Distinguished Alumni: Clifford Christians

Date Published

July 10, 2024

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Published by Calvin Seminary

Dr. Clifford Christians was born in Hull, Iowa in December 1939. Clifford, the son of a Christian high school educator, was surrounded by family members, teachers, and mentors who were committed followers of Jesus Christ. At a young age, Clifford felt a strong call from God to engage in overseas ministry and language training—this sense of calling deepened when he was a high school student at Edgerton Christian School. There, a teacher named Mrs. Hoogwerf encouraged Clifford and his fellow students to prayerfully consider mission work in Nigeria, which would allow them to engage in the work of church planting, education, agriculture, and medicine.

With this calling on his heart, Clifford pursued an education in linguistics. He received a B.A. in Greek Classics from Calvin College in 1961 and a B.D. in Greek from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1964. His studies of the Greek language continued at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he received his Th.M. in 1966 and completed a thesis on urban culture in Antioch. When Clifford arrived at Fuller Seminary, they had recently opened the School of World Mission, which included an Arabic-speaking linguist on the faculty. While at Fuller Seminary, Clifford simultaneously pursued an M.A. in Linguistics at the University of Southern California, which he completed in 1968. During his time in California, Clifford was a member of Crenshaw CRC in Los Angeles, California, where he served as stated supply for one year. Following this year, he was Assistant Minister of Evangelism in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Clifford worked on a number of writing and editorial projects, such as The Way, The Discipleship Series, and Who in the World.

After completing his studies at Fuller Seminary and the University of Southern California, Clifford began his Ph.D. in Communications at the University of Illinois, finishing in 1974. After completing his Ph.D., the University of Illinois offered him a position in the Communications Research department. For 35 years, Clifford held positions as department chair, head of the Ph.D. in Communications program, and director of the Institute of Communications Research. Over those 35 years, Clifford was awarded two honorary doctorates from Marquette University (Litt.D.) and Emerson College (Doctor of Humane Letters). He spent sabbaticals at Princeton University, the University of Oxford, the University of Chicago, and the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, along with three Fulbright Faculty terms in Finland, Tanzania, and Ukraine.

During his tenure at the University of Illinois, Clifford made the university his mission field, seeking to be a Gospel witness to those he worked with in a research-centered university. Throughout his career, his ministry was centered on communicating the Gospel to faculty and doctoral students at the university as they engaged in scholarly work. In the classroom, his role as a professor and program director allowed him to equip students with rigorous scholarship, educational leadership, and creative teaching skills in their research specialty and field. He sought to model how to be a distinct Christ follower in academic, administrative, and home contexts. He was also a faithful supporter of campus pastors and student ministry organizations, such as InterVarsity, Cru, the Navigators, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Throughout his career, Clifford’s scholarship focused on truth in media ethics, moral realism and relativism, worldviews in philosophical anthropology, and hermeneutics in literary theory. As the author of a book on media ethics, he included sections on theological ethics and moral philosophy. In addition, Clifford served on journal editorial boards in ten countries, and much of his written work has been translated into nine languages. Clifford’s appreciation of communityshaped faith began in the homes and halls of Calvin Seminary, where conversations and debates helped strengthen Clifford’s faith in Christ and love for community. This continued throughout his graduate studies and into his time at the University of Illinois, where he surrounded himself with fellow believers and ministry leaders who would edify, encourage, and strengthen one another in faith.

In his retirement, Clifford and his wife, Priscilla, enjoy opportunities to support and encourage their children and grandchildren in their vocations and callings. Their son, Glenn, worked as an architect in New York and Chicago, and his wife, Allison, is a professor of international tax law at McGill University. Their son, Ted, leads a Chicago-based non-profit organization that focuses on education for formerly incarcerated individuals, and his wife, Marisa, serves as vice president of Chicago Community Trust, a philanthropic organization. Their youngest son, Paul, works in archaeological research, with projects currently focused in the Middle East, and his wife, Grace, teaches at an engineering and technology university in Lima, Peru. Clifford and Priscilla are the proud grandparents of five grandchildren ranging from age two to 21.


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