Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Christian Colleges Rebound: Sign of the Times


G. Jeffrey MacDonald in USA TODAY reports that "Rachel Friesen was on track to graduate debt-free from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs when she made a leap in 2004 that would instead land her about $40,000 in debt on commencement day. In her junior year, she transferred to Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college near Los Angeles. Her reason: Christian community. 'At a large university, it's easy to go through your college experience knowing a lot of people but not having deep, meaningful relationships,' Friesen says. But now she's at ease among like-minded believers, who gather, for instance, in school-organized discipleship groups for prayer, Bible study and talk about 'whatever's going on in life.'"

The word commitment comes to mind when someone makes a $40,000 decision to experience that upon which our Lord placed a premium. The weakness of the American church is no doubt due in part to a lack of genuine koinonia among the brethren. At the same time, a Christian witness is certainly needed on secular campuses across the country. While some may find a sense of Christian community in Christian colleges, perhaps others could work hard to develop that same community wherever they find themselves. It is that community that is used of the Lord to strengthen us for the task of kingdom advance, especially on our college campuses.

"In seeking out religious higher education, Friesen has plenty of company. Enrollment has increased 70.6% since 1990, from 135,000 to 230,000, at the 102 evangelical schools belonging to the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Over the same period, enrollments at all public and private colleges increased by 12.8% and 28% respectively."

This trend not only points to a need for Christian community, but surely points to the decadence that is rampant on secular college campuses. No doubt most Christians are leaving that atmosphere in the midst of what we should consider still formative years. Sadly, the American college experience has become nothing less than an experiment in throwing budding young adults into a situation that most are ill-prepared to handle in terms of moral restraint. When Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom, the result was predictable. So too it is on college campuses.

Further, "students who practice a faith often want to study where their beliefs are respected, and that can be hard to find on secular campuses, says Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America (St. Martin's Press, 2005)." No doubt many young Christians feel either marginalized by professors and peers or ill-equipped to counter attacks on the Christian faith. This reality highlights the need to train our young people to think and speak from a Christian worldview that they might be effective in defending the faith.

"Richard Chewning, a retired Baylor University ethicist, noted: "The worst form of destruction for a younger person's worldview is to take it into an environment where it is laughed at and ridiculed. An 18-year-old is like a hot-house tomato. If you stick them in a humanistically oriented university... they're going to get scorched rather than watered." Brethren, this ought not be!

"Critics of the way religious groups are treated on campus cite instances such as a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire policy banning resident assistants from holding Bible studies in their dorms." Many Christians are denied their freedom of religion and will no longer tolerate such. Of course, we must work very hard at engaging the culture in such a way that God-talk is not eliminated from the public square or college campuses. Once that trend occurs, it is only a matter of time before Christian colleges are banned. As our young people experience the dangers of religious suppression, our prayer should be that they are motivated to equip themselves to defend the faith in the power of the Spirit.

As Christians abandon those colleges that appear to be hostile to them, those colleges could indeed begin to take notice. That too should be our prayer. We should never use strong-arm tactics to get our way, but, we can certainly pray for religious freedom for all, even if we prefer to attend a Christian college.

Carlton Mitchell said of his Christian college, "Here's a school where...if you're a Christian, you almost automatically feel at home." That's good. But, in terms of other colleges, it is a sad day when there are places in America where we no longer feel at home. Of course, we should not be surprised, for our home is in heaven.


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