Paula and I have three children, and the oldest of them will be starting college in the fall. He looked at colleges from coast to coast and landed on Biola University, where he’ll enter as a journalism major. Of course we’re delighted, and perhaps nervous. For four years I stood before incoming students’ parents assuring them of Biola’s strengths. Now I am one of those parents I’ll be addressing!
We know our son will study under leading faculty across the disciplines who are at the top of their game intellectually and professionally. We expect his mind will stretch as he engages more deeply the world of ideas, building on what we’ve taught him at home. As he goes off to college, we want him to think critically, write articulately, speak compellingly, listen carefully and care generously. He’ll do a lot of growing up these next four years.
But what about his soul, the spiritual vitality of our boy heading off to college? As parents, we have tried to live out our Christian faith in our dinner conversations, during times of crisis, as we worshipped at church and as we looked to God as our daily strength. Our modeling has not been perfect, but our college-bound son knows we take seriously that plaque in our home’s foyer: “The house of the righteous shall stand,” a promise from Proverbs 12.
Colleges, Christ-centered or not, provide no guarantee students will graduate with faith intact. If colleges were neutral on matters of faith, students may be able to navigate their way through, “working out their salvation.” Few colleges are in fact faith-neutral. Those colleges that take no position on faith often have an undeclared and ideological bent toward dismantling faith. We know the stories. As one commentator recently wrote in a national publication, the leftward leanings of Western universities is clear, though they “still claim they have neither a secularist nor a political agenda.”
I stumbled on an article in The Atlantic Monthly admitting as much. Philip E. Wentworth wrote:
To say that college does something to the average student’s religion is to state a truth which will be conceded by anyone who has given the matter a moment’s thought. Nine young men and women out of ten who will receive their degrees this June would probably admit, if they were called to testify, that education has acted as a poison to their faith. In many instances the virus generated by the reasoning processes induces only mild distemper of skepticism, but in others it works like an acid, eating its way into the bump of credulity until in the end this estimable organ is completely corroded. Devout parents and clergymen have frequently observed this phenomenon and deplored it.
What Mr. Wentworth meant when he talked about those who “receive their degrees this June” was not June of 2011. His comments were penned 80 years ago. He wrote the article in the 1930s. This faith-dismantling in higher education is nothing new to our generation. Many universities have faculty dead set on doing all they can to upend the faith of a student, a faith they see as narrow and baseless.
A Biola University education is not an ironclad guarantee that a student’s faith won’t be shaken or even upended. But this I do know: Our community of faculty and staff cares as much for the life of a student’s soul as they do the life of the mind. We want to come alongside parents in continuing the values nurtured in the home and in the church. We do so by being intentional about providing students the opportunities and relationships to nurture their faith. So far, I have not received letters from parents who felt they needed to reprogram their son or daughter over Christmas break.
Prayer, chapel, missions, discipleship, Bible studies, retreats … these are part of Biola’s culture that till the soil in our students’ souls for growth. We believe we can be a spiritually nurturing community without bargaining away the quality of a Biola education, an education fully accredited at every level and a university recognized in 2010 as one of U.S. News & World Report’s 28 “up and coming” national universities.
For Biola University students who are understanding more and more intellectually and professionally during their years of study, I also want them to understand God as more than a concept to be understood or a thought to be mulled over. I want them to know God deeply and live a life of conforming to the will and character of the resurrected and exalted Christ.