What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Jesus and Education II (What If– 10)

In the first part of our analysis of Jesus and Education we noticed the transforming power of Jesus’ teachings on education within the church. But in this second part we will discover that Jesus not only transformed education within the church, but ultimately the entire world. While institutions of higher learning existed in ancient Europe, Persia, China and India, and later in the Islamic world, universities as we know them today were an outgrowth of the cathedral schools in the High Middle Ages. From 1180 to 1210, the Universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge were chartered along the lines of the universities that have been so central to our lives today. So the concept of today’s university (the free and critical study of everything that is knowable) is a Christian innovation. The earliest universities were founded on the principles of fostering the image of God, freedom of independent thought, and encouraging intellectual exploration and critical thinking. While these universities began with programs in Christian theology, canon law and the Greek classics, they laid the foundation of both the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

Some might question the influence of Jesus on the founding of these universities. So it may be helpful to review some historical artifacts that demonstrate the connection. The motto of Oxford University is: “The Lord is my Light.” This is associated on the Oxford crest with three crowns, representing the Trinity. Cambridge University was founded shortly after Oxford. Its motto is: “Here is Light and Sacred Draughts”. Cambridge produced such famous world-changing Christians as Isaac Newton, Sr Francis Bacon, John Milton, and John Harvard (more on him later). The development of universities was greatly supported by the invention of printing in 1456 by Johann Gutenberg. Up until then, most people saw a Bible only in church, if the church has a hand-written copy (many or most did not). Gutenberg was deeply motivated by the idea of putting the Bible in everyone’s hands, so the gospel of Jesus could penetrate deep into the heart of Europe. While it was Jesus that motivated universities and printing, the impact of these developments went far beyond religion.

The combination of freedom of thought, critical thinking and the availability of the Bible and other books made the Reformation possible. And what the Reformation did was to put the Bible at the very center of society. John Calvin believed that if everyone read the Bible, the Reformation would last. He also believed that if education were not grounded in the Bible, it would ultimately do more harm than good. Something to think about today. It was also in Protestant Europe after the Reformation that many educational innovations were developed. Martin Luther promoted education and literacy for all, without exceptions. Johann Sturm, a Lutheran layman, developed the idea of graded education. Friedrich Froebel, a Lutheran pastor, founded the idea of Kindergarten. Gallaudet expanded education to the deaf, and Braille to the blind. All of these individuals were committed Christians and were motivated by the teachings of Jesus and the gospel.

The earliest American universities also had Christian origins without exception. John Harvard, a graduate of Cambridge mentioned earlier and a pastor, founded Harvard University (1636), along with other Cambridge grads. It is no accident that the town where Harvard is located is called Cambridge, in honor of the Christian university that inspired the founding of Harvard. The spirit and motivation of the founders of Harvard is witnessed in the founding stone at the heart of Harvard Yard. There one can still read today: “After God had carried us safely to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God=s worship, and settled the civil government; one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” The motivation for Harvard’s founding was an educated Protestant ministry. In case that seems impossible today, not the Harvard motto which is found on the Harvard crest: ATruth for Christ and the Church.@ And at the center of Harvard Yard is the Memorial Church. Yale was founded by pastors. Princeton was founded Ato promote the Kingdom of the Great Redeemer.@ Today, the top ten universities in the world were all found by Christians. While one might dispute one or the other of these, the ten names need no introduction to most people: Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, Columbia, Berkeley, Chicago, Princeton, Yale. As we will see, a disproportionate percentage of the world’s scientific and medical advances arise out of these ten, all a part of the legacy of Jesus.

Universal public education in America was founded by the Puritans in early 1600s. Every town to provide free education for all children, so everyone can read the Bible. In fact, American public education was almost totally Christian until 1837. Secular public education, promoted by Horace Mann and later John Dewey, was a reaction to the Christian dominance of education up to that time. While public education has strongly supported the ideal of education and literacy for all, the increasing demand for charter schools in the United States indicates that Christian education is still considered the best by many. Interestingly, literacy in the United States was nearly 100% in the year 1900, before the full secularization of education was accomplished. Today it is more like 89-90%. Could the secularization of universal education be part of the problem? Without the motivation of reading God’s Word, literacy may not seem as critical asa it once did.

In light of that, Adventist education was founded to continue the American Protestant heritage of education for all grounded in the Bible. This has had profound impact around the world. Fernando and Ana Stahl, for example, revolutionized Peruvian society by providing the indigenous population with an Adventist education in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. In many countries today, SDA colleges and universities are considered the best in the country. One could perhaps say that Andrews and Loma Linda Universities are the Oxford and Cambridge of a new Christian university movement. It remains to be seen what the outcome of that movement will be around the world outside of Europe and North America.

Some scholars believe that if Jesus had never been born, literacy around the world might be 10-15%, much as it was in the ancient Greco-Roman world. It is possible that there would be no universities like the ones we have today, the seedbed of most of the scientific and technological advances in today’s world. If there were no universities as we know them today, there might be no scientific revolution and no revolution in health care such as we enjoy today. I would argue, on purely historical grounds, that Jesus is likely the most influential person who ever lived.

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