Crosscurrents of exchange with the non-Christian world will help Christian colleges more effectively perform their tasks
Christian colleges have generally kept their students roped away from the dangers—real and imaginary—of the outside world. Yet Christ, speaking to his Father about believers, says that although they are not of the world (John 17:16) they are in the world (17:11), that they have been sent into the world (17:18), and that they are not to remove themselves from the world (17:15).
Almost by definition, Christian colleges tend to create barriers between those on the inside and those not. Despite a few channels to the outside, such as Christian service programs, intercollegiate competitions, and incidental daily contacts, there is too little real integration of Christian students with the world beyond the campus. The only world they know is the “Christian” world within campus boundaries.
As a result, many Christian colleges that aim to turn out leaders who will win the world to Christ tend to produce Christian isolationists. These men and women live out their days as much as possible in Christian surroundings—the evangelical church, Christian business associates, and Bible-conference vacations, and in time the Christian retirement community. Many of these graduates make comparatively little impact on the outside world because they are not really involved in it.
How can this be changed? How can Christian colleges begin to produce articulate and outgoing Christians able to live dynamically in a non-Christian environment?
The answer is that involvement with the outside world must become one of the goals of the Christian school. This requires a joint effort by administration and students; neither can do the job by itself. But working together they can transform the evangelical college from a mere “religious” school into a driving force for Christ, for a new community, and for a new world.
Positive steps must be taken to ventilate Christian campuses with winds from the non-Christian world. But at this point a word of caution must be said. Stepping outside traditional isolationism must in no way lead to watering clown the theological convictions of a school established in the name of Christ and determined to maintain a pure witness. On the contrary, the goal is to maintain the doctrinally pure witness of the college and put it out where the world can see it.
Yet there must be no confusion between purity of witness and certain rules of conduct. Opening wide the Christian campus will make the Good News travel farther and hit harder, but it may also bring archaic and arbitrary rules of personal conduct under increasing fire. Such mental gymnastics as distinguishing between plot and non-plot Cinerama to decide whether students may attend will perhaps be re-evaluated.
One obvious step toward leading the Christian college out of its isolationism is to expand existing contacts with non-Christian schools. Here the athletic program can be of great help. Many Christian colleges have already made a beginning in arranging social gatherings with visiting students after games. Concerts, art exhibits, colloquiums, and lectures—especially on non-religious themes—provide other opportunities to attract outside college students. Perhaps invitations to worthy efforts in these “secular” areas of liberal arts education would gain a greater response than invitations limited to evangelistic services at the college chapel, important though the latter are. The invitations should be sent to neighboring academic communities, using personal contacts wherever possible.
It may well be that nearby secular colleges and universities offer many more opportunities to hear notable speakers and performing artists than the Christian college. This opens the door wider for Christian students to visit and to get to know students there.
Both the administration of the Christian college and its student government can do much to encourage these efforts. Transportation can be arranged; perhaps student ticket prices or admission preferences might be offered by the neighboring school. This could lead to other openings for friendly involvement, among faculty members, for example, or student council officers. Interschool discussions might often be a natural follow-up.
Once the goal is determined of promoting contacts between the secular and the Christian campuses, there are many means to consider. Student activities at the Christian college usually range from pre-med clubs to intramural ping-pong tournaments. Practically all of them (with the possible exception of distinctively Christian organizations like missions fellowships and pre-seminary groups) can become stepping stones to associations with nearby secular schools. For athletic groups, an inter-school field day might be followed by a picnic; a foreign-language club might invite the corresponding club on the secular campus to a special meeting or dinner.
The Christian colleges and Christian student bodies must take the initiative. And they must be prepared for skeptical observation and comment. Chances are, however, that friendship will be met by friendship and openness by openness, and that explanations of school policy and personal belief will be respectfully received.
There is also a longer-range aspect of cultural integration of Christian schools. This would include such projects as making the campus available to groups that are not specifically Christian, such as the Peace Corps, National Student Association, and responsible civil rights organizations.
Another possibility is an educational plan that has become widely popular—the year of undergraduate study overseas. Many universities have established branch campuses in other countries, while others encourage their students to participate in such programs as the Junior Year Abroad.
Perhaps this plan might find a modification in this country. How about the Junior Year in the State University? Most Christian colleges are relatively small and many secular schools large; both have their recognized advantages and drawbacks.
Take a typical sophomore in a Christian college. He may have floundered in his freshman year, but by now he has declared a major and has completed perhaps a third of his required courses. In many academic fields he would find it very valuable to spend the next year in a large university. There he could get courses not offered on his own campus. He would probably have access to elaborate equipment no small school can afford. And he might even find the contrast in atmosphere to be an added stimulus to study.
Most of all, he might come back to his senior year in the Christian school knowing what life is like in a non-Christian student world. He should have gained—unless he hibernated all year—an acquaintance with fraternities and sororities; some encounter with practicing agnostics and atheists, cynical professors, and an impersonal administration; and an impression of hard drinking and easy sex, wholesale cheating, and left-or right-wing agitating.
Dangerous? Of course! Like tentmaking in Corinth, or public speaking in Athens. But consider the benefits: One would be the new life coursing through struggling Christian student groups at the university. And then, the following year, the memory of that experience might well serve to fire the vision and concern of the complacent back on the Christian campus.
But sending students from Christian schools into the universities is only half the picture. Might it not be possible to attract some secular students to a Christian college for a year? Perhaps some imaginative Christian educator could approach university officials about publicizing a year, or a semester, in a small Christian college.
True, the appeal would be different. But surely the “Christian atmosphere” is not the only advantage over secular universities. There are also the warmth and friendliness of the small college campus, where students are names rather than numbers; classes that are generally small and an open door to every professor’s office; the small college community’s friendly meals and homey traditions in which all students participate.
The administration of the Christian college needs to offer encouragement and help in the short-range steps to involvement with the outside world. And for longer-range plans, it must take the lead. In a semester or annual student-exchange program, careful planning would be needed to facilitate transfer procedures, to prearrange housing, perhaps even to find part-time jobs (on campus, if possible). An orientation program would be helpful, preferably matching outstanding Christian students with exchange partners of similar interests.
A strategic part of the work of Jesus Christ in the world today is carried on by college-educated Christians. A great number of them graduated from Christian colleges. But besides the Christian-college alumni on the firing line, there are many others who hardly know there is a war on. Or if they do know it, their participation is limited to designating a tax-deductible fraction of their surplus on a check and sending it off in a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope.
This must be changed. We cannot afford to have a large part of the Lord’s army only mildly interested in what is going on at the front.
Yet what can we expect when much of their basic training was so unrealistic? The first thing we did to these young recruits was isolate them—and this lasted all the way through until D-Day! No wonder many of them stumbled under fire, then gradually slipped off to the sidelines. We gave them spiritual weapons during basic training and lots of theory about the enemy, but seldom any training exercises, seldom any simulated battle conditions, seldom any personal contact with those back from the fighting. During four years they became well adjusted to an artificially warless world and learned the difficult skill of assimilating heart-stirring battle reports without getting personally involved. They could not get involved; the system did not permit it. No wonder we are losing the war.
Involvement in the outside world will not solve all the problems of Christian colleges. But it will increase their effectiveness for Jesus Christ. These colleges need to remain thoroughly Christian; but they need to be involved with the world, too. The cross currents of exchange with the non-Christian world will help Christian colleges more effectively perform their task of training Christian leaders to go out and move a non-Christian world towards its Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
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