My essay Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment is making its way through the church's cadres. I saw a thoughtful response the other day from a seminary professor who asked why I did not look to Presbyterian colleges for help in rebuilding the Establishment leadership that the denomination once had. This is an excellent question; I should, indeed, have addressed it in the essay at greater length. I have, though, addressed this question in Called To Teach: The Vocation of the Presbyterian Educator, a volume I edited with Duncan Ferguson.
Presbyterians have devoted more efforts to creating educational institutions than any other Protestants in this country. Our teaching vocation has never been aimed simply at educating Presbyterians, but has always been part of the Reformed vocation to be stewards of society. Presbyterian colleges were not created to develop a Presbyterian Establishment, but rather to educate a mixed leadership for all of society.
All the same, Presbyterian colleges, as well as other institutions - camps, synod schools, retreat centers, as well as seminaries - have historically been important in bringing together people who then form the linked chain of denominational leadership. Before the Sixties, more Presbyterian colleges saw nurturing an informed Christian and Reformed consciousness among Christian and Reformed students as part of their job. Since the Sixties, though, most Presbyterian colleges, the one I teach for included, have moved to an arm's-length appreciation of their denominational heritage, or cut ties with the church altogether. At the other end of the spectrum, a few Presbyterian colleges have become strong and explicit Christian colleges, but often by becoming generally evangelical rather than specifically Presbyterian. Moreover, the Presbyterianism practiced at these officially Christian colleges is as likely to be suspicious of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as not.
There is an interesting plurality of PC(USA)-related colleges who have been trying to develop a stronger Presbyterian dimension within a larger academic identity. These schools are likely to have a disproportionate share in nurturing Presbyterian leaders in the future. If we are truly to rebuild the Presbyterian Establishment, we should look to this ember maintained by the dimensionally Presbyterian colleges.