freshman foundation

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.






5 responses to “freshman foundation”

  1. Jonathan Shelley


    Good point about the self-refuting nature of the uncritical acceptance of any and all viewpoints in academia. It reminds me of the uproar last year when Aquinas College withdrew an invitation to a controversial speaker who was advocating homosexuality. The president of Aquinas was concerned about the ethics and values being shared on campus with the blessing of the administration.

    I look forward to reading Rick’s book. It sounds like he offers a healthy alternative to the laissez-faire attitude towards worldview that is prevelant in the academy. While I do agree that students need some freedom to explore and develop their own views, I think it is incumbent upon the academy to create an atmosphere that fosters and encourages critical self-reflection. To me, that begins by the administration setting an example of evaluting and articulating the core values and views of the school.

  2. Justin

    I look forward to reading this to hear more about the importance of a liberal arts education…at least a core liberal arts education. It seems to me this is a highly neglected area of most people’s intellectual development.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Jonathan Shelley


    Have you had a chance to look at James Smith’s new book, Desiring the Kingdom. It’s his “vision of what authentic, integral Christian learning looks like” (from the Preface). It just came out from Baker this month. He says his goal is to shift the focus in education from what Christians think (worldview) to what Christians do (worship) – sound familiar? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this when/if you have a chance to read it.

  4. mikewittmer


    That’s on my reading list. I agree that worldview thinking must produce action–Andy Crouch makes the same point in “Culture Making,” so long as we don’t diminish the need and role for right belief.

  5. Jonathan Shelley

    It almost seemed from Smith’s Preface and Introduction that he thinks actions come before belief, which seems backwards to me and inconsistent with his anthropology. So I’m sure I’m missing something. I look forward to reading your review.

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