A few years ago, while I was still a graduate student here, I wrote an op-ed challenging what I believed to be some concerning signs of what ACU was prioritizing (it can be found here).
Essentially, it referred to the annual emails concerning national rankings. The piece decried the fact that not only was ACU publicly comparing itself to other universities (including Christian ones) seemingly for the sake of making itself look better than them but presenting a posture that ACU cares not about deriving its identity as a school dedicated to being a true source of Christian discipleship, and instead as a national university known first and foremost as the school who was ranked higher than Baylor or Rice in “First Year Experiences.”
The phrase “We’re the Best. Again.” became a tagline which has persisted to this day. The main thrust of this piece was to ask the question ‘Is this truly the primary way a university representing a crucified Lord ought to be presenting itself to the wider world?’
I am returning to this idea once more at the beginning of the school year, in light of some language used in the opening ceremony and subsequent events. There we heard some very compelling words about ACU’s place in the world. Yes, we are nationally ranked but with that public presence comes a responsibility.
It has been made no little secret of ACU’s status as an official nationally ranked university. The school has been working toward this goal for some time now – a multimillion-dollar football stadium, movement within athletic districts, advancements in doctoral programs, are just a brief glimpse into ACU’s recent foray into the national stage.
Lest I be misconstrued, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to grow as an institution, and there is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to honor one’s accomplishments, both collectively and individually. There is an obvious necessity to present oneself in a positive light to promote growth. These are all fine things; the true difference that a Christian university should bring, however, is how it goes about honoring these accomplishments. That is, honor your accomplishments… then publicly lay them at the foot of the cross.
We point not to ourselves, but to the crucified Lord for whom we are supposedly making such strides. This is no mere lip service, either: our accomplishments truly mean nothing if we do not consciously get out of the way and acknowledge our proper place in this narrative. ACU is nothing if Christ is not everything. If we ourselves are not aware of how Christ touches all of these things – that is, how are we visibly and vocally representing Christ in our football, in our nursing and business programs, etc. – then we have already lost any distinction between ourselves and any other “elite” university.
Displaying our responsibility starts internally, here on campus. In Moody chapel the other day, in a devastating instance of irony, a student, through no real malice on their part, nonetheless threw the Book of Psalms down on the floor in order to talk about the much more important and exciting ACU football songs and cheers. Is this the posture of a Christian university? What are we prioritizing? All around campus, students are inundated with banners yielding messages that “We’re the best” and “Number X on this or that list”: the hidden curriculum ACU is providing its students is subliminal, but very clear. Labeling ourselves as a Christian university will mean nothing until we can publicly denounce the standards of excellence the world defines, and identify ourselves by the foolish wisdom of Christ. In our bluster about status and rankings, the voice of Christ beckoning us to “Come, follow me” is drowned out. Our banners should not display “We’re the best” but a lamb, who cared not about his status in the world, giving it up to point us to what true power is.
Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry