A year or so ago a good friend of mine, Suzanne Davis, who is now President of Greenville University in Illinois, wrote me and asked:
“You’ve been a connoisseur of higher education for quite some time, what are your observations on what makes a Christian liberal arts college worth the investment?”
Before I share my answer to Suzanne’s question, my title of “connoisseur” needs a little clarification. It’s a French word that means, “one who often writes substantial checks.” I’m a connoisseur as a father who, with his wife and her parents, paid for 24 years of college and graduate school so that our three children could become an attorney, a physician and a petroleum geologist. Two of the schools they attended, Gordon and Baylor, are avowedly Christian, while their other schools, the University of Rochester, Oxford, Texas A&M, SUNY Medical School and Chapman Law School, are all quite secular. So that’s how you become a connoisseur of higher education.
As Christians we believe that people are valuable and worthy of our love and respect simply because they are made by God in his image. Their value, in other words, is inherent in their mere existence and is not in any way dependent on achievement, social status, ability, power, popularity or wealth. This is a radical departure from the ethos of our era. We get to tell every student, “you are valuable because you are loved by God” and “there is nothing that you have done or can do that will diminish your value in God’s eyes or in ours.” Our first purpose is to help students know and enjoy that love.
Second, we believe that all truth proceeds from the truth of God as revealed in Christ. That we believe in truth at all is also a radical departure from the beliefs of our day. We live in an age that is characterized by the absence of certainty, as the measurement of all things is subjective. Feelings determine whether or not something is true, not objective standards. This, ultimately, is debilitating and helps explain why wide-spread depression can exist in the midst of wide-spread prosperity.
It seems self-evident to me that a Christian education grounded in God-given human dignity and the belief in truth can be a light to the world. At a minimum, it can be a tool for helping students navigate and thrive in a world that does not know either inherent dignity or truth. For me that is reason enough.
We can’t take the time here to discuss how to pursue such an education at the college level in the 21st century. Suffice it to say I favor a core curriculum grounded in the history and achievements of Western Civilization. Various Great Book programs are well-known examples.
It is interesting and encouraging that all of these really important goals can be achieved when studying almost any subject. When learning American history, for example, it will help students understand the value of private property if they know that our Christian ancestors, the Pilgrims, tried and rejected communal ownership in 1623.
When studying government, politics and economics they might become more aware of the dangers of inflation if they read one of Abigail Adam’s wonderful letters in which she admonishes husband John to not send home any more paper dollars (as opposed to gold or silver) as the overprinting of colonial revolutionary war currency was making it worthless.
And looking at ancient history just for fun, I think our future newlyweds should know from Plutarch (writing in AD 100 about a famous mythological event in Roman history) that “it continues also a custom to this very day for the bride not of herself to pass her husband’s threshold, but to be lifted over, in memory that the Sabine virgins were carried in by violence, and did not go in of their own will.” In fairness to our students, I have yet to find anyone, even among my best educated friends, who knew the origin of the threshold tradition!
All of the reasons for valuing a Christian education at the college level apply with equal force to a Christian high school such as Berean. In fact, the issues may be even more important for our younger, more impressionable students. And in the “for what it’s worth department,” I actually learned a lot more in high school than I did in college!
Whatever the context, our goals should include equipping students to recognize and wrestle with issues, have the humility to learn from the past and then be able to share their thoughts well in spoken and written English. We ought also, by our own enthusiasm for knowledge, attempt to inculcate a life-long love of learning. Our students will never become all that they could if they limit learning to their years of formal education.
All of us who assist Berean in any capacity are grateful that we get to participate in demonstrating Christ’s love for our students and his sovereignty over all things. We pray that we will do our work joyfully. And we are humbled by the loving support we receive from all the parents and friends who join us in this wonderful endeavor.
Robert P. Fry, Jr.
Senior Gift Advisor at National Christian Foundation
Bob Fry is an investment advisor, writer, retired attorney, private equity investor and Bible study teacher. For most of the last 30 years, Bob was an institutional investment advisor. At one time, he was the Director of Investments for Merrill Lynch Trust Company and chairman of the Investment Committee that supervised $10 billion in trust assets.
Today, Bob serves as the Senior Gift Advisor with the National Christian Foundation of California. He is also assisting Berean Christian High School in the development of their Foundation and Endowment.
Bob is the author of Nonprofit Investment Policies: Practical Steps for Growing Charitable Funds, (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1998) and Who’s Minding the Money? (BoardSource, Washington DC, 2009). Over the years, has also spoken at a great many national conferences, both Christian and secular, and in 2015, enjoyed teaching Bible studies for an OPEN Huddle in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Bob lives in Concord, California, with his wife, Susan, who is a retired Special Education teacher. Together, they spend a great deal of time helping their three children teach, guide and entertain their four grandchildren.
Finally, unlike many men in their 60’s, Bob has largely given up golf in favor of full-court pick-up basketball, where his much younger fellow players often observe, “he sure runs hard for an old guy!”