By / Feb 6

Everywhere we look, it seems that many of our long-held freedoms are being challenged. Whether it’s a preborn child’s right to life, an employee’s right to receive religious accommodations at work, or the right of everyone to exercise free speech, new lawsuits are filed daily that threaten to chip away, or eliminate altogether, a subset of American freedoms. 

In March 2021, another such lawsuit was filed, threatening to jeopardize the rights of religious schools to operate according to their deeply held beliefs. 

In Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), filed a class action lawsuit seeking “to nullify the religious exemption to Title IX that,” according to the plaintiffs, “allows widespread discrimination against LGBTQI students at faith-based colleges and universities.” 

After almost two years, the district court recently dismissed the case.

What was the case about?

On March 30, 2021, REAP filed a class-action lawsuit “representing 33 LGBTQ students and alumni from religious colleges demanding that the U.S. Department of Education stop granting religious exemptions to taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities that,” in their words, “discriminate against and abuse their LGBTQ students.” Virtual public hearings began in early June 2021.

Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom argued that at its core this lawsuit was an effort by activists “to strip all students at private religious colleges of federal financial aid” and “prevent any student from using tuition grants, student loans, and any other federal financial assistance at schools that operate according to biblical views about human sexuality.” 

Likewise, the lawsuit—were it to be decided in the plaintiffs’ favor—would force religious schools “to either abandon their beliefs or lose the many students who rely on federal financial assistance.” It was an obvious attempt by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project to roll back some of our country’s longstanding legal protections for people of faith and religious institutions.

Responding to REAP’s lawsuit, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) requested that the court “allow three Christian colleges—representative of more than 1,000 others across the country—to intervene in the lawsuit and defend Title IX,” a U.S. Department of Education statute targeted by the lawsuit. The motion was granted in October 2021, and ADF proceeded to represent these three institutions (Corban University, William Jessup University, and Phoenix Seminary).

How was the case decided?

On Jan. 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ruled to dismiss Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education outright and continue to allow students to receive financial aid at schools that share their religious beliefs.” 

Responding to the plaintiffs’ claims of discrimination and abuse, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken stated that “Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that the regulatory changes have led or contributed to the harm they have experienced.” 

Though the opinion affirmed that Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, it affirmed the legality of the religious exemption and rejected arguments that the schools’ actions were in violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause. On all points, the plaintiffs’ arguments were deemed insufficient and implausible, leading to the court’s dismissal of the case. 

In response to the multitude of angles REAP took to accomplish its goal of ending the so-called “abuses perpetrated under the religious exemption to Title IX,” the court delivered a definitive statement of support for religious liberty by dismissing this case. 

While Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education was dismissed by the U.S. District Court, it will likely be appealed in the coming days. 

What’s the ERLC’s response?

The ERLC applauds the court’s decision to dismiss this case. As others have argued, the lawsuit which precipitated the Hunter court case was an unfounded attempt to eliminate an essential freedom afforded to religious educational institutions and their students. No student of any faith should be deprived of their right “to attend a school that shares their beliefs” and no educational institution should be stripped of its freedom to “live out their deeply and sincerely held convictions.”

Religious liberty is a core conviction and key distinctive of the ERLC and the Southern Baptist Convention, and we heartily agree with the court’s dismissal. The ERLC will be tracking this case as it moves forward closely, and should the case be appealed, the ERLC will continue to stand firmly for the constitutional right of religious freedom. 

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, stating: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX law is intended to provide equal opportunities for both men and women seeking to participate in educational institutions and extracurricular activities that receive federal funding.

Title IX and its implementing regulations contain several exemptions and exceptions from its coverage,” including substantial religious exemptions, which is what REAP’s lawsuit sought to target. The ERLC has long been involved in protecting these vital religious exemptions, even as Title IX has been expanded and adapted.

By / Oct 5

College campuses are places full of big dreams for the future. Young men and women often go to university expectant of what doors their education will open for them. Yet, some of those women become pregnant and find themselves facing uncertainty and fear about what’s ahead. They feel as if they have to choose between life for their child or a completed college degree. That’s where Baby Steps, an organization serving pregnant women on Auburn University’s campus, enters in and enables them to parent and finish their degrees. While Baby Steps isn’t faith based, they welcome people of faith as volunteers, among others, and are an example of those whose work Christians recognize as being consistent with a biblical ethic of human dignity. A member of Baby Steps’ staff answers questions below about this unique organization that’s doing incredible work with moms and their children. 

Kadin Christian: Baby Steps is an organization with an incredible idea—serve pregnant moms on a college campus. What is the story behind how Baby Steps began? And what does the organization hope to accomplish?

Baby Steps Staff: Baby Steps was founded by Michelle Schultz (now the Executive Director) and opened our doors on Auburn’s Campus in 2017. Michelle found herself in an unplanned pregnancy her junior year at Auburn University. In a moment of uncertainty and fear that “her world had ended,” she chose to terminate her pregnancy. She thought there was no way she could be pregnant and finish school. That decision affected her life greatly for many years, and she began recognizing there was an overlooked, isolated population of people in desperate need of support. There was a need to help college women in unplanned pregnancies that wasn’t being met at Auburn University or on other campuses around the country. 

Her first of many affirmations that Baby Steps was needed at Auburn was when she met Kaitlyn Willing, now Director of Operations, in the spring of 2013. In a moment of doubt that Baby Steps was really what Michelle was being called to do, Kaitlyn came into her life. Kaitlyn discovered that she was unexpectedly pregnant in August 2011, also as a junior at Auburn University. She shared the same fear Michelle had experienced almost 30 years ago—the fear that her life was over. While Kaitlyn decided to parent her child and finish her degree, the lack of support at Auburn University made graduating almost impossible.

Once she was presented with the idea of helping build Baby Steps, those past experiences lit a fire within her to see to it that no woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy on Auburn’s campus did it alone. She did not have the support that Baby Steps currently provides student-moms and confidently claims, “I couldn’t think of anything else I could’ve possibly needed or wanted more than Baby Steps.” 

Although very different, Kaitlyn’s and Michelle’s journeys continue to be the inspiration that fuels Baby Steps’ desire to create a place where young women can thrive, having their baby and their education.

KC: Is your organization considered a pregnancy resource center? If not, what are the differences? 

BSS: Baby Steps is not a pregnancy resource center. PRCs offer women pregnancy confirmation and resources on their options. Baby Steps does not provide any medical care or pregnancy decision counseling. Student-moms that reach out to us have typically already decided they want to parent their baby and stay in school, and they need our help in order to succeed in that.

KC: What are some of the unique aspects of serving college women and a specific university campus? Do you have any insights between the correlation of unplanned pregnancy and completing a college degree? 

BSS: Twelve percent of college students report either experiencing or being involved in an unplanned pregnancy. Some experts say that this number may be closer to 23%. According to these statistics, it should be much more common to see pregnant students walking their campus halls and concourses. Why is this not the case? Judgment and stigma leave them feeling isolated and unsupported with no safe place to turn. They do not believe they can have both their baby and their education. We are here to change that culture on college campuses. Baby Steps is the safe place where student-moms are not defined by their circumstances but are empowered to thrive in all areas of their lives, especially as students and mothers.

KC: What are the specific services that Baby Steps provides? And how many women and children are you typically serving at any given time?

BSS: Baby Steps serves two types of student-moms. Some of them actually live on Baby Steps’ property, and others are just a part of our social community.

Resident student-moms:

Baby Steps provides the following for pregnant and parenting college women living in the Baby Steps home at no cost to them

  • Housing & utilities
  • Childcare
  • Groceries & meals
  • Immediate and personal access to medical professionals (including, but not limited to, an OB-GYN and pediatrician)
  • Professional counseling
  • 24/7 access to staff support
  • Weekly & monthly gatherings 
  • Academic advising & tutoring
  • Resources for education grants & scholarships
  • Access to The Baby Steps Boutique (supplies including, but not limited to: diapers, wipes, car seats, bassinets, and baby clothing)  
  • Education on relevant topics including, but not limited to, childbirth, child development, sleep training, nutrition, mental health, financial planning, and many other pertinent life skills
  • Support and community that instill confidence to persevere and excel as Student-Moms and future graduates.

Community student-moms:

Baby Steps provides the following for pregnant and parenting college women not living in the Baby Steps home at no cost to them

  • Weekly & monthly gatherings which include meals
  • Academic advising & tutoring
  • Resources for education grants & scholarships
  • Access to The Baby Steps Boutique
  • Education on relevant topics including, but not limited to, childbirth, child development, sleep training, nutrition, mental health, financial planning, and many other pertinent life skills
  • Support and community that instill confidence to persevere and excel as student-moms and future graduates.

We typically serve anywhere from 8-15 student-moms and their “Tiny Tigers” at a time.

KC: With the historic overturning of Roe and the question of abortion returning to each individual state, how do you anticipate organizations like yours will be affected? And how do you expect the women and children you serve to be affected? 

BSS: Baby Steps is a non faith-based 501C3 nonprofit that is not affiliated with any religious or political agenda, so for us what we do is not political. Our mission is strictly to serve the student-mom and baby that is in front of us, giving her all the tools necessary to graduate from college and succeed in life. Our goal is to change the culture of our response as a society to unplanned pregnancies on college campuses. 

In this day in time, politics and religion can be seen as very divisive. We don’t want to add to that division in any way, so Baby Steps steers clear of putting ourselves in any boxes that might cause people to think we have intentions other than empowering student-moms to have their education and their babies. We’re proud to be an organization that can bring people together who while potentially having many different opinions and views, can say as a collective voice, “We stand behind student-moms pursuing their education.”

Our doors are open wide to students experiencing unplanned pregnancies, no matter what their background or personal views are. 

KC: Has Baby Steps been negatively affected or targeted since the Dobbs decision? And has it changed how you go about providing your services? 

BSS: Since the Dobbs decision, Baby Steps has seen an increase of involvement on both sides of the political spectrum, wanting to support what Baby Steps does, not only locally on Auburn’s campus but on future campuses around the nation. This momentum has been key to helping us launch our National Initiative that is working on bringing Baby Steps to as many college campuses as possible. We are excited to announce our next campus will be Baby Steps at University of Central Florida.

KC: Christians, who we represent, are known as a pro-life people who value all of life because we believe God created us in his image. How can individual Christians and local churches help support the work of places like Baby Steps?

BSS: One of the most beautiful parts of Baby Steps is our wide array of supporters. Our mission and vision clearly align with many different views and backgrounds people possess. There is such beauty in being a part of a movement that is supported by groups of people that may not have the same beliefs but can find solace in supporting student-moms and their babies. If our mission aligns with your views, we would love you to join us in changing history! Please visit our website to find ways you can get plugged in, or simply stay in touch with our movement on social media “Baby Steps at Auburn University”.

By / Oct 4

A charge against the medieval scholastics was that they were concerned with useless topics like “How many angels can dance on the head of the pin?” (even if this was never a real topic of study). The charge made by their opponents was that this was an arcane and useless topic of study, evidence of a wrong understanding of the purpose of learning and education. While wrong about the arcane nature of Scholastic inquiry, both the Scholastics and their critics understood something that modern audiences often forget: education is not value neutral. It is molding you into a particular type of person with a particular type of character. 

In most people’s expectation, education is purely mercenary and utilitarian. I go to school to get good grades to get into a good college where I learn a skill that is easily transferrable to a job with a paycheck. Education serves the end of ensuring that I have food on the table and a roof over my head. This “job in a degree” approach works quite well for nurses, teachers, engineers, and others. But even education programs built around the liberal arts and humanities are structured to provide employment at the end. Given the rise of college debt, and rising cost of everything, this desire to support oneself and justify the investment of all those tuition dollars is a good and understandable goal. 

At the same time, the perspective that sees education only as skills training or only as the transmission of facts and figures ignores the reality that we are not just a brain receiving information. We are a soul that needs cultivation as well. Good education helps us to consider not only what we are learning, but what we are becoming.

The purpose of education for Christians

Now, if you’re reading this, you may expect me to make the pitch that everyone should suddenly become an English or Philosophy major (As someone who majored in both, I would absolutely recommend this to all of you). But simply studying a set of texts or asking a set of questions is not enough. And our need for growth does not end with college. Further, some of the best time I had for reflection on what kind of person my education could turn me into was in my introductory course on civil engineering. The professor asked us to think through the ethics of what we were doing, noting that engineers tend to be strict rule followers. They don’t often rise to the higher consideration of questions of beauty and flourishing. He encouraged us repeatedly to do this and to consider how our education might turn us just into rule followers, concerned only with numbers, procedures, and the fine print. So this process of reflection is not confined to the humanities, even if those subjects are traditionally thought of as the place where it can happen most easily. 

Education—whether formal in a school or just through personal curiosity—is oriented toward a particular end. The process of sitting down each day to do your math homework trains your brain to think in a particular way. In my own study as an English major, I often lamented that after my coursework I had to “unlearn” some of the ways that I had been taught to read fiction. My classes had taught me to dissect the book, rather than experience it. The process of education is always oriented toward a specific end, and we ignore that at our peril. 

As Christians, that end ought to be to grow in love of God and neighbor. And it should make us the kind of people who are moved to worship and service. At its heart, education is not just the transmission of facts, but a process of discipleship.

When properly channeled and guided, the pursuit of knowledge can lead to new advances in technology, art that is beautiful, and treatises that plumb the human soul. Education need not be immediately utilitarian, but it should not be useless. If it causes us to twist inward, it only serves to amplify the worst parts of us. Rather, education that conforms to standards of goodness and beauty and truth, is an act of worship of God and stewardship of the mind given to us (Mark 12:30). 

One of the most haunting descriptions in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is not a massive battle or a fire demon haunting the mines of Moria, but when Gandalf tells Frodo what happened to the creature who became Gollum. Gollum was originally “the most inquisitive and curious-minded” kind of person, interested in “roots and beginnings.” However, it was this burrowing that drove him deeper underground, even before he took the ring, to the point that “he ceased to look up at the hilltops, or the leaves on trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.” He was more interested in the dark and decaying world of the dirt and rot, than the beauty and fresh air around him. His curiosity and pursuit of knowledge, unstructured and devoid of a moral compass, ultimately twisted his soul inward on itself, to the point he could murder his friend. Under the influence of the magic ring which amplified those dark desires, he became twisted in both body and soul. 

Christians should be as concerned with who they are becoming in their education as what they are studying. We are not collectors of facts, like so many curiosities for our cabinet of wonders. We ought to remember that pursuit of knowledge divorced from moral principles can cause us to treat others as mere tools to an end, much like the scientists of the Tuskegee Experiment. Rather, we should devote ourselves to those subjects that reflect and further goodness, beauty, and truth. A failure to do so could lead to a worse end than living alone in a cave, contemplating murder, and spinning riddles in the dark: We may actually come to believe that is a good place to be.

By / Sep 22

We’re celebrating our bicentennial at Union. For 200 years, Union University has stood as a model of excellence in Christian higher education. A place where learning is integrated with our faith in Christ, where it is infused with the hope of Christ, and where it is transformed by the love of Christ.

Remembering the past 

From a small-town academy to one of the nation’s premier Christian universities —the story of Union University is one of faith, Christian commitment, and dedication to excellence. And, it is the story of how faithful people in faithful churches help sustain God’s ongoing work of educating our young people.

Union stands as a testimony to God’s faithfulness, and we remain committed to our mission of providing Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to Church and society. That’s what Union University has been about for 200 years. Many schools have come and gone. Other schools have lost their biblical bearings and drifted to the siren’s song of the wisdom of the age.

But Union remains as resolute and committed to its biblical foundation as ever. At Union, we believe God has spoken to us through the Scriptures. We believe the Bible is trustworthy, reliable, and true. We believe Jesus Christ is our only hope for salvation. And we believe that pursuing him and loving him with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is what God has called us to do. 

Union traces its origins to Jackson Male Academy, the forerunner of West Tennessee College, which opened on Feb. 3, 1823. Madison County had been chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1821, and its county seat, Jackson, was created in 1822. As with other frontier communities, its people immediately began to establish the types of institutions that they had left. The good people of Jackson wanted the best education possible for their children. To obtain that objective, they established “a College of high standing and extensive usefulness,” relying on the “cooperation and patronage of the citizens of West Tennessee.”

The story of Union is the story of how two institutions—West Tennessee College and Union University at Murfreesboro—merged into one college, Southwestern Baptist University, and then Southwestern Baptist University changed its name to Union University and incorporated a third college, Hall-Moody Junior College of Martin, Tennessee.

God has proven himself faithful to Union University, time and time again. Through war and peace. Through fire and storm. Through prosperity and want. Through blessing and trial.

Looking forward to the future

As we celebrate our bicentennial this academic year, Union University stands on the brink of its third century. At the same time, we find ourselves in an increasingly secular, post-Christian society that disdains many of the beliefs and convictions Union holds dear. The higher education environment has never been more competitive, and institutions like Union must be equipped with the resources necessary to successfully navigate the cultural waters in which we sail.

Despite the challenges before us, we are confident that God has great things in store for Union. As we look to the future, we see the ways God has used the university over the past 200 years, and we dream of what he will do in the days ahead.

We dream of a campus that continues to attract students from all over the world—students who come to be taught and mentored by world-class professors who are skilled at instructing their students in how to think about their subject matter through a biblical lens. We dream of providing students with state-of-the-art facilities that will equip them to be excellent in their fields. We dream of being a campus, based in West Tennessee, that is a beacon to the world and that showcases the glory and the beauty of Christ.

We dream of Union alumni who will be the hands and feet of Jesus in every context imaginable: pastors, nurses, teachers, business owners, doctors, social workers, scientists, parents, community leaders, missionaries, musicians, engineers, coaches, accountants, artists, church members, and on and on the list goes. They will join the Union alumni around the world—now 21,000 strong—who are serving the Church and society and making a difference for the kingdom of God.

Ultimately, we dream of how God will use Union University to send out an army of alumni to be salt and light to a lost and dying world—alumni who will take the gospel with them to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.

Let us never say that we failed to dream big about what God can do through Union. Let us never say that we doubted the urgency or the importance of our mission. From now until Christ’s return, the mission of Union University will be vital and necessary in making disciples, in equipping students to serve, in supporting churches, and in reflecting and proclaiming the glory of the Lord to the world around us.

As we celebrate, we look back to what God has done in Union’s past, and we look forward with anticipation to what he will do in Union’s future.

Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Union University does indeed have a beautiful inheritance. The Lord in his kindness has richly poured out blessing after blessing upon Union over the last two centuries. As we reflect upon God’s goodness to us, and as we dream about what God can and will do through Union in the days ahead, we pray that he will move the hearts of people during this pivotal moment in Union’s history to pray for us, to partner with us, and to help us sustain the mission of Union in the days to come.

In December 1874, a committee of Tennessee Baptists reported, “Thus far the School has more than realized our highest expectations and the future is hopeful.” Almost 150 years after that report and 200 years since our founding, we can say the same.

The minutes from that meeting go on to say something important to emphasize today, “but let us not forget that in building up the University we are laboring not for our own selves alone but for the whole Baptist denomination . . . and let us hope that we are laying the foundation of an institution which we hope by the blessings of God to continue for the ages to come.”

May we never forget how important it is to continue to build up this institution for the glory of God and the good of mankind.

By / Jan 11

I remember our oldest child’s first day of public school. My husband and I had decided to go the public-school route so that we could be involved in a positive way in our local community. Our daughter had on a new outfit, and I braided her hair special. We waited for the bus to come pick her up for kindergarten. Living in a rural environment, she would end up spending two hours on the bus every day. 

In the following months, we noticed some changes in our daughter that troubled us. Discipling her became more difficult because our time with her was so limited. The school bent over backward to accommodate and encourage her. But, in the end, we decided to take her out of school for a year. Then, one year turned into two. 

When it was time to put our next child into school, we realized he had some learning disabilities and was hyperactive. He would need extra accommodations, and we saw the simplicity of just helping him at home. So, we decided to homeschool them both. At that point, it just became a part of our family culture and is what we’ve done with all six of our kids for the past 12 years.

There are a lot of logistical advantages to homeschooling. It’s hard to downplay the advantage of extra time with our kids. My husband’s job has hours that vary widely in different seasons, so it’s been a huge benefit to the kids’ relationship with their dad to work their school schedule around his work schedule. Our kids can also pursue their interests more deeply. Homeschooling makes travel, field trips, and apprenticeship opportunities easier. Furthermore, the kids have more play time because it takes only a fraction of the time for a handful of students to complete the work it might take a much larger classroom to complete.

Advice for new homeschooling families

Every new homeschooling family is full of nerves. I have seen a lot of my friends pull their kids from public school, each having their reasons for keeping their kids at home. It’s often an exciting and terrifying endeavor. The weight of educating your children creates in us a longing to do everything perfectly. We really don’t want to mess it up, so the pressure we put on ourselves is usually severe. As new homeschooling parents describe this to me, I always stop them when the discussion turns to talking about homeschooling as if it’s an insurance policy.

Our family chose homeschooling because it made the most sense for where we lived and with the kids we have. It fit our situation. However, the biggest temptation — and possibly the greatest way to infuse stress into your homeschooling life — is to treat what you are doing as a sure-fire way to ensure that your kids grow up to be Christians. Once our oldest was able to drive, she wanted to go to a local private school, and that ended up being a great option for her, though it was a sacrifice for our family in multiple ways. Ultimately, we felt free to let her do that because our hope isn’t in homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes a poor god. I’ve now seen many kids in my circles graduate from homeschooling — and some walk away from the faith, not wanting anything to do with God. I’ve seen the heartbreak of mothers who made many sacrifices. They thought they did everything right to the best of their ability, and now it feels like it was all for nothing. For these mothers, it’s devastating.

The truth is that homeschooling is no savior at all. If we look to it as if it will do the work that only God can do, we’ve made it into an idol. And like all idols, it looks good — even religious — and it will fail you. The law, whether we’re talking about God’s good law or our own made-up formulas for success, is insufficient to save. God’s law is good and wise when used rightly. Our children need to know it, and they need rules. But none of it will save them. Eventually every child will have to face the sin that they can’t seem to will or discipline away. They need the one and only Savior. And homeschooling families don’t need Christ any less than our public or private-schooling friends.

Loving our kids as whole people 

If your home has people with a sin nature (which it does), you will not escape struggle in the midst of homeschooling. While it has been a great tool in God’s hands for our family, we could stop homeschooling tomorrow, and God would still hold us. None of that depends on the type of schooling we choose or on doing everything “right.” His promises are not so shaky or fragile that we must teach our kids to live a perfect life so that they may obtain them.

As we teach our children, we must remember, as Susan Schaeffer Macaulay points out in For the Children’s Sake, her book on education at L’Abri, that they are whole persons. They struggle with a real sinful nature, they are made in the image of God, and they have real needs. And as real persons, they need a real Savior. 

Therefore, love your kids as whole people, not projects. Give them a big view of God. Pray for them when their hearts are hard. Don’t be scared when they wrestle with God (sometimes wrestling with God is where we find his embrace). Our day involves a lot of forgiveness. I’ve learned to apologize a lot and to teach my children to apologize. And we talk a lot about the power of the gospel.

These homeschool years have been a gift, and I am thankful. But I am reminded often: I am a servant of the Lord, but I’m not God. I can’t make them into my image. I can’t change their hearts. I teach my kids about God and his Word, but their little souls are in his hands, not mine. The older they get, the more I’m thankful for that. When we realize that it is not our homeschooling that is saving our kids, we can unload that burden onto the sufficient shoulders of Christ, and educate our children from a place of rest.

For more perspectives on schooling, visit this article about public school and this article about private school. 

By / Aug 9

I did not always fit in at the Christian schools I attended growing up. I was one of only a handful of students who did not have both parents at home, which meant I was the only one in my class with a different last name than the rest of my family because my divorced mom had remarried. This required complicated explanations to my classmates and sometimes even teachers; most of them lived in a world where most moms and dads were married, so their children shared their last names. It meant I had to ask permission from the front office to wait with my little brother after school, long after everyone else had gone home, until our single mom could get off work to pick us up. And it meant that I did not have my father there to walk with me in homecoming court senior year. Often, neither of my parents were present during special school ceremonies because my father lived in another town, and my mother could not always leave work.

As a shy child, I didn’t like feeling different from my classmates. I secretly resented them for their seemingly perfect family lives and wondered what it would be like to see both my parents’ smiling faces in the audience during a school play or to be able to share a last name with my mom and half-siblings. But I knew enough to be grateful for the sacrifices my mother was making to keep me in private school — even if I didn’t always feel like I belonged there. 

When I grew up, got married, and had kids of my own, I knew I wanted a Christian education for my own kids. I eventually convinced my reluctant husband that our two-income family could afford the private school tuition if we budgeted carefully. To make it work, we’ve had to sacrifice things like a bigger house in a fancy neighborhood and newer cars, but we have never once regretted these sacrifices.

An investment in my future 

Christian education began influencing my life from about the age of two, when my newly divorced mother enrolled me in one of the area’s most popular Christian preschool programs. It was an expensive choice for a single mother, and one she continuously had to defend to family members who questioned why she would pay private school tuition when she could barely make ends meet.  

Because we moved around a lot, I ended up attending five different Christian schools over the years, ranging from a tiny Pentecostal-run academy to the large Southern Baptist school from which I eventually graduated. Nonetheless, Christian schooling became one of the few constants in my life when the shape of my family never stayed the same. Even after another divorce, various job changes, and relationship challenges, my mom always found a way to keep me (and for a time, my younger siblings) in Christian school. 

It turned out to be one of the best investments she would make in my future. For me, Christian schooling served as a lifeline out of a world plagued by father hunger, family disfunction, and economic instability. Not only did I receive a private school education, but I also gained the direction and support I needed to stay on a path toward the stable family life I enjoy today. 

A report about private education 

My experience with Christian education is backed up by a report from the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute. The Protestant Family Ethic, written by Albert Cheng, Patrick Wolf, Wendy Wang, and W. Bradford Wilcox, is the first of its kind to analyze the effects of private versus public schooling on three family outcomes for adults. The report found that students educated in private schools, especially Protestant schools, are more likely to be in intact marriages and to avoid out-of-wedlock births as adults. 

One of the report’s most striking findings involves the powerful effects of religious schooling on students from lower-income backgrounds. As the authors explain, “religious schools, both Catholic and Protestant, have comparatively more positive influences on family stability for students who grew up in financially difficult circumstances.” 

According to the report:

“About 40% of public-school attendees who grew up in financially unstable households eventually marry and never divorce. The rate is higher for Catholic-school attendees who grew up in the same unstable financial situation (53%). Meanwhile, Protestant-school attendees who grew up in financial hardship are the most likely to marry and never divorce; 72% are still in their first marriage.”

In addition to the differences between religious and public school students, the figure above also reveals that students from financially unstable backgrounds reap more positive family outcomes from religious schooling than students from financially stable backgrounds. Among Protestant school students in particular, those who grew up in financially difficult circumstances are significantly less likely to have a nonmarital birth and to have divorced than those from financially stable backgrounds.

3 ways religious schooling shaped me

As someone who was raised in a financially turbulent, single-parent household, I have a few theories about why this might be the case. Religious schooling shaped my future family life for the better by providing me with three things I needed the most: 

1. Examples of healthy marriages and decent fathers and husbands. 

Growing up in a broken home where men were either absent, unreliable, or dangerous, the messages I absorbed about fathers, marriage, and family life were overwhelmingly negative. But in Christian school, I found peace and hope in the midst of family turmoil. It was there that I was introduced to the concept of God as my Father who looked upon me as his child, which mattered a great deal to a little girl who desperately missed her biological father. And it was there I experienced Christ’s unconditional and unfailing love through the lives of my teachers and the pastors who led the school. 

At the same time, I was exposed to healthy married families with faithful dads and husbands — men who did not harm or abandon their families but who loved God, their wives, and their children. None of these men were perfect, but they were clearly striving to be the fathers and husbands their families deserved. Many of these examples came from married teachers whose spouses also worked at the school — like my favorite bus driver/ janitor, Mr. Robb, a gentle giant whose wife taught kindergarten, or my high school Algebra teacher and senior adviser, Mr. Ammons. Something I noticed about their families is the role faith played in their lives. The parents prayed together and took their children to church often, and they were committed to something, or Someone, bigger than just each other (and research confirms that couples who pray together and attend church regularly enjoy more stable marriages). 

2. A biblical worldview that pointed me to a path for a successful future. 

In the IFS/AEI report, the authors reflect on why Protestant schools appear to have a stronger influence on the future family lives of students compared to the other schools, noting that: 

“Protestant schools are more likely to stress the importance of marriage as a good in and of itself—and of having and raising children in marriage. The different messages they send may play some role in providing a normative context for their graduates’ future family lives.” 

This was certainly true in the schools I attended. The contrast between my unstable family life at home — where divorce and father absence seemed to spread like a disease — and what I experienced in the Christian school classroom gave me a taste of the healthy family life I desired but did not know how to obtain. I was taught a biblical worldview that said every life has value and purpose, that marriage was designed by God for the good of children and society, that divorce was to be avoided if at all possible, and sex and parenthood should be reserved for marriage. 

Importantly, I saw these ethics lived out in the lives of my teachers and in most of the families of my peers. I learned that boundaries matter, not to fence me in but to protect me from harm. Instead of lessons on condoms, I was encouraged to delay sex until I was married because of God’s good design, to work hard in school so I could go to college, and to eventually get married and start a family — a sequence of steps that research shows is linked to lower chances of poverty and a greater chance of achieving family stability and economic success. These values, and the support I received to sustain them, helped me to avoid some of the common risk factors for kids from broken families.

3. Supportive and like-minded peers.

As I said earlier, I was an outsider at my Christian school because of my family life at home. Most of the students lived with their married parents in stable, middle- or upper-class neighborhoods, while only a handful, like me, came from broken homes, often relying on scholarships or financial aid to be there. But the friends and classmates I found there helped keep me away from choices that would have most certainly derailed my future. Most of the students attended church regularly and avoided alcohol, drugs, and early sex. While there were definitely some kids who were having sex and partying on the weekends, most of the students were striving to avoid these behaviors. 

Again, my experience echoes the findings in the IFS/AEI report, which identified “stark differences in the peer environment of various school communities.” Compared to students who attended secular private and public schools, Millennials who attended religious schools were significantly more likely to report that “almost all” their peers attended church regularly, did not use drugs, had never had sex, and planned to go to college. 

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that religious private schools are far from perfect education models. Many of these schools lack the economic and racial diversity that could benefit their student body and the surrounding community. And emerging from the Christian school “bubble” into the real world can leave some students with a bit of culture shock. Even so, I would not trade the Christian education I received, flaws and all, for any other form of schooling — and I believe that without it, I would not be where I am today.As theProtestant Family Ethic concludes, “private schools serve the public good more by fostering stronger and more stable marriages among American men and women compared to public schools.” Religious schools have a vital and unique role to play in promoting this common good, especially among lower-income kids from unstable families who are hungry for the faith, values, and role models these schools offer. Just as it did for me, Christian schooling can provide at-risk students with a lifeline out of the cycle of family instability and point them toward a path for a brighter family future. 

By / Jan 14

Graduate students are like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. That was the claim made by one of my literature professors. What does a graduate student in engineering or a person studying law or medicine have in common with a fictional, deformed creature known for his skulking behavior? They both are staring down. Gandalf describes Smeagol (Gollum’s previous name) to Frodo in this way,

“The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Smeagol. He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunneled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on the trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.”

Inquisitive. Curious-minded. Interested in beginnings and the “roots” of things. These are the characteristics of a good graduate student one would hope. But hidden inside of that positive description is a warning as well: “his head and his eyes were downward.” And it was not just looking down at the roots, but also looking down on all those who did not share his obsession. Gollum’s obsession with knowledge and the promise that it would bring power is what caused him to look with antipathy toward all others. Thus, when we meet Gollum he is alone in a subterranean cavern playing riddle games with himself, seeing other people only as a meal. 

The problem of anti-anti-intellectualism

While graduate students may not live alone in caves obsessing over elven rings capable of making you invisible—although pouring over tomes in a library or staring at measurements in a science lab may be just as appealing to the rest of the world as an underground cave filled with goblins—they share a temptation: To allow knowledge, or formal education, to cause them to look down on their peers. 

Speaking for myself as a graduate student, I’m certain that my family and friends would prefer to have a game of riddles in the dark than listen to me engage in a description of my interest in the history of evangelicals and labor activism at the turn of the 20th century. Why? Because, so often, my eyes and head are turned downward just like Gollum when I engage in those conversations. 

And this is not unique to graduate students. Harvard professor Michael Sandel notes that this kind of bias against those without a college degree or formal education is more prevalent than other forms of contempt, and that unlike other forms of bigotry such as racism or sexism, educational elites are often “unapologetic” about their views of the less educated. In a culture where education is a marker of upward (economic) mobility, and success often the result of educational attainment, then it is unsurprising that we would value individuals and their contributions more because of the institution on their diploma. However, Christians should be the first to reject such a demeaning view of individuals, recognizing that just as worth is not defined by race or sex, neither is it defined by the number of letters after your name, whether J.D., M.D., or Ph.D. 

Education to encourage love of God

Now, I am not advocating for a lack of education. It would be disingenuous since I have completed one graduate degree and am currently pursuing another in history. Further, I think that Christians have a unique responsibility to pursue education because we are convinced that truth exists and can be known. Part of the creation mandate to take dominion over creation includes cultivating and stewarding the world, which can only be done with proper knowledge. And colleges and universities are often a mission field in need of cultivation by Christians who can speak truth and the gospel message to people asking questions about identity, the future, and purpose. 

The purpose of education is to cause you to look up, metaphorically speaking, rather than down. The scientist who probes the workings of the cosmos should exult with the psalmist that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1-4). The jurist studying the law should be confronted with the justice and perfection of the lawgiver (Psa. 19:7-8). And the student of history should look back and see the providence of God at work in the most minute details and events (Psa. 136). Contemplation of God’s created order should be the beginning of worship, not its end. And those who have studied the inner depths of particular aspects of creation should be those most loudly proclaiming the glories of God.

Education to encourage love of neighbor

Just as important is the way that education should be a method for loving our neighbor, or looking to our right and left rather than down. On a practical level, we can see how this plays out. It is scientists and medical professionals (all, we hope, with years of training and experience) who have developed a vaccine for the pandemic, a service to their neighbor for sure. In a similar way, the lawyer may provide their services pro bono in a legal clinic for the poor, and teachers use their training to educate the next generation as a form of public service.

 Contemplation of God’s created order should be the beginning of worship, not its end. And those who have studied the inner depths of particular aspects of creation should be those most loudly proclaiming the glories of God. 

We know what it means to use our skills to serve our neighbor. But just as education leads the Christian to worship more fully, it should also be a means for enriching the worship of others. And this is the beauty of the church—others benefit from your effort and exertion. Thus, the pastor who has learned Greek and Hebrew need not teach a course on Sunday mornings for his congregation to benefit from his study (though if congregants wanted to learn the original languages, that would not be a bad thing). In fact, it should be the opposite. Those around you should benefit from the work that you have produced and enjoy the fruits of your intellectual labor. For example:

The pastor who studies Greek or Hebrew can convey to the congregation the meaning of the text without subjecting them to a grammar lesson. Paul’s pleading can come through in the way that you explain the text rather than in your diagramming of articles, verbs, and participles. 

The Christian historian spends hours in the archives to tell the story of former slave and Baptist missionary George Liele, illustrating to the church the role that he played in the spread of the gospel after gaining his freedom. 

The theologian studies the work of the fathers and mothers of the church during the early church period to bring renewed interest in ancient methods of devotion and catechesis all to encourage spiritual piety. 

The ethcist asks the deep questions about technology, sex, or politics in an effort to help their church think not only about this immediate social issue but about the one coming down the road for the next generation of the church. 

And the Christian sociologist studies patterns of behavior and statistical analysis of transmission of values to teach parents how to better disciple their children. 

None of these examples require that the recipient be an expert in ethics, sociology, history, or ancient languages. The Christian scholar, who has been gifted the responsibility to study and serve, brings to the church the fruits of their labor and says “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8)

In Acts 2, the early church met the needs of the community by those who had much providing for those who had less. Each brought as they were able, each received what they needed, and neither looked with contempt on the other; they all “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:44-46). In the same way, the act of service of the scholar is not to puff up themselves with knowledge, but to recognize that they have been blessed with the opportunity for formal education and to bring the result of their studies to others, who for any number of reasons have not been able to devote themselves to formal training in the same way (1 Cor. 8:1; 1 Tim. 6:3-6; 2 Tim. 3:6-7). But neither is more dignified or performs more godly work. Rather, each encourages and supports the other in their specific calling, spurring one another on to greater worship of God and love of neighbor. 


When we first meet Gollum in The Hobbit, he is alone, muttering to himself and his precious ring. He is twisted and deformed by his quest to know the ring and use it for his own power, always at the expense of others. In contrast, the church is the picture of a community where those with college degrees and those without are gathered together to worship God and serve one another. The Christian scholar is called to use that knowledge to serve their church and proclaim the gospel message to the world, not their own prestige and importance. It is the recognition that scholastic activity should have relevance for the church, sanctification, and love of God. The Christian scholar should be humbled by the ability to list the order of salvation in Latin or Greek and remember that, Latin or not, all of us are called to the foot of the cross in repentance, and all of us will one day cast our crowns and all accolades at the feet of the only one worthy of praise (Rev. 4:10).  That is a calling better than any riddle game in the dark. 

By / Aug 6

In June of 1996, I walked down the aisle, with 13 others, at Quentin Road Christian School in Lake Zurich, Illinois, and received my high school diploma. I distinctly remember the mixture of anticipation and hope I felt that day.

Twenty years later, I look back with amazement. First, it’s hard to believe it has been over 20 years. I don’t feel that old. Second, I’m stunned by the grace of God displayed in knitting the strands of my life together. Third, there are so many things I’ve learned in 20 years that I wish I could tell 18-year-old me. Here are 20 things I’ve learned since that day, in no particular order:

  1. School is just the beginning of learning. Much of what we learn in elementary, middle, and high school is quickly forgotten (until we need it again to help our kids with their homework). Of course, the basics of math, reading, science, and history are vital, but what’s even more important is learning to learn. School sets the trajectory for the rest of our lives. Wise people realize that, upon graduation, their education has just begun. They read, study, and grow, pursuing knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 4:7).
  2. We make choices, but God directs our steps. I remember hearing teachers, coaches, and parents telling me that the choices I make in my teens and 20s would set the course of my life. They were so right, in ways I haven’t even begun to see until now. But even more important than making good choices is the willingness to depend upon the Lord to direct our steps. Our choices are mere tools in the hand of a guiding, teaching, directing Father. We are not, nor will we ever be, self-made men. Ultimately, God uses flawed people who often make poor choices to build his church.
  3. Life is made up of seasons. When you walk down the aisle, and are handed that diploma, you may think you must chart your entire future. Planning is good stewardship, but hold your plans loosely. God will guide you into different seasons of life. I’ve already had a season as an editor, a season as a pastor, and am now in a season as an executive who writes and preaches. There are seasons yet ahead.
  4. A life of influence is mostly built in the daily disciplines of ordinary days, not in transcendent moments of glory. Yes, you will have moments and memories: that one camp meeting where you gave your life in service to Christ, the talk with a mentor that shaped your future, the movie or book or song that stirred your heart. But mostly, your life is built on the steady, patient, obscure business of doing excellent work that nobody sees. Commit to this kind of life.
  5. Work is necessary, but also a joy. There is something satisfactory about working for a long time in the area of your giftedness, not simply to make money but because of the joy that the work itself brings. Ambition is good, but ordering your life simply to get to the next rung on the ladder can be wearisome. It’s better to find deep joy in the work we do now. Work is not a means to an end. Work is a good gift from a wonderful God.
  6. Gratitude opens doors; entitlement shuts them. If you live as though the world owes you everything, you will quickly be disappointed. But, if you live as if your opportunities are gifts, you will always be surprised. One of my first jobs after high school graduation was at Ace Hardware. I was fresh off of being the “big man on campus” in our tiny, obscure Christian school. I had even won student leadership awards. Yet my boss at the hardware store didn’t care about that. His only concern was that I get to work on time, that I stop making keys that didn’t work, and that I stacked the piles of fertilizer in the correct manner on the pallet. This experience was good for me.
  7. Talent is helpful, but hard work and character are vital. I learned this playing basketball. Talent is important, hard work will get you farther, but character matters most. I’ve seen plenty of people with great talent flame out because their lack of character caught up with them. I’ve seen folks with marginal talent go far because they had integrity and were willing to work hard despite the fact that they may lack in other areas. I’ve learned and am learning the importance of cultivating the inner habits of the heart.
  8. Relationships are God’s tool for sanctification. God’s desire is for Christ to shape us more into his image, and human relationships are one of his main methods of doing so. Yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit, your spouse, your children, and your co-workers will change you in ways you cannot imagine. They will expose your deepest sin patterns and force you to your knees in repentance and grace. Don’t resist this challenge. Embrace it. I have learned much from my roles as a husband, father, pastor, and boss.
  9. Who you marry matters. If God calls you to marriage, whom you choose as your mate is the most important decision you face. You will make a solemn commitment before God and others to live with and care for this person for the rest of your lives. So marry well. I married extremely well. I can’t, nor do I want to, imagine my life without Angela. We marry, not merely for pleasure or companionship, though those are good fruits of marriage, but as an opportunity to show the world a glimpse of Christ’s great love for his church.
  10. Adversity can be your greatest ally. Nobody desires hardship, opposition, and pain. Nobody asks God to rain down trouble. But trouble comes, and it comes for all of us. And if you believe in a sovereign God who loves enough to prune and sift and filter, you will slowly, over time and through much reflection, begin to see your trials as God’s handiwork of blessing. A few years ago I was betrayed and hurt in a deep and difficult way by people I loved. I would not want to live through those years again. This season caused great anguish of soul, but I can testify to experiencing God’s refining grace.
  11. Bitterness will poison; forgiveness will free. Perhaps the most important trait for a leader to cultivate is the ability to forgive. And you can only do this if you know the One who has forgiven you of much greater sins than have been committed against you. Bitterness only hurts the one who is bitter. Don’t nurture your grudges and let forgiveness form a crust around your soul. Let forgiveness free you to love and serve and lead well.
  12. Discipline is a gift. A few years ago my wife and I were counseling a young woman who made a statement that has haunted me since. She said, “I wish someone, somewhere had given me some rules to live by.” At that moment I was filled with gratitude for parents willing to teach and enforce right from wrong. They weren’t perfect, as no parents are, but what they gave me, by being parents instead of mere friends, was a gift that has shaped my own adulthood. I still need Jesus, but my parents’ discipline saved me from a life of bad choices and even worse consequences. If you have parents who loved you enough to provide meaningful structure and rules, you possess a rare gift.
  13. The gospel is the best news in the world. I know this is a cliché, but I feel this more strongly now than ever before. The Christian story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation stands alone in answering the deep problems of the world, in fixing my own inner corruption, and in providing a future in Jesus’ cosmic renewal. In my darkest moments, when my heart is overcome with fear and uncertainty, I’m comforted, not by political movements or powerful leaders, but by the simple phrase I learned in church: “Jesus saves.”
  14. If you want to change the world, do it by loving the church. You will undoubtedly have many opportunities to use your gifts and talents to affect social change in big and small ways. God has put you here, on this earth, with your unique mix of gifts, talents, and opportunities to give yourself in service to others. But while your mission will likely be more than what you do on Sundays, it will never be less. The church is where God is most active in the world today. The most important gathering this week will not happen in a town hall, a stadium, or the White House, but in congregations big and small, around the world, where God’s people are proclaiming the reign of another King and another Kingdom. If you love Jesus, you will love the church he loves. The older I get, the more I realize my deep need for the church.
  15. The hymns I learned in my youth have stuck with me. From the time I could read, I was learning and singing, three times a week, the hymns of Luther, Crosby, Watts, and Wesley. I didn’t know what the words meant in those early years, but they were catechizing my soul for future life. Today, in moments of despair, joy, doubt, and uncertainty, the rich hymns of the faith are a reminder of the fresh theological truth, even though I learned it long ago. When we sign hymns, we are not simply providing “filler” for the rest of the service. We are declaring the reign of Christ to the world. We are teaching ourselves doctrine. And we are embedding, in the heart, powerful, sustaining truths.
  16. I never “get over” my need for grace. I used to think the gospel was something I did when I was 4 years old. But the older I get, the more I realize how desperate I am for Jesus and how little I can do without him. I recognize that the gospel is not just for sinners “out there,” but also for this sinner, right here.
  17. Asking questions and spending time with smart people is wise. Someone once said that if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. This is so true. I’ve learned much simply by asking questions, reading, and realizing how little it is that I actually know. My father once said, “You never stop learning,” and he was right. I’ve learned the most from people who were much older than me, different than me, and were willing to challenge my thinking.
  18. Old paths are good paths. Along the way, you will be tempted to embrace fashionable new doctrines and fresh theologies bent to the times. But it is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) that will be your surest guide. Beware of novel new interpretations of Scripture untested by church history. Truth and orthodoxy endure, because Christ endures. He is building his church, not on the slippery whims of modern thought, but on the sure foundation of his revealed Word.
  19. Community matters. We were not made to live alone, but in community. We worship, not in isolation, but with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have found strength in deep friendships, intense conversations, and joyful community. But it’s up to you to cultivate that community with intentionality and the willingness to both forgive and be forgiven.
  20. Both impulsiveness and passivity kill. I’ve learned to take a lot of time when making a major decision, to get advice from a diverse group of wise people, thinking about all the major ramifications. But once I’ve counseled, prayed, and researched, it’s important to actually make decisions. Rash decisions have always hurt me, but so has “paralysis by analysis.” Endless navel-gazing is as damaging as intemperately quick decisions. Avoiding both has served me well.

If you are a parent shepherding your children through school, a pastor preaching to youth, or a student navigating the various challenges of growing up, don’t underestimate the value of what the Lord will do through these impressionable years. Make the most of formal learning, but don’t just focus on studies and grades and accolades. Instead, concentrate on growing in Christ so that you can look back on these school days, amazed at how the Lord has directed your paths and displayed his faithfulness. 

By / Mar 5

Better Together captures our desire to partner together as men and women in the church and beyond to advance the kingdom with mutual support and care. Better Together will address a wide range of topics from sexual abuse, leadership, women and work, women’s ministry, and more. Today’s podcast features Lilly Park, assistant professor of biblical counseling for Southern Seminary. Dr. Park shares about training women in the seminary context and beyond. 

By / Nov 19

I didn’t expect applause when the student presenter said, “I’m the resident heretic for the Divinity School.” To say I was hesitant was an understatement.

This was my introduction to graduate studies in religion as I was touring prospective programs. As a committed and theologically conservative evangelical, I was a bit unsure. However, I would eventually join this self-professed heretic and study with those who chose the program for its decidedly liberal perspective on matters of faith and religion. Over my two years in this program, I discovered important things about the need for Christians in educational spaces and the ability to dialogue with one another across theological lines

Depending on who asks, I get two responses when I tell them where I went to school. The conservative Christians I know always ask follow-up questions to ensure that I am still one of them. Those on the opposite side of the theological spectrum see it as a marker that I have at least learned from those different from me. I may not agree with them, but I at least understand why they think as they do. The degree grants me a position of influence and a hearing that I would lack if I had chosen another school.

What our influence looks like

So what does influence look like for a prophetic minority in culture?

It looks like the student who is an evangelical explaining to his liberal friend why he believes in the inerrancy of Scripture while they study for a Hebrew Bible final exam. It is the conversation between the Christian and their co-worker at their campus job. It’s the kind of influence that comes from friendship, proximity, and care for the other person. It is not quick, and it is not easy, but relationship discipleship rarely is.

It’s remembering that those who disagree with us are not our enemy. In this era of outrage and polarization, it is easy to write off the other side as the enemy or evil. But the people I encountered weren’t evil. We disagreed, but we also found places of communion. They didn’t believe in a literal resurrection, but they were committed to ending racial injustice. They didn’t agree with my views on marriage, but we both agreed that the church should care about the poor and marginalized.

Even the angriest of my classmates were not without cause. I could not fault them for being angry at an evangelicalism that met their skepticism with rejection, not love. As Christians, we should acknowledge that just as often as people reject the message of the gospel, they are also rejecting the messengers who they believe don’t care about them.

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “salt of the earth.” He then follows it with a warning that if the salt loses its flavor, it’s not good for anything. At the same time, salt is no good if it is left in its container. If it is never used, then it is just as problematic. Salt that isn’t salty, and salt that is never used have the same effect: nothing.

In the same way, Christians should not be isolationists and withdraw from culture. We do not practice a form of monasticism in which we purposely avoid the world. Christ did not pray that we would be taken out of the world, but that we would be protected as we were sent into it (John 17:15-19). The church is the place where we withdraw so that we might be renewed and prepared; but we withdraw so that we might go out.

How we engage the university

Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and statesman, said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'” This includes universities and colleges. Christians must not absent themselves and cede their influence and vision in the realm of education. While Christians should not think of this influence as based on a model from the years of the Moral Majority or the Religious Right,  these groups did correctly understand that to absent yourself from the conversation is to give up a say in the outcome.

So we should help Christians, especially those making decisions about education, to look for the ways that their influence can be leveraged for the kingdom. While there is merit to seeking an explicitly Christian education, they might prayerfully consider how the same degree could be leveraged at a state or private institution that does not share the same commitments. Their time at college could be a time of engaging those around them who might never listen otherwise, and who they might never be around in such a concentrated number.

It could also be a time when they learn something they did not expect. My time with high church students gave me a deeper love for the liturgy of church history. Also, issues such as race, justice, and poverty were emphasized in ways that I had not heard. I did not always agree, but I came away with a new layer of how the gospel affects all of creation.

Christian parents, you should be thinking even now about how to prepare your children for their future education and vocation. It is important that we not simply fall into the trap of choosing a good college because of the name or prestige. At the same time, those colleges carry social capital and can give students access to a mission field that is untouched. So, you should be training the young Christians in your household to see every sphere of influence as one in which they can work for the advancing of the kingdom.

Christians of the past have always recognized the importance of education. The Jesuits would found schools as a means of evangelism when they entered a new region. The early European universities were begun to train clergy. Christians should not be afraid of the world of academia. We should not abandon it. It is not the realm of the world, but that of a God who calls us to love him with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind (Lk. 10:27). For in every classroom, Christ’s declaration of “Mine!” still rings true.