Having been at Criswell for over five years now, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many unique and interesting people. Many of the middle-aged men are just the kind of good, old fashioned, slacks and polo wearing conservatives we’d expect them to be. But that’s not the end of the story. I’ve met people with bigger gauges than me. I’ve also met people who wear Chukka’s and carry around those hipster leather briefcases that herald MacBooks as each of us ought herald the gospel – with a class that says, “backpacks are just too mainstream.” I’ve met calvinists, molinists, fundamentalists, arminians, and of course, plenty of evangelicals. There’s a wide variety of men and women who are going or have gone to Criswell, but all have went pursuing the same thing: to earn that ever-so questionably important “college degree.”
There was once a middle-aged man who used to go to Criswell and was the slacks and polo wearing type. We’ll call him Bob. I remember Bob quite well. He had this charismatic way in which he talked about God, ministry, and life in general. And it was peculiar, even at a conservative Christian college like Criswell. I’d like to think this is because the “everything is always good” Christian charade is slipping off into oblivion. But behold, while this well-meaning Christian creature is an endangered species, he still exists in church circles and bible colleges today. Bob was one of the enduring survivors – a faithful remnant, one might say – from that group.
I remember his excitement on his last day of class before graduation. As one might expect from a man of his caliber of godliness, an appropriately reserved and composed amount of happiness was in order. Yet, since Bob tended to act this way, I wasn’t all that surprised or intrigued by his bliss. I was happy for him, but I wasn’t at the same level of modest enthusiasm. Until, that is, he told me how long he had been at Criswell:
At hearing this, my face lit up and my voice became much more animated: “Wow, brother! Sixteen years? Congratulations! That really is something to be proud of!” He smiled at me and said he appreciated it. As we continued talking, I came to find out that the reason for Bob’s elongated period of study at Criswell was that he had been taking one or two classes a semester while working full time in ministry. I was impressed by his determination. Having persevered to the end of a sixteen year endeavor was a formidable accomplishment, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from Bob. So I told him I was very happy for him. And looking back, I genuinely hope he sensed my sincerity.
However, after departing from our conversation and moving past how incredible this man’s endurance was, I began to have other thoughts about Bob and his degree. They related to his ability to communicate his thoughts.
Truth is, Bob wasn’t all that good at communicating his thoughts. I know this because I once had him in a class not long before and had read some of his work. It seemed jumbled and without substance, lacking the succession of coherent thoughts that writing is supposed to entail. No doubt Bob was a busy man who had on multiple occasions made it clear that his ministry was more important than his studies. But I still found myself wondering: how could a man who had been studying for almost two decades still lack the ability to form and articulate his thoughts? That’s a big deal. Moreover, what does this imply about the value of both my college degree and college degrees in general?
I’ve seen statistics showing that while college is more expensive than it has ever been (even accounting for inflation), it is also probably still worth it from a purely economic perspective. This is good to know, especially considering that college is not cheap and that most would like a return on such a large financial investment. But I’m not as concerned with economic value as I am with personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth. I may be getting older, but alas, my youth has gotten the best of me. I’m going to college, not because I want to make more money, but because I want, in the words of John Green, to “become a better and more informed observer of the universe.” Now, I understand that becoming “a better and more informed observer of the universe” doesn’t always pay the bills. But allow me to be completely honest with you, my dear reader, for just a second.
As I continue slipping evermore into the sleepless night that is adulthood, I am trying my best to maintain the conviction that life is about more than simply making money, having a nice house, or driving a new car. More than any of those things, I want to be present in my own life. And for me, being present means being able to take the vague electro-chemical reactions occurring within my brain and mold them into coherent thoughts and speech. College isn’t the only thing that has helped me become more efficient at doing that, but it is one major thing that has.
Even more than that, Criswell helped me to retain my faith during a time in my life when it was most challenged. One might not expect this to be true for someone who attended a Bible college for his undergrad, but challenges to faith are not partial to secular universities. I may be in a Christian college surrounded by Christian classmates, Christian professors, and a Christian curriculum, but there is no place on earth where immunity from life’s hardships and doubts can be obtained. The serpent can infiltrate a bible study just as easily as he can enter a pub, and he has no affinity for non-Christians. So, Christian colleges and churches are not impenetrable safe havens from serious challenges to faith. They should, however, be places that help you get through those challenges, and that is exactly what Criswell was for me.
Finally, my education also helped me to discover within myself a love for reading and writing which I had not previously recognized. I’ve found a joy in reading and writing that satisfies my soul. It is truly wonderful. And although it is certainly secondary to the human contact intrinsic to these two practices, when I am reading or writing, I feel I am doing something that I’ve been called by God to do. I have Criswell to thank for that.
So, I cannot speak for Bob, that good natured Christian soldier who spent sixteen years earning his stripes. But I can speak for myself. And what I would say is that, up to this point, my time at Criswell has been worth every Red Bull chugging, mind crushing moment of study I’ve had to endure. And I’m proud of the experiences and growth that the 11” x 8.5” piece of paper hanging on the wall in my living room represents.
What do you think makes a college degree worthwhile? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below!