By Heath Thomas
Although universities should help us understand what it means to live a meaningful life in our day, unfortunately they too often create confusion instead of clarity. Sadly, many of our young leaders are equipped to answer all the wrong questions and miss the right ones on our campuses.
What are we to do? We can respond in one of three ways: (1) abandon our education, which is not a God-honoring response; (2) acquiesce to culture in education, which is equally not a God-honoring response; (3) adhere to a biblically rooted and grounded education, which is a God-honoring and faithful response. How do we do this?
We discover insight from the book of Daniel. Written over 2,500 years ago, the opening chapter of the book of Daniel portrays both Daniel and his friends forcibly removed from his home country, Judah, and taken to strange city of Babylon. The goal of the Babylonians in this forcible migration was to indoctrinate captured peoples into a new way of thinking and living. The exiles attended King Nebuchadnezzar University. For Daniel and his friends, indoctrination program was designed to transform these faithful Judahite followers of God into good Babylonians.
Dan. 1:1-21 stipulates their indoctrination program. The Babylonians gave Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael new names. Whereas their Hebrew names revealed something about the character of Israel’s God, their new names reflected devotion to the Babylonian gods. The text tells us they were transported to a new place (Jerusalem to Babylon), with a new language (Hebrew to Babylonian), with a new curriculum (God’s Word to “the language and literature of Babylon”), and a new status (nobility in Judah to slaves in the palace of the king of Babylon). They probably faced a new sexuality as well (as they served with the eunuchs in the court of the king)! They were given new food…because nothing carries culture like food! The full re-education program at King Nebuchadnezzar University was one in which all other ideologies, commitments, allegiances, and religious beliefs were expected to bow to Babylon.
But Daniel and his compatriots resist. Dan. 1:8 tells us that “Daniel refused to defile himself with the king’s food.” This is a fascinating phrase. Daniel’s refusal to “defile” comes from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. “Defilement” and “impurity” make one unfit for service to the Lord. Holiness makes one “fit for service.” This means that Daniel viewed his life through the lens of mission! He set his foot down and refused to make himself unfit for service to the Lord with the way that he conducted his life.
This confrontation between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, between the people of God and the nations, is not unique to Daniel’s day. In an environment confused by culture and compromised by idolatry, education, and specifically higher education, becomes a place where faith is torn down rather than built up. The church must learn from lessons of Daniel and the exiles. We must view our lives through the lens of mission.
When we view our lives in mission, Christian higher education becomes central. Rather than being a place where a student’s Christian faith is torn down, institutions of Christian higher education ought to be places where their faith is strengthened and empowered to live on mission. Rather than expecting our students to bend all of life to the whims of our culture, institutions of Christian higher education help their students see that all of life is to be lived under the rule of God in Christ. At OBU, we put it this way – we want to equip our students to live all of life, all for Jesus, so that they can serve Christ in every sphere of life. Whether doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, educators, scientists, artists, physical therapists, counsellors, mothers, fathers, sons or daughters, our goal is to leverage all of life, all for Jesus. We challenge our students to live life fully on mission.
If we are going to live all of life, all for Jesus, we need believers equipped with the Christian worldview that touches every sphere of life. We need Christ-followers who understand the Bible…and live by it! We need believers who read God’s Word as One Book by One Author centered on One Person, Jesus Christ, and his One Work of salvation through his life, death, and resurrection. And we need believers in every sphere of life who can take that foundational understanding of Scripture and sound doctrine and apply it to their work and homes, showing how God’s world is both good and tainted by sin, in need of restoration. We need believers in every sphere of life who can identify where and how their disciplines are bent and broken by sin and where and how they direct us toward the kingdom of God.
This is what Christian higher education is about, and it is what OBU is about. Higher education on mission. All of life, all for Jesus. The founders of Oklahoma Baptist University our world needed Christians who could salt our state, region, and world with the gospel of Jesus Christ in every sphere of life: private Christian school that provides public good in the public square. Different from King Nebuchadnezzar University, our prayer is that God will continue to work through us and like-minded institutions to equip the next generation of future shapers to live on mission: all of life, all for Jesus.