Christian colleges are under attack these days, but New York Times columnist David Brooks says he’s not worried.
It’s September, and high school seniors are filling out their college applications. And if you’re the parent of a senior, like I am, you’re probably biting your nails. Because every day there’s a new and maddening report of progressive insanity at our nation’s universities: so-called “safe spaces” where students can hide from ideas that offend them, Ivy League schools providing feminine products in men’s rooms, wacko professors getting tenure while those who speak in favor of traditional morality get hounded off campus.
To make matters worse, Christian universities and colleges appear to be in the cross-hairs of the culture wars, too. California is laying the groundwork to discriminate against any institution that fails to confess the new LGBT orthodoxy. Even some traditionally strong Christian schools have been wracked by theological controversy.
So why is David Brooks so bullish on Christian higher ed?
The New York Times columnist gave his reasons for optimism at the recent 40th anniversary celebration of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Brooks is a graduate, by the way, of the University of Chicago, and he teaches at Yale, my alma mater. There’s no need for Christians to feel in any way inferior, he says, acknowledging that while his Ivy League students are “amazing,” they’re pretty one-dimensional.
“They’ve been raised in a culture,” Brooks says, “that encourages them to pay attention to the résumé virtues of how to have a great career but leaves by the wayside … time to think about the eulogy virtues: the things they’ll say about you after you’re dead. They go through their school with the mixture of complete self-confidence and utter terror, afraid of a single false step off the achievement machine.” It’s flat, lifeless, and soul-killing.
But Christian schools attempt to educate their charges in three dimensions. Brooks told Christian college leaders that Christian universities “are the avant-garde of 21st century culture.” Christian colleges “have a way of talking about and educating the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion and intellect. [They] have a recipe to nurture human beings who have a devoted heart, a courageous mind and a purposeful soul. Almost no other set of institutions in American society has that, and everyone wants it.”
Of course, not every Christian college approaches education in the way Brooks describes. Some have succumbed to the culture and differ little from their secular counterparts; others have retreated into a mindless legalism that confuses stubbornness for courage. My colleague John Stonestreet noted in a recent commentary the need for Christian schools to offer a truly Christian worldview. But it’s also true that there are many great Christian schools out there doing something very special, and—according to Brooks—offering what people are longing for, even if they don’t quite know it themselves.
Brooks says that Christian colleges teach students how to love and appreciate the beautiful and the good and hold up ideals of excellence, encouraging young people to follow them. This process awakens young people’s longing, especially the longing for God—what C.S. Lewis called joy. “Joy,” Brooks said, “is not the fulfillment of desires. Joy is the longing itself. We’ve lost that vocabulary, as we’ve lost a lot of moral vocabulary.”
So while our flat, one-dimensional culture tries to manufacture, as Lewis also said, “men without chests,” Christian colleges will go right on cultivating the faith, emotions, and intellects of three-dimensional disciples prepared to share the only Source of true joy.
If your son or daughter is considering a Christian college, come to BreakPoint.org and we’ll link you to a list of schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. You—and they—will still have to do your research, but the CCCU is a great place to start.
Eric Metaxas is the host of the “Eric Metaxas Show,” a co-host of “BreakPoint” radio and a New York Times #1 best-selling author whose works have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.