Scripture makes clear that God places a high value on knowledge, wisdom, and understanding—and by implication, the education necessary to obtaining it. Proverbs chapter 4 says, “Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding … Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” The Bible goes on to prescribe understanding as a protection against sin: “The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. She sits at the door of her house … calling out to those who pass by … ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ … But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave”(Proverbs 9:13–18).
God has made mankind in His image, meaning we are endowed with certain attributes that are characteristic of God, such as creativity, compassion, love, and so on. God has also endowed us with intellect. In other words, God has given us the ability to reason and think. It is the mind that is designed to rule the flesh; it is reason informed by biblical revelation that should guide our passions. However, our minds were born corrupt and are therefore also in need of redemption or renewal (see Romans 12:1–2). This involves education, and there is not a secular and sacred distinction. All education on every subject can be reasonably framed and rationally understood within a comprehensive theological framework.
Earlier in our nation’s history, it was the Christian life and worldview that dominated social and cultural life—almost every aspect of American life and culture was shaped by the Christian worldview. Christian values and principles formed the social and moral consensus and the institutions of culture were largely led by Christians. This was due, in large part, to the educational system of their day, which was rooted in the Christian interpretation of reality.
Every university established within the first century of American independence was done so by the various Protestant denominations or Catholic Church. This commitment to intellectualism, scholarship, and academia was a fundamental part of the church’s mission. This was not an unintentional act by a culture that just happened to be religious. That generation of Christians understood and fulfilled the biblical mandate to exercise dominion, to advance the kingdom of God, and to be salt and light, and thus they did so with intellectually responsible effort. They understood that Christians had a duty in a literate world to be among the intellectual elite and that by being educated they would, in turn, shape the culture and show forth the kingdom of God.
Contrast that with the state of the American church today. Not only have we surrendered virtually every culture-shaping institution, we have essentially abandoned this once-held commitment to developing the Christian mind. As I have written previously, numerous studies reveal astonishing levels of biblical and theological ignorance.
Therefore, the degradation of American culture that has taken place over the last fifty years shouldn’t surprise us. This is the natural consequence of a culture in which the biblical view of life and reality—rooted in the redemptive mission of God—has been replaced by alternative systems of human thought, interpretations of reality that are rooted in the redemptive efforts of man.
As a member of the graduating class of 2009, the vast majority of your peers are intellectually ill equipped to defend—much less commend—the faith against the intellectual, moral, and spiritual assault now common to the university. Most will abandon the faith; others will stumble and fall into destructive sin; and for many their faith will simply become irrelevant. According to one study by Josh McDowell, only one in seven kids from evangelical homes will return from college with their faith intact. No organization can survive this kind of attrition.
With the loss of Christian influence within our culture-forming institutions over the last century, there has been a fundamental shift in this nation’s public philosophy. Every aspect of public life and culture has been thoroughly and almost completely secularized. This is the world into which you now go. It is a world in which the whole current of the age is arranged against those who, today, bear the name Christian.
This may sound like a bleak and foreboding future. However, it is the present reality. Nonetheless, Christians throughout the ages have faced far more difficult circumstances. These “thinking” Christians, with fearless fortitude and intellectual commitment, bore witness to the in-breaking reign of God (i.e., the gospel) producing great social and cultural change. This is the task that now falls to you!
You stand upon the precipice of adult independence—preparing to cross over the Jordan, as it were, to take possession of the land. For those who plan to continue their formal education, I would say this: determine now what the purpose of what your education will be. You can, like the world, pursue education as merely a means to an end—in other words: a job. However, this is a shallow purpose, which tends to reduce the object of life to acquiring personal peace through financial security. Thus one’s education becomes merely a means to one’s own ends.
However, the goal of learning, wrote the great Christian poet Milton, “is to repair the ruins of our first parents.” I challenge you to make this your goal as you pursue higher education. Use this time to gain wisdom, to better understand the culture in which you live, and form a consciously Christian understanding of life and reality so that you may serve God’s redemptive purposes in the world.
I would also challenge you to pursue Christ with reckless abandon—risk your whole life on the reality of eternity! Take no small steps in service to the King, but bold strides that challenge the world’s careless and casual dismissal of her Lord and Savior. Whatever direction your studies may take you, whatever career you may assume—whether it be education, politics, the law, science, technology, media, the fine arts, or business—pursue these areas as one who is on mission to incorporate these spheres into God’s kingdom.
These words from Deuteronomy (chapter 30, verses 15–18, ESV) seem appropriate on this momentous occasion in your lives:
I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to take possession of it.
But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, [the Lord says] I declare to you today, that you will surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to posses.
Graduating class of 2009, I challenge you! Take possession of the land you are about to enter and claim it in the name of Christ, for His glory and His Kingdom.
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.