Essay / Theology

College, Can I Trust You With This?

A parable from pastor Voddie Baucham, Jr.:

It was a cold winter night. Jack was sitting in front of the fire carefully lining up the pieces from his gun cleaning kit. He had cleaned his gun before, but tonight was different; tonight the cleaning had a dual purpose. One purpose was to see that his weapons were all in working order; the other was to scare the living daylights out of the sixteen-year-old young man who was scheduled to arrive at his door in the next half hour.

Jack was a tall, athletic man who kept himself in good shape. He often joked that he worked out constantly in preparation for his moment. He knew the day would come when a young man came calling. That day had finally arrived. Jack’s mind flooded with images. He smiled as he remembered the day he brought her home. No man had ever been happier or more proud. Now, in just the blink of an eye, young men had begun to come knocking.

At 6:59 the doorbell rang. It was Scott. He was right on time. Jack opened the door and greeted the young man, who had to wipe the sweat from his palms before shaking Jack’s hand. “Come in,” Jack said. There was more bass in his voice than usual. “Can I offer you something to drink?” Jack asked as he pointed to the chair across the room from his work station. “No thanks, I’m fine,” Scott replied as he looked nervously at the assortment of firearms lying on the table in front of him.

Jack sat down, picked up his two-tone Kimber Custom .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol, and proceeded to field-strip and clean the weapon. As he ran his bore snake through the steel, match-grade barrel, he asked Scott, “Do you have any idea how much she means to me?” Scott managed to nod his head. “Good,” Jack continued. “I just want to make sure we are on the same page.” Scott shook his head more vigorously. “Do you remember what time I told you to have her back?” “Yes Sir- 11:30,” Scott blurted out, finally able to produce audible sounds. “I’ll take good care of her and get her back long before that.”

Jack stood up, walked up the stairs and disappeared. Moments later he reappeared. This was the moment Jack had waited for. He could barely contain himself. Resolved that he had done everything he could to impress upon this young man the importance of taking great care and showing the utmost respect for his baby, Jack turned around, reached into his pocket, and handed the young man the keys to his brand-new 6.5 liter, 12-cylinder All Wheel Drive, $354,000 Lamborghini Mucielago. “I want her back without as much as a scratch,” he said as the young man started toward the garage.

That’s from chapter 9 of Baucham’s bluntly-titled What He Must Be … If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, a book that jolts readers into thinking soberly about marriage and the responsibilities of fathers. From the title and the excerpt above, I’m guessing you can already tell if you’re likely to love Baucham’s confrontational tone of voice or hate it. It’s not exactly a Lamborghini of a book, but it might be a two-tone Kimber Custom of a book.

I’m a father of two young kids, and all the anxieties about launching my own son and daughter into adult life are still a bit distant for me. They’re simmering slowly on the back burner for a few more years, before the fast, rolling boil of the late teens. Dating and marriage are still a long way off, and basic character formation is the day-to-day task for now.

But I’m also a professor at a Christian university, and the new academic year is starting any second now. When I read this parable, my mind jumped, not to the wedding aisle, but to the campus quad. Think of all the parents who are handing their sons and daughters over to colleges right now. Having supervised their educations from birth through high school, they are now taking them to campus, dropping them off, and driving away.

Colleges are receiving from parents a sacred trust. Their students are launching into adult life, and the next phase of that launch requires semi-independent living, new vistas of freedom, new levels of responsibility, and a greater demand for practical wisdom. Every college professor should take that in dead earnest.

And Christian professors at Christian colleges should be especially alert to their responsibilities. Even as I say this, I know that the standard attitude for college faculty to take is characterized by a host of denials and demurrals: “These are young adults, not children; they are free agents; we do not stand in loco parentis; some “helicopter parents” are too intrusive; education is just one part of their total growth; academic freedom must be jealously guarded against constituents pressure; the classroom is a sacred grove of academe;” etc. Most of that is true. Parents of college students certainly need to cultivate the skill that will be so crucial in this next stage of their relationship: knowing exactly when to back off, and how far.

But all of that habitual professorial back-pedaling can send the wrong message. Christian colleges and their faculty should say the main thing, loud and clear and first: We know that the education and formation of these young people is a great responsibility, and that parents are handing over part of their most precious commitments. They researched our colleges before investing their money and their children in us. They read the promises on the websites, they weighed the reputations and legacies of the various colleges. They have trained and educated their sons and daughters to the best of their abilities right up to this point, and now they have to trust them to finish growing up by exercising their freedom responsibly. And they have to trust all those members of the college faculty and staff, most of whom they will never meet, to educate and guide and support their children as they promised they would.

It’s serious business. It’s hard to believe this happens every year.

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