Justification for Higher Education


Reversing the Curse


A central feature in the Biblical view of life is The Curse: the understanding that things are bad – that they’re not the way they’re supposed to be – because the world and everything in it has been broken by mankind’s sin. Jesus came to reverse The Curse by eliminating its cause (mankind’s sin) through his death and resurrection. He then returned to heaven, sending his redeemed followers out into the world to live lives that imitate his Curse-reversing mission.

The assumption is that as Christians live in this broken world, we will encounter the results of The Curse just as everyone does. However, the Christian’s calling in such instances is to be a redemptive influence; to reverse The Curse through the power of God’s Spirit living in us. This column is the fourth in a series that will examine practical ways that Christians can begin to reverse The Curse right now in each of 8 spheres of life: Relationships, Government, Creation/Environment, Culture, Economics & Vocation, Education & Human Development, Religion, and Science & Technology.

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. Psalm 78:5-8

Justification for higher education?

Works of art, even simple pieces of mostly decorative artwork, sometimes make us stop and think. Such was the case with a poster that a college roommate of mine had hung from the wall.

The poster depicted a peaceful, twilight scene at the coast. In the background sat a mansion atop a hill overlooking the beach. A long, winding driveway led down the hill from the mansion to the poster’s focal image in the foreground: a massive, 7-car garage. Each of the seven individual garage doors was open, revealing the polished grill of a rare, expensive automobile, gleaming in the last light of the day.

Taken together, these cars formed a veritable monument to luxury, wealth, and an exclusive lifestyle. But what caused me to stop many times and ponder this poster wasn’t simply all the extravagance it depicted, it was its title. Emblazoned in bold letters across the bottom of the image were the words, “Justification for Higher Education.”

Winning the Game of Life

The poster’s message had a profound effect on me. I was a full time undergraduate student at that point, unmarried and employed only a few hours per week at a campus library. I spent virtually all my time and energy studying. Indeed, the whole focus of my life at that point was earning my college degree. As I left the room each day for class, the poster’s message made me ask myself, why am I doing this? What’s it all for?

My roommate’s poster accurately captures the spirit of the age (even if it did so in a pretty blunt manner): education is how we win. This view of education follows naturally from The Curse, and its man-centered worldview. The heart of sin as described in Genesis chapter 3 is usurpation: mankind taking God’s place. Adam and Eve made their own choice, trusting their own judgment rather than God’s and seeking to fulfill their own objectives rather than his. In so doing they put themselves in God’s rightful place at the center of their own lives. And we’ve been doing it ever since. The world of The Curse is a world in which people serve themselves rather than God.

In such a man-centered world, education simply serves to equip us to better achieve our own ends. It’s a tool we use to get us where we decide we want to be. Life has winners and losers, and getting an education is an important way we can make sure we are among life’s winners. Get a good education in order to get a good job, which in turn leads to an enormous paycheck and lands you in the winner’s circle of life. Seven exquisite luxury cars and a mansion by the sea are the shiny trophies that shout, “I won!” And that’s why we go to college.

Worship: A different winner’s circle

The Bible presents a different view of human development. Exodus 35:30 – 36:2 describes how God had given special skill in craftsmanship to a few individuals for the construction of the original Tabernacle. These men had developed their God-given skills to the point where they were master craftsmen, and they not only used their own skills on the Tabernacle, but they taught others as well.

Here is the Bible’s picture of the reason for education and development: it leads to effective worship. In this God-centered view of life success is measured not by cars and houses, but by being useful to God and reflecting his nature to those around us.

Knowing God: Our highest aim

But perhaps the most important reason of all for education is that it enables us to truly know God. Psalm 78 explains what motivated God to give us the Bible in the first place: he wants every generation to have a clear and accurate picture of who he is, what he’s done, and what they need to do in order to follow him faithfully. So he put all this in writing, and he charged each generation to pass it on to the next. He tells each older generation to teach, and each new generation to learn.

The Reformers certainly had this educational mission in mind. They believed that the Christian’s final authority is the Bible, an idea referred to as sola scriptura (Latin for “Scripture alone”). This conviction produced the belief that every Christian needed a copy of the Bible in a language he could understand for himself, which in turn led to a flurry of Bible translation efforts.

But this created two other problems. First, even if the Bible was translated into common languages how could enough copies possibly be made so that everyone could see one himself? This problem helped spur the development of the most significant single invention in Western history: the printing press. But second, what good is it to have a Bible in my own language if I can’t read? And so churches increasingly sought to bring education to the masses rather than just to the privileged few. Their goal was to teach people how to read and understand God’s words for themselves.

Real education

All of these educational efforts reflect God’s stated purposes in Psalm 78: that we would know Him. The Christian call to reverse The Curse means that education is seen in a different light. Kingdom-minded Christians view education as a divine calling, teaching others who God is and how to understand his self-revelation in the Bible. We value education highly as a means of knowing God and his will for our lives, and also as a way to develop our God-given abilities more fully for his glory.

Reverse the curse

How well do you understand God’s character and his plan of redemption? Perhaps educating yourself by doing a Bible study on the concept of redemption would be a worthwhile endeavor. Or consider reading a good scripturally-based book on who God is and what he’s up to in the world, such as Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Knowledge Of The Holy by A.W. Tozer, or The Faith by Chuck Colson. Many of these also have accompanying study guides available.

In addition, consider what skills and abilities God has given you. How can you further develop those gifts to serve him? Perhaps taking a class at your local college is in order. Or maybe it’s time to find a mentor or teacher who can stretch your ability in music, decorating, mechanics, design, or some other area of personal strength. We can reverse The Curse by pursuing such personal development in order to serve God ever more effectively.

And that’s the best possible justification for continuing education.

Recovering_lost_toolsFor additional insight to this subject, get the book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, by Douglas Wilson, from our online store. Or read the article, “Faithfulness in Christian Higher Education,” by Michael Scanlan.



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