“We’re in this for the next Great Awakening. At ACU we want to prepare Christian students to go into every sphere of influence in our culture.”
– Len Munsil
Len Munsil is a third-generation Arizonan with an accomplished record as a lawyer, journalist, public policy expert and author. He was the Founding President and General Counsel for The Center for Arizona Policy, a nonpartisan public policy organization that grew into one of the largest and most powerful state public policy organizations in the U.S.
Len currently serves as President of Arizona Christian University, a Christian liberal arts university in Phoenix, founded in 1960. Back in 1994 when the school was known as Southwestern College, he was as an Adjunct Professor and later joined the Board of Trustees. At that time, Len was also one of the original Pinnacle Forum Partners. He heard about the seven mountains of culture as taught by Loren Cunningham and Bill Bright and it had a profound impact on him.
“I went to a number of Pinnacle Forum events in the 1990s and even spoke at a few,” Len recalls, “but I didn’t start going to a Forum group until Guy Rodgers asked me to. I’d known Guy for 25 years; we’d done political projects together. When we put our Forum together, we had in mind Wilberforce’s Clapham Circle. We were looking for leaders who really wanted to do things that would make a difference in the community. It’s been a big catalyst for thinking deeply about what God created us to do while we’re here.
“For me, in my 20s and 30s, I had a strong desire to see America turn back to God. Whether I was working in the policy area then or writing or speaking about Christian engagement, or involved in higher education now, the call has been the same: To be involved in cultural transformation.”
When did Len first get the idea that he could promote cultural transformation in higher education? It started when he served on the board of Southwestern College. Like a lot of small, struggling Bible colleges, there was discussion about whether it had a future or would ultimately have to close its doors. Len spoke up at one meeting and said, “There’s a need for a distinctive Christian university that has the Bible commitment this college has always had but has a broader vision for engaging culture with truth. Let’s teach students to think biblically so they can engage the world.”
Be careful what you say in public.
About a year after sharing that vision, Len was asked to serve as interim president. He committed for two years. That was nine years ago.
“We changed the name to Arizona Christian University to identify who we are and where we are. We expanded the vision statement to equip Christian students to transform culture with biblical truth. We adopted a set of conservative core commitments that included engagement with the seven mountains of culture. In those core commitments is the idea that we’re preparing Christians to go into the world as influencers. We aim to equip Christian leaders to go into every area of influence with a strong biblical worldview and with the courage to be salt and light in the culture.
“The truth is,” Len continues, “we need many conservative Christian universities where there are opportunities for students to build their faith, not lose it, and to learn about American exceptionalism. We were the first university in the country to teach a class on American exceptionalism. By the way, American exceptionalism isn’t, ‘Look at America, we’re so great.’ We are exceptional only to the extent that we pursue biblical principles of justice, of compassion, and of understanding right and wrong.
“As long as we follow biblical principles as a people, we’ll be blessed, and we will be exceptional. To the extent that we depart from these principles, we no longer will be. We teach American exceptionalism, not as a form of nationalism, but as a recognition that we’re endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights and that all men are created equal, and that these realities come from God.”
Len believes that higher education is a critical component in what has gone wrong in this country over the last six decades. He points out that the original Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, educated Christians for positions of influence in the world. “We are the spiritual heirs of Harvard, Yale and Princeton,” he says. “We hope more Christian colleges will embrace this vision.”
The term “exceptional” can be applied to ACU itself, as Len points out: “We were just selected the number one university in Arizona for the second straight year by College Consensus, ahead of Arizona’s large public and private universities. We’ve also been ranked as a Best College by U.S. News & World Report. Our academic reputation is growing.”
But this doesn’t mean ACU wants to become a big school. There were fewer than 400 students when Len arrived nine years ago. There are just under a thousand students attending this fall. “We don’t want tens of thousands of students,” Len says. “We want our faculty to know our students by name, to be able to pray for them, and to know their life circumstances. You can’t do that in the larger university environment. At the same time we value diversity. Our students come from 24 countries and 36 states, and almost half are minorities.”
Even with a smaller student population, ACU still needed room to grow. Evidently the Lord agreed. In Len’s words, “We just had a miracle occur. For 60 years, the school operated on a less than 20-acre campus in North Phoenix. We’d hit our capacity. Last year, we had a campus swap with Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management when they decided to move the school downtown. We acquired their 68-acre campus with about three-and-a-half times the number of educational buildings and dormitories. Our enrollment spiked this fall by 20%. Now that we have a campus that matches the quality of what we’re already doing in the classroom, the next step is building on it and having ACU nationally and internationally known as the elite Christian ‘Seven Mountains University’.
“There’s a lot of overlap between what I’ve been called to do and the mission of Pinnacle Forum,” Len reflects. “Over the years we’ve had a number of Forum events on campus, including some that our students attended. We’ve done work to create mentoring opportunities for Forum Partners. We also have a Pinnacle Partner, Tom Okarma, on our board of trustees. Tom’s an expert in board governance issues.
“Pinnacle Forum is a great and comfortable place for me to get encouragement,” Len says, “and to hopefully encourage others to discern what God is calling them to do. ACU and Pinnacle Forum are cooperating in what I believe will be a movement in our nation to return to God and his principles.”