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The Anxious Middle

Planning for the Future of the Christian College

Todd C. Ream and Jerry A. Pattengale


Hardcover: 174 pages
Publisher: Baylor University Press
Publish Date: September 15, 2023
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1481318500
ISBN-13: 978-1481318501

Ream and Pattengale have rightly identified that in order for our institutions of higher education to be forces of change for the common good, they need to have a ‘why’ big enough to support the ‘how.’ In this book, the authors help leaders ask the critical ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. By focusing on the core principles that organizations on all sides of these issues need to consider, the book creates space for those of varying perspectives to engage these ideas without sacrificing their own beliefs or priorities. If taken seriously and acted upon, these questions will drive the type of thoughtful, diverse innovation that is needed to propel Christian higher education into the future―even into, if we are bold enough to hope for it, a new season of flourishing.

— Romanita Hairston
Chief Executive Officer, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

In the 1990s, Christian colleges and universities experienced a record boom in students and employees. However, less than twenty years later Christian institutions experienced new challenges spurred on by four major changes: first, the “Great Recession” of 2008 and widespread debt; second, declining birthrates in certain regions of the United States; third, the passing of the Affordable Care Act, which raised the question of whether Christian institutes were required to cover contraceptives; and fourth, the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, which brought issues of employment to the forefront at certain Evangelical institutions. Yet despite mounting challenges, most Christian colleges and universities are still stronger now than at any point in their respective histories by almost any measure.

With The Anxious Middle, Todd C. Ream and Jerry Pattengale engage the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a model for navigating our tumultuous times. The authors argue that if the present age is defined by what Bonhoeffer calls in Creation and Fall the “anxious middle”—somewhere between Eden and the Apocalypse—the challenges faced by Christian higher education must be recognized as both existential and practical. To confront them while still embracing any opportunities afforded by occasional cross breezes, Christian colleges and universities would be wise to employ a fourfold approach to planning informed by Bonhoeffer’s work as well as historic and contemporary examples: institutions should be articulate about their missions, imaginative in advancing them, collaborative in deploying them, and strategic in sharing them.

Trustees, administrators, faculty members, and others concerned with the future of Christian colleges and universities will find in The Anxious Middle a planning process applicable to organizational levels ranging from the campus-wide to the departmental or the programmatic. The result is an understanding of Christian higher education not merely focused on surviving but thriving between Eden and the Apocalypse.


Todd C. Ream

Todd C. Ream is Professor of Humanities in the John Wesley Honors College and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, and is Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute. He also serves as the Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and as the Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.

Jerry A. Pattengale

Jerry Pattengale is University Professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, and the codirector and cofounder of the Lumen Research Institute.


This book is free of both handwringing gloom and fist-pumping boosterism. Some of the most respected leaders in Christian higher education see with clarity the obstacles facing Christian colleges and universities, but see just as clearly the path forward. If we pay attention to the vision behind this book, the future of Christian higher education will be better than we’ve ever dared to hope.

— Russell Moore
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

Todd Ream and Jerry Pattengale articulate a foundational truth of Scripture, which they deftly place in dialogue with the teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They argue insightfully that current challenges to Christian institutions of higher education actually deepen and enliven the discipleship mandate that powers us. Ultimately, they remind leaders of Christian colleges and universities that we are faithfully Christian when and insofar as we come alongside the Church to fulfill our Lord?s great disciple-making commission. Faithfulness to Jesus fulfills our mission, not programs or enrollment quotas. This book re-grounds us in our existential purpose. I will strongly recommend it to our board of trustees and to others.

— Merle Stoltzfus
Chair of the Board of Trustees, LeTourneau University

In more recent decades, Christian colleges and universities have distinguished themselves by maintaining a strong sense of telos, an intellectual muscle and way of life that trickles down to all aspects of the college experience?including the graduates that are its most lasting fruit. But as survival mindsets have taken over in the last decade, even this most needed contribution to American civic life has been displaced. The Anxious Middle shakes off the dust, grounding the survival of these precious institutions not in the chess pieces of pragmatism, but in the discipleship that is their beginning, middle, and end.

— Anne Snyder
Editor-In-Chief, Comment

Our time demands that Christian scholarship informs discipleship and, in turn, is informed by it. To bring the combined insight of St. Benedict, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the heirs of the Brethren of the Common Life into the conversation, is both appropriate and inspired. Christian scholarship contributes to public discourse only when Christ is its cantus firmus, for then it becomes profoundly humanist and culturally transformative.

— John W. de Gruchy
Emeritus Professor of Christian Studies,
University of Cape Town

The Anxious Middle reminds Christian college leaders that we are ultimately preparing graduates for society and for heaven so we should be clear about our institutions’ aspirations, expand our problem-solving imaginations, include God and diverse partners in our collaborations, and be thoughtful about how we can bring Christ-centered illumination to the broader culture.

— Kimberly Battle-Walters Denu
Provost, Westmont College

Ream and Pattengale offer an invaluable map of the contemporary landscape of Christian higher education and, most importantly, offer a theological grounding for strategic and tactical decisions to move educational institutions forward with meaning and purpose. This work is especially recommended for administrators in Christian higher education who are looking to go beyond mere procedural adjustments to think carefully about the central purposes of their institutions as they consider the challenges and opportunities they face.

— Joseph Creech
Director, Lilly Fellows Program

Christ-centered colleges and universities are in for a long, hard struggle. The social, financial, political, and reputational challenges we now face will be with us for the foreseeable future. The responses in The Anxious Middle are not merely tactical adjustments to operating budgets, enrollment strategies, and the like but strategically rooted in the broader narrative of redemption, from creation to consummation. Drawing on our best thinkers from Benedict to Bonhoeffer, they seek to nourish our collective mission by advocating for the spiritual, intellectual, and moral discipleship that is only possible at deeply Christian institutions of higher learning.

— Philip Graham Ryken
President, Wheaton College

n the present torrent of threatening opposition to Christian traditions, Christian values, and Christian colleges, this book charges into the fray and reaches down into the murky mission drift of compromise with the strong arm of historical insight to pull Christian colleges up into the warm light of renewal. Its profound yet simple and supernatural remedy to the ails of Christian Higher Education is the courageous return to our founding principles, indeed, our singular, radical, founding Principle—the person, Jesus Christ. Herein it is proposed that becoming again pure disciples of Jesus and committed ambassadors of his gospel can establish our Christian colleges as outposts of the kingdom where our students can experience the life-giving power of God on earth as it is in heaven. May we have the courage to engage in this invitation.

— Jim Gash
President, Pepperdine University

The Anxious Middle is the one new book you must read if you are connected to Christian higher education in any way. Ream and Pattengale make a bold and correct claim that the future of Christian higher education lies in understanding the ‘why’ it should exist. And that ‘why’ is the discipleship of the student into a firm belief that God is the creator of all things and therefore God is at the center of all things. Once you know the ‘why,’ presidents, university leaders, faculty, and board members will be able to shape and give oversight to all the other important and necessary functions of the university. The Anxious Middle supports its thesis with an engrossing discussion of Bonhoffer’s life and writings. Throughout the book the practical functions of a university are woven into historical context and vice versa. If you are a newcomer or a seasoned professional to Christian higher education, this book will equip to imagine a future by knowing the past.

— Shirley Hoogstra
President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

The Anxious Middle lays out a compelling vision for how Christian colleges and universities can embrace the opportunities this historical moment provides, and effectively cultivate discipleship, collaboration and generosity in the Christian leaders of tomorrow. Research increasingly shows that religion is important to human flourishing, and so we need to attend to the health of our religious institutions. Ream and Pattengale point the way toward a future of vibrant Christian higher education, encouraging us to draw on religion’s powerful ability to harness meaning and purpose in pursuit of flourishing.

— Heather Templeton Dill
President, John Templeton Foundation

For anyone interested in the state of and possibilities for Christian higher education, Todd Ream and Jerry Pattengale offer an invaluable guide in their new work The Anxious Middle. Both aspirational and deeply practical, The Anxious Middle explores the theological vision and  guiding principles of a faith-grounded education, as well as innovative approaches and strategies for pursuing it.

— Cherie Harder
President, The Trinity Forum

Ream and Pattengale have raised expectations with such an ambitious title. And they do not disappoint. This book is not simply about education, it is an education. It is a catechesis to answer the question, ‘What is the chief end of education?’ While they explore higher education, they have given us a key to unlock a treasure for churches and institutions called to disciple people and communities in Christlikeness. Get this book and let its wisdom reanimate your vision for how people can be formed anew in our day.

— Walter Kim
President, National Association of Evangelicals