Questions about PLU's
church-relatedness - what that has meant and what it should mean - have
been much discussed during PLU's 107-year history. This has certainly
been true in the recent past. The reasons are complicated, but the
latest questions have been heavily influenced by concerns about our
identity, purpose and direction in the larger American society.
Developing a mission statement has been one response to the concerns and
The recent discussions about church-relatedness at PLU have emerged from
various directions and for a variety of reasons. In March 1979,
church-relatedness was analyzed by the Mooring Mast. The campus pastors
responded. An ad hoc committee on "Christian context" was formed in 1981
and a number of discussions were held. In 1982 the Mooring Mast featured
a series of articles on the "L" in PLU. The stationery during that era
read "Quality Education in a Christian Context."
In 1985 Provost Richard Jungkuntz asked in Scene whether a context could
be Christian. The technical theological answer was no, he wrote, but
then he argued PLU was known by its "wholeness, a unified wholeness
greater than the sum of the parts." What made PLU's context Christian
was its "intentionality" out of which came its nature and existence.
The dialogue continued, especially during the centennial celebration in
1990, and was addressed at length in the centennial history, "Educating
for Service." The discussion has continued further. There were articles
in the June 1993 Scene about PLU's "Enduring Mission" and in 1995 the
Mooring Mast asked once again, "What's Lutheran about PLU?"
This interest during the '90s reached a climax in the 1995 long-range
plan PLU 2000: Embracing
21st Century. In a strongly worded section called "Reaffirming
the Tradition of Lutheran Higher Education," the document states:
"Nothing more decisively identifies Pacific Lutheran University than its
founding and perseverance in the tradition of Lutheran learning." It
then spells out in some detail what that means.
PLU still stands in an educational tradition that was profoundly
influenced by Martin Luther and the Reformation. Some of Luther's most
compelling theological and educational ideas are still foundational at
PLU. Fundamental here is Luther's dialectical or paradoxical theology
that distinguishes between the "right hand" and the "left hand" of God.
Salvation is the work of the right hand, and creation and all that it
contains (including education) is the work of the left. Christ and
culture have a paradoxical relationship.
The created world is good - it is not to be denigrated or avoided as
some religious groups advise - and it is open to free and creative but
responsible activity and analysis, using reason and justice as norms.
Roland Bainton, a well-known Lutheran scholar and author, has written in
his typically earthy and compelling way that Luther embraced secular
life - the wonders of nature, eating and drinking, whining dogs,
screaming children, married love, intimate friendship, and the necessity
of education. Education is demanded by God and is part of the
fundamental structure of creation. It does not bring salvation, but it
can and should improve the quality of life. That is a wonderful
foundation for educational activity, certainly for a church-related
Lutherans establish and maintain colleges and universities to help care
for the earth and to give society the kind of leaders and citizens it
needs - the kind who serve their neighbors and work for human dignity
A second overarching theme initiated by Luther is intellectual freedom.
That theme has been present since the Reformation and is fundamental to
the modern university. One cannot imagine modern European and American
education or intellectual life without it. In his actions and concerns,
Luther was one of intellectual freedom's most important authors. He
wrote, "No science [including theology] should stand in the way of
another science, but each should continue to have its own mode of
procedure and its own terms."
PLU is a university in that sense. Undergirded by dialectical theology,
with a daring enthusiasm for learning and a sense of vocation and
service, it is dedicated to academic freedom. And it must be remembered
that PLU is a university, not a congregation, though happily there is
one on campus. A university is not a convent or a seminary, as John
Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in his classic book "The Idea of a
University." Neither is it a Bible college of the contemporary American
sort marked by fundamentalist triumphalism.
Finally, because PLU is a university, but a university with a dynamic
and dialectical relationship to the church, there is an ongoing dialogue
between reason and faith. The area where they meet is the mostly
uncharted and often volatile border region where passion, leadership,
service and care are generated and where vocation is worked out. The
energy produced by this activity fuels the best of what PLU accomplishes
and stands for. The examples are beyond numbering.
The necessity for such dialogue is essential and if it stops it should
shake all who care for the institution out of their complacency. I
assume that is why the Mast and Scene continue to ask questions about
purpose and identity and to report the answers.
'56 is a
professor of history and chair of the faculty at PLU, as well as author
of PLU's centennial history book, "Educating for