Conservative Christians have standards, and we are going to stick to them, by golly. And that is actually a good thing, so long as we are sticking to them. The problem arises when they start sticking to us, as when cheat grass gets in your socks.
The problem I have in mind affects all sorts of issues — attendace at worship, sabbath keeping, psalm singing, entertainment standards, biblical courtship, classical Christian education, and so on, down the block and around the corner. I am not talking about bogus legalisms, like prohibitions of processed foods in the name of Jesus, but rather issues for which an actual biblical case can be made. But the fact that the standard is stoutly biblical doesn’t keep us from picking it up by the wrong end. God’s standards — all His true standards — are all a get to, not a got to. But surely, someone will say, there is an obligatory got to element in there? Sure, but we can only see it that way when we are holding it upside down.
The letter kills, and true letters, being as sharp as they are, kill the very best. The letter stirs up a disinclination to do whatever it is, even if that thing is the coolest thing in the world (Rom. 3:20; 5:20). The law, understood this way, chases us away from the good. But the law, understood as the grace of God, blesses us beyond all measure.
Now, all of this is my introduction to the subject of Christian higher education. Thoroughly Christian higher education is entirely a good thing, and it is something required (got to!) by the terms of a genuine Christian worldview. This does not mean that it is a requirement that every last Christian pursue such an education. Of course not. Neither does it mean that it is “a sin” for your kid to attend Behemoth State to major in volleyball. The requirement is different than that. The requirement is for every Christian to see that Christian higher ed is a good thing for those who are called to it, and an obvious blessing for those who receive it. The ramifications of this will provide us with everything we need.
But if some do not see the blessing that it represents (as some do not), there is a pressing temptation on the part of those who do see it to try to motivate the others by an appeal to raw obligation at the individual level. But that doesn’t work. It is counterproductive. It stirs up unnecessary resistance. It blows your recruiter’s eyebrows off.
One of the reasons the Church is in the straits it is in today is because so many of our leaders received such a truncated education. You can’t enjoy the vista that a true liberal arts education provides if you received your highly specialized education down in a gulch. You can love Jesus down in the gulch, but you still can’t see very far. Not everyone needs to have the panorama, but somebody should. Not everyone in positions of leadership in Church must have access to this vista, but a good number of them should. If we just blow this off, then the result will be seers who can’t see and teachers who can’t talk straight (Is. 29:10).
Another way of putting this is that not all obligations are individual. If the Church recovers an understanding that a liberal arts higher education was a crucial Christian historical development, one that enabled us as a people to do great cultural things, we can then return to a place where we honor that. If we do, then many individual Christians will be attracted to it, and not all of them will attain to it. If they apply to a college which provides such an education, and are accepted, they are excited about it. It is a get to. The person gets to receive a cultural honor and privilege.
We should understand the psychology of this. We can even see it with prestigious institutions that have lost their soul, and their way. Christ used to be acknowledged as Lord in great colleges that He established, but He is no longer honored there. The people running them have turned them into an intellectual brothel. Nevertheless, their remaining cultural authority is an example of cultural capital not running out two days after the apostasy. Because of that, we should be willing to learn something from how people respond to an offer of access to that cultural capital. So when someone is accepted into West Point or Annapolis, their friends don’t usually respond with, “Bummer, man. I heard those places are kind of legalistic.” Or when someone is accepted into Harvard, Yale or Oxford, the work that will be involved is seen by everyone as a tremendous privilege. The person now gets to do the got tos.
It doesn’t work the other direction. People can’t be chased into a sense of get to by constantly reminding them how much they have got to.