“What do college students do when they aren’t studying?” According to the Wall Street Journal’s Naomi Riley’s review of two books about college life, college students are primarily engaged in idleness.
No, they are not studying and going to class forty hours a week. They certainly are not becoming avid readers. Rather, they are in pursuit of the ideal represented in their ubiquitous watchword: “fun.” “Fun” includes among other things a great deal of binge drinking (often beginning on Thursday night and going through the weekend) and frequent casual sexual encounters.
This sad state of affairs comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the decline of university life over the last thirty years or so. We are no longer shocked by Jay Leno’s undergraduate “Jay Walking All-Stars” who don’t even know who the vice-president of the United States is. We simply assume that a significant number of undergraduates will be idle dead-heads who really don’t learn that much by the end of their seven years of college.
There was a time in the history of higher education in America when going to college meant going to get an education. To be an undergraduate student was more than merely hanging around old buildings with books in them.
My own undergraduate experience began with the same shiftlessness portrayed in Ms. Riley’s article (minus the partying and dissipation). Academically speaking, I was just there to get a piece of paper. Somebody told me I needed that paper, so I was there to get it. I had no clue about how an education could enrich one’s life and faith. But that all changed during my sophomore year.
During my second year in college, I entered into a profound crisis of faith. As a result of one professor in particular and a few other key influences, I came to doubt the reliability of the sourcebook of my faith: the Bible. It was as if someone had yanked the rug out from under me and I had no where else to stand.
But God used this spiritual and emotional crisis to drive me to a whole new perspective on Him and my education. In addition to being driven back to the Bible, I became blood-earnest about understanding history, philosophy, theology and all the other big worldview disciplines that have impacted Christianity over the centuries.
For me, it wasn’t an academic exercise, it was a matter of spiritual life and death to understand the Bible and where it came from, to understand the history of theology, and to think God’s thoughts after others who have gone before.
My love of the Greek Bible began in earnest during this period because I knew that I had to read this book for myself. I could no longer allow the secularists to tell me what the Bible is, what it is saying, and where it came from. I had to know God’s revelation for myself or I felt as if I would drown in the morass of conflicting opinions about it.
I’m not saying that everyone’s experience should be like mine or that everyone should go to college so that they can become a New Testament professor. What I am saying is that an education is not coextensive with a piece of paper. Many people with the piece of paper don’t have an education.
An education relates to how we view the mind that God has given us. Are we going to be passive receptacles for the world’s tripe, or will we discipline ourselves for the glory of God to learn about Him and the world in which He’s put us? An education is not just about knowledge (though it certainly includes that!), but it is also the formation of our character under God and the shaping of our minds according to a biblical worldview.
I fear that the majority of what passes for undergraduate education today is very far from such an ideal. May God allow us to see this tide turned in our generation for the glory of God.
(For more on philosophical and theological roots of the current crisis, see my review of George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.)