I recently went to a college fair. I’ve not been to a college fair in a very long time, and this was my first time ever going as a college President, so I was there on the other side of the table. I was there to recruit students to Trinity College.
It was a very interesting experience. The college fair took place in a local high school gym and there were about 20 or 25 colleges there. Each of us had a table and some space and waited for parents and students to come by so we could talk. One of the most natural questions that comes up in a setting like this is: what are you looking for in a college?
I probably asked that question of every student I talked to there, and it got me thinking about my own experience of college and remembering what I was looking for in a college when I was in high school. I cared about two things, and I think I was a pretty typical high school student in both of these things. I cared about the experience of life in college, and I cared about my career after college.
I actually had a very long and meandering college experience. Initially I chose a college in the mountains where I could spend a lot of time rock climbing and mountain biking and hiking and backpacking. I really enjoyed that aspect of the experience. I had a harder time figuring out what I wanted for a career. I started thinking I would study aerospace engineering, but I wasn’t very good at math, so I switched to civil engineering. Fortunately for the general public, I did not continue in civil engineering, so no bridges were built by a guy who’s not good at math. Then I moved into chemistry, thinking I would be a high school chemistry teacher. then I actually dropped out of college to go into ministry. Then I went back to college first in business and then eventually in a generic religion degree so that I can move on to seminary.
I think that what I wanted was pretty normal among College students. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think most high school students when they think about college they’re thinking about what will the experience be like while I’m in college and what will my career be like after college?
And let me be real clear here: those can be very good desires! But let’s back up a step from that and ask a deeper question: how do you decide what it is that you want from your experience in college and your career after college? Where do those desires come from? What motivates us to want what we want related to college?
I have two sons who have already had to make this decision, and were recipients of all kinds of literature and ads about college. When any particular college advertises what life will be like on their campus, they show pictures of not only a classroom but of a wide variety of extra curricular activities: sports, music, socialization, volunteering, internships, that sort of thing. They are selling an experience. They’re suggesting that college is about what you will experience. And I think this is what many students are looking for. If you are a senior or Junior if you are in high school, I would expect that you are already beginning to picture yourself in college.
Whatever picture comes to mind, it is probably informed by some combination of your imagination, stories you’ve heard from older siblings or friends who have come back from this wonderful place called college, or from the marketing literature of colleges that are trying to recruit you.
On the other hand, some students think more about what happens after college. they think more about a career, will I make enough money? Will I be able to provide for my family? Will I be able to do a job in which I find meaning, purpose, and significance? I think those are really understandable questions, and I asked them when I was young, too. So, what I would like to do is think together about these two desires: desires for experience in college and career after college.
First, let me say that these desires, and the factors that they become in choosing a college, can be very good and healthy. Like any desires, they can be distorted to the point of idolatry, but I think that the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches us to enjoy all the gifts that God has given us, including the college experience. And I think that many parts of the Bible teach us that it is good to work hard and be diligent so that we can provide for our families. Those are good motives.
But, let’s not stop there. I think we could do better. Those particular motives are not necessarily different from the motives that our non-Christian neighbors might have for their college experience or for their future career.
We might ask, how does Romans 12:2 apply to college choices? If we are called not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds, how do our minds need to be renewed when it comes to how we think about what college is for? I want to say that I think we can think about college as more than the college experience or the preparation for a career.
- It is not less but more than an enjoyable time to make friends and explore new freedoms.
- It is not less but more than getting training for a career.
I think we think about college rightly and Christianly when we think about it as equipping for all of life.
First, I think we should consider what the Bible has to say about the difference between experience and equipping. I mentioned a moment ago that the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches us to cherish experience. To delight and enjoy all the good gifts that God has given us.
There is nothing virtuous in adopting some kind of mentality that doesn’t enjoy to the fullest the life that God has given us. So, I don’t think any Christian should necessarily be opposed to enjoying the experience of college, provided that those pleasurable experiences are righteous and we can thank God for them. But those experiences focus on the immediate, and short-term priorities of enjoying this life.
I think that if we were to think about education in broader terms, we might at some point start to think about the end for which we are headed. In fact, the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiastes regularly teach the reader to consider the end of the matter. The wisdom of the Old Testament is pushing us to think, “Where am I headed?” If I can get some clear picture of where I’m headed, what can I be doing now to prepare for that future.
How is that different from the second motive: thinking about college as a time to prepare for a career? If we start thinking of college in terms of the ends for which we are headed, the future that God intends for us, we might start to distinguish between training and education. It would be easy to think of these terms as more or less synonymous. and to many people they are. But educators and theologians have long distinguished between training and education. To be trained is to be equipped specifically for a narrow field. You might be trained as a dental hygienist, or an accountant, or a civil engineer, or an air traffic controller. Those are all really important fields to be trained in. Personally, I want my dental hygienist and the engineer designing my bridge and the controller guiding my airplane to be well trained. We need people who are trained and equipped for those fields.
Training is vital for every vocation, from mechanical engineering to motherhood. Sometimes training happens on the job. All training for a specific vocationally is a part of education. But for Christians, we want to think about education more broadly than just training for a specific job. A broad view of education encompasses a person’s knowledge but also wisdom and understanding, and even his or her character, intellect, emotions, motives, aspirations, really the whole person. The question to be asking is: how can I make decisions about college that will provide me with the best possible broad education? When I get my degree at the end of 4 years, how can I be not only trained for a career, but educated as a whole person?
John Piper explains what this broad education is like:
“If we are going to spend a lifetime focusing on the glory of God revealed in these two books—the word that God inspired and the world that God made—what should we do with these two books? We hope that you put out of your mind the thought that lifelong learning is about getting degrees behind your name (whether BA, MA, DMin, or PhD). They are incidental to real learning. We also hope that you don’t think of education mainly as acquiring money-making skills. Of course, skills that enable you to function productively in your calling are important. But that is not mainly what lifelong learning is about. That is not mainly what we want you to do with God’s world and God’s word.
“Our aim is to help you grow in the habits of mind and heart that will never leave you and will fit you for a lifetime of increasing wisdom and wonder through all the sweet and bitter providences of life. The well-educated person is not the one with degrees, but the one who has the habits of mind and heart to go on learning for a lifetime. Specifically, to go on learning what we need in order to live in a Christ-exalting way for the rest of our lives—whatever the vocation.” John Piper, Foundations for Lifelong Learning, 12–13.
I love that: the aim of Christian education is to help you grow in the habits of mind and heart that will never leave you and will fit you for a lifetime. John Piper is describing the goals of a thoroughly Christian college education. And that’s what Trinity College is seeking to provide for students from Sovereign Grace and even from outside of Sovereign Grace.
Our goal is to shape young men and young women for Christ and for the church. When we say shape, we mean that we want to help young men and women be fitted for his purposes in every aspect of life.
First, the professors that God has so graciously provided for us are the kind of godly mentors who have not only intellect, skill, education, and gifts, but who have the kind of godly maturity that Piper is describing. They have increased in wisdom and wonder through many sweet and bitter providences in life. What’s more, they are eager to impart to you habits of mind and heart that will fit you for a life of learning in Christ. They do that with a personal care for each one of their students.
My father-in-law, CJ Mahaney, always counseled my wife and his daughter Nicole—and me while I was in seminary—to choose the professors before the school or the class and we think our professors are some of the most gifted in SG to set an example and impart wisdom to the next generation.
Secondly, at Trinity College, students have the opportunity to grow together in fellowship and friendship with other like-minded believers in Sovereign Grace and in a local church where you learn how to live out what you learn in the classroom. This is an education that is deeply integrated in the life of the local church, taking the truths of the classroom out into relationships, discipleship, service, evangelism.
Thirdly, our aim is to equip you with godly courage, convictions, and habits for all of life. We teach church history so our students understand how we got here. We teach Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology so students can think clearly about all that God’s word teaches.
Our Biblical Anthropology and Practical Theology classes are preparing young men and women to build strong marriages and families, to serve and even lead in the local church, to engage with the culture in their cities and workplaces, and how to prepare for the vocations in the home and in the marketplace that God has called them to.
Trinity College is unique in the special emphasis we place on the teaching and training of biblical manhood and womanhood and how God’s calling on young men and women works out in the home and in the church.
Whether your interests in God’s World are musical or medical, pastoral or pedagogical, and we hope that–whatever they are–they are broad interests, we would love the opportunity to equip you to serve the Lord with all the gifts that he has given you, to take your place in the next generation in your local church, to follow and serve Christ in a lifelong process of learning.