The Cultural Value of Christian Higher Education

The News Magazine of HBU

The Cultural Value of Christian Higher Education

Christian colleges can develop students in ways few other institutions can.

Excerpts of speech by David Brooks

“I’ve come to love and appreciate the world of Christian

You [Christian colleges] have what everybody else is desperate to have: a way of talking about and educating the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion and intellect. You have a recipe to nurture human beings who have a devoted heart, a courageous mind and a purposeful soul. Almost no other set of institutions in American society has that, and everyone wants it. From my point of view, you’re ahead of everybody else and have the potential to influence American culture in a way that could be magnificent…

“Most universities have gotten out of the business of spiritual and character development, and they’ve adopted a research ideal. We’ve all benefited intellectually from this research orientation, but as Tony Kronman writes, this orientation ‘draws our attention away from the whole of our lives and requires that we focus on some small special aspect of it instead.’ It makes the idea of our lives as a whole seem less familiar and less compelling. It emphasizes the instrumental reasoning over the other faculties of heart and soul. It teaches students how to do things but less why they should do them and less how to think about what is their highest and best life. To ask about the meaning of life is to appear unprofessional…

“You have the example of Jesus Christ. You have the beatitudes; the fire of the Holy Spirit; you believe in a personal God who is still redeeming the world. As Pope Francis demonstrated, when a single person acts like Jesus, the whole world is transfixed. Carrying the Gospel is your central mission to your students and to those you serve beyond the campus walls, but that’s not all you have. You have a way of being that is not all about self. You have a counterculture to the excessive individualism of our age. You offer an ideal more fulfilling and more true and higher than the ideal of individual autonomy…

“Secular colleges have gotten out of holding up exemplars of excellence. At Christian colleges, you have the ultimate exemplar: the life and example of Jesus. But there are other ideas to copy and to inspire, and the ideals of exemplars inflame a desire for excellence…

“There was a guy named Robert Livingston in the 19th century who said that when people don’t do good, it’s often not because they’re bad but they have been given an insufficient ideal. That is not true at Christian schools, but it’s often true at other schools…”

David Brooks is a Jewish American journalist, social analyst, and leading political commentator. His column in The New York Times started in September 2003, and he has worked and contributed to various national publications. He is the author of The Road to Character. Brooks’ writing reflects many Christian themes.

Brooks delivered this speech at the Council for Christian Colleges and University’s 40th Anniversary Celebration Gala in Washington, D. C. Used by permission of the Council For Christian Colleges & Universities. Read the entire transcript at