Freshman Orientation

PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

Should believers only attend Christian colleges? Professor Theophilus has some advice about choosing where to go to school.

From the back of the room came a loud noise. I recognized it as Bob Loons clearing his throat again. "Theophilus," he said, "you haven't yet addressed the question that I hear most often from Christian students, not to mention their parents."

"What is it?"

He lifted a challenging eyebrow, in secret mockery of my own mannerisms. "Considering the times, do you recommend that Christian young people go only to Christian colleges? You see what I'm getting at. Should they avoid secular wastelands like the one where we teach?"

A ripple of laughter passed across the room, growing livelier when I took off my glasses and leaned on the rostrum.

"Well, Bob," I confessed, "you ask a good question."

He gave me a dry smile. "I notice that you're not answering it."

"I will. You want to know whether Christian students should choose only Christian schools."

"Right."

"Before I answer, I should warn that anyone considering going to a Christian college or university should make sure that it really is."

"Is what?" called out the green-eyed girl.

"Is Christian. A great many originally Christian schools have strayed from their missions and become — what was your phrase? — 'secular wastelands like the one where you and I teach.'"

"Name names," she demanded.

"How about Harvard?"

"Harvard was never Christian!"

"Wasn't it?" I asked. "An early statement of its rules and precepts declared Christ to be the foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. The motto on its 1692 shield is Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae, which means 'Truth for Christ and Church.' It bore a reference to John 8, where Christ says that those who continue in His word will know the truth, and the truth will make them free. Finally it showed three books — two turned face-up, symbolizing the Old and New Testament, and one turned face-down, symbolizing not only the power but also the limits of human reason. Guess what the shield looks like now?"

"Isn't the motto just one word now?" she asked.

"Right. Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae has shrunk to the single word Veritas. The reference to the words of Jesus has vanished, and all three books are turned face-up, meaning, I suppose, that there are no limits to human reason. As at my own university, faculty and administrators would rather be caught dead than confess that Christ is the foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

"Are you saying that no one should go to Harvard?" asked Marion the Librarian.

"Not at all."

"That brings us back to my question," Bob Loons persisted. "Should Christian students ..."

"... choose only Christian schools. In my humble opinion, no. It depends."

"I thought you said you wouldn't dodge the question," said a beefy guy who looked like a Marine sergeant. "Now you wimp out and say 'it depends.'"

I laughed. "I'm not dodging the question. You just don't like my answer."

"Maybe I don't get what it is."

"I haven't explained it yet."

"Then why don't you?"

"OK!" I answered. "When you're selecting a school, there are several things to consider. One is your mission in life — what some people call your 'vocation' or 'apostolate.' Another is your stage of maturity. Then there are all sorts of special considerations that don't fit into a single category."


"When you're selecting a school, there are several things to consider. One is your mission in life — what some people call your 'vocation' or 'apostolate.' Another is your stage of maturity. Then there are all sorts of special considerations that don't fit into a single category."


"Start with mission," he said.

"All right. God has equipped us all with different gifts to glorify Him in different ways. I'm sure you've heard that before — it's one of St. Paul's favorite themes. What I mean by mission is how you can best glorify God.1

Earl Gray broke in again — the fellow who'd said he wasn't interested in college. " Mission — isn't that just for ministers and people like that?"

"It's for everyone," I said. "You said you wanted to fix cars, right?"

"Yes."

"Then be a skillful and honest mechanic, and glorify God that way."

"I never thought I could glorify God with a socket wrench."

"Then this is a good time to start!" I turned back to the beefy guy. "But I was talking about how God had equipped us with different gifts. Let's return to that. Of course we're not meant to be different in every respect. For example we should all cultivate the virtues — we should all strive for wisdom, justice, fortitude, courage, faith, hope, and love. But it isn't necessary that we all have the same aptitudes or personality endowments. Is everyone with me?"

"Yeah, yeah," he said. "Get to the point."

"Consider three cases. Case one. After long and prayerful consideration of your own gifts, you conclude that God would be most pleased if you went into law enforcement. Suppose the best place to study your field happened to be a secular school. I don't know that it would be; we're just supposing. In that case, all other things being equal, you should probably go there."

"I follow."

"Case two. You're called into ordained ministry. It would be pretty silly to seek the necessary training at a non-Christian institution, wouldn't it?"

Of course we're not meant to be different in every respect. For example we should all cultivate the virtues — we should all strive for wisdom, justice, fortitude, courage, faith, hope, and love. But it isn't necessary that we all have the same aptitudes or personality endowments.

"Yeah."


"Suppose you conclude that your own way to glorify God involves consciously engaging the secular culture — talking with secular thinkers and culture-shapers, but challenging their secular assumptions. Then it makes sense that at least part of your training would have to be at a secular institution, where you could be credentialized in the eyes of the secular world, doesn't it? "


"One more case. Suppose you conclude that your own way to glorify God involves consciously engaging the secular culture — talking with secular thinkers and culture-shapers, but challenging their secular assumptions. Then it makes sense that at least part of your training would have to be at a secular institution, where you could be credentialized in the eyes of the secular world, doesn't it? But part of it might also be at a Christian school. In a case like this, it would be smart to talk with someone who actually does the kind of work that you hope to do some day, and see what he advises."

Marion the Librarian said, "You mentioned another thing to consider — stage of maturity. What has maturity got to do with choosing between a secular and college?"

"Quite a lot," I told her. Depending on how mature you are and how knowledgeable you are about your faith, there may be certain kinds of shocks you're not yet ready for. You may need a Christian school that will help you along. On the other hand, if you are ready for them, there are some kinds of challenges that it may be chicken-hearted to avoid. But perhaps 'stage of maturity' was the wrong expression."

"Why?"

"Because it's too narrow. Let's say 'stage of discernment' instead."

"I don't follow."

"What I mean is that is that even mature people don't always know what they ought to be doing with their lives. Perhaps they don't understand their own gifts. Or perhaps they do understand them, but don't yet know what use God might make of them. Perhaps they just need more time to pray. For one reason or another, they just aren't ready to make a decision. If you're in that position, it might be a good reason to go to a strong Christian liberal arts college where you can find out."

Earl's sister, the college sophomore, raised a tentative hand. "Besides mission and stage of discernment, you said there were other considerations that you said you couldn't fit into a single category. What did you mean?"

"A married man chooses a nearby school over a far-away one because he doesn't want to uproot his young family. A young woman chooses a secular school over a Christian one because the former school offers her a scholarship and she hasn't enough money to go to college otherwise. An officer in the armed services chooses a particular school because the Army is willing to pay for him to go there. That's all I meant, Bob. There is nothing contemptible about reasons like these. They may even be decisive. We just have to resist from foolish motives, like choosing Yah Yah University because it has a reputation as a party school."

"I thought it would be more complicated."

I smiled. "Nothing mysterious."

Bob Loons harrumphed again. I turned in his direction. "Professor Theophilus," he said formally, "allow me to exercise my powers as Master of Ceremonies at this little event."

"You may fire when ready, Professor Loons." I knew what he meant by "exercising his powers as Master of Ceremonies." My time was almost up. He was trying to provide an opportunity to wind things up. I appreciate it; when someone else is the speaker and I'm the M.C., I do the same thing.

"I seem," he said, "to detect a certain difference between the advice you give and the advice that other people give. Would you care to comment?"

"What difference do you find?"


"Christ doesn't want us to fit Him into our plans," I said, "He wants to fit us into His. He doesn't want a place in our lives. He wants them all. St. Paul wrote, 'For me to live is Christ.' I take that literally."


"I should think it would be obvious. Others bid students to find places in their lives for friendship, learning, music and so forth — but you say 'Don't forget to find a place in your life for Christ.' Others bid those preparing for college to be well-balanced and spend some time in class, some in the library, some in extra-curricular activities and so forth — but you say 'Don't forget to spend some of your time with Christ.' Others bid those already in college to make places in their plans for their future major, for your future sweetheart, for your future job and so forth — then I say 'Don't forget to find a place in your plans for Christ.' Am I right?"

"No."

"No?" Bob was disconcerted. That wasn't according to script. It's difficult to catch him off guard, and I confess that I enjoyed it.

"No. That's not at all what I was trying to say. Jesus Christ doesn't want a place in your life. He doesn't want you to fit Him into your plans."

He cleared his throat again. Twice.

"Christ doesn't want us to fit Him into our plans," I said, "He wants to fit us into His. He doesn't want a place in our lives. He wants them all. St. Paul wrote, 'For me to live is Christ.'2 I take that literally."

I paused. "I think that's all I have to say."

After the group finished its applause, Bob turned off the microphone, smiled wryly, and spoke in my ear.

"Theophilus, you scoundrel," he said, "you knew that's what I meant."



Notes:

  1. See Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-31, and Ephesians 4:11-16.
  2. Philippians 1:21. In its entirety, the verse reads, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (RSV).



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Professor Theophilus (aka J. Budziszewski). "Freshman Orientation - part 2." TruU.org (August 8, 2007).

See Freshman Orientation - part 1 here.

TrueU.org is a community for college students who want to know and confidently discuss the Christian worldview. It is an apostolate of Focus on the Family.

Reprinted with permission of J. Budziszewski.

THE AUTHOR

J. Budziszewski (Boojee-shefski) earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1981. He teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, in the Departments of Government and Philosophy where he specializes in the relations among ethical theory, political theory, and Christian theology. The focus of his current research is natural law and moral self deception. J. Budziszewski is a former atheist, former political radical, former shipyard welder, and former lots of other things, including former young and former thin. He's been married for more than thirty years to his high school sweetheart, Sandra, and has two daughters. He loves teaching. He says he also loves contemporary music, but it turns out that he means "the contemporaries of Johann Sebastian Bach." He deserted his faith during college but returned to Christ a dozen years later and entered the Catholic Church at Easter 2004. Among a number of other books, he is the author of Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students, How to Stay Christian in College, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man, and Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. J. Budziszewski is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 J. Budziszewski




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