The Soul of the University

I’ve just started reading Restoring the Soul of the University by Perry Glanzer, Nathan Alleman, and Todd Ream.  In the introduction they state, “Redeeming the Christian university’s soul starts by recognizing that if we are made in God’s image and the world is made by God, we must first know God if we are to truly know who we are and what the world is.” (p.10)  As I reflect on this quote and the title of the book, I am thinking about both in the context of Belhaven University.  What I see reassures me that, at least at Belhaven, there is no need to restore the Soul to the University, for Belhaven can truly sing “It is Well With My Soul.” You no doubt have heard of the upcoming retirement of Dr. Dan Fredericks, our Provost.  Due to his efforts and, many others, the Soul of the University has been carefully strengthened and nurtured over the years.  The emphasis on fully incorporating a Christian World View into every aspect of Who and What Belhaven is has impacted lives, and through our graduates, their communities and the world.

For us, it is not about restoration.  Instead, it is about maintaining and enhancing the ground already gained.  This is the charge for all of us in the roles God has called us to play here at Belhaven. For Faculty, you nourish the Soul of Belhaven through your interactions in the classroom: teaching, counseling, and modeling what it means to be called of God and saved by grace. Your faith, your commitment, your discipleship are a reflection of His love into the lives of our students and our University. We cannot rest on the past, as Paul writes, “I focus on this one thing; Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:13b,14)  I am excited to see what God has in store for the future of Belhaven University.


by Dr. Paul Criss, Dean – Belhaven University Memphis/DeSoto

2018 commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. As we celebrate the life of Dr. King this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and then prepare to commemorate the tragic day of his assassination, it seems important to reflect on his life and message. I am sure that many of you will have questions raised in your classes and you will want to encourage your students to take some time for reflection. This is especially needed due to the social unrest we have been experiencing in our country and even in academia recently.

Many students and leaders in academia are looking for glimpses of hope and truth within the current social framework. I believe our best source for reflection is history and Scripture, as did Dr. King. In his book on the history of the Civil Rights movement, David L. Chapell describes the movement as not political, but as primarily religious and spiritual. White liberal leaders in the North who were allies of the African American civil rights leaders were not advocates of civil disobedience or of a direct response to segregation. Believing in the goodness of human nature, they supported education and enlightenment to bring about social and racial progress; however, that would not be enough. Chapell argues that African American civil rights leaders were rooted in the biblical understanding of the human sin nature and in the rebuke of social injustice offered by the Hebrew prophets. He also shows that it was their vibrant faith that empowered them to press for justice despite the often violent opposition to this biblical standard. Chapell concludes that there is no way to comprehend what occurred until you see the Civil Rights movement as a religious revival.1

Dr. Timothy Keller builds on this understanding specifically addressing Dr. King’s living out of this biblical ethic in his book The Reason for God:

“When Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted racism in the white church in the South, he did not call Southern churches to become more secular. Read his sermons and ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ and see how he argued. He invoked God’s moral law and the Scripture. He called white Christians to be more true to their own beliefs and to realize what the Bible really teaches. He did not say, ‘Truth is relative and everyone is free to determine what is right or wrong for them.’ If everything is relative, there would have been no incentive for white people in the South to give up their power. Rather, Dr. King invoked the prophet Amos, who said, ‘Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). The greatest champion of justice in our era knew the antidote to racism was not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity.”2

That is the key, not only to all intellectual endeavors, but also to all social progress – to become truer as individuals and as a society to a deeper and truer Christianity. As your students inquire and as you reflect on what happened 50+ years ago and on what is happening today, it is hoped that we will personally inch closer to the biblical standard and that we will lead others to do the same.


1 Chappell, David L., A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

2 Keller, Timothy, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Random House, 2008).

Helpful Online Resources:

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7 Laws of the Learner

7 Laws of the Learner is the title of a book by Bruce Wilkinson published in 1984.  The focus is on understanding how students learn and ways to enhance student learning. Because Dr. Wilkinson is a Christian, biblical principles are applied throughout the material.  He draws out the word for teach in Deut. 4:1 and learn in Deut 5:1 and shares that they have the same root.

According to Hebrew grammar, the fundamental idea … means to busy oneslef eagerly with student’s learning. Do you see how the Bible’s mindset is the opposite of the normal mindset? The Bible says that teaching means “causing learning.” This is the heart of the Law of the Learner. No longer can you or I consider teaching merely as something the teacher does in the front of the class.  Teaching is what the teacher does in the student.  How do you know if you are a great teacher? by what your students learn. p. 26-27

I know we have great teachers working at Belhaven. I know you are passionate about your students and their success. I know you go beyond expectations to do all you can to achieve student learning.  We are blessed by a faculty who recognize the biblical foundations of what they do and strive to do what they do “as unto the Lord.”

May God bless you for all you do and the lives you are impacting by your faithfulness.

A Student’s Expectation

A mentor of mine once shared with me that most students graduating from college expect to be able to write well enough not to be embarrassed when submitting reports to their boss.  His point was that a student’s expectation of earning a college degree included this ability IN ADDITION to the content knowledge of the major being studied.

I’ve thought about that many times over the years since I first heard that.  I’ve talked with students and have become convinced that what my mentor said still holds true. The very nature of graduating with a college degree SHOULD include the ability to write at a professional level. Sadly, I also know that even as students hold this expectation, they will do almost anything in their power to avoid learning this important skill. It is one of those mysterious paradoxes which surround us.

This reminds me of what I learned about sermon preparation; that we start with the audience’s felt needs and then work toward their real need. Students’ felt need is to get through each course with as little work as possible.  Their real need is the ability to write and to embrace the subject content. As Instructors, the one cannot be neglected at the expense of the other. Whenever we default on holding students to a high expectation in writing we fail them at a deeper level which can potentially sidetrack their career and derail their dreams.

I know it is challenging and time-consuming to do so, but I cannot urge you strongly enough not to neglect your responsibility to your students to do what they may not want but desperately need; hold them to a high standard in writing.  By doing so you serve the student now AND facilitate their future.

How the Reformation Reformed Education

by Dr. Paul T. Criss, Ph.D.
Dean, Belhaven, Memphis/DeSoto

On October 31, 2017, what do we celebrate? No, the answer is not All Hallow’s Eve. The answer is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation epitomized in Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. The point was to debate the statements to bring about a greater understanding of Scripture and a greater adherence to what Scripture taught. The Reformers reformed the church by the five solas:

  • Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura)
  • Christ Alone (solus Christus)
  • Grace Alone (sola gratia)
  • Faith Alone (sola fide)
  • God’s Glory Alone (soli deo Gloria)

The first principle of Scripture Alone sparked a hunger for knowledge and a reformation, not only of the church, but of education as well. The following is a summary the great research of Hugh Whelchel (, David Murray, William Boice, and R.B. Peery (Luther’s Influence in Education).

Martin Luther has been called “the father of modern education” because he was almost as great a reformer of education as he was of religion.  John Calvin was known for reforming higher education. The Reformation took salvation out of the hands of the clergy and placed it, under God, in the hands of each individual. This necessitated each individual possessing the potential to have a Holy Spirit illuminated understanding of Scripture. It also directed Christian belief away from the dictates of the church and vested it in the Word of God; to teach each person to derive their interpretation of the Bible, not from the church or clergy, but through personal prayerful investigation of God’s revealed Word. All of this required that each person be able to read Scripture him or herself. It also meant that each individual must learn to read and to think clearly and critically leading to a reformation in education. The reformer’s concern did not stop at literacy; they were interested in both the theory and practice of education as well.

In nearly all of this writings, Luther references better education; however, his principles are clearly outlined in the letter “To Mayors and Alderman of the cities of Germany in Behalf of Christian Schools” (1524) and his sermon on “The Duty of Sending Children to School” (1530). The following ideas draw heavily from these writings unless otherwise noted.

Education for Everyone

Prior the Reformation, education was strictly the purview of the clergy and aristocrats, but the reformers believed that education should be available to everyone. The schools they started were the first, in line with Jesus and Paul, to educate girls and desired that every child of God reach their full potential for God’s glory. Luther expressed, “Even if there were no soul, and men did not need schools and languages for the sake of Christianity and the Scriptures; still, for the establishment of the best schools everywhere, both for boys and girls, this consideration is of itself sufficient, namely, that society, for the maintenance of civil order and the proper regulation of the household, needs accomplished and well-trained men and women” (1524). Joel Beeke in Calvin for Today states, the later reformers like John Calvin “opened the way for people to raise themselves by education and by the diligent use of their knowledge and abilities.”

Who is Responsible for Education?

The reformers taught the parents and the church held the primary responsibility of educating children under the authority of God’s Word (with possible support from the state). Luther and Calvin personally started numerous schools with existing churches. Parents were expected to reinforce instruction at home and church leaders would assess the instructional process and a student’s progress throughout the school year. Luther encouraged the state to provide stability to education by undertaking and supporting primary and secondary schools. He said, “Therefore it will be proper for the civil authorities to exercise the greatest care and industry in regard to the young; for, since the interests of the city are committed to their trust, they would not do well before God and the world if they did not seek with all their might to promote its prosperity. Now, the prosperity of a city does not consist alone in the vast treasures, strong walls, beautiful houses, large supplies of muskets and armor; yea, when these things are found, and fools exercise authority, it is so much worse for the city. The best and richest treasure of a city is that it have many pure, learned, intelligent, honest, well-educated citizens, for these can collect, preserve, and properly use whatever is good” (1524).

Education Should Be Theological & Practical

The reformer’s perspective on the sovereignty of God over all creation affected how they approached the study of all topics. All truth is God’s truth and theology, as the queen of the sciences, unifies all knowledge and understanding under the guiding principles of Scripture. As Mark Thompson wrote in Engaging with Calvin, “According to Calvin, science was a gift of God, created for benefit of mankind. The real source of natural knowledge was the Holy Spirit. Whoever dealt with it acknowledged God, obeyed the call of God, and focused on God’s creation. Thus, biology was also theology.” The reformers knew that the Reformation movement would grow through the study of arts and sciences through the lens of scripture. They also thought of education as a way to prepare students more efficiently to easily perform their daily duties in life. In some way even the concept of adult studies was encouraged, or at least schools at hours which would not interfere with the work schedule of those obligated to earn their living; these guidelines were recommended to authorities of both the church and state. Luther stated students should “spend an hour or two a day in school, and the rest of the time at work at home, learning some trade and doing whatever is desired, so that study and work go together…” (1530).

 Education Requires Gifted Teachers

The reformers viewed the position of teacher as very important. They actually viewed teachers as officers and servants of the church. The call to “Scripture Alone” required teachers who would teach how to read and understand the Word of God. Because of this, they required teachers not only to have expertise and education in their discipline, but also to obtain a degree in theology and to demonstrate high character. They also thought that teacher’s compensation should be high enough to provide education to the poor who could not afford to pay for their own instruction.

Education and Citizenship of Church & State

John Calvin founded the Genevan Academy. It became the model for colleges and universities for several centuries. Hugh Whelchel describes, “the Academy was a university that offered higher learning in a number of subjects, including theology, training pastors, and those preparing for other vocations.” The Academy also viewed its purpose to prepare those who would serve in the church and in government. Historians affirm that wherever followers of the Reformation went, they founded churches, school, and colleges. In fact, many of America’s early colleges, like Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, were originally based on the model set by the Genevan Academy.

Broad & Rich Curriculum with Best Teaching Principles

Luther advocated for a broader range of subjects to be taught to students based on liberalis study that taught students to contribute to society rather than servilus education that simply taught one skill to keep people in servitude. He retained the normal course of study for the clergy (Latin, Greek, and mathematics), but he also recommended Hebrew, more mathematics and additionally he insisted on nature studies, the sciences, rhetoric, gymnastics, history, and music. He realized the cultural power and practical value of music. Of course, Luther gave priority to the Christian teaching in all educational endeavors, so perhaps he was one of the first reformers to teach the Christian Worldview (along with Calvin). By using the Bible and the Catechism, he focused on developing the heart as well as the head. He also insisted on teaching being in the vernacular. He believed that students should not be subject to the medieval tradition of harshness, but rather should be dealt with gently and kindly, being ruled by love and not fear so they would find joy in learning. He also began the tradition of Academic Freedom by allowing liberty and opportunity for self-expression and questions within the classroom.

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Scriptural reformation and education are the keys to cultural transformation. James Montgomery Boice in his book Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? Recovering the Doctrines that Shook the World illustrates for us: “Here is a particularly striking example. In 1535 the Council of Two Hundred, which governed the city of Geneva, Switzerland, decided to break with Catholicism and align the city with the Protestant Reformation. They had very little idea what that meant. Up to this point the city had been notorious for its riots, gambling, indecent dancing, drunkenness, adultery, and other vices. The citizens of Geneva would literally run around the streets naked, singing indecent songs and blaspheming God.

They expected this state of affairs to continue after they had become Protestants, and the Council did not know what to do. It had passed regulation after regulation designed to restrain vice and remedy the situation. They thought becoming Protestant would solve the problem. But that did not do any good either. Genuine moral change never comes from the top down by law, but from the bottom up through a transformed people. Geneva’s morals continued to decline.

But the Council did one thing right. They invited John Calvin to become Geneva’s chief pastor and preacher. He arrived in August of 1536, a year after the change. He was ignored at first, even by the Council. He was not even paid the first year. Besides, his first preaching proved so unpopular that he was dismissed in early 1538 and went to Strasbourg, where he was very happy. He had no desire to go back to Geneva. Yet, when the situation in Geneva continued to deteriorate, public opinion turned to him again and, driven by a sense of duty, Calvin returned. It was September 13, 1541.

Calvin had no weapon but the Bible. From the very first, his emphasis had been on Bible teaching, and he returned to it now, picking up precisely where he had left off three and a half years earlier. Calvin preached from the Bible every day, and under the power of that preaching the city began to be transformed. As the people of Geneva acquired knowledge of God’s Word and were changed by it, the city became, as John Knox called it later, a New Jerusalem from which the gospel spread to the rest of Europe, England, and the New World. This change made other changes possible. One historian wrote:

Cleanliness was practically unknown in towns of his generation and epidemics were common and numerous. He moved the Council to make permanent regulations for establishing sanitary conditions and supervision of markets. Beggars were prohibited from the streets, but a hospital and poorhouse were provided and well conducted.

Calvin labored zealously for the education of all classes and established the famous Academy, whose influence reached all parts of Europe and even to the British Isles. He urged the council to introduce the cloth and silk industry and thus laid the foundation for the temporal wealth of Geneva. This industry…proved especially successful because Calvin, through the gospel, created within the individual the love of work, honesty, thrift and cooperation. He taught that capital was not an evil thing, but the blessed result of honest labor and that it could be used for the welfare of mankind. Countries under the influence of Calvinism were invariably connected with growing industry and wealth…. It is not mere coincidence that religious and political liberty arose in those countries where Calvinism had penetrated most deeply.

There probably has never been a clearer example of extensive moral and social reform than the transformation of Geneva under the ministry of John Calvin, and it was accomplished almost entirely by the preaching and teaching of God’s word.”

It has been said that we are to ever be reforming. For Christians, this means that we compare our beliefs and practice to the Word of God; it we do not line up to what the Bible says we reform or change to meet the biblical standard. May we, in obedience to Christ, follow in the steps of the reformers and be agents of ecclesial and cultural transformation through our efforts in education.

Recommended Resources

An excellent and accessible book on the Reformation is Erwin Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2016). If you are looking for ideas on how to celebrate the 500th Anniversary or incorporate it into your class, investigate the following sites:


Canvas Updates

A webinar going over the most recent Canvas updates and answering questions was conducted on October 25th.  Joe Villarreal, our resident Canvas expert and technician led the webinar and shared a LOT of great material that will definitely be useful to you.

Joe does a great job in these webinars and always presents in a way to make things easy to understand.  I know you will get something out of it and I urge you to take the time to watch the recording of this webinar:


The REFORMATION – What’s It All About?

by Dr. Larry Ruddell
Dean, Belhaven-Houston

(NOTE: On Tuesday, October 31, 2017 … many Christians will celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation)

On October 31, 1517, at the Church door in Wittenberg Germany, a hammer hit a nail. And with that “Bang”! … an idea explosion took place that still impacts society today.

Martin Luther, Catholic Priest and Professor had his life changed over a period of months due to his wrestling with Romans 1:17, For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (English Standard Version) He came to realize that salvation comes from faith alone by the grace of God alone and he came to realize that this faith required action. As a scholar, he saw the disconnects between these Scriptural Truths and what the Catholic Church was teaching … which resulted in him writing out 95 Theses (or points for debate) … hence the need for the aforementioned hammer and nail.

This relatively innocent request for a discussion (as any scholar should have been respected for having broached) resulted in anger and attack from the Catholic Church, even the Pope himself. Jesus was hated and attacked for presenting Truth as well, See Luke 4:31b-32 that reads, And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. We see the reaction from the Pharisees a little later in Luke to Jesus’ teaching and works, But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:11)

Ideas from the Reformation

What was different about Jesus and what Luther (and the others that followed, including Calvin and Zwingli) was getting at with his points of debate that got people so stirred up and what does it mean as instructors with Belhaven University?

The ideas of the Reformation are in some ways simple because they get back to the Scriptures and what the Scriptures say about themselves. … and here are the highlights:

Sola (or “Only”) Faith … we come to God not through any works that we do but only by trusting in Jesus Christ.

Sola Scripture … in other words, Scripture is our source of authority which means that ALL (including kings) are under the authority of Law. A corollary of Sola Scripture is the Perspicuity of Scripture … which means that the Bible can be understood by normal people and we could add that “Scripture interprets Scripture” … for example, see Matthew 5:21 where Jesus is explaining the meaning of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13 with Genesis 9:5-6).

The other key points follow; Sola Christ, Sola Grade, Sola Glory to God.

What do these ideas mean for us at Belhaven?

So, what’s the big deal? How do these ideas apply to us as faculty and citizens? Here are a few thoughts.

God’s world is one world … so Reformed thinking never separated God from the “secular” world; which would include a need to be involved in government, society and vocation as well as our church lives. This is our aim at Belhaven to show how God’s Word applies in natural ways to our class material.

Freedom of Conscience … no one should coerce the thinking of others … that is God’s purview. Students are made in God’s image so their ideas should be respected … but that doesn’t mean that we have to agree. It just means that we “disagree” by explaining our arguments and trust God from there … but never do we force ideas on others through coercion or disrespect.

We will be going “against the flow” … the church has always found it easy to “go with the flow” of culture … which the Bible constantly warns against (i.e. see book of Judges i.e. Judges 2:10-13). So we should be alert to class material that misrepresents what the Bible says … especially the tendency to allow ourselves (or students) to assert “what the Bible says” without using actual Scripture (read within the proper context).

There are others but this is a good start. May we all be faithful to “stand out” as distinctive servants in these tough times and remember this October 31 those who have gone before (see Hebrew 12:1)!

Crossword Classroom Activity

This is a variation of a post initially made March 2015 titled Activity for the Last Hour: Scrabble.  In this version, it becomes a game which can be used to teach a new concept or review a concept already covered.  The model below is based on teaching a new concept.

Break your class into groups of 3 to 4 individuals.  Each group should name itself. Give an assigned passage from the textbook or an article which covers a key concept.  Each group is to compose 6-10 crossword questions and a one-word answer.  This portion should take approximately 20-40 minutes depending on the amount of reading assigned.

Now, print one term in the middle of the whiteboard that defines the key concept.  On a rotating basis, each team adds a series of boxes across the word you entered, or one of the words another team entered, to make a crossword option.  One of the team members asks the question relative to the term and the first team to respond is awarded points.  Each team gets 10 points for adding relevant terms to the growing crossword, as well as 15 points for correctly answering the questions.  Keep score on the whiteboard so everyone can see the running totals.  As Instructor you are the judge on relevancy of terms and any team which proposes a term which you deem non-relevant misses their turn. The game ends when no team can add other relevant terms.  Total the points and announce the winning team.

At the end of the time, have everyone take a picture of the board (you too).  Assign a student at the beginning to create a Google Doc to record the questions and answers and share it with the entire class.  Alternately, have each team create a Google Doc for their team and share it with you so you can compile the information later.

This type of activity is great for learning new concepts because it not only covers the data, which you could probably do quicker in a lecture, but it also helps the student to better integrate the data into their memory.  Alternately, this activity can also be used for mid-term or final review.

Integrating Critical Thinking in Classroom Discussions

By Dr. Everett Wade,
English Faculty, Belhaven-Memphis

Class discussions do not always come easily, especially when they focus on readings from course material. Stimulating conversation is often difficult, and students are often reluctant to engage. At other times, students are so eager to speak that the conversation is shallow and drifts off topic. Even lively discussions may lack the underlying critical thinking that is necessary for a profitable evaluation of the reading. In order to motivate discussion while avoiding these pitfalls, I use a three-step procedure of summary, analysis, and assessment. This process helps students to discuss texts in a manner that encourages critical thinking.

Critical thinking is generally defined as “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Too often, however, class discussions reverse this process, as teachers begin by asking students what they think of the reading (their judgment) and then try to work back to objective analysis and evaluation. During my time teaching, I have certainly been tempted to begin class discussions with questions that require a student to make an overall judgment on the text. The problem with this approach is that students generally haven’t had time to digest the reading material for that day. To give the proper structure to the discussion, I begin by writing three column headings on the board: summary, analysis, and assessment.


We begin with summary. How well we are able to summarize is a good barometer for how well we have comprehended a text in the first place. Furthermore, the mere act of restating the main ideas of the text often results in insights and discovery. As we summarize the reading, I let the students do the talking while I take notes on the board. It can be helpful to ask the students to provide citations for key points in the summary, e.g., “Where did the author claim that—can you give me the page number?” or “Can you read me the sentence where the author makes that claim?”


After summary, we move on to analysis—the detailed examination of the elements and structure of the text. Although the attribution is dubious, Aristotle is often quoted as having said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Regardless of this statement’s source, its sentiment is valuable. I stress to students that when we analyze, we are holding the text and its ideas at arm’s length: we table our emotions, responses, and judgments. We ask questions regarding the reading’s context—to whom was it written, and during what time period? We also discuss the nature of the work: is it merely informative, or is it persuasive? If it is argumentative, can we find a thesis statement? How well do the author’s reasons support his or her claim? And what kind of evidence does the author provide? The answers to such questions provide a basis for the next step in our discussion: assessment.


Having grounded our discussion in summary and analysis, we then move on to assessment—making a final judgment about the text. At this point, students may express their views more freely. What is their emotional reaction to the reading? Do they agree or disagree with the author? Discussing such observations is more profitable at this point for several reasons. For one, we have already grounded the main points of the reading, thus reducing the risk of mischaracterizing the author’s ideas. Furthermore, because we have analyzed the article, students can frame their emotional responses more critically. The process of summary and analysis enables the students not only to evaluate the reading itself, but also their reactions to it. We can judge whether certain gut reactions were warranted, or whether they break down under closer observation. Finally, students can use the summary and analysis during the first parts of the session to develop an overall judgment of the reading, thus developing their own thesis that could be used for writing a response or as a springboard for a longer research essay.

Although this three-step procedure may need to be adjusted for each course’s unique context, it provides a basic structure that ensures more substance and depth for classroom discussions. By engaging in this process, students can avoid a shallow exchange of ill-informed opinions, and instead think critically, engaging in objective analysis and evaluation of an issue before forming a judgment.

Constitution Day – Sept. 17 – Celebrate Freedom

Please use the information below for a short presentation on the Constitution during one of your class sessions the week of September 17, 2017

Celebrate Freedom!
by Dr. Paul Criss

It is amazing to hear some of the current statistics of American Constitutional illiteracy. In 2014, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that revealed that American citizens’ knowledge of the government is lacking:

In 2011, a survey by Newsweek revealed that 70% of Americans did not know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Fifty percent of college students think that Thomas Jefferson was the Father of the Constitution [the correct answer is James Madison] even though he was overseas during the signing of Constitution ( Studies have also revealed that 70 percent of Americans cannot name one of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and 90 percent cannot name all five protected by the same Amendment. The Intercollegiate Institute of American Civic Literacy found in 2008 that 70% failed a basic test on the knowledge required for an informed and responsible citizenship (  If we do not know what is in the Constitution how will we know our rights or how will “We the People” hold our leaders accountable?

On September 17, 2017 we will celebrate the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Federal law requires that all institutions receiving federal funds must observe Constitution Day, however, studies show that 90 percent of schools ignore this law. We would encourage you to celebrate freedom the entire week that September 17th falls upon. Some suggestions on how to do this follow:

A fun way might be to do a quick quiz on the Constitution like this one that is provided by Wallbuilders (

  1. Of the 39 signers of the Constitution, how many had previously signed the Declaration of Independence?
    ( (link no longer available)
  2. The Constitution was signed in 1787, but was not binding until it was ratified.  When did that happen?
  3. Which state was the first to ratify the new constitution?
  4. Which state was the last to ratify the Constitution?
  5. How many articles does the Constitution contain?
  6. Which article is the longest, and why?
  7. The Constitution Convention met in Philadelphia for the purpose of creating a document that would establish a new government for the States. True or False?

Instructors might also consider incorporating the Constitution as a collaborative discussion in the discipline being taught. For example, in English, the instructor may want to discuss the differences in word meanings between 1787 and the present for words such as “general welfare” or “misdemeanor.” In a science or business class, one might discuss why the Constitution enables Congress to make laws protecting patents and intellectual property. Another business question might be on how the Constitution supports free enterprise. In a Bible class, a discussion might be led on the importance of religious freedom. Of course, the history class correlations are obvious.

How did you do on the quiz above? Check yourself:

  1. Six: Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, George Clymer, George Read, and James Wilson
  2. It was ratified on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the Constitution, as specified in Article 7 of the Constitution. The new government under the Constitution came into effect on March 4, 1789.
  3. Delaware, on December 7, 1787
  4. Rhode island, on May 29, 1790
  5. Seven
  6. Article I is the longest.  It organizes and governs the legislative branch, which was the branch closest to the people and the most important of the three branches. It was therefore given the most, and the most powerful responsibilities.
  7. False.  The purpose was to address and solve the weaknesses that had become apparent under the Articles of Confederation, the document under which the country had been governed during the American Revolution.

Here are some resources that you might find helpful:

By the way, we do not have a godless Constitution as some have suggested. In fact, many of the clauses incorporate biblical principles such as representative government (Exodus 18:21, even Acts 6:3), distrust of power due to the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9), and a separation of powers in three branches (Isaiah 33:22). The Founders who were instrumental in writing and ratifying the Constitution specifically acknowledged God in its creation:

  • James Madison said, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty Hand which has been so frequently extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution.”
  • Benjamin Franklin stated, “I beg I may not be understood to infer that our general Convention was Divinely inspired [as in the Inspiration of the Bible] when it formed the new federal Constitution…yet I must own [admit] I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance…should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in Whom all inferior spirits ‘live and move and have their being’”[Acts 17:28].
  • Benjamin Rush shared, “I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration [as in the Inspiration of the Bible], but I am as perfectly satisfied that the Union of the States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”
  • Alexander Hamilton believed, “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system which without the finger of God could never have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”

Our very first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, encouraged all of us by instructing: “Every member of the State ought diligently to read and study the constitution of his country and teach the rising generation to be free. By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated, and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.” Read, study, teach, know, defend, and assert – take some time this September to help your students reflect upon how the Constitution has shaped American culture and thinking. In all of this remember to Celebrate Freedom!