Should I Send my (Christian) Child to a (Secular) State University?

No.  In an ideal world, you should send him or her to Gordon College.  Its robust blend of faith and intellect, its ideal location near Boston, and its commitment to the liberal arts ideal—all make it the only choice any right-minded Christian parent would opt for.  (The fact that I teach at Gordon and my high opinion of it, I should note, are strictly matters of coincidence!)

However, if your high-school senior is bound for a secular, state university next fall, a movement is afoot that you should know about.  Let’s call it the Christian Study Center movement, spearheaded by one Drew Trotter, the founding director of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers (CCSC).  It’s a burgeoning movement/organization to help spawn and support intellectually serious, theologically orthodox study centers on major university campuses nation-wide—and even beyond.

To be sure, many Christian organizations have had a presence at larger universities.  Modern evangelicalism, in fact, has a long history of nourishing this presence.  The World Student Christian Federation, Intervarsity, the Navigators, and Campus Crusade (Cru) are examples.   But if I may generalize, these organizations have more often aimed at the heart than the head–prayer and pizza instead of the study of Augustine or Pascal.

But study centers are different.  They’ve come into being to support and sustain an integrated, often ecumenical Christian intellectual presence on major university campuses: to put students in touch with some of the deeper strains of Christian thought and theology.  They do this in a variety of ways—through lectureships, conferences, courses, libraries, discussion groups, and more.  The CCSC exists, in turn, to bring centers’ efforts together to form a network for collaboration, accountability, and communication.  As the mission statement puts it on the Consortium website:

The Consortium of Christian Study Centers exists to advance the growth and effectiveness of Christian Study Centers at colleges and universities around the world. In pursuit of this mission, CCSC has the following goals:

·         To promote collaboration among Study Centers

·         To provide mutual stimulation and resources to existing Study Centers

·         To encourage and support the development of new Study Centers

·         To raise awareness of the Study Center movement

Although its roots go back decades, the Consortium has operated on its own only since 2009 as a free-standing not-for-profit organization.  In November of 2011, the CCSC held its first Annual meeting.  Currently, it has sixteen members, and is poised to add more in the coming years.  Side-stepping demanded allegiance to contentious notions of “inerrancy” and/or the finer points of eschatological speculation—issues which have stunted the intellectual witness of many evangelical colleges–the Consortium only asks its members to recognize the time-honored Apostle’s Creed.

Some of the more high-profile, established centers include the Arizona Center for Christian Studies (Arizona State University), the Center for Christian Study (University of Virginia), the Center for Christianity and Scholarship (Duke), Chesterton House (Cornell), the Christian Study Center of Gainesville (University of Florida), Hill House (University of Texas), Rivendell Institute (Yale), and the Waterman Institute (Dartmouth).  These and sister ones at other campuses represent a plucky intellectual witness amid an academic culture often unfriendly or indifferent to Christianity.

Permit me to cut to the chase.  If your kid isn’t bound for Gordon in the fall, you might consider a school with a serious study center nearby.  And, in point of fact, perhaps schools like my own have much to learn from this promising, new enterprise.

  • JL Schafer

    I love the idea of study centers and would like to see one take shape in my town. But the article began with the issue of where to send your son or daughter. My question is: How successful are the CSCs at engaging the undergraduate student body? I can see their appeal for faculty, pastors, grad students and older adults. But they don’t market themselves as having the ethos appealing to younger, hip, fun-loving crowds (in my mind a good thing). They are a serious intellectual enterprise. Would a typical 18 year-old be attracted to a CSC?

    • http://maclaurincsf.org/ Andrew Hansen

      JL, thanks for your support for the study center model! As a recently appointed program director at one of them (MacLaurinCSF at the University of Minnesota), I’m far from a disinterested observer. We’re engaging undergrads, grads, and faculty and the U of M, as well as the wider Twin Cities community, and I agree with your point about the particular challenge of reaching undergrads.

      I take it as a given all Christian students at college *should* be concerned with understanding how their faith connects with their academic studies and their future vocations. The question then becomes, given the entertainment focus of our culture generally (and youth culture especially), what can churches and parents do differently to form students who ask such questions once they arrive at college? Do you think CSCs could play a role in forming undergrads into the type of people interested in such matters, or perhaps help churches give greater weight to these matters in the process of discipling youth?

      • JL Schafer

        Thanks, Andrew. I am deeply interested in how CSC’s can help plug up the holes in campus ministry discipleshiop models, with regard to individual spiritual formation and spiritual community formation. I will contact you privately to continue the discussion.

  • Caroline Pilgrim

    Better even then sending your child to a Christian college, maybe the question would be, will my child attend the local church at college? I attended the “Harvard” of Christian colleges (Wheaton) and also the University of Florida which indeed had a Christian study center. What kept me doctrinally pure in both environments? The church I chose to attend. Wheaton college challenged my belief in Biblical inherency, in the doctrine if election, in miracles. I had many professors at Wheaton who held to theistic evolution viewpoints and who would deny Scriptures authority. Many speakers softened the hard teachings of Christ. Politically, half of Wheatons faculty voted leftist and were not shy about converting students to do the same. My local church helped Moor me to the truth at a Christian college.
    At university of Florida, I got coffee at the study center, went to poetry readings, took a class. Yes, it was nice, but it wasn’t deep Biblically. My church was. The study center aims to invite secular students to dialogue about faith and reason. Many of the classes subjects are to sound appealing to the unchurched. It’s a noble pursuit but study centers do not make disciples, the church does. Send your child to a good church.

  • theriddles

    Comments here by Caroline and JL are very much on point. The impact of a study center will really not be to form undergraduate community, but it might have an impact helping infuse the intellectual dialog of the university overall by bringing a few academically minded students and graduates into contact. We had something like this informally going on at Duke with some of the same names listed on the study center site, long before it was formalized.

    I do not expect it to do much to slow the indoctrination process of undergraduates at large, however. How to affect that I think is one of the most significant problems of our generation. From a perspective purely of the eternal state of your child, statistically it’s better to have them stay home and become construction workers, and we don’t have much to offer to compete. The net is that many parents pay their entire life savings to have their children’s faith taken away.

    The problem is so significant that it has led me toward creating a guide for parents both to the reality at the schools (such as described at Wheaton) and to the real nature of the decision making process. We’re in the middle of that enormous project now. I welcome volunteers … :)

  • Allison

    Thank you for these thoughts. I find them interesting, yet as I read them I find myself wondering why pay for the direct opposite of what tuition is primarily for in the first place? Proverbs 17:16~”What good is tuition in the hand of a fool who has no heart for wisdom?” Wisdom supports and colaborers with the truth and keeps support and honor from those who are leading others astray and held in stricter judgement for doing so (Prov. 26:8, James 3:1).

    The Church was created to equip the saints, yet Jefferson created the entire “secular” university system because he thought religion could/should be separate from education. Ironically, it was his deistic beliefs that informed his educational efforts, which were built on no foundation. That deistic compartmentalization continues to this day.

    This isn’t to say Christian schools don’t have their own struggles. None are perfect. And, some schools or departments are down-right dangerous. The bottom line is that every Christian college vary as widely as every Christian church. It’s the same people with the same problems. This isn’t a reason not to be part of a church, but to use discernment to determine the best option.

    If we fail to use discernment and have wisdom in mind before choosing a college, our children will miss a tremendous blessing of being guided by wise and godly instructors and will likely loose the discernment they may have once had (Prov 14:7)…which, sadly, makes them unfit for wise employers to hire (Prov. 26:10).

    I hope and pray we go back to the purposes God intended in the first place…for schools, teachers, students and those guiding them. If we truly want to serve others, we must do so in the best way by taking seriously the effects, implications and responsibility of placing people on particular platforms. Perhaps then our children’s faith in Christ will not only not be abandoned, but His Spirit of wisdom and truth will more beautifully inform and equip them in an area of life, as an education was intended to do.

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts and also for instigating this desperately-needed dialogue…praying it’s fruitful beyond measure.

  • Richard Pierard

    I’m with Tal–if I had a kid going to college now, I would like him or her to go to Gordon. I taught there for a few years after my retirement from one of these nasty secular public universities and developed a great respect for it, mot the least because such a person of the quality of Tal was there. It was not luxuriating in great piles of money like the school mentioned by one of the commenters, but it did a lot with the resources it had. I would not support the idea of an anti-intellectual church as the place to get one’s grounding. In fact, I found Christian kids at my school all too often were trying to kick the unsatisfying faith they had picked up at allegedly biblically grounded, Republican houses of worship, and I tried to encourage such individuals to keep their faith and reorient it to the realities they faced. I would love to have had such a study center as Tal describes on my campus, but I fear non–intellectualism was too deeply ingrained in the place.

  • Dustin

    I would ha love to respectfully disagree with you on this issue for three reasons: 1. It is the responsibility of the parent to educate children from a christian perspective. Simply put, its been this way forever and when we founded the US with liberties, we knew that different ideals would exist along side ours. That’s why we leave it to parents. A student, by the time college rolls around, should be able to hold convictions confidently and interact with society just like all others from different convictions do. 2. Christian colleges are not bad and you certainly have a choice, but what happens when christian isolationism leads to a corrupt christian school that is christian in name only (See Louisiana College)? 3. State school is at least half the price of a Christian college! You learn a craft in state school for a lot less with better resources than you do from a small private christian college (exceptions of course). God doesnt live at the christian college or the church. Remember, He took the church to “school” and ate supper with the sinners.