FIRST THINGS Goes to College, By Martin R. Noland

I used to be an avid reader of and subscriber to “First Things” magazine.  Not because I agreed with the outlook of the editors or the stable of authors, but because they were interested in the same things I was interested in.  “First Things” got its start in 1989 when Richard John Neuhaus got the “boot” from the Rockford Institute and needed someplace to exercise the fruit of his prodigious mind (see the full story in First Things #192 [April 2009]: 35-36).

When Neuhaus died in 2009, he left a big hole in the “Public Square” (see tributes in First Things April 2009).  The editors carried on valiantly.  Then this year the editors did a “makeover” and started including crossword puzzles.  Crossword puzzles?!  Oh well, I suppose folks on the subway need something to do, and who wants to buy the New York Times just for the crosswords.

This month’s issue, November 2010, is more like it.  I don’t mean the crosswords puzzle.  That is still there on page 84.  The issue is about “God and American Colleges.”  Maybe it’s time for me to re-up my subscription.

This November 2010 issue is a Christian version of US World and News Report annual collegiate issue.  Almost all of our Lutheran colleges don’t come out looking very good, by most measurements.  Here are some brief snippets to whet your appetite:  Valparaiso University – first on the list of “Schools in Decline, Filled with Gloom”; St Olaf College – “religion can be completely avoided” says one student; “Gettysburg College” – “Religious convictions are not unknown”; Concordia University Wisconsin – fifth on the list “Schools on the Rise, Filled with Excitement.”  Well, at least CUW got some praise.  The other Lutheran colleges are not even mentioned.

Then there is the knockout article by Stanley Hauerwas titled “Go With God” (pp. 49-53).  It is a personal letter to any student contemplating or already enrolled in college.  With just the right tone, it gives excellent advice on how to survive as a Christian in college and to think about studies in a Christian way.  Hauerwas talks about being a college student as having a “calling,” and he is right.

Maybe the readers of BJS aren’t interested in the things I am interested in, so maybe First Things is not your cup of tea.  That’s fine.  But do a big favor to all the kids you know–who are going to college or plan to go–by getting a copy of Hauerwas’ great article and begging them to read it, before they go to bed tonight.   They’ll thank you–some day–for your thoughtfulness and concern about their faith.

Pastor Dr. Martin R. Noland
Trinity Lutheran Church
Evansville, IN


FIRST THINGS Goes to College, By Martin R. Noland — 7 Comments

  1. Agreed on the Hauerwas article, it is very good; but I do have two complaints:
    I liked how he focused on the vocation of being a student, but it seems that he could have at least made some vague reference to living the life of a baptized Christian in connection with the concept of vocation.
    Also he focused a great deal on being spiritual, but then said very little about regular worship attendance; his implication is that you can be spiritual and remain Christian but do not need so much the benefits of the Divine Service.
    Then again, maybe I am just being to picky as a Lutheran, and we should take the article for what it is: very good focus on vocation of being a student, and beware of the academic monster that will try to tear down your faith.

  2. Thank-you Pr. Noland for the link to Hauerwas’ open letter. Dr. Hauerwas has not spoken, though, to something essential. His letter assumes that when our sons and daughters go to college, there will be a faithful pastor and congregation for our sons and daughters to attend. (I rejoice that the one Lutheran congregation, in the town where my oldest son goes to college, is LCMS with Communion every Sunday and quite fulsome in their welcome. In the town where my daughter will probably end up attending college, my wife and her visited a solid hospitable LCMS congregation. My wife immediately told me that the pastor preached a Law/Gospel sermon. Parents need to do that work with their children in their student vocation.) This becomes very important in the significant challenges that Hauerwas correctly laid out. It is sad to note that funds are available in the Synod for everything except it seems for this absolutely crucial time in our sons and daughters’ lives.

    Also: after almost 9 years of campus ministry as part of my former congregation’s ministry (ELCA), I discovered that so many ELCA members had little confirmation instruction. For instance: one young man (studying Chinese and organic Chemistry) had for confirmation a Wednesday after school program which one day, for instance, consisted of the teacher giving the students the Lord’s Prayer cut into pieces for them to reassemble. Confirmation has fallen by the wayside in many an ELCA congregation, e.g. a mission trip with a month’s ‘instruction’. (BTW: He and I spent a year reading through the Catechisms and discussing them. I rejoice to say that his family eventually joined the LCMS.)

    Pastors, in college/university settings, need to be rigorous in the defense of the Gospel without being defensive and congregations to be whole-hearted in their welcome of our sons and daughters. College years is for a faithful congregation and it’s pastor a time of serious yet joyful evangelization.

  3. I share Pastor Noland’s interests and agree that FT often has interesting things to say and says them in an interesting way. Nor do I deny that RJN had a prodigious mind.

    But as a footnote that is off-topic (except for a parenthetical), I must add that Maria McFadden Maffucci’s piece in the April 2009 FT is not, by a long shot, the “full story” of RJN’s booting from The Rockford Institute. I doubt that MMM is privy to the full story, and there’s no point in sullying RJN’s name now by telling it. Suffice it to say that RJN’s public accounting of the affair in FT carefully overlooked the actual reasons for his firing. It’s easier not to have to answer charges if no one knows what they are.

    My mentor and dear-departed friend Harold O.J. Brown, a theologian and a Christian above reproach, replaced RJN at The Rockford Institute. Joe knew full well the whole story, and that RJN’s claim that he was fired to keep him from quitting over what he perceived to be bigotry was not enough of the truth to be true.

    I wouldn’t have said a word, had the “full-story” parenthetical not appeared. RJN started a magazine in 1989. I can’t see how the “Rockford Raid” has anything to do with FT’s crossword-puzzle makeover or the college issue.

    Aaron D. Wolf
    The Rockford Institute

  4. This reminds me, I’ve been meaning to call up Pastor Cunningham at Valpo to see what he thinks about the FT assessment. I believe that he’s still Chaplin there; he use to be the pastor at Redeemer in Evansville, a nice guy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.