Helping When Their Knees Knock: Equipping Students to Reach Professors

Writing a CCO column for the immediate post-Jubilee conference season is almost as daunting as writing the pre-conference one. I considered just rerunning the February review of three books--the one on a spirituality of eating, the coffee-flavored one for women on personal and interpersonal growth, and the Chuck Smith title, which serves as a basic guide to postmodernism--as they could serve as practical resources for following up and mentoring those whose spirits are still soaring from Jubilee. I say this every March, but it bears repeating: ask your student friends what books they purchased at Jubilee (or which ones they looked at but couldn't afford). Talk through not just the Big Epiphanies, but the baby steps that some students can be walked through as they think more deeply about their vocations, their callings, their careers. Look at the books they bought and remind them to read "Ëœem. Might as well get their money's worth.

After a fascinating conversation with a Penn State student, it dawns on me again that the whole-life discipleship, Christian scholarship, thinking Christianly about higher ed, developing a biblically-shaped vision of vocation, Christ-acoss-the-curriculum thing really gives young Christian students an advantage in witnessing effectively to their professors--certainly an advantage over those who are not aware of the intellectual basis and integral nature of the gospel.

Every campus minister reading this knows of at least one earnest but clueless kid who mouthed off unwisely to a hostile professor. And, most likely, we've known students who have attempted a legitimate dialogue about Christian perspectives in the classroom, only to be rebuffed, feeling not quite persecuted, but not quite effective either.

You know the drill. Have students form study groups by major. Listen to Jubilee workshop tapes. Go through key books in their discipline. Study the last chapter of Sire's Discipleship of the Mind (you recall the great appendix, giving guidelines for students at secular colleges). Use the Walsh & Middleton article which I've passed out at summer training (and at OCBP) entitled "How to Think Your Way Through College." Review the chapter called "Writing for Dr. Pagan" in the wonderful A Heart for Truth. Invite students, like J.S. Bach, to sign their work Soli De Gloria and help them do it with integrity.

But here is another idea: challenge students to show this bibliography to their favorite professors, as well as any other campus staff that they've heard attend church. (You can offer to go with them if their knees start knocking at the very thought.) Some Christian faculty--perhaps due to the forces of secularization in their own experiences of getting their own advanced degrees, perhaps due to a less than friendly environment in their department--have not really read much about their jobs as professors. They just might find such a notion novel and rather appealing.

In other words, just as you invite and encourage (and cajole) students to read Christianly in their own areas of academic interest, they can do the same to their profs. Besides the option of using parts of the discipline-specific bibliography passed out at January Staff Seminar for professors (which also appears on the JubileeNow Web site, by the way) you could start with this more general list of books about being a Christian professor in academia.

Although the following descriptions were written for professors at a Presbyterian-related liberal arts college, I think the texts are so reliably interesting and of such academic caliber that nearly any prof would find it fascinating. It will wow them to think that their students have access to such a list. And if you--academically-marginalized, pigeon-holed, religious counselor that you are--show them that you are encouraging students to take their studies seriously, professors just might rise up and call you blessed in their sight. (Or, if they are not inclined to such exclamations of biblical proportions, maybe they'll at least say, "Hmmmmm, this looks pretty interesting.") Which is most likely a better response than most tracts one might use to evangelize college instructors.

So, print out this list. Pass it out to your students to give to their friendly professors (and maybe even to the not-so-friendly ones). Let one of the fruits of the Jubilee conference be that evangelical Christians in the tri-state area became agents and conduits of God to bring college professors to Himself, and that they also might learn more of what it means to honor Him in all that they do--for the good of the teachers, for the good of the campus, for the good of the students, for the reformation of scholarship, and for the coming of the Kingdom. For the glory of the name of the Lord!