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Dr. Kent Dunnington delivers 2023 Mannoia Lecture

Published: April 05, 2023

Dr. Kent Dunnington delivers 2023 Mannoia LectureDr. Kent Dunnington, professor of philosophy at Biola University in Los Angeles, California, and former professor at Greenville University from 2007-2015, was theguest presenter for the V. James Mannoia & Florence Mannoia Lecture In Christian Higher Education and World Missions and the McAllaster Scholars Honors Programon March 30 at Greenville University.

Why Greenville University isn’t the 'Harvard of the Midwest'

Dunnington’s presentation was entitled “State Schools and Church Universities, Or Why Greenville Isn’t the Harvard of the Midwest.”

Dunnington (shown at right) suggested that distinctions of institutional classifications, such as Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, two-year, four-year, R1, R2, etc., don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. These descriptions are marketing distinctions, and useful as far as dollars and degrees go. But as he frames a more useful distinction, these are irrelevant as to whether the institution teaches universal knowledge. He contrasts, after John Henry Newman, universal knowledge from total and general knowledge, the latter meaning omniscience and a certain level of competence, respectively.

Universal Knowledge

Dunnington defines universal knowledge– i.e. knowledge that church universities should teach – as an “understanding of the human person, the world, and our place in it.” If God has total knowledge, or universal truth, universal knowledge is therefore the adequate knowledge of the universe and our place in it.

And this universal knowledge, which leads to “understanding,” is of primary importance because, as he says, “it allows us to integrate the major domains of knowledge” to, essentially, make sense of the world.

A real university, then, should “provide a unified picture of the way the world is and our human place within it,” and that institutions of higher learning succeed or fail based on their attainment of this goal, this ideal. Greenville, therefore, is a real university because it selects those domains – those disciplines – which are integrated into a basic understanding of the world and our place in it. This is possible, he argues, because theology is at the forefront of its curricular education; students are learning about God, the Bible, the church, and how these entities touch everything else about the world.

A real university must teach theology or it’s not a real university, he asserts. Some may balk at this because it implies that Harvard and other mega universities, while prestigious, are not real universities because they don’t teach theology.

Dunnington’s point is that students at a distinctly Christian university are getting a more holistic, a more universal education, than students at Harvard in the sense that they’re learning about the true, the holy.

State schools and church universities

Dunnington distinguishes between state schools and church universities in the sense that many nominal religious institutions of higher education exist, in practice, to serve the nation state called America. Harvard, a historically religious university, is in this category of state schools whose goal is to serve the state by producing law-abiding citizens inculcated in the ideals of secular nationalism. Theology – radical theology – is a threat to the aims of the state. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar cannot be. Thus, Dunnington points out, the underpinning and goals of state schools versus church universities are at odds. As Dunnington states, “State colleges are the quality control division of the modern nation state.”

The challenge to the students of a church university

The product of a real church university – an institution which integrates the necessary domains to understand life – should be an ecumenical citizen. That person should not be a citizen of the city of man, but rather, as St. Augustine put it, the city of God.

Dunnington’s area of expertise is ethics, especially virtue theory. He is the author of Addiction and Virtue (2011) and Humility, Pride, and Christian Virtue Theory (2019).

The McAllaster Scholars Honors Program is named in honor of former Professor of English, Dr. Elva McAllaster, who taught the first honors classes at what was then Greenville College. The annual McAllaster Lecture invites an outside scholar to campus to engage our student body and the broader community. The McAllaster Scholars Honors Program is led by Kollin Fields, Assistant Professor of History. Professor Fields provided a synopsis of Dr. Dunnington’s Thesis and led students in a Q&A after the presentation.


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