As parents and young adults decide where to put their money and time, some will choose a Christian college. Good idea. I have found that it is easier to discuss the issues that matter there and found a range of opinions closer to reality. College isn’t a church so a wise parent accepts a range of views, but you are paying extra for a Christian worldview, so make sure you are getting access to it.
Start by deciding what you want from a Christian higher education. Are you anti-Darwinist, but want evolution taught? Do you want Intelligent Design or creation mocked? What do think about Scripture? Is it true when it speaks to history?
Work out what you think and want and then find a school that matches your vision for discipleship. You are paying for mentors: information you can get for free!
Here are five questions that will reveal if you are going to the right Christian college:
1. Would the school be “mere Christian” enough to hire C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer?
Whatever one things of drinking and smoking, our culture is not being lost because of these two lifestyle choices. Lewis’ pipe or Schaeffer’s view of eschatology (what happens in End TImes) isn’t going to destroy us. If your choice in a college wouldn’t hire Lewis or Schaeffer, then they are probably still mired in battles worth fighting when we controlled enough of the culture to make details matter.
Lewis did have a lower view of Scripture than I might prefer in a candidate, but he majored in the majors of his time. A great many Christian colleges would pass on Lewis and hire a candidate who could check all the right nineteenth century boxes, but is bad on the issues of our day.
Francis Schaeffer presents another challenge. He was a well read public intellectual. Does such a type have a prayer of geting a job at the school where you apply? Secular schools (correctly) hire public intellectuals to mold the next generation, but Christian colleges shun our own “middle brow” types. Why? Are they about to become a major research university . . . really? Or are they just ashamed of the conservative views?
If your school would not hire Schaeffer merely because he is Reformed or was annoying the secularists or wrote in a comprehensible manner, then it is far too snobbish, narrow and fighting all the wrong battles.
Again, whatever is to be said for a narrower denominational education surely this is not the time for it.
2. Ask to speak to a random, younger member of the psychology or sociology department. Ask them for an email address and then ask for (in writing) their views on the burning social questions of our day. If they waffle, you know what they think. Ask yourself: “Do I want to pay extra for similar views to a state university on the Big Topics?”
3. Find out if Big Questions can be asked. Having a common core and philosophy can be a good thing, but not if it breeds a culture of fear and repression. Can I ask in class for a student to defend the truth of God’s word? Are secular arguments fairly presented? Do the great works get read, included works by Marx and Nietzsche? All people must be treated as we would wish secular schools to treat our ideas: seriously. Of course, taking an idea seriously, does not mean the particular community must agree with it.
You are not paying for Sunday School, that is free, and propaganda without the “other side” is worse than useless.
A voluntary association of traditional Christians who self-select is not the same as a community held together by fear for jobs. Which is your school? One way to know is how often the Big Questions are asked by administration in dialog with faculty. If the President and Provost have traditional views, but are just drifting along with the academic flow, then you know what the working faculty thinks.
For example, if a strongly Reformed school IS important to you, then don’t ask if the President is Reformed. Ask faculty (before they know your opinion) if they think it is fair that all the faculty at the school must be Creedal Reformed. If they waffle and don’t cheerfully defend their mission, then you know that the working members of the school actually dislike the mission and mostly ignore it.
4. Pick up the student newspaper. Read it. Do you like it? Do you hope your student grows up to sound like the writers?
5. Walk through the art gallery. If your school has no art gallery, then don’t go.
What is “coming out” of the student body? Shocking art, and there will be shocking art at a good school, is necessary in our disgusting culture, but is the main target the supine traditional Church or the dominant secular culture? Talk to the artists. What are their concerns? What is their vocation? One faculty member (not at a school at which I have worked) once said to me: “My goal is for my Christian students to know they can say ‘b-d.’” Find out their sense of vocation.
HBU has nothing to fear from such an examination and welcomes it. If your college doesn’t want informed parental choice, then something is very wrong. You have many choices, from very conservative schools where only one perspective is taught to schools called Christian where most professors will discourage your views. Know what you want. You are paying extra for it compared to State U. It it is worth it, by the way, but only if you don’t think you are getting “Conservative U” when you are really getting “Not What We Claim U.”
And if the Provost (the senior academic officer) will not speak to parents openly about any issue, then you know something is wrong. Ask to see the Provost . . . at least in a group setting.
Can’t wait to talk.