Dr. Matthew Davis (’96) serves as Executive Vice President and Corporate Counsel for Maranatha Baptist University. Dr. Davis founded the Davis Law Firm in Watertown and is also the president of Eternal Vision, a charitable foundation devoted to supporting quality Christian education.
In 1962, in the famous—or infamous—case of Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court declared that public schools in the United States could not promote religion in the classroom or encourage religious activity. Citing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Court asserted that government schools must remain neutral toward religion and barred the practice in New York schools that opened each day with a voluntary, non-sectarian prayer: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”
In the decades since Engel, this nation’s educational institutions have proven to be anything but neutral toward religion. Christians think wistfully back to the language of Engel and wish we could return to Justice Black’s imagined “neutrality” standard. Instead, open hostility has become the official and prevailing tactic toward faith and those who would dare practice it. It seems the one thing public educational institutions do best is destroy the faith of their students. In today’s academic environment, Christian parents and students making educational decisions must return to the guiding principles that burned in the pulpits of America in the late 1960s and 70s as the modern Christian school movement began.
In 1976, Maranatha’s founder, Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm, preached a sermon titled, “Why Students Need a Christian Education.” His deep burden and prevailing passion was to train a next generation of leadership in the local church to win the world for Jesus Christ. More than four decades later, his admonition is even more relevant as his fears have been increasingly realized:
When we think of the world we may leave to our sons and daughters, what kind of a world is that going to be? We have a responsibility in this day of apostasy—which is tearing down everything that is taught to us in God’s precious Word. These are the last days to be sure! We have a responsibility to keep busy for the Lord Jesus Christ!
The contrast is particularly acute in the nation’s institutions of higher education. The university system’s destruction of the faith of its students is clearly intentional and cruelly effective. The soul-crushing statistics are undeniable and heartbreaking: according to every recent study from every major Christian denomination, 75-90 percent of Christian freshmen in public universities drop out of the “born again” category by their senior year. But not our kids, right?
According to one recent study on the subject by NextGen Research (2016), the “presence or absence of doubt was found to be the single best predictor of Christian affiliation and spiritual health, compared to several hundred other factors.” Adults (and teens) who are younger, highly educated, knowledgeable, high-achieving, technologically engaged individuals, and who may have religiously diverse friends, are the most likely to leave the faith.
Think of it! Teens raised in Christian homes, that faithfully attended the youth group in their local church and went on missions trips in high school, that perhaps attended a Christian school with godly teachers and a solid Bible-based worldview, and whose parents prayed for them daily to stand as lights in darkness as they sent them on their way to study in a state university—no longer claim to be “Christian” within four short years.
This outcome was thoroughly predicted more than a century before the Supreme Court’s removal of prayer from public schools. Theologian A.A. Hodge, who died in 1886, once said,
I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has never seen.
Even Theodore Roosevelt quipped, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”
Having forgotten the important lessons of World War II and the Cold War, a new generation has arisen, enamored with the illusion of “equality and inclusion” offered by socialist and communist philosophies. Labels and political ideologies once intellectually (and militarily) defeated by giants of history like Churchill, Roosevelt, Thatcher, and Reagan now find open acceptance and celebration in the media, popular culture, and unbelievably, even the halls of Congress.
This new wave comes as no surprise to those observing its generators: the faculty and academic programs of the nation’s secular colleges.
As one Christian commentator observed, “The colleges and universities are the nurseries of communism.” Recent studies have noted that once the leadership within academia “becomes predominantly left-leaning, it will sweep left-leaners into positions throughout the pyramid . . . [and] exclude vibrant dissenters.” According to a U.S. News & World Report study, 10,000 self-described Marxist professors serve openly in America’s colleges, an arena where “Marxist academics are today’s power elite.” The eventual outcome in response to liberal dominance is that “non-leftists naturally tend to select themselves out of academia.”
With the old boogeymen reappearing, perhaps the old solutions should be revisited! As a good Baptist, Dr. Cedarholm’s answer was a return to the primacy of the Word of God in the education of Christian young people. Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” To say that America has forgotten God seems downright generous. Its university system has intentionally expelled Him. And those in power pursue an agenda of secular fundamentalism to eradicate every sign and practice of faith from public life. On the authority of Scripture, such a nation is turning its wicked citizens to hell without hope.
But there is hope to be found. As Maranatha’s founder preached,
We know that the hope for our country is first of all in the Lord Jesus Christ to be sure, but the hope of our country is to train a generation of our own sons and daughters in the Word of God that will carry on the principles for which you and I have stood. If our forefathers had not done that, you and I would not be here today.
There is another path. By God’s grace, in the face of the unspeakable wickedness of the secular education system, He has raised up an alternative system.
THE MODERN CASE FOR CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
The modern case for Christian education follows the same outline set forth four decades ago by Dr. Cedarholm.
1. God’s Word demands it.
Dr. Cedarholm relied on Proverbs 19:27: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” As Dr. David Gibbs, Jr. of the Christian Law Association frequently says, “It’s a sin to teach a child a lie.” How can we reject the Word of God, expel God’s Truth (and the very concept of “truth”) from a child’s education, and expect him to emerge with a vibrant faith?
Deuteronomy 6 provides the positive instruction to “teach [God’s commands] diligently unto thy children.” Jeremiah 10:2 provides the negative corollary: “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.” Dr. Cedarholm observed, “Listen, the public school system, including the state university system, is nothing but heathenism!”
Jesus Himself warned in Luke 11:52, “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” Only Christian schools keep the key of knowledge as the key of their curriculum.
2. Logic demands it.
God’s people, comfortable economically, compromised by the world’s entertainment, and thirsty for the world’s approval, have largely forgotten their status as strangers and pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). Seeing no real contrast between their personal lives and the values espoused by the world, today’s Christians no longer seem shocked and appalled by the curriculum and outcomes of secular education. As one orthodox scholar, Dr. Rod Dreher, has noted, “Christians often talk about ‘reaching the culture’ without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize.” We seek not to shelter young people from the reality of the world they will soon enter, but rather to effectively prepare them to impact it for Christ through spiritual influence and meaningful engagement.
Perhaps some of the fault lies in the Christian education movement itself. Many Christian school alumni from Generation X, ourselves the products of the first generation of the modern Christian school movement, profess that Christian schools “failed” to produce the promised “super-Christians.” Many of these schools in the early days were, instead, expert in training young people how to act like good Christians—without a clear biblical goal of and focus on reaching the heart and guiding them toward being good Christians. And so, many Gen-X parents, alumni of this type of Christian school, send their own children to public universities.
This is no new strategy. Dr. Cedarholm heard this approach proposed frequently in his time as well:
A lot of parents will say, “Well, listen, our boys and girls are strong. We taught them the truth ever since they were little children. And I think they can stand up against all that atheism, communism and socialism that they have in the public university.” And I say, “Friend, you can’t find one single verse in the Word of God to support that position.” . . . My mind belongs to God. And I’m not going to fill it with a bunch of trash.
The result of this parental experience is a diminishing conviction for Christian education. Even in states where enrollment in Christian elementary and secondary schools is growing marginally (largely fueled by state vouchers), parental attitudes amount to not much better than apathetic consent to a private (Christian-if-it-has-to-be) school as the preferred choice over the public school, among two free options. This is far different than a sacrificial conviction that children (and young adults) should be trained from a biblical worldview and with Christian character, reinforced by the three-legged stool of home, church, and school many of us heard so much about from the pulpit in the 1970s and 80s. No wonder students drop out of Christian education as soon as the price tag exceeds the mark of “free.”
But the choice is not indifferent, and the stakes could not be higher. As Dr. Cedarholm preached,
The basic philosophy of life is to be learned in the home and in a good, sound, fundamental church. You teach your boys and girls the truth in the home and in the church, and they go to a public school or a state university and they’re taught just the opposite!
Dr. Dreher concurs:
If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have.
3. Conditions demand it.
Much time could be spent, and has indeed already been spent, pointing out the anti-faith conditions of modern universities. Volumes have been written to chronicle the relentless hostility and its effectiveness in silencing and destroying Christians, concluding that “today, evangelical Christians . . . are routinely subjected to programs on campuses that amount to little less than overt intolerance and intellectual persecution.”
Surely Dr. Cedarholm would weep to see how right he was. Today we see the complete fulfillment of his predictions of the demise and degradation of colleges and universities once dedicated to training students for the ministry. Everett Piper writes,
The university was a Christian invention, but over the centuries and especially in the decades of the twentieth century in our own country, it was progressively secularized. The focus in today’s academia is not knowledge or character-building or truth, it is “diversity” or “tolerance”, but a very select kind, as most universities are resolutely opposed to true diversity of thought, given their speech codes and bans, and are interested in tolerance only insofar as it benefits favored groups.
Examples of opposition to Christian values and biblical worldview are not difficult to find: the tenured Christian professor fired for opposing a co-worker’s silencing of a Christian student’s expression of traditional family values in class; the university blocking students from choosing Chick-fil-A as a dining option “based on the company’s record widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ community”; the university administrators in California that incited a mob of protestors to block entry to a speech by a conservative speaker; and the public school administrator who banned candy canes from school (because the “J shape stands for Jesus.”)
Dreher’s assessment is correct:
American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.
Where else will Christian young people learn to be salt and light than in institutions of higher education that teach them to think critically, to reason biblically, and to communicate effectively?
4. Our young people demand it.
The irony of the secular system, as powerful and universally implemented as it is, is that it does not work. As one observer noted,
The system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.
Much has been said negatively about Millennials and Generation Z. Indeed, they have been blamed for killing everything from diamonds to napkins! At Maranatha, however, we understand that every generation has been crafted by the unique conditions of the time. This present generation of Christian college students is passionate about changing the world for the better. They desire to have a genuine relationship with God and desperately crave to be mentored. Yes, they question everything, but older Christians who take the time to see past a frustrating disregard of protocol (and capitalization) discover a pure motive to find and understand something tangible, something real. “Because I said so” fails to deliver.
Dr. Cedarholm understood the importance of each generation passing the torch to the next: “Teach the truth in the home. Teach the truth in the church. And teach them the truth at school and you’ll have the right kind of government and society.”
Yet the political correctness, safe spaces, and sheltering of elementary and secondary education experiences (Christian school or otherwise) may have largely failed to prepare them for the cruel reality of the world they will soon face. To succeed, they must be resilient—and resilience cannot be coddled into existence. But today’s college students have two monstrous advantages over every generation to precede them: (1) affluence in relation to personal technology and convenience of life, and (2) access to information at their fingertips. As one online “philosopher” remarked, “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”
Without a guide, access to volumes of information can be as debilitating as ignorance. Senator Ben Sasse remarks on past authors’ prophecies:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
College is about so much more than job training. Yes, students must be prepared to effectively enter the workforce. But students need not compromise the Truth to pursue academic excellence. Christian colleges, especially those like Maranatha that include a broad-based liberal arts curriculum and emphasize the humanities, help students to contextualize the world as it truly is and make sense of current events through the lens of biblical truth.
5. The home demands it.
The depravity of the world stands in stark contrast to God’s plan for the Christian home. The destruction of the family unit surely precedes the failure of society itself. As Dr. Cedarholm preached, “When you destroy the home, you destroy society.” Truths self-evident since the dawn of time have been turned out of the nation’s colleges as hate speech! “Explaining why marriage is the union of a man and a woman is like explaining why wheels are round, but it has to be done.”
With the concept of marriage destroyed as a “social disease” and weapon of “the patriarchy,” sexual violence seems to have replaced the innocent pursuit of a partner-for-life at this critical phase of life. For the first time, fewer than half of American adults are married (48.6 percent), with “never married” adults between 18 and 65 reaching the highest rate in recorded history at 36 percent. At the same time, sexual assaults on college campuses have risen to epidemic levels with nearly one in four female students being victimized and 90 percent of victims refusing to report the offense. Is it any mystery that young people trained in an environment where every kind of sexual immorality is celebrated would seldom choose the biblical roles and “constriction” of a committed and loving Christian home?
Christian colleges promote the broad-scale formation of new Christian families. Perhaps we may be guilty at times of promoting them a little too enthusiastically (or awkwardly) for the current generation that prefers “hanging out” over formal dating, but our motives are pure—the future of our society is at stake!
Truly, a biblically functioning family unit is a powerful tool for the transmission of the faith and the operation of the local church. Society benefits from the productivity of well-prepared adults oriented toward a life of service. As Senator Ben Sasse aptly noted, “There is almost nothing more important we can do for our young than convince them that production is more satisfying than consumption.”
6. God’s work demands it.
The work of the local church depends on well-trained men and women willing to give themselves to a life of service. Christian colleges not only provide academic preparation, but when functioning according to their biblical principles, they also challenge students to passionately pursue the mission God designed them to fulfill. Christian young people in this environment begin to see that life is about more than our present comfort, and in doing so, they find fulfillment in the service of God and others (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Senator Sasse explains,
Living only in the present isn’t freedom. Living only in the present isn’t even human if you think about it. Humans, unlike any other animal on the planet, remember the past. We understand our nature. And we try to build on both of them. We are an aspirational species; we look to the future.
Sadly, many so-called Christian institutions do nothing but reinforce the world’s values and culture in the lifestyles of their students. If we are to effectively win the world for Christ, we must present an alternative message. “A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist.” While some Christian institutions play “will they or won’t they” with formerly obvious biblical standards of morality, Maranatha remains committed to the vision and values of its founder and the Word of God. Dr. Cedarholm made it clear that the stakes are simply too high:
Apart from Jesus Christ in salvation, the most precious possession we have from God are our children and grandchildren. . . . If you lose your children—their minds and their hearts—you’ve lost everything in life that’s worth having. Don’t experiment with your children and say they’re strong enough to resist.
While secular higher education is anything but neutral toward the Christian faith, the truth is that Christians cannot be neutral toward the world, either. We must resist the natural pull of our sinful hearts to love the world and its material values (1 John 2:15), and we must firmly resolve not to crave its acceptance (John 15:19). This can only be done by developing a sincere and personal relationship with the Savior as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of his Word (2 Peter 3:18).
Perhaps no better biblical picture for Christian education could be cited than Psalm 92:13-14: “Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.”
Does it still work? Do those young people planted in the protected courtyard of biblical truth through a Christian education that reinforces the local church’s preaching and the values instilled by loving parents grow up to live faithful lives of service in the Lord’s work? By God’s grace, they do! At Maranatha, we glorify God in thankful praise for 50 years of alumni, 95 percent of whom consistently report on alumni surveys that they are faithful to their local church.
For an institution dedicated to developing leaders for ministry in the local church and the world “To the Praise of His Glory,” there can be no other measure of success!
 Consider these five studies from the last two decades:
- 2002 data from the Southern Baptist Convention indicates that they are currently losing 70-88% of their youth after their freshman year in college. 70% of teenagers involved in church youth groups stop attending church within two years of their high school graduation. (The SBC’s Family Life Council, report to Annual Meeting of the SBC, 2002)
- At least half and possibly over two-thirds of Christian young people will step away from the Christian faith while attending a non-Christian college or university. Between 50% and 66.7% of Assemblies of God young people who attend a non-Christian public or private university will have left the faith four years after entering college. (Assemblies of God study, Dayton A. Kingsriter, 2007)
- 70% will leave the faith in college. Only 35% eventually return. 7 in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30—both evangelical and mainline—who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. (LifeWay Research and Ministry Development, 2007)
- 90% of youth active in high school church programs drop out of church by the time they are sophomores in college. (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2009)
- 52% of college students reported frequent church attendance the year before they entered college but only 29% continued frequent church attendance by their junior year. (“Spirituality in Higher Education,” The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, Alexander W. Astin, Helen S. Astin, and Jennifer A. Lindholm, 2010)
 NextGen Research, Larry Barnett, Next Generation Project (2016)
 Winston Churchill, “Vote National, Not Party,” June 4, 1945. “There can be no doubt that Socialism is inseparably interwoven with Totalitarianism and the abject worship of the State. It is not alone that property, in all its forms, is struck at, but that liberty, in all its forms, is challenged by the fundamental conceptions of Socialism. . . . But I will go farther. I declare to you, from the bottom of my heart, that no Socialist system can be established without a political police. . . . No Socialist Government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp, or violently-worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo.”
 “Socialism only works in heaven where they don’t need it, and hell where they already have it.” (Ronald Reagan)
 Dr. Fred Schwarz, Newsletter of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, P.O. Box 890, Long Beach, California 90801; February 1, 1988.
 Langbert, Quain, and Klein, “Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology,” Econ Journal Watch, 428 (2016).
 David B. Richardson, “Marxism in U.S. Classrooms,” U.S. News and World Report, 42-45 (1982): 42–5.
 Georgie Anne Geyer, “Marxism Thrives on Campus,” The Denver Post, B7 (August 29, 1989).
 Langbert, et. al., 428.
 Everett Piper, Not a Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth.
 William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.
 Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.
 Ryan Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Liberty.
 Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.
 “Azusa Pacific Reverses Approval for Gay Student Couples.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/october/azusa-pacific-apu-reverses-gay-lgbt-student-conduct.html