Should I attend a Christian university?

Nov 12, 2015 by

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They knew exactly how to market to me. Pumping and vibrant praise music wafting through the school, prayers before every class, professors who truly care about student needs, and those colorful envelopes in our student lounge inviting people to write thoughtful messages to you are what first drew me in to Tyndale — a trans-denominational university and seminary in Toronto, Canada.

Yet during the five years I studied at Tyndale — long enough to earn both my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees in theology related fields, I found that Tyndale was so much more. It is a place where prayer happens, where testimonies are shared, and where community is built and fostered. It is a place where you are challenged to grow — academically, spiritually and socially, and where you make the best friends you ever will in your entire life. I wouldn’t change these five years for anything in the world. It was not always easy, and Tyndale, like any other organization in the world is imperfect and has its flaws, but somehow Tyndale and I found each other, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Nevertheless, there is a time and place for everything, and all good things must come to an end. So instead of finding myself sitting at a desk writing an essay or listening to yet another lecture on predestination or the charismatic gifts, I now find myself typing on a computer in Edinburgh during my daily allotted free time which is almost over. I am reflecting on a question that has recently been asked to me here in Scotland: “How did you find going to a Christian university? Was it worth it?” My answer is all at once — yes, it was amazing and totally worth it, and no, I wish I would have done at least one degree at a secular institution. And I am about to share why.

This may come as a complete shock to my newfound Scottish friends who get to attend university for free (#jealous), but going to university in Canada can be fairly expensive. And when one chooses to go to a Christian school, it can be even more expensive. In fact, when I calculate all the money I spent on my two degrees from a Christian university, I can honestly tell you it would have been enough to buy a decent-sized starter home in my hometown. So was it worth it? Yes and no. I’m about to share three reasons why I absolutely loved going to a Christian university alongside three snares that would make the older me reconsider. Here we go:

Things I loved:

  • There is no denying that if you go to a Christian school where the Bible is accurately taught and proclaimed, you will grow in your faith. Through almost daily chapels, small group prayer times, classes and even just informal interactions, I learned to see the Bible as so much more than just an ancient book. I met Christians who didn’t just spout off random verses, but actually deeply lived into their reality. I also made friends from a wide range of denominations and learned that people who believe differently from me are not “wrong,” but simply have another worldview. These experiences of being transformed and hopefully of me transforming others have been worth it in and of themselves.
  • I made incredible friends. Sure, I probably would have made friends had I also gone to a larger university, but there is something special and sacred about the friends you make when your university has fewer than 2,000 people. You become a tight-knit group, almost like a family. Throughout my school days, I never once lacked a friend to pray or share with. Plus, outside of my university, I can’t think of all that many friends who would actually truly enjoy an evening spent in the Word or going to church functions.
  • I got to know Toronto (or insert city/town here). A vibrant Christian school doesn’t just keep its message of hope and peace to itself; it goes and spreads it out to the world. Through a series of both international and local opportunities to serve, Tyndale students have gone out and tested their strengths and gifts in a variety of settings. Personally, during my time at Tyndale, I have volunteered for credit with a pregnancy center, helping to TA a discipleship class for first-year students, a local nursing home, and a variety of different churches of various denominations and ethnic compositions. Additionally, I have gone out with other Tyndale students to deliver sandwiches to the homeless or spend a day with the street kids at Urban Promise. These experiences have been incredibly rich.

But school does not also come without its challenges. Here are three things a Christian university may never tell you up-front when you are going through the stages of admission, but which you will soon discover.

  • My time at Tyndale did not accurately represent the real world. There is a time and place to be part of the Christian bubble. If you are young (demographically or in your spiritual walk) it is important to be nurtured and loved in a safe environment where you will be affirmed and taken care of. Tyndale did that for me. For the most part, people at Tyndale live upright and moral lives, which was important for me coming straight out of high school. However, what I was unprepared for once I left Tyndale was the real world. I was incredibly naïve about things like drinking, drugs or sex. I had a concept that people did that, but when people who identify as Christians started joining the party scene or moving in with their significant others, I was at a loss. In that regard, while going to a Christian university strengthened my interior, it did not teach me how to stand strong in my witness from the outside.
  • Christian universities often pressure their students to date. With the “ring by spring” and the amount of weddings and engagements that have taken place throughout my studies, I have seen how a strict desire to be pure before marriage has rushed many a student into a lifetime commitment they may or may not have truly been prepared for. That’s not a blanket statement, of course. Many of my friends remain happily married. But to think that everyone should be married by 20 or 21 is an unfair assumption. I think Christian universities in general would be much better off affirming the gift of singleness for a season and showing that people who are single are just as much human beings as people in serious relationships or those who are married.
  • There is no way around this — if you study the Bible academically, there will be periods of Bible burn-out. No one likes to admit this fact, but once you learn the ancient languages and once you can throw around a few key theological phrases, it will be incredibly hard to see the Bible devotionally or sit through a church Bible study where others are muddling through a text you have successfully conquered. In these instances, humility and a willingness to continue to learn are key. We cannot forget the reason for our theological studies in the first place or else we are going to revert to some type of faith crisis – exactly what we have been trying to avoid.

So, looking back, would I recommend others to go to a Christian university? Absolutely, but with caution. My times at retreats, meeting with my spiritual director, and even just goofing off at student events have shown me that university should be so much more than just what we study. But my time in the real working world has also taught me that if you come in to a Christian school completely naïve, you probably will also leave completely unprepared for what lies ahead. What then?

Don’t just depend on your professors and the staff for your spiritual nourishment. They are key to making you have a good experience, but the responsibility also lies with you. If you want to make the most of your time in the academy, you must get out there and get involved in the real world. Don’t just hide behind the cloak of hermeneutics, but learn to live incarnationally with a purpose and a mission in mind. If you do, then I truly believe your university experience will be incredibly worth it. If you don’t, I’m afraid you may never progress from spiritual infancy to adulthood. The choice is yours. Only you can decide how to make it.

Deborah-Ruth Ferber studied religious education at Tyndale University College in Toronto, and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. This post first appeared at Zwiebach and Peace, her personal blog.

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