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Christian liberal arts and extended adolescence

August 4, 2012

If the Christian life is a pilgrimage through the kingdom of man to the kingdom of God, which is partly here already, then our great challenge is to navigate it without diverting to the right (pretending the Kingdom of God is fully here) or to the left (full-scale immersion into the kingdom of man). I believe the Christian liberal arts’ attempt at spiritual development are not pointing its pilgrims on this straight and narrow path.

My mother hitch-hiked to college. (Not advisable). She was leaving home and entering independent adulthood. Not so for us! As I speak with friends who are, like me, processing their Christian liberal arts experiences, one recurring theme has been that college is more like high school. In other words, the college life is another instance of postponed adulthood and extended adolescence.

Going to college is no longer a time of entering the real world of rent, cooking, bills, insurance, and – most importantly – religious practice. For us, college played a parental role. It’s as though parents are still convinced that their kids are really the good kids, and only by shipping them off to the vetted Christian college of choice will they be sure to stay that way.

But most of us think and behave differently than our parents want us to. People who study the generational gap between the millennial generation and the Boomers and Busters note that there’s a bigger cultural gap between generations than before. More than previously, our parents do not fully “get” what our life and culture is like, they say.

If we don’t follow the path our parents want for us, are we really going to follow the path of a parental stand-in at the college Student Development office?

The numbers seem to say “no.” Which numbers, you ask? Stay tuned for that! For now, I’m curious whether you agree.

If you went to a Christian liberal arts college, did it help your spiritual growth?

If so, how? Was it through chapel, small groups, or other college-led events?

  1. beth permalink

    Hey Josh, thanks for sharing. I definitely agree with this. I grew in college because I made an effort to take advantage of what was available to me. But I feel like that is a very small percentage of the average school’s population. I don’t know what it is that makes most students still live in a cacoon of adolescence… if it’s the overall culture or what, because I feel like schools attempt to treat students like adults… It’s definitely an interesting concept, though, because I was expecting adulthood when I entered college and I still felt like a kid!

    • jdl permalink

      Thanks Beth! I absolutely agree — it’s frightening to think that when reality hits for many of us, we will be unprepared. It’s all the more important that people like you become leaders among your peers.

  2. Kendrick permalink

    Added you to my Google Reader feed. Your blog looks great.

    Thanks for subscribing to my Kendrick Kuotes blog. I was using it originally for a few stuff, but then decided to scrap it. I’m actually blogging over at I might start cross-posting stuff. I know I contacted you about potentially contributing to it–did you ever hear back from Paul Miller?

    • jdl permalink

      Thanks Kendrick! I read your review of the Ai Weiwei documentary; you have a great perspective on that topic.

      One thing that would be cool to see at mindovermedia is a review of Cloud Atlas (check the trailer). I have the high ambition of reading the book in time for the movie’s release. If I actually follow through with that, perhaps I’ll pitch a review to Mr Miller.

  3. Totally agree. I go to a small, Christian liberal arts school with a very overbearing administration. Its almost as if they don’t trust us to make our own decisions. I can definitely say that it has hindered rather than nurtured my spiritual life.

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