Author: ADF Senior Counsel David French
Students, if you read one thing before you go to college, please read this essay from Professor Stanley Hauerwas. It’s a beautifully written written and utterly realistic look at the four-year challenge you’ll face. My favorite part:
The Christian fact is very straightforward: 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.
It is an extraordinary gift. In a world of deep injustice and violence, a people exists that thinks some can be given time to study. We need you to take seriously the calling that is yours by virtue of going to college. You may well be thinking, “What ishe thinking? I’m just beginning my freshman year. I’m not being called to be a student. None of my peers thinks he or she is called to be a student. They’re going to college because it prepares you for life. I’m going to college so I can get a better job and have a better life than I’d have if I didn’t go to college. It’s not a calling.”
But you are a Christian. This means you cannot go to college just to get a better job. These days, people talk about college as an investment because they think of education as a bank account: You deposit the knowledge and expertise you’ve earned, and when it comes time to get a job, you make a withdrawal, putting all that stuff on a résumé and making money off the investment of your four years. Christians need jobs just like anybody else, but the years you spend as an undergraduate are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.
Rarely do you see such a thoughtful and hopeful exploration of the Christian walk on campus. His formulation of your student life as a calling is crucial. College years are not years to take a break from real life. They are real life and in fact may represent the best opportunity you will ever have to impact the world around you. Don’t save up your courage or your sense of purpose for later days. Don’t take a vacation from your responsibilities. Live a life alive with the sense of Christ’s calling.
And live a life of discipline. From the essay:
“The Christian religion,” wrote Robert Louis Wilken, “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). Like all the major religions of the world, Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history.”
Ritualistic, moral, and intellectual: May these words, ones that Wilken uses to begin his beautiful book, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, be written on your soul as you begin college and mark your life—characterize and distinguish your life—for the next four years. 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 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. Too often they do so on their way to the condom dispensers. What a waste! Not only because such behavior is self-destructive but also because living this way will prevent you from doing the intellectual work 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; they relegate the Christian part of being in college to what is done outside the classroom.
Thank you, Dr. Hauerwas, for these words. May they touch many hearts.
This post originally appeared here.