An Open Letter to a College Freshman

Dear Freshman,

At last your time has come.  Leaving behind the old world and the deep ruts you carved in the corner of that world that belonged to you, you’re off to explore undiscovered countries, to join a new and ever-replenishing society of fascinating people and learned scholars and impassioned artists and driven achievers, off to a place where the world is new and so are you.  Whether or not your college years will be “the best years of your life,” they will almost certainly be among the most transformative.

The question is whether that transformation will be for the better.  Unmoored from the people and places that once defined you, you’ll feel a fluidity in your identity that’s both thrilling and frightening.  You may feel as though you can be anyone and become anything.  I pray that you will become who you are — the individual you most truly and deeply are, the one God dreamt of when he made you — and not the person that you or your parents or your friends think you should be.  In service to that end, I thought I would offer seven pieces of advice.  Though it feels churlish to say so, I offer this advice on the basis of some personal experience — more than many and less than some, with four undergraduate years at Stanford, three at Princeton Seminary and seven at Harvard for my Ph.D.  I did a fair amount of teaching, came to know many professors well, and spent time too at universities overseas.  So, on the basis of those experiences, here are my thoughts:

1.  Seek wisdom, not merely intelligence. My father shared this advice with me before my departure for Stanford, and he was precisely right.  On a university campus, intelligence is common.  Wisdom is rare.  Intelligence is cheap, because it’s inherited freely; wisdom is of inestimable value because it’s gained through suffering and sacrifice and years of hard study and experience.  Every night at Stanford I watched the most intelligent people doing the most foolish of deeds, chasing after the most worthless of goals, and believing the most baseless of things.  Their intelligence did nothing to make them more loving or joyful or genuine.  In fact, in many cases it led them astray, as they came to worship their own intellectual powers along with the admiration and accolades and material consolations they could win.  They became immune to criticism, self-indulgent, and chasers of intellectual fashions.  When you love the reputation of intelligence, then you will do and believe those things that will sustain that reputation.  Intelligence does not make you more likely to do what is right or believe what is true.  This is why it’s important to…

2.  Seek mentors, not merely teachers. Intelligent people are dazzling and engaging — and a dime a dozen.  The fascination wears off.  Colleges and universities are replete with intelligent fools, because academia worships the intelligent.  You should know better.  Seek out people of wisdom.  The wise are harder to find because they are fewer and they do not advertise their wisdom (they may not recognize it as such).  Intelligence, like physical strength, is a morally neutral capacity that can be bent in any direction, and it’s most often bent in the direction of personal advancement.  Wisdom’s native movement is toward the true, the good and the beautiful.  So darken the doors of many professors, and return most often to those professors — whether or not they’re the most renowned or powerful — who have true wisdom to impart.  But bear in mind that those who teach you the most, your true mentors, may not be professors at all.  They may be staff, coaches, campus ministers, and especially your friends.  Invest in these relationships.  These are the people who will guide you through the many — and there will be many — difficult and consequential decisions you’ll face in these years.  For pragmatic, social and spiritual reasons, invest deeply in a handful of relationships that you will intentionally pursue for the rest of your life.  It’s better to come away from college with five true friends and mentors than with fifty playmates you’ll barely recognize at the tenth reunion.  In this way you will…

3.  Seek the truth, not merely prevailing opinion. All too often, universities, especially elite research institutions, reward intelligence more than wisdom and the fashionable argument over the solid one.  The reasons are simple — and important to understand.  Publication is the route to academic prestige.  Hiring and tenure decisions at research universities are overwhelmingly influenced by publications.  Yet publishers are not looking for what’s true; they’re looking for what sells.  If you want to publish in the most respected journals and presses, if you want to become a shining academic celebrity, then the question is not whether your contention is true — the truth is old, boring and probably oppressive — but whether your contention is new, provocative, and flattering to the vanities and affirming of the politics of the academic establishment.  The problem is, most true things have already been explained and defended well; but in order to make your name as a scholar, you have to publish and push the envelope, which means you have to explain and defend new theses.  So there’s an intrinsic bias within the academic system toward the novel and the sensational, toward that which challenges tradition.  While young scholars do have to marshal the evidence and argumentation, the truth is that the arguments that tear down the outmoded and ‘oppressive’ — the arguments that lead to the politically correct conclusions — are held to a far lesser standard.  Older, more established scholars scarcely have to advance an argument at all; they coast on the reputations they established in their youth and they’re rarely challenged as long as they fight on the side of the preferred causes.

Appreciate your professors and learn what you can from them, but do not venerate them and do not view them as the tribunes of the truth.  Sadly, the better I came to know my professors, the less their opinions swayed me.  For some I still have the utmost respect.  Yet it became clear that some were constructing elaborate defenses for the things they had long ago determined to believe and do.  More than a few had left their faith in their youth, and had devoted their scholarly careers to justifying that decision.  Many were world-renowned for their intelligence and learning; many were wonderful human beings; some were wise.  Yet academics, no less than other human beings, are swayed by their desires, their fears, their biases, and especially the latest trends sweeping through the halls of academe.  The best professors are no smarter than the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best business executives, and so on.  Many have led sheltered lives with limited forms of social interaction, and they can be, at times, astonishingly insecure and socially under-developed.  So as any true academic should tell you: listen to your professors’ views, take them seriously, but never take their word for gospel.  They, like the rest of us, are limited, biased, sometimes immature, often selfish, fallible creatures.

4.  Seek answers, not merely questions. You may hear the opposite in the freshman orientation process.  “It’s not the answers but the questions that matter,” they might say, “not the verities but the inquiries, not the destination but the journey.”  Yes and no.  The faculty certainly want you to question the views with which you were raised, especially when they do not agree with those views.  When I was teaching, it was commonly said amongst my colleagues that the purpose of our instruction is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.  Our aim, in other words, is to cause young people to see how dubious and arbitrary are the moral, political and religious beliefs with which they were raised, and how sensible and compelling the beliefs of others could be.  Of course, this was not applied evenly.  If you were a liberal pluralist, then you had no oppressive, exclusivist, intolerant and irrational beliefs from which you had to be disabused.  And if you were a conservative Muslim, then the religious studies faculty would stumble all over themselves to defend your perspective.  If you are a conservative (white) Christian, however, then your parents are a part of the problem, and, for your sake and the sake of the world around you, you have to be liberated from the bonds of prejudice and ignorance.  Thus we had professors who promised the students at the outset of a year-long course that any Christians in the lecture hall would lose their faith by the end of the year, or who scoffed that “God is dead beneath my feet,” or who verbally high-fived their fellow faculty when they provoked evangelicals into crises of faith.  This is important to remember: if you are a conservative Christian of one stripe or another, many professors will view your loss of faith as a good thing for you, and an accomplishment for them.

And there is value, to be sure, in critically examining the beliefs with which you were raised.  Your faith may never truly be your own otherwise.  However, you should resist the advice simply to “rest with the questions” and “grow comfortable with ambiguity.”  Grow comfortable with complexity, yes, and with a proper humility over the things we can know and the things we cannot.  But compelling, reasonable answers are out there.  When I began what became a decade-long study of atheism, my faith was cast into question.  I believed that I had been initiated into mysteries that other Christians had not, that I had come across criticisms of the Christian faith that few if any Christians had heard or addressed.  After all, no one at my home church had read Hume or Voltaire, Nietzsche or Russell.  Yet this, of course, was rubbish.  The more I investigated the matter, the more I discovered that, of course, countless thousands of exceptionally intelligent Christians have read Feuerbach and Freud and Russell and Rorty — and not only read them, but developed very satisfying responses to their critiques of Christianity.  The problem arises when you pit a university course criticizing Christian beliefs against an immature, unlearned, Sunday School faith.  Just as you educate yourself (if and when you do) on the criticisms of your beliefs, you should educate yourself on how your faith community has responded to those criticisms.  Men and women of profound Christian faith and extraordinary intelligence and wisdom have been responding to criticisms of Christian belief for as long as the Christian church has been in existence.  Today there is no field — from biology and physics to philosophy and biblical studies — where there are not committed believers who stand amongst the most accomplished in their fields and stand ready to explain how they see their faith in light of their expertise.

5.  Seek betterment, not merely achievement. On the one hand, it’s never quite true that you can “reinvent yourself”; you do, after all, bring yourself with you wherever you go, along with your habits and predispositions, your wounds and weaknesses.  But the transition to college offers extraordinary opportunities to improve your character and enrich your personality.  Commit, for your first year, to try something new every week.  Go to a Taiko concert, write a piece for the school newspaper, watch an obscure foreign film, sign up for that sailing (or golf or Swahili or classical guitar) class, attend that public lecture (public lectures are among the most powerful and the most underutilized resources you can tap at college), go bungee jumping or apply for overseas study in Europe or a research trip to the Amazon.  Countless students can attest that the most important things they did in college took place outside the classroom.  If you’re faithful with your classes, you’ll receive your education and training.  But if you’re faithful with the other opportunities college affords you, your horizons, your sensibilities, your sense of yourself and your world will expand exponentially.

The important corollary here is that you should not do those things that diminish you or enslave you to addictions.  No decision is isolated.  The decisions you make in these years will form patterns and momentum for the decisions you’ll make for decades to come.  If you throw yourself into drinking or drugs or even the addictive pursuit of love and sex, you may awaken four years later and find that you’ve squandered your opportunities and wasted your potential.  Envision the person you want to be, the person you believe you are called to be, and start being that person.  And start now.  One of the biggest mistakes college students make is thinking that their college years are a pause from “real life” or a waiting room set apart from “the real world.”  Your older friends or siblings do you no favors when they act as though you do not inhabit the real world.  Yes, you inhabit a particular sphere with its own rules and protections, but you are called to be who you are today, to begin today the habits you want to keep tomorrow — for who you are in the next four years will have an immense impact on who you are for the next four decades.

6.  Seek fellowship, not merely friends. I’ll keep this short.  The best and most important part of my Stanford experience, by far, was the Christian fellowship to which I belonged.  It’s a great joy to be surrounded by people your age, people like yourself, who love God and seek to live their lives according to his Word.  The most significant training I’ve ever received for ministry or for Christian living came through that fellowship world.  The friendships I’ve maintained in the thirteen years since graduation are virtually all from that fellowship.  We played and worked, prayed and worshipped, served and ministered shoulder to shoulder — on campus, in the inner cities, around the country and around the world.  The fellowships also introduced me to remarkable Christian women.  One beautiful relationship ended with pain and regret.  Another led to a beautiful marriage.

7.  Finally, seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God. Plunge deeply into the life of the mind, and savor the beauty and the rhythms and richness of the scholarly life.  Immerse yourself in friendship and fellowship and commit to learn from one another.  Enjoy the sports contests and the public lectures and study abroad.  Explore all the idiosyncrasies of your school and community, the traditions and hidden treasures.  And learn how to love and be loved by a significant other.  You will change majors and change jobs and change careers many times before your professional life is through.  That’s fine.  And you will go through your romantic ups and downs.  That’s fine too.

Just make sure you major in the majors and minor in the minors.  Remember your first love, remember who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, seek him, and the rest will work itself out.  “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4).  “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).  Whether your college years bring you hardship and misfortune or flourishing and joy, or more likely both, seek God through it all.  Probably the most important thing I learned in my college years came when I broke my neck in a gymnastics accident, and I learned in truth that nothing could separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).  God’s gracious communion is the one thing needful.  No matter what else might be taken from you, if you have that, then you have enough and more than enough.  The goods of the world will come and go.  Yet the peace and the joy of your fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will endure forever.

Live for that fellowship, live in it, and live out of it.  In the end, the rest are details.

Sincerely,

Your Friend

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Liz

    Fabulous! I’m sending it on to my 12th grader who’s pondering college choices. I too was very fortunate to land at Stanford and find a wonderful fellowship – people who pulled me out of the crevasses I found myself teetering on. Taking your advice to heart could have saved them the trouble!

  • John

    Timothy–may I reprint your thoughts for an introductory freshman orientation that I teach at Grace College? Thanks for your wise counsel. Dr. John French

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Of course, John. I’m pleased my thoughts would be helpful. God bless,
      -Tim

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Of course, John. That would be wonderful. God bless,

      -Tim

  • Park

    Wonderful – and balanced.

  • Bob Gorinski

    Wow. This is a keeper.

  • Lisa Lamb

    This is so profound. Will be sharing this as far and wide as my reach extends.

  • Jenny

    Wow. Well said. I wish I had read this when I was a freshman. I’m putting this away for our children to read – the advice is timeless.

  • Nancy

    Thanks for taking the time to put these thoughts into words. It’s pretty much everything a parent wants to tell their children who are going out into the world. I’m sending it on to my three who are still in college….one is a freshman. Thanks, again. Enjoy your day with Jesus!!

  • Cheryl

    Absolutely heart tugging! Beautifully written. I was not able to say those words directly to my children when they left for college but, I said them all with my heart. Thanks for putting words to what my heart wants to say! God bless you – Cheryl

  • http://www.preachermike.com Mike

    Timothy – Same as Dr. French above. I teach a university freshman class with 300 students (“The Life and Teachings of Jesus”). May I have your permission—with full credit and blog reference, of course—to reproduce this for them? Thanks.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      That would be wonderful, Mike. Feel free to email me, too, at tdalrymple at patheos dot com. God bless,

      -Tim

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com JBen

    This is fantastic and beautifully written. I work in college ministry at Oregon State University and I will be sending this to my students.

  • http://faithoncampus.com Guy Chmieleski

    Timothy!

    Thanks so much for sharing this! So much wisdom packed into this letter. I will be passing it along to both students and colleagues!

  • Eric Bierker Ph.D.

    Excellent thoughts! I am working on a book for students in the college transition and I am going to incorporate some of your observations with attribution in my text. I work as a high school counselor and my Ph.D. is in Ed. Psych with my research being college prep and adolescent cognitive development. Thanks Eric

  • Ted Sherman

    This is fantastic. I’ve already linked to it on Facebook. If I were teaching an introductory freshman course, this would be required reading. As it is, I’ll probably link to it for my course webpages at Middle Tennessee State University. Thank you very much, Mr. Dalrymple.

    Dr. Ted Sherman
    Professor of English

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks, Dr. Ted! Much appreciated.

      -Tim

  • teapartydoc

    The Christian student fellowship I attended was poisoned by much of what you discuss in guarding against academic fashion. After suffering through Marxist interpretations of Christ’s teachings for two years, my brother and I ended up attending a local church.

  • Ashley

    Terrific essay that itself “majors in the majors.”

    I had the blessing of going to a Catholic university, so there was at least an institutional commitment to upholding the faith … and I would say the ratio of professors who were believers/”neutral”/visibly hostile to Christianity was probably 30/50/20. Then again this was about 20 years ago, and right when I left was when the Marxist faculty members began to show up en masse … so I bet the students following me have had a somewhat different experience.

    In hindsight, one of the things that stands out most about my college years is that there seemed to be TIME for — get ready for it — thinking. For introspective & scholarly types, this has to be like you’ve died & gone to egghead heaven. It sure was for me. Because, as I’ve learned, “life after college” affords you no such opportunities if you are not in academia. What thinking & reflection you do is on your own time & dime, and when you are scrabbling to make a living (I now work 2 jobs @ 70 hrs a week), both time and dimes are incredibly rare.

    But thinking *is* your job at college. Virtually nowhere else and at no other stage of your life will you get this chance.

    I did not get “into” Christian apologetics until about 10 years after college (the world of intelligent responses to criticisms of Christianity that Timothy referred to), but the seeds of *caring* about what I believed, and the willingness & ability to invest intellectual & scholarly effort to it, were planted much earlier. And college certainly was a huge, huge part of that process of my coming to an honest & personal response to that most critical question: “Who do you say that I am?”

    Two of my professors, both believers, are still two of the smartest people I have ever met. One of them became that all-important mentor that Timothy speaks of … a great human being, wise, patient, funny, and full of encouragement. His Christianity was sort of “background” to me at the time, which is to say that I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. I guess I had to meet a lot more intellectually sharp but spiritually dead people to understand what a dangerous moral vanity intelligence can become for so many gifted people. The qualities of humility and graciousness in someone who *could* intellectually browbeat 99.9% of the rest of us, but who chooses not to, are extremely rare. My prof had those virtues. And they were virtues formed by his faith. I try to live up to his example.

    College is a lot like marriage, I think, in that you get out of it what you put into it. You certainly can’t experience it passively, or without discernment or purpose, and come out with anything like the richness you would have if you had recognized and grasped what the true opportunities of that time are.

  • Christopher

    I have two young children in the gifted program at their school. I have tried very hard (and probably very incoherently) to describe similar thoughts, but I could not come even close to what you have done here. Thanks for writing this, I intend to frame a condensed version and put in their rooms above their desks and above my own for that matter.

  • Moira

    I really love this article and will send it to my new freshman son. Although we are jewish I think this is a great perspective on the world for the newly ‘independent’ person. It is all his father and I could wish for him.

  • http://ecclesiaetpublica.blogspot.com Gerald E. Lavey

    Wonderfully wise and beautifully said. Thank you. I am going to distribute this to friends and relatives. Cheers, Jerry

  • Christina

    Thank you so much for these words, Tim. I am teaching college freshmen for the first time this fall. I’ll learn from this wisdom and hope to impart it to my students!

  • http://DavidTLamb.com David Lamb

    Great advice. I included it on my blog. I was also at Stanford, but a few years before you (1980-1986). Were you involved in InterVarsity?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      David, I was involved with InterVarsity my freshman year, and then again as a graduate student. For most of my time at Stanford, however, I was most involved with the local chapter of CCC.

      Thanks for the feedback!

      -Tim

  • http://collegemanual.blogspot.com/ MIke

    Great Post!!! College Freshmen have a lot of things thrown at them. It is so critical that they prepare themselves for the challenges with God at their side.

    http://collegemanual.blogspot.com/

  • nnmns

    This is pretty self serving. Sure you can find academics who don’t pursue truth but they are supposed to. Preachers, on the other hand, are supposed to pursue and encourage faith, which is the opposite of pursuing truth.

    It can be frustrating that perfect truth is hard, perhaps impossible to come by but being close and getting closer and actually thinking about things is a lot more valuable than living your life blinded to reality by whatever religion you had foisted upon you as a child.

    A major value of college is that it does give people a chance to examine the world based on the best knowledge available and make their own decisions. Everyone deserves a chance to do that. Don’t try to take it away from them, please.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      As I said, it’s valuable to go through a process of exploring your beliefs for yourself as an adult. There’s a great deal of religious mobility these days; just about everyone will — at least once — go through the process of questioning, adjusting and clarifying their beliefs. That’s good and healthy. However, if they go into their university experience with the rather naive view I had, the view that their professors are disinterested pursuers of the truth, then they should know that is almost never the case. It’s always helpful to be aware of the limitations, predilections and biases of your teachers, and it’s helpful to be aware that there are not only sophisticated criticisms of Christian faith, but sophisticated responses to those criticisms. Sometimes people come upon the criticisms and, since they never encountered defenses of a similar sophistication in their upbringing, they assume they’re not out there. Yet they are. So I’m in favor of people exploring their beliefs for themselves, but I think they should have all the information at their disposal, information about the criticisms, about the defenses, and about the religious or anti-religious predispositions of their teachers. Actually, it’s hard to see why that would be controversial.

      I disagree with your (simplistic) view on the relationship between faith and truth, of course, but that’s for another time.

      -Tim

      • http://shortworkindustries.com Jeff S

        I have been a teacher for about fifteen years now. The longer I teach, the more I know the truth is found in faith. A friend linked this article from Facebook, and I read it with great interest.

        The professors you describe in your article have lost the ability to pursue the truth; they appear to have found their truth, completed their journey. But I find truth is an elusive philosophy confounded by life and reality. As we seek to find our “truths” in the world, we find their contradictions and opposing views.

        So, what are we to do? Declare a reality unfettered by these disagreements? No, we cling to a faith of ancient and wise beliefs as our truth we cannot understand just yet. And we continue to learn, perfecting ourselves in the truth of faith in that we cannot yet comprehend.

        “And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

  • Brad

    Tim, this is great. I didnt have anything like this when I entered upon my post high school education. And I was a hollow shell of the man I should have been. This reminds me so much of something I read written by J. Budzisewski who has for many years taught at the University of Texas.

  • http://www.judithreidy.com Judith Reidy

    I want to thank you for sharing these “wise” words forged through real life experiences shaped by the WORDs of life. As homeschool Christian mom, with four grown children, my prayer has been for God to have His people out in academy continually drawing them in wisdom and understanding with compassion unto Himself. I pray God continues to use you and others as golden vessels for His good purposes of full living and walking in the light of His Presence.

  • Al Hubbard

    Great reading! This is along the lines of what my wife & I tried to impart to our kids as they left home. To their credit, they mostly listened. My favorite saying is “Raise ‘em up right, then turn ‘em loose on an unsuspecting world.”

  • ifttas

    Very well said. Amen.
    Many of us use words:
    words spoken,
    words sung,
    words written and
    words uttered in prayer.
    We throw them swiftly,
    we learn to handle them with dexterity and
    we phase them beautifully with grace and style;
    we build reputations upon our word skill,
    we gain as our reward the applause of those who have enjoyed it.

    But the emptiness of it is apparent from the fact that after the pleasant religious exercise, no one is basically any different from what he had been before.
    The bases of life remain unchanged,
    the same old principles govern,
    the same old Adam rules.

    He who overcometh knows the new birth – 1Th 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; ff

  • http://geezeronthequad.com Dave Swartz

    Really great stuff. Not only well thought out but well expressed. Just what we would expect from a Christian/Stanford/Harvard guy. I linked to this on my blog at geezeronthequad.com and will archive it for future use.

  • Rhonda Townson

    Perfectly professed triumphant truths; both learned and from within your spirit.

  • Nandra Perry

    Tim,

    As a Christian and a college professor at a Research institution, I have mixed feelings about this letter. On the one hand, I could not agree more that the pursuit of wisdom is the supreme good and that values do matter. On the other, your caricature of academia as a place of shallow intellectual fashion is a bit unfair. There is great value in devoting your life to knowing a lot about one thing, and most of my colleagues (whether they share my faith or not) are good people who’ve worked hard to become expert in a field, not egomaniacs who seek to publish whatever sells. My concern is that the picture you draw of college professors (thanks to the anti-intellectualism that pervades conservative media) is one that is making professors lives increasingly difficult. In this time of shrinking budgets and increased workloads, we who have given our lives to this vocation and do work very hard are often treated with deep and open disrespect by our students–many of them (I am sad to say) proudly professing CHristians. My Christian students can sometimes be some of the most arrogant, least intellectually charitable people in a room, and not because I am teaching Marxism, but because perhaps (as a teacher of say, Milton) I am informing them that CHristian history pre-dates Protestantism and that Augustine may have something to teach them. Many of the things you say above are true, but I would add that wisdom is to be sought with deepest humility, and that it is sometimes found in the places you least expect. For example, all those “Marxist” professors out there (and by the way, I’ve never met one, although I’ve certainly met many who’ve been deeply influenced by Marx, but nobody is a “Marxist” anymore)–could it be they offer a prophetic word of chastisement to the conservative Christian community about the Gospel’s powerful message of economic justice? It seems to me that many of my Christian neighbors–currently, paradoxically infatuated with Ayn Rand–could use a word about loving one’s neighbor. I could go on, but the point is that the pursuit of truth is a difficult and life-long enterprise, to be undertaken with caution, yes, but also with charity and humility.

  • Nandra Perry

    I want to add that I heartily endorse your recommendation that students immerse themselves in the rich intellectual tradition of Christian thought. I’m simply saying that my view from the trenches is that this is not happening. Only one part of your message is getting through–and a distorted version of it at that. If you come to college believing that your non-Christian professors have nothing to offer you, you will miss a great deal that will enrich, not destroy, your faith. And if while in college you simply sit with your arms folded and do not do what you recommend (that is, avail yourself of the riches of Christian intellectual tradition) you will actually do harm to yourself and to the Christian witness. If college professors are unfairly caricatured in Evangelical circles as agenda-driven peddlers of moral relativity, Christians are caricatured within the academy as arrogant and willfully ignorant people who have read the Bible poorly and selectively and believe those parts of it that make it easy for them to continue their comfortable, middle-class heterosexual lives but not those parts of it that would require them to question their own comfortable, very American existences. Obviously, this is unfair. My point is that all caricatures have roots in people’s experiences. They are generally blown-up versions of a few negative encounters that don’t do justice to a more complex reality. Most Christians are not ignorant jerks. Most professors are not evil minions of Satan. As a Christian professor, I try not to live up to the negative caricature of my profession. Please ask your Christian students not to live up to the worst caricature of Christianity. They lose out on some important experiences and they harm the cause of Christ.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I don’t really disagree with your points, Nandra. They’re good points. I’m describing some factors and influences I think Christian students are better off understanding, but of course I’m not giving a thoroughgoing anthropology of homo academius. If any one element is taken as the whole, it will be a caricature. I hope you take a look at my “Is Academia Anti-Christian?” for a little more nuance (on my part) on that question. I think I speak to the charity and humility you rightly encourage.

      I’ve met a fair number of self-proclaimed Marxists on faculty, for what it’s worth. There may be fewer Marxists among teachers of Milton, though, than there are among teachers of (my field) modern western religious thought. Thanks again for your thoughts,

      Tim

  • http://fotc.us Jason Snyder

    TIm, I’d love to share this with our college students. OK to post an excerpt to our website and blog–with credit to you–and refer back to your blog permalink for the full story?

    Mac
    Associate Pastor, Foot of the Cross Church

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Of course, Jason. And I love the name of your church. God bless.

      -Tim

  • Yundah

    Tim,
    May I also post this? I would like to share it with the students in my department. You’ve stated quite elegantly something I try to convey to them during their tenure as students with me. I appreciate your work. And, of course, as I am always on them to avoid intellectual dishonesty, I will be certain to make the proper citation.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Absolutely, Yundah.

      For all: If you’re interested in posting this or passing it, please feel free to do so. I guess I’d ask for attribution, but that’s not terribly important either.

      -Tim

  • Bill O’Neill

    Reposted. This is a topic so near and dear to my heart. God bless you.


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