We have been considering many of the events that led to where we find ourselves today. In order to best evaluate any course of study, however, it seems wise to make explicit something of the implicit understanding that everyone shares about our common humanity. The three-part division of the person into mind, body, and spirit requires a recognition of the interconnected nature of these aspects. Many likened this to the trinitarian reality of God, namely that the three are distinguishable but inseparable. We are likewise three in one.
While what the body is appears readily to most everyone, the mind is traditionally understood as the capacity for reason and memory within a person. The spirit, then, typically refers to the will. I invite you to take a moment to pause and consider the relationship between these things laid out in Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I certainly can’t hope to provide you with an exhaustive application of the text within this article. Honestly, that would fall outside the realm of my capabilities. What I hope to construct here, however, is a relationship between the parts of ourselves as they relate to education.
The appeal is made by way of mercy to live a life of holiness. This is immediately flagged as spiritual worship. The relationship there indicates that allowing mercy to produce action has a spiritual element, that is to say, it shapes the will. The following sentence becomes explicit in that it rejects conformity to the greater world system. The point of contrast provided lives in the idea of renewing the mind. Through this renewal, the mind is capable of testing and discerning the will of God. In forming this triad, action shapes the will and then the mind reflects and discerns a greater will. The outworking of this becomes critical to growth. The more aware of God’s will we become, the more our actions will fit the living sacrifice model, the more our will is shaped. The process should become an organic cycle where action, will, and thought renewal produce ever increasing holiness.
If the root of education is training, then the most important question becomes what kind of training we receive. It is common to think of a college education in terms of increasingly focused bodies of knowledge. This represents only a third of ourselves, however, and absent the reflective component, really a fraction of that. Any Christian planning to become a college student, needs a realistic plan to develop the whole self. It’s not like we can press pause on our bodies and wills while we focus on attaining knowledge. If God’s word is trustworthy, then that would really amount to conformity. Recognizing that we are called to be in the world but not of it, the most important thing becomes an assessment of what we’re ready to do.
While I would expect a state college to reject this understanding of the human, their programs speak to all three aspects, nevertheless. As I believe you all to be quite familiar with the kinds of body experiences that colleges permit and even encourage, I’ll speak to the will. In our current moment in time, the training of the will, and to a lesser degree the mind, falls under the heading of emotional reasoning. Emotional reasoning is a system of thought based on a therapeutic model of the self (1). What this means is that a person begins by determining what makes them feel good. Things that make you feel badly are to be restricted, as they represent an attack against the self. At a glance, this is the origin of the safe space movement, the idea of cancel culture, and is often misunderstood through the expression, “snowflake.”
I speak of misunderstanding here, because many focus on the apparent weakness of these individuals. I would contend, alongside a large body of research, that what is actually going on is a disturbing form of empowerment. If my sense of self determines what others can or cannot do and say, then my sense of things – my will – becomes extremely powerful. But what is being trained here? It seems like what we’re being told is that if something offends or unsettles, we are to find a way to silence it. Individuals rarely feel up to this task, however, and so finding a group of like-minded people becomes necessary. Group think, however, requires conformity to the group. I acknowledge that I’m simplifying for the sake of space, but recognize the conceptual reversal of Romans 12:1-2. This model basically reads:
Appeal to everyone else, in view of who you are, to sacrifice their speech and behavior if it unsettles you. This is your spiritual form of worship. And avoid the pain of transformation by restricting your mind, that through conformity you will learn what the will of the group is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
I am not trying to be sarcastic. Rather, I am looking to highlight the basic nature of the reversal. The fundamental nature of these differences means that at the very least, the college environment cannot be called a continuation of the educational process. At least not the process that we’re engaged in here. Christian colleges aren’t necessarily exceptions to this either. Under whatever philosophical umbrella a school chooses, many are walking the path of emotional reasoning. This phenomenon takes many forms and has many names these days. Understanding what kind of education – training – you are signing up for involves understanding how the institution views people. Everyone grasps, whether implicitly or explicitly, the three-part division of the human. How they’ll train that whole person is another question entirely.
The first step in determining what education looks like is an evaluation of how to train the whole person. I am not advocating a philosophy of retreat because of worldliness. There’s nothing new under the sun. Understanding it, however, is a prerequisite to being as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Students need a lot of discernment to navigate the environment in question. Factors like engagement and understanding of a church, the ability to remain connected to family, and the shape of the student in question all need to be considered. After all, pursuing a higher education is supposed to be just that, a higher form of training. The good news is just that, the good news. A Romans 12:1-2 mindset is exactly what is required to counteract the opposite. Take careful stock of your sacrifice, renewal, and discernment.
(1) For an excellent treatment of this issue and its explicit connection to sexuality, see The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman.