The Effects of Sin on Higher Education

As mentioned in previous blogs, I am a professor by vocation. Apart from research and teaching responsibilities, one of the important aspects of my daily job involves college service activities, which usually involves serving on campus-wide academic committees. One of the committees that I serve on is called the First Year Experience (FYE) committee. The FYE is an academic program designed to integrate new students into the academic and cultural community of the College. The courses in this program give new students an opportunity to work closely with faculty, smooth their transition to college, and provide them with the skills that will help them succeed throughout their academic careers.

During our normal meetings, there is a question that arises without fail: why are incoming students so bad? Most often, undergraduate faculty like to believe that all of the problems lay with the failures of high school education. However, we also have to look at ourselves because faculty that teach in graduate school programs, professional masters programs, and even seminaries, ask the same basic questions: Why are incoming students so bad? Why haven’t students developed sound critical thinking skills and effective learning strategies? Why do so few students take personal responsibility and initiative for their own educational and intellectual development? Why do so many students possess an infantile view of education in which they must be spoon-fed in order to learn? Why aren’t we producing the types of scholars and skilled professionals that are needed in a highly competitive global economy? These questions are not for secular institutions only. Faculty members at Christian universities pose the same types of questions as well.

There are many answers to these questions that usually deal with funding, institutional effectiveness, and innovative teaching methods. However, I want to address this question from a distinctly Christian perspective. From the numerous answers that I’ve read, I have not heard many commentators discuss how the obvious decline in Christian morality and ethics has affected the quality of our education system. As Christians, we are aware of how sin affects the whole man. In particular, we know that the presence of sin in our hearts negatively affects and undermines the human mind and intellect (otherwise known as the noetic effects of sin). In a sermon given at 2012 National Conference for Ligonier Ministries, R. Albert Mohler gives 14 different noetic effects of the fall

  1. Intellectual ignorance
  2. Intellectual distractedness
  3. Forgetfulness
  4. Intellectual prejudice
  5. Faulty perspective
  6. Intellectual fatigue
  7. Intellectual inconsistencies
  8. Faulty deduction and induction
  9. Intellectual apathy/laziness
  10. Dogmatism and closedmindness
  11. Intellectual pride
  12. Vain imagination
  13. Miscommunication
  14. Partial/incomplete knowledge

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it is clear that many of these noetic effects describe the state of the typical American undergraduate student. We also know that there has been a noticeable decline in morality and ethics as our nation continues to reject the law of God as the absolute standard for morals and ethics. Because sin affects the whole man, it stands to reason that a culture that willfully turns away from Christian truth, morality, and ethics will have their hearts, minds, and intellect darkened. Consider the words of Paul

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they become futile In their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:17-18

As Christians, we know that the discipleship of the mind and the heart are inseparable. In other words, it is impossible to separate morality and education because they both are part of the discipleship process and thus they mutually influence each other. My basic thesis is that the darkening of the American heart (due to its rejection of God’s moral law) has invariably led to the darkening of the American mind in higher education. My goal in this series is to analyze how each noetic effect of sin has a direct impact on the current state and trajectory of modern American undergraduate education.

With this study I also want to offer a Christian response to the current problems in modern American education. I would like to state upfront that I will not be advocating for Christians to take over institutions of higher education (particularly for public, state-run institutions). However, there is legitimate Christian responsibility concerning these matters and these will be addressed in future blogs.

7 thoughts on “The Effects of Sin on Higher Education

  1. It isn’t just secondary schools, it’s colleges as well that have become driven by profit, liberalism, and political correctness. I am 57 years old and decided after retiring from the fire department that I should finish my college education, which I started at age 17 and quit when money ran out and I needed to go to work. I attend the local community college (now a four-year school) and am extremely disappointed in the information being conveyed in the textbooks (almost all exclusively from Pearson Publications – smells like kickback to me, especially since the textbooks are horrible and full of speculations and outright lies – but politically correct). If I were a betting man, I would bet my retirement pay that the number of Christian and/or conservative college professors in most public colleges and universities is under 10%. I have encountered a great deal of hostility and intolerance towards the gospel and conservative ideas (moral, political, economic, and social), and students are encouraged to worship “diversity.” If I could afford to go to a Christian college I would, but even then I can’t help but wonder what’s going on at the post-secondary level even in allegedly Christian colleges, having friends who attend some and who write me letters about the worldly, liberal, politicized curriculum.

    We home schooled both of our children (now adults – one a missionary and one a soldier, both wonderful) and I wonder if it’s even worth it anymore to pursue higher education if it is little more than the current politically-driven, money-making scheme that it appears to be in my own experience.

    • I agree. I’m a faculty member at a fairly liberal institution and I would say that about 5% of us would be moderately conservative on most matters in general. Unfortunately, there are a large number of students who are wasting their time and money in college because students are not entering professions that actually do require college education.

      I’ve also heard that these problems are true across the board, both in secular and Christian college institutions as well. Hence, most of my blog time will be spent focusing on problems in collegiate institution

  2. I have found that a bachelors doesn’t amount to much in the real world. Everyone’s getting one, because everyone can, because it is so easy. As a result, you almost have to have a bachelors just to be a shift leader at a local restaurant chain and, in many jobs at a similar level, even a bachelors doesn’t cut it. The assumption seems to be that you obviously just lived off your parents for six years, showed up late to class everyday, and barely retained anything, if anything, you learned from your professors. There was a time when there was a ring of truth to the notion that having a bachelors meant that you can stick with it and accomplish something. Now, it’s just a piece of paper. “Congrats, grad. Now let me show you how to change out the grease in the fryer.”

  3. Sorry if I sound disgruntled, but it is a little disheartening when you work hard to get a BA in three and a half years, while working, raising a family, and serving your local church, just to find out it means nothing to Joe Bossman.

    • Unfortunately this is true for lots of people who have graduated with undergraduate degrees. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that a typical BA degree about 50 years ago has as much worth as a MA degree today. Unfortunately, the stereotype of the lazy, unmotivated, entitled undergraduate student is largely true across the board. This is part of the unintended consequences of demanding universal education for all students – it must inevitably decrease the value of the degree and lead to massive grade inflation. I think wise undergraduates are learning that the traditional college route is not the answer in terms of obtaining a real job

  4. Pingback: Dunker Bunker “Canadian GA, what’s that all aboot eh!? + An outsiders report on ARBCA GA 2015” Edition [Weekly Audio Headlines] | The Confessing Baptist

  5. Pingback: The State of Higher Education | CredoCovenant

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