Professor Jerry Pattengale is encouraged that college students today seem to be asking the big questions once again. In his review of Anthony T. Kronman's Education's End (Books & Culture, November/December 2009) Dr. Pattengale is hopeful that this portends the beginning of a new era in higher education, one in which understanding, not research, will be the driving force in student learning.
Dr. Pattengale does not agree with Anthony Kronman that "enlightened secular humanism" will be able to supply the best answers to students' questions about life and its meaning and purpose. I share that conviction, and, like Dr. Pattengale, I'm encouraged to think that young people are beginning to take more seriously issues other than having fun and getting a good job. The higher education experience will always feature healthy doses of these, but it's heartening to think that over and perhaps through all the fun and career prep is a growing interest in the things that matter most.
I guess what concerns me is whether or not, as young people begin asking the big questions, Christians will be on hand with the big answers. For as important as the questions are, asking the questions alone won't guarantee that students find a more satisfying and fruitful experience of life as a result of what Alexander Astin once referred to as their "four critical years."
Now is the time to begin preparing young people in local churches to think deeply about life, immerse themselves in the proven answers given by our forebears in the Christian faith, and search the Scriptures daily with a view to knowing, living, and proclaiming all the counsel of God. Church youth groups are not much given to such endeavors. Serious piety, serious reflection on contemporary issues and events, and serious study of the Bible aren't nearly as prominent in youth programs as having a good time with your Christian friends.
But the kids who are beginning to ask the big questions, while they may listen politely to their professors, will be more interested in what their peers believe, how they think and how they answer these questions in genuine and meaningful ways. If we can begin equipping Christian youth with big answers to the big questions of life, we may see a new revival of genuine Christianity flare up and spread like wildfire - as it frequently has in the past - through the campuses of the nation.