Gutenberg Update 2005

by David Crabtree


The following is adapted from a talk Dr. Crabtree gave at the Oktoberfuss “Friend-raiser” on October 21, 2005.

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I am proud to be a part of Gutenberg College. I have the privilege of working with a group of men and women who have made and continue to make significant sacrifices to be a part of this organization. I can say with confidence that we, as a group, want to be faithful servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. I realize that we are not unique in this desire. I thank God that there are many organizations and many individuals, including many in this room, who seek to be faithful servants of our Lord.

If Gutenberg College is unique, it is because of the particular assignment God has given the faculty—that is, the privilege of working intensively with a small number of people (this year we have forty-one students) who are, in one way or another, striving to sort out their lives before God. We have the tremendous luxury of a four-year period during which we can develop a relationship with our students while creating an environment of trust that allows them to ask challenging and personally significant questions about the faith. It may seem inefficient to pour so much time into such a small student body, but helping students grow in wisdom is inherently resistant to efficiencies. And the strategy of working intensely over an extended period of time with a dozen or so students has good historical precedent.

Many of you are familiar with the story of how Gutenberg College came to be; some, however, are not. What follows, then, will inform some and help remind others why the college exists. Then we will look to the future.

This organization was originally founded as McKenzie Study Center in 1979 by Wes Hurd. It was designed to be a ministry to students studying at the University of Oregon —a forum in which students studying at a secular university could receive biblical teach-ing and help integrating what they were studying in their classes with biblical faith.

In 1981, the offerings of the Study Center were expanded with the addition of a three-year program in biblical exegesis. In order to staff this program, Jack Crabtree, Ron Julian, Dick Booster, Dave Smith, and I were added to the teaching staff. The School of Exegesis was essentially a seminary program designed for students who had already completed their undergraduate degrees. It included instruction in Hebrew and Greek, church history, hermeneutics, surveys of individual books of the Bible, and theology. We offered this program for about seven years and then discontinued it when we had trouble recruiting and retaining students—largely because we could offer no degree or certificate to students who completed the program. Students had difficulty justifying to family, friends, and even themselves the expenditure of three years of time and effort. We decided that any future academic program would have to be degree granting. In order to make such a program possible, our staff needed to earn advanced degrees; and so several of us returned to school, taking graduate studies in various disciplines.

In the midst of our graduate studies, we began comparing notes regarding our experience at the university. We were all experiencing a common frustration: the university gets in the way of getting an education. Let me explain what I mean. The university is designed to prepare students to enter into the workplace; it is essentially vocational training. At the graduate level, the university is preparing students to be experts in their specific field. What I wanted—and what I consider to be the proper goal of education—was for my education to prepare me for life. Such preparation has to include exploration of what it means to be human. This requires thinking about what human beings are, who God is, what life is for, how we ought to relate to God, etc. From the perspective of the university, such lines of inquiry are superfluous to one’s profession and an unnecessary distraction. Therefore, such inquires are discouraged.

The MSC staff began to daydream about an institution that would have education—in the sense that I have described—at its very core rather than as an afterthought. From the staff’s discussions, Gutenberg was born. We shared ideas about what should constitute a good undergraduate education. Because of our experience with the School of Exegesis, we wanted to design an undergraduate education that would provide the kind of training in reading, writing, and critical thinking that would be good preparation for learning to interpret the Bible. From our perspective, the skills needed to interpret the Bible are essentially the same skills one uses to interpret any piece of literature; if one can read difficult literature with understanding, then he is well on his way to being a good interpreter of the Bible. Therefore, teaching students to read became one of Gutenberg’s primary goals.

As we thought about what would constitute a good curriculum, we realized that the approach of the great-books colleges had many of the features we wanted, and so we loosely patterned our curriculum after them. These colleges focus their curriculum on those writings that have had the most profound impact on the course of intellectual history in our culture; students read these works and discuss them in small groups. Although we used the great-books colleges as a model, we did not feel obligated to follow it slavishly. Most notably, we were determined to include some instruction in history. On the basis of our experience interpreting the Bible, we realized the importance of understanding the historical context in which a work is written, and so we incorporated into our curriculum an overview of the history of Western civilization.

Gutenberg College opened its doors in 1994, but about six or seven years ago, the college underwent a significant change. We had a group of students who were highly motivated to make sense of their Christian faith. At their initiative, every discussion eventually resulted in questions and reflections on the compatibility of what we were reading with biblical truth and the implications of such ideas for how we ought to live our lives. These discussions revitalized the life of the college. Taking the Christian faith with this degree of seriousness is what the faculty had always wanted, and these students helped make it an organic part of the curriculum. A culture was established at Gutenberg, a culture that we have sought to perpetuate. Now when prospective students express interest in coming to Gutenberg, we encourage them to visit classes and talk to Gutenberg students so that they can decide whether or not they want to be engaged in the kind of inquiry Gutenberg offers. If students want to do what we are doing, we want them to come to Gutenberg.

As a result of this evolution, Gutenberg has attracted a very diverse student body. And I mean true, healthy diversity rather than the superficial diversity that is usually touted. The vast majority of our students come from a Christian background, but many of them have serious questions about the faith. About half of our students have been out of high school for a few years, and many of these have done college-level study, but they have also accumulated a list of issues and questions with respect to the Christian faith that they want answered. As a group, our students are somewhat like the young people who, in the 1970s, would have made their way to L’Abri in Switzerland to dialog with Francis Schaeffer and his staff. It is a joy, but also humbling, to have been given the privilege of playing such a rewarding role in God’s economy.

For a variety of reasons we have made Gutenberg College the organizational center of our activities, but McKenzie Study Center and Art Project continue to play an important role in what we do. McKenzie Study Center is a forum for explicit and specific biblical teaching to Gutenberg students as well as the larger community. Art Project focuses on the mission of helping students and the wider community to integrate biblical faith with artmaking. The activities of all three entities are coordinated to help us make contact with and minister to those people God has prepared to hear what we have to say.

Where are we going from here? We want to be open to God’s leading. We would be content to keep doing exactly what we are doing, if that is what God wants. But to the extent that God provides resources and to the extent that it seems wise, we would like to broaden our activities. We do not want the college ever to become very large; that would destroy the personal environment that is so vital to what we are doing. But, largely at the urging of our students, we are considering the possibility of organizing graduate programs—a masters-degree program in New Testament hermeneutics and one in philosophy of science. In addition, Wes is interested in augmenting our arts offerings by establishing a fifth-year portfolio program for students who are particularly interested in developing art skills. We are also taking steps to expand our German-language-and-culture program.

Whether or not we expand our activities, space will be an issue. We are already bursting at the seams in our current facility; we do not have enough office space, resident space, or classroom space. This will only be more of a problem as time goes on. Expansion at our present location, while not impossible, is difficult. One of our pressing needs is a large room for big events and art performances. At present, we cannot accommodate the cultural events that we would like to organize, and one of the biggest obstacles to holding such events is the shortage of parking in the university area—a problem that the university, with all of its resources, has not been able to solve. This has led us to consider relocating Gutenberg to a place that would give us the room to expand our activities. We are currently considering property in a small community near Eugene. Because our present location near the University of Oregon has many advantages, considering a move is not immediately attractive. For example, our students have been able to enjoy some of the benefits of being part of a much larger institution. But being close to the university also has its disadvantages. When all is said and done, would moving Gutenberg be good? God only knows. Our prayer is that He will direct us as we deal with this question.

If we had additional facilities, we would consider starting a school. What grade levels it would include has yet to be determined. By the time our students have completed their studies at Gutenberg, many are interested in being involved in education—education like they have come to know it at Gutenberg. An important development in education in America in this regard is Christian classical schools; tens of new classical schools open nationwide every year. These schools have a huge need for teachers who understand what classical education is all about, and many of our students are highly interested in teaching in that kind of environment. Gutenberg’s faculty, therefore, has discussed the possibility of starting a classical school that would provide some of our graduates a place to teach and would provide a place for current students to get teaching experience in preparation for going elsewhere. This idea has great potential, but it would require additional resources. Once again, we are counting on God to guide us.

I would like to express our thanks to all of you who have supported us so faithfully over the years in a multitude of ways. We are heavily dependent on our friends for our existence—your contributions of money, your volunteer labor, your networking on our behalf, your encouragement, your prayers. All of these things are vital to our continued existence. As we think about our future, we don’t want to be overly aggressive, but neither do we want to fail to take advantage of the opportunities God has given us. We will proceed as wisely as we know how. In the meantime, we will keep you informed about our needs. It is not our intention to pressure you, but we want you to be aware of our needs so that you can decide if and how you might want to help us.

I would like to reiterate what I said at the beginning of my remarks. It is our sincere desire to be faithful servants of our Lord. May He direct our paths.

May God give everyone here the courage and strength to live out our lives in faith.

Copyright December 2005 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

David Crabtree