Our new provost at Cornerstone University, Rick Ostrander, has written an essential introduction to Christian education which every Christian young person should read. Why College Matters to God explains the history of Christian higher education, analyzes such education through the worldview grid of creation, fall, and redemption, and closes with important thoughts on the integration of faith and learning.
A lot of this material will be familiar to those who know their Kuyper/Wolters/Plantinga/Wittmer (yes, I know that one of these names is not Dutch), but Rick’s genius is that he focuses the C/F/R model solely on higher education and pitches it perfectly at the freshman level.
A couple of highlights for me:
1. Rick illustrates what integration of faith and learning is not:
“I once attended a lecture by an English professor who explained that when teaching poetry, she used passages from the Psalms as examples of various meters. That’s fine, but it’s not integration. We would not claim that a Christian carpenter who uses a Bible to prop up a table leg is integrating Christianity and furniture-making. Likewise, professors should not claim to be integrating faith and learning if all they do is insert some religious material into their classes. Non-Christian professors can just as easily quote the poetry of the Psalms in their classes” (95).
2. Rick explains what integration is. It happens at the levels of:
a) motivation: why are we studying?
b) intellectual foundation: the Christian faith is more significant in disciplines that have been severely damaged by the noetic effects of sin, so Christians will have a more distinctive philosophy or understanding of literature than algebra.
c) ethics: what we do with our knowledge of the discipline.
3. Rick closes with sage advice for all college students. Given our global and changing job market:
a) don’t stress out over a major: you’ll probably change careers anyway.
b) take the liberal arts core seriously: this is the best preparation for success in any career.
c) go global: nothing helps you understand yourself and your native culture better than living in another. Chesterton remarked that the purpose of travel is not merely to set foot in a foreign land but to “at last set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land” (124).
The importance of Rick’s book, and of Christian higher education, was illustrated in yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press. A trustee of our community college questioned the appropriateness of having a former Black Panther speak at its Diversity Lecture Series, and the college president responded that “I don’t think it’s the business of higher education to tell people which values are best and which values they should all live by. I’d be concerned as president if specific values or morals would become part of our culture to promote.”
Of course, that statement itself reflects a specific value and morality, and so the president’s statement is self-refuting. The fact is that every class in every school communicates a specific worldview, and Why College Matters to God is the now the leading book on what that means for Christians. Give it to a freshman near you.
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