Written by Chesterton House

August 7, 2006

Advice to incoming college students is as plentiful as silly love songs. But here we go again.

The current issue of Comment, a relatively new publication out of Ontario, features a forum entitled “Making the Most of College.” There is lots of advice, including this from philosopher Calvin Seerveld:

  • Major in the best profs, who make you think self-critically and who give solid course content in a field-area that you have gifts for or can be busy with, without noticing the passage of time.
  • Take a double major, if possible, to promote the ability to do interdisciplinary thinking.
  • Get in-depth knowledge of a certain period.
  • Read a novel every month or so.

And my favorite . . .

  • Find a group of kindred spirits with whom to read books of Christian philosophy together, any kind of communal deeper reflection on current problems, so that you exercise in community how to pin down the idolatries of our day in theory.

Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds Books, writing in the same forum, offers this:

“Wouldn’t it be beautiful to see a community of Christian students who take delight in their required texts? What a witness it would be if Christian students were glad to be serious readers fully engaged in the books they are taking up? If Christian students read extra books to supplement their typical reading to acquire a perspective rooted in a Christian worldview, wouldn’t that astonish professors and classmates? In those schools where professors fret about the lack of student attentiveness, this would be an amazing contribution to the campus ethos.”

Although Borger and Seerveld may not be familiar with the workload assigned by Cornell professors (I recall 500 pages per week of reading for a single four-credit class in history), their words are not without wisdom. What they are attempting is something necessary but rare: a vision of college life that rises above a mere means to self-advancement.

Achieving such a vision is no small task. Perhaps the first question for Christian students at secular universities is not What courses should I take? orWhat extracurricular activities should I pursue? but Do I even belong here? Some students, frustrated by the way secularism marginalizes their faith, endure classwork as a necessary evil while maintaining a devotional life disconnected from the rest of life.

Andy Crouch ’89, in a talk originally given at Cornell, offers a different answer. Likening the secular university to Babylon, a place of exile, Crouch writes this:

“[F]or us as for Daniel, there is something else we ought to know as we proceed through the university: this is all happening because of the sovereignty of God. ‘The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] power.’ For Daniel, and for us, the arrival of people of faith in a foreign land is a necessary historical development that is ultimately for the good of God’s people and God’s purposes in the world. The Babylonian exile is a sign of judgment–Israel, as generations of prophets had warned, had forgotten God and become entangled in the machinations of the world. Yet the exile is also a sign of hope. God’s people are placed in the midst of the religion-assimilating, privilege-seeking, royal-food-serving, power-serving, name-changing kingdoms of the world to bear witness to those kingdoms that they are not the last word. They are placed there because God loves the world, including Babylon, and wants his ways to be known everywhere, not just within a religious enclave.”

Crouch’s article is entitled “What I Wish I Had Known My Freshman Year.”

“I wish I had known,” he concludes, after offering several other answers to the question, “that I belonged here.”

Chesterton House Painting