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The challenge of church at college Part 2

August 17, 2012

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I’m going to post the final two manifestations of what I see as a problem in the Christian liberal arts approach to spiritual formation: relational confusion and isolation of spiritual community.  (For the first one on spiritual snacks, click here).

Later on I will sketch out how I think we can address these issues from the perspective of the church and the college.

2. Relational confusion

Scenario 1

A college freshman entered a theology professor’s office.

The meeting came after a tense class session where dialogue turned into passionate discussion about Christians and military service. The professor suggested the student meet him during office hours to talk it over.

“Do you find any contradiction between serving in the armed forces and being a Christian?” the professor asked.


“When Jesus was confronted with the choice to use political power, he chose the path of sacrifice. I suggest you seriously consider where your allegiance lies: is it the State, or is it Christ.”

* * *

Scenario 2

A college freshman enters the office of his advisor, also a Bible professor. He is uncertain, curious, eager, and hungry to be advised.

Upon introducing himself, he learns that his sage advisor is the department chair this semester, and too busy to take on new students. The advisor before him is a different professor, who is also handling 30 other students in the major.

After quickly signing the necessary forms, the new advisor looks up from his stack of papers expectantly, as if to say,

“Do you need anything else? I’m much too busy to guide you through this chaotic period of life.”

* * *

These are both dramatized versions of events that have happened to friends of mine. I share them not to point fingers or fault the people involved, but rather to illustrate the confusion that can occur when students and faculty have different expectations of their role in student development at Christian colleges.

In the first scenario, the professor’s particular Christian tradition made him more of an activist, who viewed his role as a Christian professor to challenge the faith of those who didn’t agree with him. He was giving unwanted spiritual advice.

In the second scenario, the student seemed to want his professor to be a spiritual as well as academic advisor — not an illegitimate assumption, considering how admissions people advertise accessibility to professors.

This confusion is one more reason why the Christian liberal arts model has not done so well in the area of spiritual development. For those who go to a Christian college to become grounded in their faith, a Christian liberal arts college will not necessarily accomplish that.

Isolated spiritual community Ministry groups such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade and the Navigators used to operate in Christian colleges with high participation. At some point, however, Colleges decided that they wanted to have more oversight of student’s spiritual development, and asked these groups to leave. Now, everything from student ministries, clubs, and events are overseen by student development offices. Not only does this increase the costs for the college, it cuts students off from external organizations that might better at fostering authentic community and  discipleship relationships.

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