By Stan Friedman
ALLAHABAD, INDIA, (June 17, 2011) – Boaz Johnson, a North Park University professor of biblical and theological studies, is helping establish what he hopes will be the pre-eminent Christian Studies PhD program in his native India.
Johnson is one of the three people serving on the Executive Committee that is developing the school. Two other Covenanters also are playing significant roles. Rob Johnston, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Shekhar Singh from Union Biblical Seminary in India, are serving on Academic Committee of the program.
The PhD program in Christian Studies would be the first in the country operated under the University Grants Commission of India, the nation’s ultimate educational authority. The government does not recognize PhDs offered by schools not under the commission’s authority.
The new program will be recognized by the churches and the government, Johnson says. As a result, graduates will be able to teach at any Indian university.
Last December, a group of largely Indian theological professors, as well as others from around the world, formalized the program. “It has been our dream to start a PhD program that is very indigenous and at the highest educational levels,” says Johnson.
“The consultation was a humbling experience for me, because a number of theologians involved were students of mine at Union Biblical Seminary some 25 years ago,” Johnson adds. “Now the have received their PhDs and are in leadership positions in various places around the world.”
The new program will operate as part of Sam Higginbottom Institute for Agricultural and Technological Sciences. Though it might seem odd that such a program would be developed at one of the leading science schools, it has a long history of promoting the Christian faith in the mostly Hindu nation.
Higginbottom, born in 1874, was an American missionary to India. He came to believe God wanted him to start an agriculture institute in that country. Higginbottom had to overcome a major hurdle, however. He knew nothing about agronomy.
Higginbottom returned to the United States to develop his knowledge. He subsequently traveled to Allahabad to start the school, which quickly became a place where some of the country’s top agronomy experts were trained. Higginbottom also “became a very close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.”
The school began a downward slide educationally and also drifted from its theological foundations in the Christian faith. An Indian expatriate professor teaching in Arizona, Ragindra Lal, returned to reverse the school’s decline.
Having had a profound Christian religious experience himself, Lal believe the school would survive only if it returned to its Christian roots and started a school of theology roughly 15 years ago. The university also was renamed Sam Higginbottom Institute for Agricultural and Technological Sciences.
The school provides free education to members of the low-castes, says Johnson. Tuition charged to wealthier students covers the cost.
Christian outreach meetings are now held every day with 1,000 people from several surrounding states attending, says Johnson.
Classes for the new program will begin January 12 next year. Johnson will teach Old Testament and its relevance to indigenous Indian culture. He will continue to teach at North Park because the university’s classes will not be offered at the same time.
Johnson, who is a member of DeerGrove Covenant Church in Palatine, Illinois, says he wants the theology and science programs to make a global impact. “My hope is we would be able to send our science students to learn to be missionaries around the world.”
Johnson is looking ahead to the students’ missionary work, but he also has co-edited a book about Pandita Ramabai, a Christian social activist who worked to improve the lives of women in India. The book, which was released in March, has received good reviews, including one of the nation’s leading newspapers. Click here to read more.