Just over a week ago, the recent steady stream of discouraging news items about private higher education was interrupted by the announcement that Gordon College had received a record-setting private donation of $75.5 million. This is good news, not only for Gordon, but for all of Christian higher education.
First, it shows that there are individuals out there who understand that a Christian liberal arts education is still the very best preparation for the lifetime of accelerating change that rises before today’s prospective students. The Christian liberal arts prepare graduates with the lifelong skills of critical thinking, communication, and community-building across boundaries of diversity—skills that will enable them not only to get their first job, but also all the other jobs they will need over the course of their lifetime.
As one of my Houghton colleagues likes to remind students, contrary to popular opinion, while their major may get them into graduate school, it is their liberal arts general education that will get them their first job. It is the Christian college that will provide them with a community of supportive kindred spirits to walk with them through the ups and downs of their journey.
In recent years, authors like Thomas Friedman in Thank You for Being Late and David Brooks in The Second Mountain have recognized this phenomenon of community as a rare but essential aspect of human flourishing. In the fast paced and mobile world of the 21st century, it is the Christian college that will provide graduates with the moral and spiritual foundation to ground their own lives and the society and culture around them.
The Future of Christian Higher Education
Second, it shows that there are individuals willing to take the lead in not allowing the government—with its exorbitant regulatory and fiscal influence over higher education—to have the last word over Christian higher education. Over the past several years, Gordon College and other Christian colleges around the country have increasingly been subject to legal and cultural challenges over particular aspects of their Christian beliefs. While it is to be hoped, for the sake of both Christian higher education and the larger world of higher education in general, that Christian colleges can remain part of the rich diversity of options available to students within mainstream American higher education, it is encouraging to see at least a glimmer of hope that there might be other funding options if federal and state funds cease to be available to students who wish to attend these institutions.
Finally, it suggests that God still has work for Christian higher education in our world. Just when it seemed that history was moving inexorably in a certain direction, God surprises us. Just when we thought we had been left on our own to figure things out, God acts. As always, God’s action is attended by great mystery. My mind runs to other Christian colleges who are also struggling against great economic and cultural odds. All the stereotypical questions emerge as they do whenever we see God act in ways that seem to suggest favoritism or partiality. Why does He heal that person and not another one? Or spare the life of one child in an accident and not another?
Confidence in a God Who Acts
We will walk with these mysteries until the day we die. What we know for sure is that God is Sovereign, that God will accomplish his purposes, that we are to be grateful for all of God’s good gifts, and that we are to be about the daily tasks of faithfulness to which he has called us. In I Samuel 14, there is a delightful story of adventurous initiative where Jonathan, son of Saul, put himself in a risky position against the Philistines where only God’s action on his behalf could save him. As Jonathan said, “it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”
As we seek to honor God in the daily work of Christian higher education in these turbulent days, may we take courage that God continues to act on our behalf—and that He is the God of improvisation and infinite possibility.
Grace, Peace and Hope to you on this day.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976