THE VOICE

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Seriously Christian education

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

What you need to get across to people is that you take your Christian identity seriously. Itís not just a label with you. You folks actually mean it.Ē

I was talking on the phone with some of Dordt Collegeís marketing consultants. They were, we believed, some of the best in the business and had extensive experience working with colleges and universities across the continent. As a professional organization, they were happy to develop a promotion plan for any client, trumpeting whatever identity that organization happened to profess. But the leaders of this firm believe that we have to do a better job of highlightingóin terms others can understandóthe core characteristic that they realize distinguishes our college.

Their message to me was simple and direct: Dordt College doesnít recognize how unusual it is to be a seriously Christian college in a sea of universities and colleges that are content to have a Christian heritage somewhere in their past. And, these consultants continued, sometimes Dordt College actually obscures that distinctiveness with language that only is understood by those who agree with us already.

Iím not sure I fully agree. I think that some distinctive language is essential to having a distinctive identity. And yet I also think these external advisors did recognize that the biggest cultural question today is not how serious Christians differ from each other. The real question is how you discern who the serious Christians are.

That certainly is the case when it comes to education.

Iím always a little disappointed about how many serious Christian believers donít seem to realize how blatantly anti-Christian much of higher education has become.

Not long ago a friend who serves as president of a Reformed Christian college told me that he had addressed the issue bluntly. While speaking to high school students, he had pointed out that the real choice facing Christian teenagers as they made their college choice was whether they were going to choose a Christian college or a pagan school. As he described it to these prospective college students, there really is no neutral middle ground. Either you go with God or you cast your lot with the pagan ideologies of our day. Itís one or the other.

I agree with my friend. He then went on to describe the intense negative reaction that speech had stimulated. He was immediately accused of breaking the conventions of polite discourse. It seems that in our current cultural setting, we donít want to be quite that forthright. We prefer shades of gray to issues of black and white. And so to draw the stark antithetical contrast between pagan and Christian education was, to many in his audience, a little too much to handle.

My friend at one time had been a tenured professor in a pagan university and so perhaps he figured that, based on his own experience, he could be so bold. Iím usually a little more modest and restrict myself to simply raising the question as to how seriously you take your Christian faith when you think about education. Yet it appears to me that if you really are a serious Christian then you want to find a college or university that takes your faith commitment seriously as you carry out your studies.

There is a legitimate caution to be raised: I think those of us who are committed to seriously Christian education have to ensure that the education we pursue is serious education as well. If we donít take the educational dimension of our task as seriously as the faith environment of our campus, then we donít deserve to be taken seriously either.

In the end, I suppose thatís what our marketing consultants were trying to get across to us. In their view, there are a lot of serious Christians heading for college. Our task is to let them know that Dordt College is a seriously Christian educational institution where they can be seriously Christian students, too.