Education is a pillar of a free and prosperous society. And despite sweeping societal change from generation to generation, the core principles of freedom, truth, and morality remain the same. Modernity cannot reject this foundation but society’s families, institutions, and our nation itself are dependent upon it. Our Christian schools, perhaps more than any other aspect of modern American life, preserve it.
I’m not speaking theoretically either. After 25 years in higher education, despite a secularizing America, I’ve seen it again and again. Our graduates excel with all the benefits they’d receive at any other institution but they also get something more, something better. They understand that education is not an end to itself but a guide toward anchoring their life on something far more transcendent that the whims of any age. They believe in truth.
As a Christian educator, it is the highest calling to train the next generation to excel in their vocations while always understanding their higher call of being a light of the Gospel to the world, always. At Liberty University, we call this “training champions for Christ.” The world needs more than run-of-the-mill, competent graduates and professionals; it needs world changers.
Everywhere the Gospel has gone, churches, orphanages, hospitals, schools, and universities have been built. Christian education is the ultimate disciple-making tool for everyday Christians, whatever their vocations. That is why the aim and purpose are entirely different than a wholly secular institution in higher learning.
The root of this difference is found in something that Jesus taught the disciples in the Gospel of Mark. The apostles James and John were seeking glory and status, but what Christ taught them was the primacy of sacrifice. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. A Christian professional is not here to lord their expertise over the world but to serve others.
More than scholarly bona fides, academic chairs, and celebratory recognitions, the aim of Christian education is decidedly different; it’s more than all of this. Our aim and ambition are to do what 18th century theologian Nikolaus Ludwig said, “Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten.” Our economy and purpose are greater still, and our compass is oriented to a truer north. We are servants here to train servants to change the world through the power of truth.
It is on this premise that the entire Christian life is built, and it is the basis behind our pursuit of knowledge. The whole of western civilization and the entire social order is built, not on the imaginations of modern man, but what remains of this foundation.
When I drive on my school’s campus every day, I am reminded of this responsibility to the next generation. We are duty-bound as Christian educators to do more than just sharpen the minds of our students. We are to train them to change the world through a type of servant leadership embodied by Christ himself.
To use Jesus' favorite analogy, as educators, we are more like shepherds than public intellectuals.
While the job of the shepherd was essential, they were not there to be envied nor admired. They were there to take care of the sheep. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he had compassion for them because they often had no shepherd. This generation of students doesn’t need high-mindedness in the classroom from their professors as much as they need shepherds to guide them.
This approach is one of the many distinctions of Christian higher education. While we believe excellence glorifies God, our goal is not simply to inspire our students to achieve success. It is to show them an entirely different way of living and thinking about the world. This is the urgency and necessity of Christian education.
And, if you think this disposition to service over status makes one less academically rigorous or less intellectual then I’d beg to differ. In fact, I’d just suggest you take a stroll through nearly every Ivy League campus. Find the oldest building and count all the allusions to the Judeo-Christian heritage etched in marble.
Secularism in America, with all its promised splendor, thrives on the borrowed capital of Christian education.
Dr. Troy Temple is the Dean of the John W. Rawling’s School of Divinity at Liberty University. He holds a PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and M.A. and B.S. from Liberty University. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Professors in Christian Education. Serving in higher education leadership since 1993.