Much of this recent blog post by Stephen Rankin, the chaplain at Southern Methodist University, is about what it means to be a church-related school….if that doesn’t mean required chapel, or having a certain number of trustees come from a certain denomination, but something bigger:
But this description tells us next to nothing about the kind of school a school is. Very importantly, it does not tell us how the religious affiliation guides the actual experience of students. And if ever there was an “at the end of the day” comment worthy of the cliche, this is it.
But I sat up straight (in terms of this blog) as he began to wrestle with what Romans 12 might mean in his position:
Romans 12 marks the pivot point, moving from God’s mighty acts in history to how the Body of Christ ought to live in the world–that is, as history unfolds. It’s easy for us in the West to read these verses individualistically – if I offer myself as a living sacrifice, then I can know God’s will. Cool. I think that point is true, but Romans 12:1-3 aims at something else entirely and that something else demands our attention…
What that means has a lot more to do with the common good than our individualistic readings of Romans lead us to think:
Paul has just spent 11 chapters expounding on God’s works in history. The canvas on which Paul paints is huge: all the world, Jew and Gentile alike, is held under sin’s sway, with devastating and very public consequences….Paul is doing history with a theological lens. …What is Paul doing, then, but what many in higher education seek to do? Every college or university wants to contribute to knowledge and to help address large-scale challenges. We do so by research (mostly at the university level), but also by educating students who then will “make their mark” on the world.
And a school which concerns itself with the Christian faith at the institutional level needs to think about how to shape the world for Christ as it shapes its students:
Paul shows quite compellingly how the church ought to be involved in such matters. Considered in this way, the gifts of Romans 12 belong on a much larger scale than we normally see. Imagine those gifts as for the church, but also for the world. We discern the will of God in order to bring to bear all the blessings on the world that the Good News entails.
Isn’t this a description of what a good college education ought to do? And here surfaces the ethical dilemma for church related schools. If, at a religiously affiliated school we ape secular assumptions and consider “religion” a “private matter” only secondarily (or less) relevant to a college education, we actively if unwittingly misrepresent the Christian faith. This is a problem, don’t you think? We deny students the opportunity to see their career interests as participating in this glorious vision.
We ran another post a few weeks ago pointing out that many college students have no idea how to think vocationally, and asking for input into vocational discernment that goes beyond “career counseling.” What do you think? How can you help?
Image: “College Graduation” by Alex.