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Take back the brains of our culture

January 25, 2011 5 Comments

by Jonathan Strand

Who do you listen to and pay attention to more, and whose opinions do you respect more: people who know more or who know less? Who has the greater influence in our society?

 

On average, people who know more and are better skilled at communicating their knowledge and opinions have far greater influence in our society than those who know less and are less skilled. There are the exceptions, of course. Unlearned celebrities have influence. They influence fashion and pop culture more than anything else, however. And the influence they have on more important matters consists largely of their promoting ideas developed by the more educated.

Jesus called Christians to be salt and light in our society. He warned us against losing our saltiness and hiding our lights (Matt. 5:13-16). That means we are called to influence our societies as effectively as we can—communicating the truths we know as clearly and persuasively as possible. 

It is no accident that the apostle Paul, the most influential of the apostles, though not a personal disciple of Christ during Jesus’ life on earth, was highly educated. God works in this world largely through natural means. And the relevant natural means in this case was education. God used the knowledge and skills Paul received in his education to most effectively spread the gospel far and wide. If we are to follow Christ’s admonition, then, as well as Paul’s example, we will equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to most effectively communicate the Gospel. Education is developing our knowledge and skills.

The church is paying

Not everyone is called to university, or beyond. But I believe the church has paid a heavy price for not seeking as much education for its people as it should. Through the time of the Reformation, higher education was primarily a Christian enterprise. Not long afterward, however, serious intellectual challenges to the faith arose among the highly educated. Rightly seeing that the ultimate foundation of faith is not reason or intellect, and not seeing how to answer these challenges effectively, the church began abandoning the field. Instead of fighting fire with fire and employing its best and brightest to answer intellectual challenges with intellectual responses, the church began abandoning the universities. 

Believers have become ever more reluctant to entrust their young to the wiles of clever unbelievers.

The results have been predictable.

Now the universities are almost entirely in unbelieving hands, many openly hostile to the Christian faith. And now when our young people seek higher education they are indoctrinated out of the faith at an alarming rate. This has caused the church to abandon the university even further; believers have become ever more reluctant to entrust their young to the wiles of clever unbelievers.

Yet the universities are the brains of our culture. Those running our society are, almost without exception, university-educated. If we are to be effective salt and light, we must be salt and light there too! And we must develop our abilities to be effective through the sort of education university provides.

It isn’t just the knowledge university delivers which makes its students our future leaders. It is the skills a good university education delivers which empower them. University education develops students’ abilities to understand complex issues and materials. It develops their abilities to critically evaluate claims and reasoning—to distinguish unfounded and improbable claims from well-founded and reliable ones, and distinguish poor reasoning from sound; university develops students’ abilities to not be taken in. University education also, crucially, develops students’ abilities to communicate effectively. They learn to speak and write clearly and persuasively. These abilities, even more than their expanded knowledge, cause the university-educated to end up in charge.

To become the most effective salt and light, we should seek as much education as possible

Christians should seek education not just because it will enable us to communicate the Gospel more effectively. It will also enable us to better fulfill our missions within the church. Enhancing our critical thinking skills enables us to make fewer mistakes. Communication skills enable us to better understand and encourage one another. Notice that the most effective Christian speakers and writers are, nearly without exception, university educated. Luther was highly educated. God inspires and works through these servants through His Word. But He does so using the natural means of language and the knowledge and skills these people have developed through their educations.

To become the most effective salt and light, we should generally seek as much education as possible, especially for the young.

Caveat emptor

University is a dangerous place, however. Young people are already extremely susceptible to many temptations—to sexual sin, to bad habits and addictions, to being led astray by their peers. And the typical university amplifies more than alleviates these dangers. There are even more dangers in the classroom; there are poisonous ideas. University isn’t just about facts. It is mostly about theory—general points of view that cannot be directly observed to be true (or false). Universities are full of anti-Christian theories masquerading as facts and full of professors espousing them. Therefore, you must go into university with eyes wide open and with the crucial support you needs.

Public, secular universities contain a great deal of hostility toward the faith. Private universities which were Christian in the not-too-distant past are even more hostile. A far safer environment is provided by Christian universities. There your faith is supported, not attacked. The drawback to most Christian universities, however, is that, typically, the faculty, staff, and students tend to all be Christian, usually of the same denominational bent. Though these schools provide a safe environment for students of that denomination, it is less comfortable for those of different perspectives. More importantly, other points of view are simply not effectively represented. Professors can teach, and students study, about other points of view, but they have little opportunity for real contact with the people who actually hold them.

One of the things I appreciate most about my own institution (Concordia University College of Alberta) is that although Lutheranism holds a privileged place providing the theological anchor, the faculty are denominationally diverse, and the student body extremely diverse. Your faith is supported, not attacked, by the university’s faculty and staff. But students can also come to understand other points of view simply by talking to the students sitting next to them. This is also what I appreciated most about my own secular education; it helped me to understand and communicate effectively with non-Christians. Thoroughly Christian denominational schools tend not to be good at that.

Support needed in secular education

If you attend a secular university, however, it is essential to have strong Christian support. You must be strong in and knowledgeable about, your faith to begin with and be well connected into a good group of committed Christian peers. Christian student organizations and local congregations provide excellent support. You must also realize that there are very effective Christian responses to the anti-Christian ideas and arguments you will encounter. And they can easily be found. You must also realize that no point of view has an easy answer to every challenge. Though Christianity has clearly the best answers compared to any alternative point of view, I believe, you can be misled by the fact that it also happens to be the most-attacked overall point of view in our post-Christian society.

For you who are able, then: For the sake of Christ, get an education!

And let us all help others do the same. To most effectively fulfill the mission we are called to by Christ, let us develop the knowledge and skills that will enable us to become the saltiest salt and brightest lights we can be.

For Christ’s sake, let us take back the brains of our culture!

Dr. Jonathan Strand is professor of Philosophy and associate vice-president of Student Services at Concordia University College of Alberta in Edmonton.

5 Comments »

  • Captain Thin said:

    Thanks for bringing up this important topic Dr. Strand. I’m reminded to some extent of Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and his warning that Christians were abandoning the academy at an alarming rate. It’s hard to be salt and light in a world that you’ve withdrawn from.

    As a recent university graduate myself, I can only loudly second your warning that Christians be prepared before entering a secular university. “You must be strong in and knowledgeable about, your faith to begin with,” you write, “and be well connected into a good group of committed Christian peers.” I was fortunate enough to fall in with a good set of Inter-Varsity students during my studies and that was invaluably helpful to me. But your first concern there – about being knowledgeable of your faith – is perhaps the primary point. I can’t count the number first year believers who drifted away by the second or third year. One acquaintance of mine revealed after we had finished our final exams in religious studies 100 (a survey of world religions) that the course had really “shaken his faith”. I remember being taken aback. There was nothing particularly challenging about the material in the course, provided students had anything beyond the shallowest intellectual understanding of their faith.

    Sadly, a very large amount of Christian youth have nothing but a shallow theology. And while it’s good to warn students to be prepared, certainly some of the onus must fall on parents and local congregations. If our churches fail to teach an intellectually rigorous faith, we cannot be very surprised when young Christians at university end up being “like infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

  • Paul Skurdal said:

    I do not think university students are taught to think critically at all. This is evident as practically all university students gobble up Darwinism and social hysteria such as global warming. Thank God I didn’t go to university, because I became a Christian in my 20s. Had I gone to university I almost certainly would have become a secular humanist “new atheist”.
    The West sees Christianity declining……in spite of abundant education. Much better to remain Christian than to become an educated anti Christ.
    I think the answer will be for Christians to form their own institutions for higher learning, to replace the secular humanist institutions of higher learning which are hostile to Christianity.
    Furthermore we no longer are having hostility to Christianity in universities…..but Christians in the West are often gobbling up Darwinism, and promoting a very low view of scripture, in our homes and even in our churches.
    I think ministries like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International are on the correct path because they demonstrate scriptural reliability and show the theory of evolution to be bankrupt and very dim minded indeed. These ministries also place scriptural reliability at the pinnacle of their attention. If scripture is supreme, then we did not evolve from apes and the fall actually happened. Instead the West has gobbled up the idea that God and scripture are dead, and even dangerous. So how do we fight anti Christian sentiment? It seems we bend our knee to so called “science”.
    I don’t think universities take people away from the faith, but rather they finish the job of what most homes, schools and yes, even churches have already told them, which is…….”Education and affluence and social acceptance is more important than God”.

  • mspenser said:

    This topic is still important.

  • Regina said:

    I agree, it’s still important.

  • Thomas Olson said:

    Excellent article.

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