Christian Collegians Feed Minds at Chesterton House
- Sunday, November 06, 2005
One of the last places one would expect to find shallow thought is in the seemingly bottomless well of Christian fellowship on college campuses.
Little depth during discussion is supposed to be reserved for the secular student population, right? The “church kids,” meanwhile, stay up until the wee hours debating the merits of Calvinism and the mind of Tozer, right?
Not exactly. At least that's not Josh Pothen discovered when arriving as a thinking Christian at Cornell University.
“I had hoped that I would find deeper Christians at Cornell,” Pothen said. “While there are certainly smarter people, I am still quite surprised that this is not the case: good Christian thinkers are still the proverbial oddballs in their fellowships.”
Cornell is not alone. On many college campuses, students often tend to think they can be either smart or spiritual, but not both.
That either/or mentality perplexed Pothen. In his view, Christian students often are unintentional dualists when it comes to faith and academics.
“Either they focus so much on making the grade that they neglect their spiritual lives, or they focus on shallow Christian pietistic teaching so much that they neglect their studies, seeing them as hindrances and burdens,” he said.
Fortunately for Pothen, another Cornell student had experienced similar frustrations nearly 20 years earlier, but ultimately did something about it by helping establish the Chesterton House, where the scriptural command to love God with all one's mind is taken seriously and put into practice.
Karl Johnson arrived at Cornell in 1985 with a Christian background that quickly became bankrupt.
“It's no secret that students attending secular universities stop practicing their faith during their college years as a result of the secular culture that, at the moment, dominates,” Johnson said. “I went through an impression that Christianity was weak. Only over time did I come to realize that Christianity had a long and rich intellectual heritage. When I discovered that, it was a great encouragement to my faith.”
Johnson determined not to let his unfortunate experience happen to others, so five years ago he founded the Chesterton House – the name comes from the British author Gilbert Keith Chesterton – which helps Christian students integrate faith with scholarship.
“I want to make it easier for students to find the resources to make connections between their intellectual and religious life,'' he said.
The Chesterton House, and others like it across the country, do not simply stress mental exercise, but encourage students to participate in the creation and critique of cultural forms that influence everyday life.
Feeding the brain may be the beginning point, but feeding the flock is a large part of the intellectual journey.
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