I am grateful for this “shameless appeals” category on this blog. It enables me to point to various ministries that are genuinely worthy of support from the broader Christian community, and today’s lesson has to do with New St. Andrews College. But those who don’t want to suffer through a shameless appeal can just press on to the next entry, which should be coming up soon enough.
One time Benjamin Franklin, an unbeliever, was going off to hear George Whitefield preach. Whitefield and Franklin were friends, and Franklin knew that Whitefield frequently concluded his sermons with an appeal to help his orphanage that he had established in Georgia, an eighteenth century shameless appeal. Franklin also knew that Whitefield was good at this, and so he left all his money at home. But when the time came, Franklin wound up borrowing some money from an acquaintance in order to be able to give. And so, bringing this down to the twenty-first century, I know that some of you out there have left your credit cards at home to guard against just this eventuality. So you can just borrow your friend’s . . .
Before getting into the discussion, I need to guard against a likely twisting of my words here. We are not just going about our business here, we are doing so in the midst of ongoing opposition by our intoleristas. They belong to the “too hot, too cold, too tall, too short” approach to debate. According to some of their surmises, our ministries have a vast resevoir of money, and we are therefore engaged in buying up downtown Moscow, just like that Rasheesh Rami Dumbunni did with that town in Oregon a few years back. And according to their speculations at other times, we are teetering on our last legs, and one more push should do it. But of course, neither is the case. Our ministries are thriving, but like many thriving ministries, we continue to rely on faithful supporters. And one of our obligations in this is to communicate accurately with those supporters to let them know exactly what is going on. And though we are thriving, we also face some significant challenges — some of them created by our opponents. But all the challenges that they have brought to us have also brought us even greater opportunities. As our opponents have “done their thing,” so also we have seen our national and international audience grow significantly. “What is going on in Moscow?” Every writer of fiction can tell you that conflict is interesting. When a fight develops on the playground, the second thing that develops is the crowd. But I don’t want Christian readers of this blog to consider themselves just part of a faceless “crowd.” I want to enlist you in the fight itself, and hence, here comes the shameless appeal. So watch out.
I want to ask you to consider one of two options, and perhaps both. NSA has two significant on-going needs. The first, in common with all colleges, is the need for donors or patrons. The second, in common with all colleges, is the need for new students.
I will begin with the first, and then move on to a brief description of the unique approach to higher education taken by NSA, along with an argument why you should strongly consider attending NSA next fall, that “you” being you, your son, daughter, cousin, next door neighbor, or friend at church — anyone who is thinking about college (or who ought to be). This will necessitate an argument against the prevailing vocational paradigm in higher education. This is not to say that we are against students being vocationally equipped, but there will more about this shortly. Suffice it to say for now that there is a great difference between being vocationally trained and being vocationally prepared.
First, the question of donations. I am assuming in all this that donors to NSA ought not to rob God by shortchanging their local church. The one who is taught should share all good things with the one who teaches, and so I assume that the tithe is going where it ought to go. But what about gifts beyond that, or the various odd situations where the givers have to be better stewards of their tithe? When making a decision about where to place financial resources, one of the first questions that donors should always ask and answer is this one: in the spiritual and cultural war that is going on in our nation, where is the front?
We are sometimes tempted to answer this question in terms of our prevailing idolaties. In other words, we think the front must be somewhere like Washington, D.C. But the formal centers of authority are not necessarily the place where the armies meet. In the Civil War, the centers of authority were Washington and Richmond, but the small and insignificant town of Gettysburg was far more important than them both — because that is where the armies met.
For various reasons, that we don’t fully understand, it has become apparent to us that it is very important for our adversaries to shut us down. We don’t have a superstitious allegiance to the territory we happen to occupy, but we do believe that it is important for us to not back down, to not apologize for what we believe, and to stay constant with our mission to train young men and women in a classical and Christian liberal arts education. What we are doing here appears to matter very much. We really believe that, and so do our adversaries. The intoleristas don’t turn away from us with an apathetic shrug — they just can’t leave it be. And so where should you send your gifts and support? I have a simple argument. You should send them to the front.
And this is why slander is such an important weapon in the mouths of our opponents. They know that Christians will support beleaguered fellow Christians, but they will not support racists, neo-Nazis, misogynists, and other assorted malcontents. The reason we are being lied about in the way we are being lied about is that it is very important for our adversaries to represent us as being out of the evangelical and Reformed mainstream. But we are not. What has happened to us now could easily be happening to you next. But the frontlines (for the moment) are here, and your resources are needed here. For that reason, please consider a gift to NSA.
And please consider attending as a student, or sending your son or daughter in the fall. I would particularly emphasize the need for your sons to consider this. This second aspect of my plea brings us to the reason why NSA is such a threat. At first glance, it looks like nothing could be more irrelevant to the contemporary culture wars than what we are doing. But this is not the case at all, and there are deep reasons for it.
A true liberal arts education is not a specialty education. It is not one “major” among many. It is not the “major” that trains future English teachers the way an engineering “major” prepares a student for a career in engineering. This important to emphasize because in our current vocational training paradigm it is often the case that a young Christian man might not apply to NSA because he knows that he not called vocationally “to be a poet,” say. He knows he is going to run a business, and so he thinks the thing for him to do is take a business degree at the closest state university. Meantime, his sister likes poetry and stuff and so she can go to NSA. But this is one of the central confusions created by the vocational paradigm over against the liberal arts paradigm. We are not comparing students trained for a job and students trained for sitting around talking about Herodotus.
If the traditional argument for a liberal arts education is correct (as I believe it is), then the best preparation for the future businessman is not a narrow business degree, but rather a liberal arts degree. Again, a liberal arts degree is not a vocational degree. Over the last century and a half, the transformation of the American university system from one of liberal arts preparation for life into a vocational mill has been a truly profound transformation. And while there have been some blessings that have come from it, over all the impact on our civilization has been destructive.
A liberal arts education prepares the student for all of life in a way that nothing else does. Of course, it is granted at the outset that graduates must make their way in the world and that they must at some point be prepared in the specifics of their calling to do so. Specialty training in medicine, engineering, forestry, etc. is obviously necessary. But if we want those disciplines characterized by intelligence and wisdom, this specialty training needs to go on top of a liberal arts education and not instead of it. A graduate’s vocational calling is a very important part of his life, but a liberal arts education is not to be understood as a special kind of vocational training. Rather, it is a preparation of the man himself or the woman herself, not the inculcation of a particular skill set.
In one sense, I know that I cannot hope to explain this here fully. In order to really understand it, it is necessary to spend four years in a course of study like the only course of study that we have here. NSA has only two degrees — an AA in Liberal Arts and Culture and a BA in Liberal Arts and Culture. The point of offering this education is so that we might come to understand it. That said, let me finish with what may seem like an inflammatory quotation on this subject from none other than C.S. Lewis. “You see at once that education is essentially for freemen and vocational training for slaves . . . if education is beaten by training, civilization dies. That is a thing very likely to happen.”
But the inflammatory nature of this is only superficial. He is not saying that to have a vocation makes you a slave. Lewis is saying that to be equipped for nothing else than to be a vocational cog in the industrial machine is to be a slave. And that is something that has happened in a profound way to our culture at large. Here at NSA, we are engaged in standing against that prevailing paradigm. But this is not because we want no engineers, but rather because we want better engineers. It is not because we want no doctors — we want better doctors. In the long run, nothing is more impractical than vocational pragmatism. Pragmatism doesn’t work.
We know that your sons and daughters may not be called to become teachers in classical and Christian schools around the nation (although some are). But if you get the vision of recovering the liberal arts paradigm for higher education, that is not a reason to dismiss NSA as an option. Does your son want to be a businessman developing new software? If he comes here, we will not try to talk him out of it. Rather, we will prepare him for that calling in a way that is second to none. How? Three years of Latin and Greek. Herodotus. Biblical theology. Rhetoric. Art and architecture. Great literature. Learning how to live, love, and think as a Christian.