Shari is a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan. This article was written as a 2002 Scholarship essay.
College is not simply about receiving an education. College is, or should be, an experience. When young people make a choice about which college they will attend, the decision is one of significance and will greatly affect their future. Their choice will bear fruit in later life, strengthening or altering their views on the world, themselves, and people around them. Those preparing for leadership through either teaching or preaching have a calling when making such a decision. For each individual this calling is different and needs to be evaluated personally.
Because the time spent at a university or college is an experience rather than purely an academic endeavor, one must consider what they are presently being called to. Being in college offers the believer a host of opportunities to witness for Christ. If that believer is truly “ready always to give an answer to any man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15), their college experience at either a secular or Christian institution will be an edifying one.
Students who choose to attend a Christian college such as Calvin, Hope, or Trinity will have opportunities to interact with many other believers. They will encounter many styles of worship, belief systems, and varying expressions of both. They will hear the testimonies of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and be encouraged by the body of Christ in an atmosphere quite unlike anything previously experienced. The believer’s experience at a Christian college can be amazing, eye opening, and conducive to spiritual growth. God commands in I John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The Christian is called to exercise this discretion at both types of colleges.
While the Christian college can work as a catalyst for the Christian faith, that does not necessarily mean that a secular college or university functions in the opposite fashion. The God-given opportunities presented to the believer at a secular university will be different. Attendance there does not leave room for assumptions to be made about people’s belief systems or backgrounds. At a secular school one will find that the practicing Christians have a sincere sense of calling and commitment to Christ unique and fitting to the experiences they face. Christians bond together in the face of trials and the allurement of sin. Countless opportunities to witness and show that they are sanctified will inevitably crop up—people will always be wondering what makes the Christian different from anyone else or why their lifestyle is set apart. The Christian’s calling in the world is this, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).
It is also true that neither choice provides a simple route. Along the educational path at both a secular and a Christian college, there will be unexpected twists and turns. The Christian will be confronted with issues they were not prepared to deal with and possibly never believed they would have to. Homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, drinking, involvement in the drug scene, and the introduction of other religions are all things which occur on nearly every college campus. Christian colleges are not exempt from spiritual struggles. Believing the campus of a Christian college provides a spiritual safe haven is naïve at best. Students face the same struggles, long for the same fulfillment, search out the same goals, and often reach the same conclusions. It is God, working sovereignly in both environments, who gives His people strength, blesses them, and enriches their experience. It is not where we are that is of primary importance, but who we are and what we stand for in that place. The believer should bring glory to God’s name in any school they attend. God faithfully sustains His own. Believing it is God who “so preserves me that without the will of my father not a hair can fall from my head,” children of the living God are capable of functioning boldly in the world.
Higher education is not only about the present. It very obviously pertains to the future. Individuals are equipped for their calling in life through their pursuit of an education. Each individual, whether striving for the position of teacher or preacher, is going to be used in the lives of those they are teaching in a particular way. Each individual will have their own interests, passions, and enthusiasm that they will inevitably share with those around them—students, faculty, clergy, and congregation alike. The college student is prepared to do so largely by the circumstances they face while in college. God cultivates their gifts through both the secular and Christian school systems to prepare His servants for the work He has in store. Some individuals would find life at a secular university difficult to face on a daily basis. Possibly it would wear at their resistance and weaken their faith. Others may thrive under the constant testing of their beliefs. At a Christian college there may be some that grow in leaps and bounds because of the spiritual edification they receive while others may grow lax because they are not challenged enough.
Those who attend a Christian college have a specific experience that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They will have certain gifts imparted to them that they will be able to share with those around them. What a blessing! Those who attend a secular university, particularly if they live on campus, will have a vastly different experience. They will discover a lot of things about themselves, grow closer to God, and gain a wealth of knowledge that they will be able to impart to those around them. What a blessing! God places each of His children in their particular circumstances in order to perfectly equip them for the future as well as do the work of the kingdom presently. He has led His own to their decision, assists them presently, and is equipping them for a future of service. It is amazing to see His hand guiding and sustaining His people. What God told Joshua rings true today, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).
While making this important decision, many students will struggle with the issue of whether to attend a private or public university. “Where is God calling me to go?” “How will I be able to afford it?” “Will I be strong enough to stand up for what I believe?” “What kind of people will I encounter?” There are many differences between the two types of colleges that must be taken into consideration; the most important of which will determine where they can walk in close fellowship with God and be equipped to serve Him fully. It is poignant to remember that God is a God who works in the lives of His people by means He chooses to build up His Church. He will work in ways never thought of. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3).