Robert Louis Wilken wrote that, “The Christian religion is inescapably ritualistic (one is received into the Church by a solemn washing with water), uncompromisingly moral (‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,’ said Jesus), and unapologetically intellectual (‘be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you,’ in the words of 1 Peter).
May these words be written on your soul as you begin college.
Be faithful in worship. In America, going to college is one of those heavily mythologized events that everybody tells you will “change your life,” which is probably at least half true. So don’t be foolish and and imagine that you can take a vacation from church.
Be uncompromisingly moral. Undergraduate life on college campuses tends in the direction of neopagan excess. Good kids from good families too often end up using their four years at college to get drunk and throw up on one another. What a waste! Not only because such behavior is self-destructive but also because living this way will prevent you from doing the kind of intellectual work that the Christian faith demands.
Be deeply intellectual. We — that is, the Church — need you to do well in school. That may sound strange, because many who represent Christian values seem concerned primarily with how you conduct yourself while you are in college, relegating the Christian part of being in college to what is done outside the classroom.
However, to be a student is a calling! Your parents are setting up accounts to pay the bills, or you are scraping together your own resources and taking out loans, or a scholarship is making college possible. Whatever the practical source, the end result is the same. You are privileged to enter a time — four years! — during which your main job is to listen to lectures, attend seminars, go to labs, and read books.
When you really think about it, it is an extraordinary gift that in a world of deep poverty, violence, and injustice, a people exists that thinks you can and should be given time to study. We need you to take this gift seriously.
I know what you’re thinking!
“I am not called to be a student.”
“None of my peers thinks that he or she is called to be a student.”
“I’m just going to college so I can get a job.”
But you are a Christian. This means that you cannot go to college just to get a better job. No. The years you spend as an undergraduate are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. These years belong to Christ.
Don’t underestimate how much the Church needs you to take this calling of yours seriously. It doesn’t matter what you study. Christ is written everywhere, not only in the prophecies of the Old Testament or the stories of the New Testament, but also in the pages of history and in the book of nature. Physics, sociology, French literary theory: All these things and more — in fact, everything you study in college is bathed in the light of Christ. It takes the eyes of faith to see that light and an educated mind to understand and articulate it.
Your Christian calling as a student does not require you to become a pastor or a theologian, but whatever you end up doing professionally, your purpose is to use the resources at your disposal to build up the body of Christ and advance Christ’s Kingdom. Now is the time that you develop the skills needed to accomplish that purpose.
Fulfilling your calling as a Christian student wont be easy. It’s not easy for anyone who is serious about the Chrisitan life. It’s not always easy to see the truth of Christ in modern science or contemporary political theory. The temptation is to compartmentalize and separate your academic work from your spiritual life and growth but as a Christian student the Christian part and the student part are inseparable.
So hear Wilken’s words again, “the Christian religion is inescapably ritualistic, uncompromisingly moral, and unapologetically intellectual.”
You’re young. You need the regular discipline of worship, Bible reading, and Christian fellowship. Don’t neglect that in college. Also, don’t underestimate the moral temptations of the contemporary college scene. We cannot help but be influenced by the behavior of our friends, so choose wisely.
To worship God and live faithfully are necessary conditions if you are to survive in college. But as a Christian you are called to do more than survive. You are called to thrive. You are called to use the opportunity you have been given to learn to construe the world as a creature of a God who would have us enjoy — and bask in — the love that has brought us into existence.
It won’t be easy. It never has been. But I can testify that it can also be a tremendous source of joy.
What a wonderful adventure you have before you!
I wish you well.