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Dangers and Benefits of Higher Education

Since the beginning of time, the church of God has cherished education. Already Adam and Eve gave instruction to their children, as is evident from the fact that Cain and Abel knew which type of sacrifice the Lord required of them. Although there were times in the history of the church where the church began to grow cold in her love of education, the love was once again restored in the Reformation. Luther thought that education was so important that he said:

When schools prosper, the Church remains righteous and her doctrine pure.. Young pupils and students are the seed and source of the Church. If we were dead, whence would come our successors if not from the schools? For the sake of the Church we must have and maintain Christian schools.[1]

Ever since Luther and Calvin, Reformed churches have highly regarded education.  Why does education have such high regard among Reformed people? I believe that there are especially two reasons. Frst, the covenant forms the basis of our schools and calls us to learn more about God’s creation. Second, the creation is a means by which we can know God. Belgic Confession Article 2 states:

We know Him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse.[2]

These are reasons for education in general. This is why we have established Christian day schools. Whether we are talking about grade school, high school, college, or anything beyond, these reasons can be used to support the cause of education.

With that being said, is there any reason why we need to get an education beyond high school? If our grade schools and high schools are doing a good job, which I have no doubt that they are, then we should already know quite a bit about the world that God created. However, we are called to be life-long learners. Therefore we should never reach a point in our lives where we stop learning and seeking out knowledge. Beyond that, however, there are especially three reasons why higher education is important.[3]

First, at college you gain information and knowledge. Most colleges and universities have a core program that all students are required to take. In the core program at Dordt College there is a wide varieties of classes that must be taken in order for a student to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. In this variety of classes, you can learn a lot about the creation of God. You study the creation and created orders. In studying these things, you learn more about God. There is a covenantal reason for studying these things. Prof. Engelsma writes about this in his book Reformed Education:

God’s covenant is cosmic. It extends to, and brings into its compass, the entire creation of God and all creatures in the creation, organically considered… There is a need for a positive development of the truth of the cosmic covenant in its own right and for an application of it to the Reformed life in general and in Christian education in particular. [4]

We do not learn more and more information just because we want to make ourselves look better. We do not even first learn information so that we can further ourselves in this world in our careers. Instead, we study the creation because God created it and he loves it. We see the love of the Creator in the creation.

The second reason that higher education is important is because it develops the ability to think and reason. People often think that you should go to college for the degree, so that you can join the career that they feel called to. If you do not need a degree for your career, then do not bother with going to college. However, this is not necessarily true. Colleges and universities do much more than just prepare you for your career. They develop your ability to think, analyze, and reason, which will help you in every area of life. This does not mean that those without a college degree do not have any ability to think or reason. However, going to college will make you better personally at thinking and reasoning than would you would be if you do not go to college. Therefore no matter your occupation or calling in life, it is beneficial to receive higher education.

The third benefit of higher education is that it exposes you to other ideas and philosophies. Although we need to be careful with how far we take this, there is some benefit to exposing ourselves to what others in the world believe. We are not Anabaptists, who believe in world flight. We are in the world but not of it. Therefore we ought to be aware what others are teaching and believing. There are a number of different reasons that we need to know what others are teaching and believing. This will always have an influence on us, whether or not we recognize it. For example, postmodernism is influencing us. Therefore we need to study postmodernism and analyze it so that we can recognize the negative influences of it and combat against it.

Another reason why we should be exposed to other ideas is so that we can give warning and instruction to those who will follow after us. For example, I was well warned in high school of postmillennial views that I would face at college. Who warned me of this? It was those who had been to college themselves and experienced it already. Our ministers typically do a great job of know the ideas and philosophies of the world and then warning the congregation of them. Many times in the sermon the minister will point out the wrong philosophies and teachings that have arisen from the specific Bible passage that they are preaching from. However, it is not just the responsibility of ministers to warn others. Parents have a responsibility to give warning and instruction to their children. Therefore parents can be better prepared for this by going to college themselves.

A third benefit to exposing yourself to ideas is that when you personally encounter ideas that are contrary to your own, you feel a greater need to analyze and critique the views. Think of all the wrong theological teachings that are present in the world today. There are many different sects, cults, denominations; there are Lutherans, Calvinists, Pentecostals, and many other different religious teachings in the world. Yet if you would look at which false doctrines Protestant Reformed authors spend the most time writing about, most likely you would find that it is common grace and a conditional covenant. Why these two topics out of all the false doctrines that are out there? It is because as a denomination we have personally encountered these teachings. Therefore we feel a great need to speak out against them. In a higher educational setting, you will personally experience many different ideas and be able argue against them.

While there are benefits to higher education, there are also dangers for which we need to be on guard. There are especially two dangers of higher education. The first danger is the exposure to sin apart from parental supervision. Although some of us attend Christian colleges, sin still abounds on the campus life. Perhaps it is not as common or as blatant as the sin at the non-Christian colleges and universities; yet there is still sin. There is pressure put on you to lower your standards of godliness. Group members become frustrated that you will not meet to work on a project on Sunday. People give up on trying to hang out with you if you will not go to the movies with them or drink excessive amounts of alcohol with them. Not only are there ungodly lifestyles, there are also many false doctrines. While there is some benefit to being exposed to these so that you can better fight against them, there is also a danger that they will lead you astray if you are not on guard.

Some ways to combat the danger of the exposure to the sinfulness of the college campus is by maintaining a healthy relationship with your parents, your church friends, and the minister or elders of your church. These are all people who are concerned with your well-being and equipped to help you. Your parents especially are concerned and have the responsibility to watch out for you. Therefore I think that it is wise to go to a campus that is near home. This allows you to talk frequently with your parents and to discuss what you are encountering at college with them. It also gives your parents a better opportunity to encourage you in your godly walk.

A second danger of higher education is pride. With more knowledge comes the temptation to be proud. Scripture speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 8:1–2: “Knowledge puffeth up…And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” This text speaks about having knowledge that puffs us up. This is the same type of knowledge that Satan had. Satan is a very knowledgeable fallen angel. Yet it was his extensive knowledge and power made him proud so that he sought to become as God. We must also be on guard against this as we strive to get more knowledge of God.

The primary way in which we can fight against this danger is through the means of prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” John Calvin also gave a beautiful example of a how to pray specifically against pride in the pursuit of higher education. In his prayer, he states:

And seeing thou promisest that thou wilt bestow wisdom on babes, and such as are humble, and the knowledge of thself on the upright in hear, while thou declarest that thou wilt cast down the wicked and the proud, so that they will fade away I their ways, I entreat that thou wouldst be pleased to turn me to true humility, that thus I may show myself teachable and obedient first of all to thyself, and then to those also who by thy authority are placed over me. Be pleased at the same time to root out all vicious desires from my heart, and inspire it with an earnest desire of seeking thee.[5]

This is the humility that we, as college students, must continually ask of the Lord so that we do not fall into pride and think ourselves to be as god.

In summary, higher education is a good gift that I believe should be utilized whenever possible. While we need to be on guard for the dangers, we can grow in diverse ways by receiving higher education. If you receive higher education, employ yourself diligently so that you do not waste the opportunities that you have to learn more God and his world. Follow the command of God given in Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

[1] Quotation taken from PowerPoint presentation in Prof. R. Dykstra’s class “History and Principles of Protestant Reformed Education”. (May 27, 2015)

[2] Protestant Reformed Churches in America. (2005). By what means God is made know unto us. In The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (p. 24). Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association

[3] Three reasons taken from Prof. R. Dykstra’s lecture in the class, “History and Principles of Protestant Reformed Education”.  (May 29, 2015)

[4] Engelsma, D. J. (2000). Reformed Education (3rd ed., pp. 4-5). Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association.

[5] Calvin, J. (n.d.). Catechism of the Church of Geneva.