Ralph Enlow | Global Christian Higher Education in a Post Covid World
8:32PM Aug 12, 2021
Jonathan J. Armstrong
It's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Ralph Enlow, who will be speaking to us today on Global Christian Higher Education in a post-Covid World. Many of you will know Dr. Enlow is the former president of the Association of biblical higher education. A veteran like very few others today who who understand Christian education, we're extremely grateful to have you today presenting to us on this topic, Dr. Enlow.
Well, thank you, Jonathan. And Greetings, everyone, I regret very much that I don't have the opportunity to meet each one of you personally hear your stories, and better be able to talk with you and dialogue form about the context, I hope that our time will perhaps allow some dialogue. I don't know exactly what the format is. But they've asked me to prepare some remarks on this subject of global Christian education in a post COVID world. And I'm just going to jump into those remarks tried to limit them in time. And so forgive me if I move very quickly, but my haste is with the purpose of leaving as much time as possible. For any dialogue that you might wish to engage in, I have a pretty hard stop at the top of the hour. So let's dive in. By way of introduction, I want to sort of give two bookends to what I want to talk about. And so the first book and by way of introduction is to say that I affirmed the perspective from the Praxis group that was published back early in the pandemic season in March or April of last year. This is Andy crouch, and Kurt, Kyle hacker and Dave Blanchard. On March 20 2020, they published a post called leading beyond the blizzard why every organization is now a startup. And I found their analysis extremely insightful, and I think that the past year has only made their insights seem even more prophetic. Basically, they suggested three metaphors by which we might consider the coronavirus pandemic. One metaphor would be that of a blizzard, you know, a blizzard lasts. It's a very intense weather event, it lasts for hours or days. And it just kind of hunker down for a few days of discomfort you get through it. It comes with great intensity, but it's over relatively quickly. And fairly quickly, life returns back to normal. Well, that's one possible metaphor for Coronavirus. A second one is winter. You brace yourself for a season of confinement. And I think at the very least, we've all recognized that what we've been through in the last 15 months or so is, at the very least the season of confinement, it really has radically changed the way we've behaved, the capabilities that we have. We've been shut in. There's been, if you will, by way of metaphor, a weather event that's affected everything for quite a long season. The third possibility that Andy crouch and his colleagues suggested was the idea of a mini Ice Age. And that is that this is not just an event, it's not just a season, but it's literally a change in the climate in which we operate in which we do business. And my view is that I think their perspective in choosing the idea of a mini Ice Age is the better metaphor to talk about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic, we really are talking about some fundamental changes in the climate in which theological Christian higher education operates around the world. And I think I agree with Dr. David Dockery and others that I know well that would say that the primary effect of the coronavirus pandemic will be the intensification and acceleration of some significant trends that were already beginning to manifest themselves with respect to our reality as Christian educators. And certainly one of those affects is the fragility of the institutions that we lead, and that we work with. Massive subsidy has been a huge factor, huge factor in Christian post secondary education business for generations. That's not just a non Western issue. That's a Western issue as well. Western educational institutions require huge subsidy financially, it happens to be the case that consciously or unconsciously, many Western institutions, their primary financial backer is the United States government, because most of them participate in student financial aid programs that are government sponsored. That's not a reality in many other places of the world. And we fret sometimes over the lack of a non subsidized business model for Christian higher education and theological education, but it's a reality that all of us face, and it's one that simply the coronavirus pandemic is going to intensify and accelerate as a factor. In North America. The Ascendant cultural orthodoxy and the marginalization of Christian higher education may well force some very hard choices for Christian institutions to choose between being systemically Christian, historically, confessional and Christian committed to Christian orthodoxy and doctrine and in practice, or becoming what Duane Linfen calls umbrella Christian, where they are welcoming to people who are not Christians, as students, and maybe even as faculty. While Christianity is given a privileged status in the institution, it's not actually the system. It's not actually the the filter for the community. Notre Dame, for example, would be an example of that kind of institution, or maybe Baylor, some of the big institutions in North America. But most of Christian higher education in North America, up to now has been what we would call systemic. Well, at any rate, I think one of the things to get before us is the idea that I think the pandemic is going to accelerate the pressure on the business model of Christian education, not only in North America, but also around the world. It's going to put heavy stresses on it. And there are three other things that I want to just mention as factors. These are trends that I think are going to be accelerated and intensified in the wake of the pandemic. I want to mention a couple more things about the global church context and then drop, drop all this and let you discuss wherever you want to discuss. Three things I would say about the general trends that were already starting to take effect before the pandemic hit that are now being accelerated and intensified are these three. First of all diversification, what I mean by that is non traditional delivery modalities will proliferate and mixed modality probe program formats and delivery platforms will prevail in every part of the world. I think that's true globally. And there may be a remnant of institutions that sort of persistent, what you might call the think involved a model that is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer intense community discipling community of an institution that includes learning and worship and community all embedded into a very small situation. But by and large, I think Christian education that succeeds in the future is going to be multimodal. Maybe just to summarize that effective institutions are going to be ones that deliver education through Multiple distribution channels, and that facilitate maximum flexibility and customization. And that the multiple, the diversification needs to be seamlessly interchangeable distribution channels. Students, by you may have heard the term students as hackers of higher education, that simply means that they're going to come in and take what they can get on their own terms. So if you think you have a neat little curriculum that starts at a certain point and ends four years later, and it's all one package, take it or leave it, you take everything and sequence, it all happens at your institution in one particular modality, I think you're going to be fighting an overwhelming trend to the contrary, I think, again, just to reiterate, successful institutions in the future are ones that deliver education through multiple distribution channels, multiple modalities. And they do that by facilitating maximum flexibility and customization. If you're bucking those trends, I think you're gonna have a hard time in the future. The second thing I would say, again, without elaborating too much on the the diversification issue, the second thing I would talk about is differentiation. In the past, the way we thought about quality in education is imitation. How do we know you're a quality institution, because you're just as good as Harvard, or you're just as good as moody or whatever the industry standard is, or whatever the genre is, you imitate the best. And quite frankly, a lot of historically, a lot of what accreditation was predicated on was the idea of imitation. But I think success in the future is going to be much more dictated not by imitation. But by differentiation. What makes your institution unique. If you're a president or an academic leader, you have to resist all efforts to dilute your energy to try to keep up with what everybody else is doing. And instead focus on what differentiates you, from everybody else. To use Jim Collins metaphor, you figure out what you're passionate about, and what you can deliver with exceptional quality. And some of the questions that you would ask yourself, in connection with differentiation would be what programs of study? Do we offer? Or can we offer that are truly unique? Careful, very few things are truly unique. Think about that. What features of your programs are most distinctive? In what aspects of the student experience? Can you consistently outperform your competitors? Do you offer differentiated advantages in terms of program content or features that you can demonstrate are different from others, and that matter, to your stakeholders, things like access to your program in terms of scheduling or location, experiential features of your program, the caliber and character of students, campus location or program facilities, truly exceptional faculty. By the way, that's probably not an academic credentials issue. Don't think about academic credit credentials is what sets your faculty apart. It's their real world experience. And their demonstrable mentoring skills that sets them apart is distinctive. The placement of your graduates, how distinctive is that the pricing of your program, other clearly differentiating features. So, again, we could dive into that a lot more deeply. But I think another trend that's been emerging that's going to accelerate and intensify is the trend to move away from imitation as a predictor of quality or a descriptor of quality to differentiation as a quality marker. And then finally, digital. Though the winners in the post COVID world are going to be the ones that really master digital platforms. And there's a number of reasons for this. But first of all, digital is the first language of your target audience anywhere in the globe.
The emerging generation is a digital generation. And if you're delivering analog education, you're way behind And the second thing to say about digital is, those tools can level the playing field in terms of what it costs and how efficiently you can deliver what you need to deliver. There's an interesting analysis that's put out by a marketing firm. And they describe the new digital customer, so to speak, that I in a way that I think is interesting that, and I think you should think about how this describes your students, in terms of the way you communicate them. But basically, students are your marketing your your your market, your consumers of your education have moved from being a pliable consumer to a suspicious herd. Back to the issue of hacking, students are not pliable consumers of the programs that you offer to them. They're suspiciously looking at your programs trying to figure out what they can use, that's beneficial to them. And they want to know how they can access that on their own terms of on your terms. They there's a shift from buying products to immersing and experiences that can be leveraged in the digital space. There's a shift from pre packaged to participative. customization. So again, does your curriculum look like something that's pre packaged? Or does it look like something that's based on participative customization? You're going to be a winner, if that's the way you think about what you deliver education. And again, from static place to flexible pathway. What does your curriculum look like? What does your institution look like? Is it a static place? Or is it a flexible pathway? For students, so again, I would say distribution, proliferation, diversification. And then secondly, differentiation, moving from imitation to different to differentiation. And then thirdly, digital, those are three big trends that I think are going to accelerate in the wake of COVID, that your institutions are going to need to be plugged into. Now just a couple comments about the majority world and Christian higher education in the majority world. One of the things I observe is that, up until now, Christian higher education in the majority world has almost exclusively served the purpose of producing leaders in support of the efforts of evangelism and church growth. In other words, producing traditional church leaders in the occupational sense of the word. And there seems to be a clear trend going on now in the direction of Christian higher education that seeks more broadly to produce leaders in support of missio dei, to, if you will, to bridge the sacred secular divide. And so the rise of the so called Christian University in the global south, and so on, is a significant phenomenon. And I think there's both a historical and a big biblical warrant for that. biblically, there is no justification for a merely transactional gospel, nor for the perpetuation of the so called secular sacred divide. And we all know that historically rapid conversion and church growth hasn't been accompanied by personal and societal transformation that the gospel should produce. And so it's understandable that there's an an impetus to have Christian higher education address those deficits. My concern in the global situation is, I've never seen a successful migration on that continuum in the West. That didn't end up in departure from the core elements of the gospel. Show me a Christian higher educational institution that moved successfully from
church ministry, leadership development to missio day a leadership formation writ large. And there are very, very few successful models there in the West. So I think A better approach in the majority world would be to choose your lane, in other words, is the mission of your institution to produce leaders in support of evangelism and church growth to support the the church? Or is the mission of your institution to produce leaders in support of the missio dei writ large. And your institution can probably do one or the other with excellence, but you probably can't do both. That's my opinion. It's worth exactly how much you paid for it. So and then, I would simply say that the other big global trend that I see right now, that's a little concerning as well, is the the desire for mainstreaming of Christian theological education globally. And what I mean by that is having a place at the table in the larger higher education community. And that is fraught, because what is required for you to have a place at that table often is for you to embrace quality measures that are opposed to your mission. And, you know, I have a little mantra that I say what you measure is what you will become. So if you allow the predominant measures of excellence to be dictated by the mainstream higher education community in the country, or context in which you reside. There is risk involved there. So I would just say, the effort to become mainstream in higher education could be at least needs to be treated with a degree of skepticism in terms of the extent to which it may take you off mission in terms of what God's called you to do. So, especially in light of those things, I would, I would strongly urge a strengthening of confessional commitments and collaboration as guardrails against those things. The final thing I would say, and I'm hurrying along to a conclusion, so we can have time to talk is that I remind myself and all of us have the overall context of our present reality. And that's the context that is described by john the apostle in the final book of Holy Scripture, the revelation of Jesus Christ. Now, of course, there's lots of different interpretive frameworks, and of the chronological and symbolic features of the book of Revelation. I don't want to get sidetracked on all that. Because the central message is very clear. Despite bitter and brutal and implacable opposition in the spiritual realm, and the existence of heart breaking, heartbreaking, corrosion, and corruption, and even apostasy among God's elect. Jesus wins. Jesus wins, and Jesus is winning in this very moment pandemic notwithstanding. His kingdom is thriving and conquering and expanding explosively no political cultural repression in Hong Kong or Myanmar or Iran, or Xinjiang. No violent atrocities against Christians in the Sahel or Nigeria or India or Indonesia. There are more Christ followers on planet earth today than in all previous centuries combined, call it triumphalism if you like but I stand on scripture and God's covenant promises, such as the ones from Isaiah 53 that we've actually talked about in the Easter season here.
This frames our discussion of the pandemic and the global post pandemic. Listen to these verses from Isaiah 53. He is the suffering servant he will see his seed he will prolong his days and by his hand, the Lord's pleasure will be accomplished after his anguish he will see light and be satisfied. By His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give him the many as a portion and he will receive the mighty as spoiled because he willingly submitted to death, and was counted among the rebels Yeti for the scent of mini, and interceded for the rebels. I am totally maybe triumph holistically optimistic about Christian higher education in the wake of the global pandemic for this very reason. And I beg you to join me in that courageous optimism as we think and talk together about the future of what God's called us to do. I stop here and invite any questions or dialogue. Jonathan, turn things back over to you.
We're incredibly grateful for that. Dr. enloe, and also stirred thank you for for that passionate exposition. We invite our panelists Dr. True on Dr. James, Dr. Hunter, Dr. O standard, Dr. Wait. And I hope I'm not missing anyone to engage freely with Dr. Ralph and lo, I'm really appreciate having a few students with me as well. Students, please chat to the to me or to the group your questions, and I'll try to represent you who would have a first question for Dr. Enlow.
I'll go ahead and start I came late to the to the conversation a little bit late. Actually, I dropped in during the opening prayer in good evangelical fashion. But I'm here and so I have a initial question for Ralph, you mentioned just or you use the term right at the end of your presentation about collaboration. Not only having courage and conviction, but also collaboration. I'd love to hear you elaborate a little bit on how you see collaboration being involved in the future of international Christian higher education post COVID.
Yeah, I think that, again, that this is a trend that's been going on to some extent, and I'd love to see it accelerated. I think that collaboration will be I think organizations like the regional accrediting bodies that comprise I set will be vehicles for collaboration, I was very heartened yesterday to in a conversation to learn about, for example, Western institutions like Asbury, I understand is pursuing accreditation of some of their efforts under the Asia theological Association. So there's there are Western institutions that have developed collaborative programming. And they're choosing to have that programming recognized within the regional network in which the programming occurs. I'd like to see that grow and proliferate. I think what we don't want is a new wave of colonialism. In the form of theological and Christian higher education, I am very concerned about that in the realm of missio, dei education, Christian university education that basically North America is going to Colonial eyes, the world in that particular genre. But collaboration can take place at the level of faculty exchange, there's some heartening things going on. I think the big thing is that, that we subordinate art, that we think collaboration first, rather than six single and sole initiative, that becomes our default mode, we look to collaborate ahead of everything. I may not be responding directly, Rick, to your question. Collaboration can take place in faculty exchange, it can take place in program development and delivery platforms, all kinds of things. Okay. Hello, thank you.
I'd like to ask a question about collaboration to just push on that a bit. And I really appreciate your se termed a courageous optimism. I love that I and I think there's, there's a interesting mix of grief and lament plus optimism at this moment. So I guess my question is, you know, is, is the future just about more collaboration? Or is there maybe something deeper that that perhaps you see emerging, trying to think of a D word like a decoupling from the western centric models of higher ed and leadership and I'll just give you an example I, one of the beauties of the pandemic or the silver lining has been reconnecting with people around the world by through technology, and I grew up in the West Indies, where my parents were missionaries, and, and I've, I've had these fascinating conversations with local church leaders that I grew up with. And the paradigm I grew up with, they were very much always, you know, kind of let the Western leaders lead. But But what I saw emerging in these conversations was, was both some grief, disappointment with the leadership of, of of, you know, with the Western missionary leadership on a variety of fronts. But also, so there was some kind of grief and lament, but also an emerging optimism or taking of their own kind of taking control in this moment of their own theological or their own education, theological education, or their you know, and I, I saw them talking about the writing they're doing, or the schools they're starting, or the, you know, if I just had the technology, I could do this myself. And, and it really, and I started to see within that even my role as one of which was so encouraging of being able to shift from, you know, whereas in the past that might have been, you know, Dan, can you come in and do some teaching, it was now, you know, hey, we just need some resources for the technologies so we can do this ourselves? Do you see that as maybe one of those emerging trends as well. And because from my perspective, from that standpoint, I have a lot of optimism that, that maybe it's not as much an ice age, what looks like an ice age to our existing institutions may look like a springtime for for folks who are having the opportunity to thaw an opportunity for them to be affirmed and to lead.
Yeah, by the way, the metaphor I say, I don't think means everything is negative, what it means is, I think, what they're really trying to imply there is a fundamental change in the climate. So yeah, and you've just outlined some fundamental changes that are possible because of the pandemic, I just read an article this morning on the gospel coalition website about China. And there are two things that are going on in China. One is, of course, the pandemic has changed the capacity of local of churches to have large gatherings. But there's also a pretty strong degree of confidence now that the cpps crackdown are sorry, ccps crackdown, on a large gap, religious gatherings is going to persist. And, and this article was suggesting that the day of sort of large scale celebrity leader driven churches in China is going away, and everything is going to be down to the cellular level again, and therefore there's going to be a huge proliferation of localized leadership and the need to be able to deliver quality resources on a, an A granularity and scale that only digital delivery platforms will will grant. And there's where I think we can collaborate globally, in bringing those resources to bear, there are some infrastructures there. So that's certainly one, one idea of how that would work in that the other thing I would say is that, again, the I the idea that we would, for example, be the be the expert in our classes. And, and so I'm going to teach a class and I'm the only person speaking in that class. That's, that's a waste of global resources. Because I have access now to if I'm teaching a class on leadership, I have access to leaders all over the world that can contribute to the dialogue of that class in a way that I probably wasn't conscious of before. So that can be leveraged.
Excellent. Time is incredibly short. We have approximately 10 minutes, I'm going to paraphrase a question that's come in from Sarah Blake. Dr. enloe. We all know that zoom is great and can do many things for educational communities. But it can't replicate what a lot of college students come to college for the personal development, the friendship and network building. So if colleges continued to develop more and more in the digital space, how are students supposed to do some of those personal development things that have historically been associated with the college experience?
I think to to answer that, first of all, I don't think that the college experience for traditional age college students will be totally replaced. So if it's if we're talking, especially in North America, but in many other places in the world of traditional age college students, I think there's still a place for that. What will have to happen is the overhaul of that experience to a much more diversified delivery mechanism. Just to give you one example, that what's the typical step student who's taking a distance education course at Stanford, somebody who lives in the dorm at Stanford, on campus. So that don't confuse digital delivery, with all the other aspects of an education. So one thing is, I think for traditional age students, there are developmental aspects of the college experience that are still core to that experience. But I think the other reality is that we're now talking about a much wider bandwidth in terms of people who we can engage, that have different developmental and relational needs, that might be met in other ways. I. So I do think there needs to be intentionality about relational and communal aspects of education. And the so we need to get away from delivering modalities that just are talking head. And there there are one way, you know, basically linear channel communication. But there are ways to do it. There are ways to do that, either by requiring requiring and monitoring students in local communities, or creating community outside of the digital medium itself, and cultivating that.
Outstanding, Dr. Mike truant has a question. Thank you, Dr. Lowe for your comments. I want to elaborate real quickly on one of the points that you're making, and maybe follow up with a question. The idea of digitalization of education and I appreciated your separation, just in your response to the last question about how the delivery of instruction is different than the experience of the student. I think that's a very valuable differentiation. And I just want to throw out there this, I don't know if anybody have heard of the Minerva project, which is an online university where students are essentially taking their courses online, but they live in these international cities throughout their four years. And so the they call themselves an online school, but they're so geographically centered kind of experiences. And so I think that's a just an example what you're talking about. So my question is about this idea of, how do you make the online experiences more human or more faith informed or more community centric, because so I, I'm, I'm at Azusa Pacific University, and now we're one of the biggest Christian universities on the west coast. And we have been and continue to be a very place bass, higher Christian higher education institution. And with the shift to online, it has been a challenge to say the least for many of our faculty and our administrators where their value proposition has been in an online context. But because my role here is the digital learning architect, my job is sort of overseeing the online experience in the online learning. So I don't know if you can talk a little bit more about the idea of Yes, we have the play space development, but what about the online spiritual development and online community development can you can elaborate a little more on that?
Well, elaborate, in the sense, affirm that there's a lot of work that needs to be done there. And to emphasize that, that is a, an, an area in which I don't have much expertise, I would strongly affirm that we've got work to do there, and that it's not really adequately Christian education, if it is informational. In fact, it's antithetical to what Christian education is because, you know, that sort of use an old saw, you know, Christian learning in the Christian context, is obedience, learning. And, and if so, if we start with an idea of learning that simply comprehension or you know, cognitive dumping or whatever, that's a totally sub Krishna The idea of what learning is to begin with. So I love it that you have a dis, that you're a design person that's grappling with that issue of how do we totally incorporate into the design itself. These aspects that make education truly Christian.
We have time for approximately
another answer to Rick's question about collaboration. I do think that's a realm in which collaboration can be very fruitful and is urgent.
Ralph, I'd like to ask you a question that ties a couple of your themes together. And there's certainly themes that that I see through my organization working with a lot of seminaries, Bible schools globally. And that has to do with this idea of you just use the term, it's kind of that value proposition had been circulated. When we talk about the idea that the funding around Christian higher ed is heavily subsidized. But the value proposition changes a bit too, if it isn't that all encompassing on campus, four years for walls experienced, and a perception that that should cost less to the student, even though that doesn't always translate into completely lower costs for the institution. And coupled with the idea of diversification, and being unique, is schools all went online, many of them have made the statement like we have now access to a pool of students that you know, is across the world. And my response is yes. And remember, every other school now has access to your pool of students, just as equally. So there you have to be positioned yourself in a way that has that value to the student, both in the experience, but in the funding piece. And so maybe on the funding piece, are there ways to bring the cost to the student down in a time where they see it as such a pressure and sort of are perceiving its value differently as all of these delivery modalities shift as well?
Yeah, I I think one of the things that we need to what are the assumptions we need to challenge is that post secondary education shouldn't be subsidized. I think maybe it's to try to figure out a business model where subsidies not required is to get down to is to sacrifice everything on the level of efficiency. And maybe we need to go back and say, no, what we need to do is do it well, and figure out how to fund it rather than the other way around, try to do it more efficiently or do it more cheaply, or whatever. And like you say, Evan, I think, you know, why wouldn't we? Why wouldn't we all try to have the moody model that is the historic model where, where we're really trying to offer the education, at no cost to the student. That that's going to take some real creativity to be able to do that. But I don't think it's a bad it's a bad challenge to try to pursue.
Out of respect for everyone's time, we will bring things to a close. We really want to express our gratitude to Dr. Ralph and lo thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today. That's been extremely insightful and informative. Dr. James, we're also really glad you're with us. You've asked to say a final word. And then if you'd close us in prayer, please. Well, that contains I'm not hearing you I'm so sorry.
I'm sorry. I'm in my car. I'm the Vice President of Birmingham Theological Seminary and from our inception in 1972. By Design, our students our Bible vocational tri vocational, our tuition is $200 a class and we deliver live we deliver we deliver live VC, we deliver VC and learning management systems. Our professors, also our ministry, practicing professors, I spent 26 years in the business world and now 20 years in the seminary world. So we have everything that you said Dr. enloe and not being arrogant or practical. We have been doing that and are already doing. We on boarded over 150 new students last year during during COVID. And what we do because we have ministry practicing professors and all of our students, well, they're older, but they also were all engaged in their pastoring and in various ministry aspects. So the spiritual life aspects of sanctification processes are all built into our classes, the applicability, the practical aspects are all part of our part of our programs. And so we can be done.
You I have it correct that you're starting up a branch in Memphis
well Nipa city seminary we are hoping them to get Yeah, yes.
I think your model is one to be studied and prolific and propagated. Yeah, that's great.
Feel free. Thank you so much, Dr. James, would you be willing to close us in prayer?
Heavenly Father, we come before you Lord God as men and women seeking Lord God to further the kingdom to do what you have called in purposed us to do. As Dr. Min Lowe said, the missio day and everything and bringing bridging the secular world with the with the Christian with the biblical world, Lord God, which is crucial in our particular environments, Lord God because we are fighting, severe battles Lord God, and we need to understand. So Father, I pray for each person here today, Lord God and their institutions, their families in this, this time of COVID, Lord God, and again, just facing an anti christian war. So give us straight Lord God, give us wisdom, give us knowledge, give us understanding and patience, Lord God to persevere. So thank you, Lord God for Dr. Angelo and for Jonathan and all the people here and make me do what you've called the purpose testing. Thank you In Jesus name,