Don’t Waste Your College Life

This week the blog is sponsored by Bethlehem College & Seminary where John Piper is Chancellor. Learn more, then take the 30 seconds required to either start an application or refer a student.

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“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

Bethlehem College & Seminary exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ by equipping men and women to treasure Christ above all things, to grow in wisdom and knowledge over a lifetime, and to glorify God in every sphere of life. This institutional vision means our philosophy of education is designed to shape a certain kind of person for a lifetime, not merely offer technical, professional, or career training.

One way to express the vision for the college is this: We seek to educate students who graduate as mature adults who are ready to witness for Christ with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives. Or, to put it another way, the aim of our college is Christian discipleship, the formation of mature Christian adults through rigorous study of the Great Books, in the light of the Greatest Book, for the sake of the Great Commission. This document endeavors to clarify this vision of education.

Forming Mature Christian Adults

We begin with the notion of maturity. In an age of extended adolescence, our goal is not to entertain boys and girls but to establish stable men and women in the faith through challenge. Generally speaking, many incoming undergraduate students at Bethlehem College & Seminary have a good grounding in Christian belief and practice. While they are by no means perfect in either, most of them come from good Christian homes and churches that have grounded them in the faith before they arrive at our doors. Thus, our college students tend to have assumptions about Christian belief and practice with which we largely, if not completely, agree.

What then do they gain from their Bethlehem education? One of the effects of our curriculum on students is to strengthen many of their (good and biblical) assumptions by subjecting them to stress-testing. The effect of exposing students to alternative perspectives and challenging them to think through difficult questions is to build resiliency in their faith. In most universities, such challenges often come with the goal of undermining or overthrowing these beliefs and assumptions. But at Bethlehem, our goal is to strengthen, solidify, and (sometimes) correct these assumptions, beliefs, and practices. Strengthening a student’s faith requires subjecting them to a process of engagement with authors and texts that articulate beliefs and ideas that differ from their own. This process, while often uncomfortable and difficult for the students, is good for them and the solidity of their Christian convictions. A biblically-grounded, missions-minded, liberal arts education forces them to think about why they believe what they believe, compels them to explore the deeper reasons for their faith, and shapes their overall orientation to the world.

While such education has value in enabling students to commend the faith to others, the first aim of the education is neither apologetic nor evangelistic but formative and personal. We want our students to be real Christians, all the way down. To use Owen Barfield’s description of C. S. Lewis, we want them to be “thoroughly converted.” The contemporary world poses significant intellectual, moral, and affectional challenges for Christians. Standing firm in the evil day demands deep Christian convictions that have been tested and tried through broad exposure to the rigors and weight of a liberal arts education in a global context and led by wise and faithful professors who care about the outcome of our students’ faith.

But the aim of our education is not merely defensive; it also seeks to broaden the mind, enlarge the heart, and enrich the soul of the student. We want students to lean into Reality, to have eyes wide open in wonder at the world that God has made and that man has cultivated and adorned. A biblically-grounded, missions-minded, liberal arts education helps students to grow in wisdom, attuning them to Reality, so that they are ready and equipped to walk wisely and joyfully in the world.

Rooted in the Scriptures

The entire education is oriented and framed by our commitment to the authority, inspiration, sufficiency, and inerrancy of the Bible. At Bethlehem College & Seminary, theology is still the queen of the sciences. As a result, we aim to equip students with the tools necessary to study the Scriptures for themselves in conversation with the best theological minds that God has given to the church throughout the ages and throughout the world. In order to lay a firm foundation in the Scriptures, our programs offer extensive instruction in biblical exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology. What’s more, we don’t merely seek to give the students the tools to study the Bible; we aim to impart to them a deep love and delight in the word of God.

Our programs are designed to lead our students to exclaim, “O how I love your law!” so that they discover the Scriptures to be more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. We are not content to merely instruct the mind and awaken the affections; the Scriptures are meant to be obeyed and practiced. All of our biblical and theological studies are practical and aims at the transformation of the whole person for the sake of Christ’s church, so that our students present their bodies as living sacrifices, renew their minds in conformity to the will of God, and recognize their place in the body of Christ.

Enriched by the Humanities

Our vision for education includes a strong emphasis on the Great Books—works of history, literature, philosophy, and theology that have stood the test of time and resonate with human beings through the ages and around the world. This Christian liberal arts education is a humane education; that is, it trains the student in ways of being human, so that they grasp the tendencies, trajectories, and boundaries of our created nature; so that they are aware of the distortions, corruptions, and temptations of our fallen nature; and so that they glory in the gospel-grounded hope of our redeemed nature. Our commitment to the humanities is grounded in the biblical witness that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3), that all of creation reveals the glory of God (Psalm 19), and that human culture, despite its fallenness, is still a repository of wisdom and insight that can be wisely used by the saints to enrich our faith. As such, we stand in the tradition of Augustine, who urged Christians to plunder the Egyptians of their wealth in order to build a house for God’s name.

Passionate for God’s Global Purposes in Christ

In our vision of education, we are not content to merely study the Great Books and the Greatest Book. Instead, because of our commitment to the Scriptures and to the Great Books, we are propelled outward on a mission in God’s world. We believe that the rigor of our undergraduate education is ideal preparation for a variety of vocations—from psychology and counseling to law and business, from homemaking and journalism to pastoral ministry and Christian service.

But at Bethlehem, our vision of education places a distinct emphasis and priority on the global mission of the church to cross cultures and bring the good news of Christ’s kingdom to the unreached and unengaged peoples of the world. Thus, the backbone of our curriculum is the conviction that all of history is redemptive history. As such, our study of the Bible accents the missiological thrust of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation as God fulfills his purpose to gather people from every nation, tribe, and tongue into his church. Our study of the Great Books recognizes the rigor and richness of the Western tradition, precisely because of the great diversity of cultures and perspectives represented within it, as well as the wealth of wisdom to be mined in Great Books beyond the West.

Moreover, because of our desire to produce missions-minded, world Christians, our course of study includes instruction in the history of missions, world religions, and cultural anthropology. At Bethlehem, we believe that education is not fully Christian if it does not impart to the student God’s passion for his global glory among all nations. The Great Commission, with its mandate to disciple the nations of the world by baptizing them in the triune name and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded, is a central thread in the fabric of the education that we offer at Bethlehem College & Seminary.

Conclusion

At Bethlehem, we aim to educate students who graduate as mature adults who are rooted in the Scriptures, enriched by the humanities, and passionate for God’s global purposes in Christ. We want every student who graduates to be a biblically-grounded Christian, a humanely educated Christian, and a world Christian. We believe that such an education is not only good for the individual student but is also profoundly fruitful in the home, the church, and the world. A biblically-grounded, missions-minded, liberal arts education aims to produce stable, godly men and stable, godly women who will then form stable, godly households, which then form the backbone of earthly societies.

Our education endeavors to serve the body of Christ by creating healthy, committed church members; by filling the ranks of lay leadership in the church with biblically-grounded, big-hearted, and globally-minded men and women; and by being an ideal preparatory step on the path of those called to pastoral ministry. Finally, our education is designed to produce creative lifelong learners who seek to honor Christ and love people in a great variety of vocations in the world, as well as to be the training ground and launching pad for hundreds of missionaries who endeavor to gladly lay down their lives to take the gospel where Christ is not yet named.