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Is Christ-Centered Higher Education Worth the Investment?

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Dr. Bill Brown

Dr. Bill Brown became president of Cedarville University in June 2003. A graduate of the University of South Florida, Brown holds a Th.M. and Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Lynne, have two adult children, April and Alex, and a grandson, Jack.

by Dr. Bill Brown, President of Cedarville University

"The Christ-centered college is the last hope for the church in America," said Dr. Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, at a meeting in Washington, D.C. several years ago. Walking the halls of power in the nation's capital, Halverson saw many who professed to follow Christ but few who would live out that commitment in how they determined policy for the country. He realized the truly Christ-centered college or university provides the world with men and women who can think Christianly about their lives, society, and all of humanity.

I believe we have a tremendous responsibility to impact our world for Christ, perhaps now more than ever. But to do so without being grounded in a spiritual foundation would be like performing surgery without an M.D. degree. The church and our society need unwavering "doctors of faith" — men and women who know what and why they believe and bring the hope of Christ to their communities.

The choices for higher education are overwhelming. With over 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the United States — plus online programs, YouTube Edu, iTunes U, eduFire, and countless more — post-high school opportunities have exploded.

So when a family chooses a "Christian" college, they do so with the expectation that it will continue the spiritual training that is a part of their family. Sometimes, though, these choices are met with confusion and concern. Parents are not always certain what makes a college "Christian" and if it is worth the cost. But amid the tough choices, one thing is clear: a Christ-centered education equips students to think, live, and work like Christ, offering an unparalleled opportunity to develop graduates who eternally influence culture and revolutionize the church's impact.

What Is a Christ-Centered Education?

I often share with students that a University cannot be Christian; only people can. Students, faculty, and staff dedicated to a Christ-centered mission make a school Christian. These schools help students explore and affirm their faith during a critical period of their lives. Their unique public mission distinctly focuses on the person of Jesus Christ. Most of them have a hiring policy that requires full-time faculty to profess a commitment to Christ through personal faith and practice.

Contrary to what many think, the curriculum does not only teach "the biblical view" of each subject. Rather, students learn to master English, mathematics, history, psychology, or business as they would at any college. Nationally normed graduate exams show that Christian college grads excel. But the added feature is that they see a biblical worldview as the foundation of all truth and practice. Students take classes in biblical studies, and opportunities for worship and ministry are front and center. The goal is to fully educate — not indoctrinate — so that students not only know what Christians believe and why but also what others believe.

The Christ-centered school makes no apologies for its commitment to a Christian worldview and provides an education that rivals non-religious institutions. Just look at the ratings of colleges and universities from U.S.News & World Report, Forbes, or The Princeton Review. Many Christ-centered institutions consistently outrank well-known secular schools with high job placement for graduates and top student satisfaction rankings.

Is Christ-Centered Higher Education Worth the Investment?

A Christ-centered education intentionally moves each student to think, live, and work as a Christian. Never has our world needed a generation of young people to embrace these commitments more than now.

Thinking as a Christian
While I was having lunch with a fellow administrator from another college, we discussed the joys of engaging students in the educational process. I commented about how I enjoy "helping them in their search for truth." His face dropped to a horrified expression. "Truth?" he said. "We can't use that word on our campus. It's too divisive."

Divisive? Truth is the great unifier of education — at least it is supposed to be. After all, the term "university" (literally, "turned into one; whole, entire") points to the unifying pursuit of truth. In today's postmodern world, affirming the reality of moral and theological truth breathes hope into a culture of despair.

Living as a Christian
Paul tells Timothy that a goal of his instruction is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). Helping students apply truth to life — on personal, family, societal, and global levels — is the ultimate goal of the Christ-centered college.

As passionate followers of Jesus Christ, graduates extend the reach of their influence beyond their families and jobs to be salt and light in a world that is dark and unsavory. They know that no matter what vocation they choose, Christ intends to use them in ways that make a positive difference in the world.

Working as a Christian
Most Christ-centered colleges have excellent placement rates for their graduates. The reputation of the values these colleges instill in graduates is growing rapidly. Several years ago, an official in the White House told me they like to hire Christian college graduates. Why? "Because they work harder and we can trust them."

This reminds me of the biblical story of Daniel and his friends, whom the Babylonian King found 10 times better than all of the others in the whole kingdom (Daniel 1:20). Their knowledge, their integrity, and their firm commitment to God gave them an advantage over the others. Producing graduates with these same character qualities is the continuing vision of Christ-centered colleges.

Choosing a Christ-Centered College

As a parent or student, you are likely weighing your options to determine what will provide the best preparation for a successful career while minimizing tuition cost and post-graduation debt.

Remember that college life is an incubator for post-adolescents — a time when young adults lay the foundation for the rest of their lives. College provides knowledge and training for a career as well as a social and moral environment where personal choices significantly alter the trajectory of students' lives. Although their families may have established a strong foundation for them, the beliefs, values, and behaviors students will adopt for the rest of their lives are usually affirmed during their college years.

Most Christian families choose to send their son or daughter to a secular or state university, encouraging them to get involved in whatever church and campus ministry programs that may be available. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these students are unprepared for the challenges to their faith that occur in the classroom and dorm room. Studies have shown that over 80% of students who are professing Christians when they enter college no longer even attend church by the time they graduate. Going to a Christian high school did not seem to make any difference in these findings.

I have taken Richard Halverson's admonition to heart. If the Christ-centered college does not equip the next generation to engage culture with the mind and heart of Christ, then what will?

Learn more about a Christ-centered education at Cedarville University!