Spiritual euphoria, not doctrine, interests students.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

John Milton, Areopagitica

The unrest that rocked the nation in 1968 also rustled the ivy on Christian campuses. Sometimes in slow-motion and with lower volume, evangelical collegians often function like delayed, videotape replays of their peers at secular campuses. This is true despite the long-standing caricature of Christian students as members of a monastic subculture. But that stereotype wasn’t completely true forty to fifty years ago when radios were banned in Christian college dormitories and classroom and dining halls had sexually segregated seating arrangements. In talking to Christian college administrators, students, and alumni last summer, I noted the following similarities between students on the evangelical campus and their peers on secular campuses.


During the last fifteen years, students at Christian colleges have been part of a nationwide slide in academic skills. J. Edward Hakes, vice-president and dean of the faculty at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois, says, “Students tend to be less prepared in the basics as a result of their secondary school. They have difficulty in writing a correct sentence and paragraph.” A decrease in the Christian collegian’s ability to think logically has been observed by Dr. C. Fred Dickason, chairman of the theology department at Moody Bible Institute. But at many evangelical colleges, the drop in the Scholastic Aptitude Test and other national standardized test scores was not as steep as the national norms.

A few Christian college administrators think that their students are harder to motivate today than ten years ago. David McKenna, president of Seattle Pacific University, observes that “students don’t seem to be uncomfortable in the presence of big ideas. There’s a tendency to be uncritical.” At Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, George Brushaber is concerned about the students’ historical parochialism. “They don’t have much recognition of the traditions of history from which they come—no sense of the historical church,” he says. On the positive side, Hakes sees evangelical students coming to college with a broader academic spectrum than a decade ago: “They’re taking courses in psychology, sociology, and philosophy that were largely absent from high school curriculum ten years ago.”

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Students at evangelical schools think they are serious about their studies, reflecting a similar returning-to-the-tomes trend on most secular campuses. Steve Wells, sophomore at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, says, “Most of the kids come here to study. Even those who want to mess around respect those who are serious.”

A 1978 Wheaton College graduate, Patricia Bullmore, sees the seriousness stemming from two motivations: stiff requirements for graduate school admission and the desire to get an excellent educational experience. Although previous training and attitudes may be as poor as their former high school classmates, Christian students are taking seriously the stewardship responsibility inherent in a costly undergraduate education.


Even preceding the schismatic 60s, Christian collegians have questioned, rejected, or ignored conduct codes. By the end of the 60s, most state schools had stopped any attempt to be in loco parentis. Brigham Young University is probably the only major university in the United States that continues to enforce a conduct standard. (The BYU code gives specific regulations regarding skirt lengths, general grooming standards, and prohibitions that include the consumption of coffee and tea, as well as alcoholic beverages and drug usage.) A 1969 report for the Center for the Study of Evaluation at UCLA summed up the role of parent for secular school: “The notion of in loco parentis—the institution as a substitute parent—is giving way to demands that students be treated as responsible adults who need not answer to the institution for their actions outside the classroom.”

Alumni of Christian colleges who were in school in the late 60s estimate that 30 per cent to 60 per cent of their classmates violated the conduct codes, particularly the ban against movies. Most of the code violators apparently did not flaunt their actions in front of their peers. A Christian college paper contained an editorial typifying student reaction to unexplained rules.

The student, faced with a seemingly unending list of rules, cannot hope to keep them all. People take more than one dessert. People play cards with traditional decks. People cut across the grass. People break the dress code. Every student breaks one rule or another.

“And in breaking one rule, he learns to live with himself having broken that rule; so he learns the difference between an unbreakable set of laws and laws as they are enforced. Misdemeanors that used to bother him, bother him no more.”

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The 60s evangelical collegian frequently complained that he wasn’t trusted. Strict codes made evangelical students feel that they weren’t respected enough to make basic life style decisions on their own. As a direct result of the questioning and turmoil of the 1968–1970 period, several Christian colleges now have involved students in the rewriting of conduct codes and have invited them to join faculty committees and meetings.

A small percentage of students showed their disdain of Christian values by using profanity, attending X-rated films (the rating code was introduced in 1968), and bringing skin magazines into the dorms. The late Paul Little, assistant to the president of Inter-Varsity, commented that as he visited Christian college campuses in the late 60s, he found more Playboy and similar magazines in dormitory lounges than he did Christian periodicals.

A factor that contributed to the students’ frustration and questioning about the code in Christian colleges was the conflicting opinions they received from deans and faculty. A dean would approve a movie and another would forbid it. One would state that the pledge applied from matriculation to commencement while another dean would interpret the code as applying only when the student was on campus. Many faculty members thought that it was not their responsibility to counsel students on such matters or police the students’ adherence to the pledge.

In some schools in the late 60s, the code was strictly enforced for the first two or three weeks and then largely ignored for the rest of the academic year, except for flagrant violations. This inconsistency confused conscientious students who didn’t know how seriously the school felt about its code.

A 1974 survey of the alumni of Moody Bible Institute (1945–1971) showed that these graduates retained elements of the MBI code that had the strongest biblical foundation. These were items dealing with Christian witnessing, daily prayer, Bible reading, and church membership and attendance.


Since 1968, probably the strongest similarity between secular and Christian campuses has been student activism. Evangelical student leaders, at least, were well aware of the Viet Nam War and the social issues of 1968. They expressed their views, mostly antiwar and prominority rights, in student newspapers and yearbooks and in the formation of antiwar protest organizations and public forums. On some Christian campuses ROTC programs and participants were picketed and occasionally pelted with over-ripe vegetation.

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Some Christian colleges prohibited any form of protest or questioning of national or campus policy. Quite predictably, this bottling up of student opinion led to the planning and the occasional production of underground papers and radio stations. These became forums for students to say what they really thought about such topics as irrelevant chapels, insensitive deans, unrealistic schedules, social policies, unappetizing food, bedbugs, or Viet Nam.

The Christian college student sometimes viewed the school administrators as inaccessible or unapproachable. Certain school presidents and deans tried to smash this stereotype by hosting question-and-answer chapels, writing guest columns in student publications, appearing on student talk shows, holding special open forums, and eating regularly with the students in the dining hall.

At Gordon, the dean of faculty, R. Judson Carlberg, says, “I think we’re within the activist legacy of the 1960s. I believe Christian students have become a little more reasonable—not so much fired by emotion. Here at Gordon we find students still concerned about politics, about social issues, but they’re not going out and demonstrating, tearing buildings down, or sitting in offices. They’re taking a more constructive approach to meeting social needs. We have a number of students who are working in the inner city of Boston—working with some of the tutoring projects. Others have become involved in the 1978 political campaigns on the local, state, and federal levels.”

Taylor University president Robert G. Baptista says, “My impression is that there is almost an apathy that has set in on the campus in the late 70s. I’m not trying to put a value judgment on either apathy or unrest. As a college administrator it may be easier to deal with apathy, but I’m not sure that’s the really desirable situation. Someplace in between would be desirable.”


Students at Christian colleges have attitudes and emotions that parallel their peers across the United States.

At Trinity College, Hakes notes, “They have a rather strict code which governs themselves behaviorally, but they will tend to wink at those who follow behavioral patterns that most Christians would not accept.” Homosexuality is discussed much more openly and emphatically today. In the mid-60s this subject was only whispered about with little knowledge. Today articles exploring the issue in the nation and on Christian campuses appear in college papers.

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Like his secular counterpart, the young person studying at a Christian school seems more fatigued and depressed than in previous years. Henry Nelson, dean of student affairs at Wheaton College, attributes this in part to the rat-race society at large, the academic pressures to get top grades in preparation for graduate school, the high expectations of Christian parents, and the escalating costs of attending college. He says that there appears to be an increase in suicides and attempted suicides among college students across the country. This subject seems to be avoided, and extremely poor records are kept at both secular and Christian colleges.

Since 1968, respect for authority has generally diminished on evangelical campuses, though the substitute is not necessarily disrespect. In some cases, the new attitude is a desire for a personal relationship with administration, deans, and faculty. Open hostility to chapel speakers has receded to a courteous withholding of judgment until after the service.

Job security seems to concern more Christian students today than in 1968. Doris Roethlisburger, chairman of the English department at Trinity College, has noticed a rejection of independence among the women students. She has noticed women students continuing to choose the traditional majors of nursing and social work, but now for different reasons. “Servanthood is really muddied up with psychological fulfillment,” she says.

The negative attitude toward the church that typified the late 60s has decreased during this decade. Today students generally support local church programs much more enthusiastically and some of them are involved in starting house churches and mission congregations.

In 1968 when the Christian college student arrived on campus and had time to look around and think, he often noted that 90 to 95 per cent of the student body was white. The reason soon became obvious. Most of his fellow students came from suburban, small town, or rural America. Through the media’s coverage of black America’s involvement in the Viet Nam War, in the Poor People’s March, and in campus demonstrations, the Christian student’s attitude toward blacks was changed. In chapel he heard Tom Skinner and Bill Pannell speak of Jesus as a revolutionary, and he read of the evangelical’s heritage in Christian social action in Sherwood Wirt’s Social Conscience of a Conservative.

Student pressure during this period resulted in the rescinding of invitations to some guest speakers because of their unbiblical racial positions.

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The inward look of American culture has affected the Christian student’s spiritual life. Several Christian educators think that their students are not as concerned about doctrinal matters as they used to be. Many students think it doesn’t make an awful lot of difference what you believe. Other deans say that today’s Christian students are more interested in spiritual euphoria. Reaction to a service in chapel depends more on the spiritual high than getting information from the Bible. They don’t see the total implications of Jesus Christ and his lordship over all of life. But students are still interested in evangelism.

At Fort Wayne Bible College, Gene Hovee, dean of students, says that there is a definite spiritual hunger today, but that it’s quite different in many respects from before. “There used to be a desire to get hold of biblical teaching; you don’t see as much now.”

Carlberg sees the students at Gordon personalizing their faith. They want to know why they believe what they do. He has been encouraged to see students become more involved in Christian outreach. “There is less of a tendency among students to compartmentalize life,” says Carlberg. “They want to bring their Christianity into all spheres of life. The student today generally does not borrow his Christian beliefs from his parents or his college.”

At Moody, Dickason sees another dimension in the Christian collegian’s background: “We have students coming to us who have experimented in the occult and therefore are more open to demon deception because of their previous invitation and investigation in this area.” Dickason has counseled many students and others with occult-related problems.

McKenna does not believe that evangelical students have sufficient undergirdings of an examined, critical, discriminating faith to hold them through the rest of their lives. He fears that evangelicalism has sentimentalized religion, and students have symbolized it as a kind of PTL movement. “There is a need for the greater understanding of the sense of the tragic, and a sense of the cost of forgiveness,” he says. McKenna thinks that these students reflect to a lesser degree the same situation throughout the entire evangelical world. At the same time McKenna sees students as being open to examining their faith.


Over the last decade Christian college students and their parents have participated in the battle of the buck along with everyone else in the American economy. For the evangelical college student, the school bill increases generally have not been as large as those of secular universities. But they have been just as real.

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In 1967–68 the bill for tuition, room and board, and fees for a year had reached the following levels: $1027 at The King’s College; $2173 at Barrington College; $1160 at Wheaton; and $1875 at Biola. By the 1977–78 school year those charges had risen to $3850 at King’s: $4300 at Barrington; $4338 at Wheaton: and $3979 at Biola. These costs have risen much more sharply than the incomes of many evangelical families.

The economic situation has led to the establishment of financial aid departments in most evangelical colleges. These departments, added to many schools since 1968, attempt to put together a financial package for each student who has a funding need. This can contain a number of parts: outright grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study programs. These arrangements enable students to attend the college of their choice when family resources would not otherwise permit.

Most of the money for this student aid comes from federal and state sources. Stuart Michael, director of financial aid at Wheaton, says, “From the federal viewpoint their rationale is that enough money should be provided to enable a student a choice between which college he would like to attend, based only on the school’s program and the student’s interests, and not the cost of the school.”

Some of the federal programs available to full-time college students include Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (up to $1600 available to students with financial need); the National Direct Student Loan (up to $5000 for a four-year course, which is to be paid back after graduation at 3 per cent interest): the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (outright financial awards for the student who is in exceptional need); the College Work-Study Program (funds provided for on-campus jobs); and the Guaranteed Student Loan program.

The student applies for this monetary help through the College Scholarship Service or a similar program, which does an analysis of the student’s parents’ ability to pay. The student or parent must fill out an eight-page form, which is then analyzed to determine how much the family should be able to pay.

Schools in the Christian College Consortium have from 45 to 70 per cent of their students receiving financial aid of some type. Some Christian colleges are distributing two to three million dollars worth of federal and state aid each year. Participation in federal financial aid programs puts the schools under Health, Education and Welfare regulations.

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I am encouraged to see that evangelical young people no longer cut themselves off from the continent of contemporary culture while cloistered in our Christian schools. That’s the way to be salt for society. Evangelical students should not have to experience shock upon reentering society. Students who attended secular graduate schools discovered it was taking them an entire school year to understand their new classmates. Yet, evangelical students could unconsciously adopt non-Christian ideologies and life styles. The landscape of American higher education already contains too many examples of colleges and universities that permitted the values of secular society to absorb Christian distinctives when Christianity met current culture.

As our Christian young people enroll in evangelical colleges and Bible institutes, they should be excited and inspired by the creative ways these institutions are challenging the nonbiblical status quo. They should see their Christian faith as a positive alternative to the materialistic and unjust segments of contemporary society.

G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.

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