthood, its ideals, and its advocacy…deeply rooted in Jesus Christ as a living Lord.” As Buzzard concludes: “A Christian law school must openly acknowledge its commitment not just to Christianity as a philosophy or even way of life, but to the person and authority of Jesus Christ. The overall environment must invite people to encounter the person of Christ and his claims. The institution must pattern its life and relationships in the light of its acceptance of Christ.”

May Buzzard’s tribe increase, and may God allow me to play whatever part, large or small, he deems fit for me to play in the furtherance of His kingdom through Christian education and the law.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

August 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm

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