CFI History

The Center for Faith and Inquiry was originally named the Center for Christian Studies. It was founded at Gordon College in 1994 under the leadership of then Provost Stan Gaede, who invited Harold Heie, who taught mathematics at Gordon from 1975–80, to return to Gordon to serve as the Founding Director. During the fall of 1994, Heie and Gaede worked together to define the mission of the Center and its principal goals:

The Mission of the CCS is to facilitate Christian scholarship that will gain a hearing in the larger academy and have an impact on the Christian church and the broader culture, with the following four goals:

  • To produce excellent Christian scholarship from a Christian perspective
  • To build bridges between the work of Christian scholars and its application in the Christian church and society
  • To engage members of the larger academic community and leaders in both the Christian church and broader culture in consideration of Christian perspectives on important disciplinary, interdisciplinary and social issues
  • To enrich the educational and scholarly experience of faculty and students at Gordon College

Under Heie’s leadership, the Center received a number of prestigious grants, allowing for various projects, initiatives, and collaborations. A sampler of these include: a scholarly project on the life of William Wilberforce, a project on Christian Virtues in a Pluralistic Society; a series of Evangelical/Catholic Conversations; an interfaith symposium on the Role of Religion in Politics and Society; a conversation on International Public Policy; and the initiation (in 1998) of the annual Gordon College Symposium—a tradition which lives on at the College today.

Under Heie’s leadership, two primary foci for the Center emerged: helping create scholarly networks and engaging in respectful conversation about important topics. In 2002, Gordon’s Board of Trustees affirmed Heie’s work by charging Gordon to “enhance . . . [its] place on the intellectual landscape,” proposing the Center continue to be a vehicle “to build networks with other colleges, institutes and scholars, promoting conversation across ideological and disciplinary lines and strengthening Gordon’s voice in the public square.” But for Heie the time had come to step down. He retired in 2002, although he retained the title of a Senior Fellow of the Center.

His successor, Dan Russ, was named Director in 2003. A Ph.D. in Literature and Psychology from the University of Dallas, Russ had previously served as the executive director of Christians in the Visual Arts, an international arts organization that is housed at Gordon and as Headmaster of Trinity Christian Academy, a K–12 college preparatory school in Dallas, Texas. Upon assuming the directorship of the Center, Russ was given three mandates: 1) build on the tradition established by founding Director Harold Heie of respectful conversation among Christians who differ around crucial issues; 2) create more layered programs that are accessible to students and stimulating to faculty; and 3) coordinate carefully with the programs made possible by the newly received (in 2003) grant of $2 million dollars from the Lilly Endowment, entitled “Critical Loyalty: Christian Vocation at Gordon College.” This grant, the largest programmatic grant in Gordon’s history, called into existence, among other things, a new honors program, the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, and a speaker series, entitled Faith Seeking Understanding. Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, professor in the history department, was charged to direct this grant. Russ and Howard worked closely together in the following years.

Under Russ’s leadership (2003–2011), the Center continued to sponsor and host a wide variety of speakers and programs, but three thematic emphases emerged: the Catholic-Evangelical dialogue that was expanded to include the Eastern Orthodox tradition as well; the Jewish-Christian dialogue that was expanded to include Muslim scholars; and Christians engaging culture that emphasized the arts, the sciences, and peace with justice themes. In 2011, Russ stepped down as Director to assume full-time duties as Gordon’s Academic Dean; he had been serving as Acting Dean since 2009.

In 2011, Thomas Albert Howard, director of the Lilly grant, was then appointed as the Director of the Center with a broad mandate from Provost Mark Sargent to re-envision the Center and absorb more fully under its auspices the aforementioned Jerusalem and Athens Forum (JAF) honors program and the Faith Seeking Understanding (FSU) lecture series, established by the Lilly grant. Working with a newly appointed Steering Board (which includes Stan Gaede, now Scholar in Residence at Gordon College), Howard developed a terser Mission Statement but one that strongly resonates with the Center’s original goals. This Statement reads as follows:

“The Center is dedicated to promoting first-order scholarship, reflection, creativity, and conversation, drawing from Christian intellectual and spiritual traditions, the various academic disciplines, and the wisdom found in societies and cultures at large. The insights and ideas derived from our work aim to serve Gordon College, the Body of Christ, and the common good.”

In a communiqué in June 2012, Howard elaborated more specifically upon his vision: “Under my leadership at the Center, I am especially eager to foster conversations across academic disciplines, help raise the level and quality of scholarship at Gordon, promote more interaction between the Christian academy and the ‘mainstream’ academy, foster dialogue between the academy and the church, encourage students who feel called to academic and professional vocations, promote serious ecumenical reflection, and help raise Gordon’s overall intellectual profile.” The Center has especially benefitted from the merger with the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, for this honors program has added a much-desired, direct student connection to the Center.

In 2014, the Center will have been in existence for two decades. Howard and his staff—Debbie Drost (Program Manager of the Center since the days of Harold Heie) and Ryan Groff (Program Coordinator of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum and former Critical Loyalty Project Manager)—look forward to building on a rich heritage toward a future of new opportunities and challenges.