“Why do we think like we do?” My colleague Dave Baer and I asked this question time and again during our years teaching together overseas. We both attended the same Christian college, although years apart. Yet we recognized how the school had sown within us a body of knowledge and ways of thinking that became a deep well we drew from day after day in our life and labors.
Investment and Returns
Dave and I made large investments of time, energy, and finances to complete our Christian college education. The dividends have paid out through our lives, outstripping anything we could have imagined when we first stepped into a college class.
By the Numbers
We found ways to cover the costs of our education through work, family support, and financial aid. Our investments and seemed large but were small in comparison to the financial dividends over time. The financial benefits of holding a college degree are well documented. The College Board published its “Education Pays 2019” report which showed how those with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, nearly $25,000 per year over those with only a high school diploma. People who complete a master’s degree average a whopping $40,000 more per year more than those who stop at high school. The report also showed that people with a BA were more likely to enjoy a retirement plan and health insurance provided through their employer. Not a bad return on investment!
Lifelong Fearless Learning
The cost/benefit analysis goes far beyond finances. We studied in a Christian liberal arts college that taught us how to drill down into any subject to gain understanding and even mastery. We were exposed to a variety of subjects from literature and history to the sciences and theology. Sometimes I signed up for a required course almost kicking and screaming, only to discover unexpected wonders and joys.
Profs pushed us to think critically about each subject. Our education turned us into fearless learners, ready to take on whatever new challenges life threw our way. A college education is not simply learning a bunch of data points nor providing technical training for a particular job. It’s about becoming life-long learners who can explore and adapt to any new situation. The late professor Arthur Holmes framed it this way: “The question to ask about education is not ‘What can I do with it?’ … The right question is rather ‘What can it do to me?’” (The Idea of a Christian College)
Broad Horizons and Close Community
A Christian college education pays out beyond good jobs and higher salaries. Samantha Spann, a graduated of Trinity International University-Florida and a kindergarten teacher and director of a program for kids with special needs, testifies that “As a person, it makes you more well-rounded. When you’re in a class with people of different views, it really challenges you and your way of thinking. It opened my eyes to other perspectives and prepared me to work in a real-life field with people who have different views, and still be loving and fellowship with each other.” Higher education opens new horizons and prepares us to live and work together in community.
Integration of Faith and Learning
Christian higher education adds yet another enormous value. We explore together how the gospel of Jesus Christ relates to every area of life and how various subjects offer insights into our faith. Some of the most profound lessons in theology came through a course I took on Victorian poetry! In a Christian college or university, we study psychology and integrate what Scripture says about human nature and flourishing. Faith integration is not simply about saying a prayer before class but studying within a Christian framework (some say “worldview”) as we fully explore and value what each area of study offers us.
Eddie Copeland of Church United, another Trinity grad, said it well: “My education at Christian institutions rooted me in Scripture, which we so need to navigate today’s culture. Things are changing so quickly that it’s easy to get swayed and follow along. We need to not be afraid of culture. Having professors with a wholistic worldview, a biblical framework, and a liberal arts perspective is so valuable – I’m shocked to see how much I use my degree every week.”
Christian higher education begins with the recognition that God is the Creator of all things and Jesus Christ is Lord of all. God is the source of all truth, so we affirm with St. Augustine that “All truth is God’s truth.” There is no domain independent of God. Throughout our education we discover the wonders of God or, as Johann Kepler remarked, we begin “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Solid Christian higher education becomes an act of worship as we discover the wonder-filled dimensions of God’s glorious handiwork. It’s a spiritual journey.
Transformation of the World for Christ
Pastor and mental health counselor Jose Fontanez makes one of the boldest statements I’ve read about Christian higher education: “The return on investment of a [Christian college] education is 100%. How can it not be? The acquired knowledge prepares you to be a vessel that transforms the world for Christ. Our investment is secured by the One who called us.” This is how Fontanez views his education from Trinity International University-Florida.
Our calling is to bring the good news of God to a broken and confused world which is desperate for healing and transformation. In concrete ways, Christian higher education prepares us to respond to the Lord’s call through Jeremiah, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:7). It’s about knowing and doing, faith and praxis, learning and serving, as we become God’s agents of change in the world.
What’s Christian higher education all about? I’d sum it up this way: We learn because we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Dr. Gene L. Green is the Dean of Trinity International University – Florida. Visit them at tiu.edu/florida
Read last month’s article by Dr. Gene L. Green at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/reading-the-word-of-life/