College by Nathan D Wilson

College Life: Learning to Think and to Love

When that happens … college ministry will be a place where we have the courage and freedom to ask the biggest questions and imagine the existence of those beyond our own tribe (so that we) complement cogito ergo sum with amo ergo sum, challenging us to love as well as think.

By Nathan D. Wilson

In her May 30 Newsweek column (“Life of the Closed Mind”), Anna Quindlen stated that since 9/11/2001, the United States has become a country that has effectively taught its young people “the terrible example of closed minds.” She focused especially on those young people in the midst of university commencements – most of whom began their university careers in September 2001.

Quindlen quoted Lee Bollinger, Columbia University president, to wit: “To learn to ask: ‘Is that true? Maybe there’s something to what she just said. Let me think about it. That’s interesting. Maybe I should change my mind. I changed my mind’.” Then asked Quindlen with passion: “When is the last time you can honestly remember a public dialogue, or even a private conversation, that followed that useful course?”

Probably not recently; no, these days, life both in and outside the academy appears increasingly defined by the development of like-minded enclaves within which academics isolate themselves from other truth claims and insulate themselves from others who might challenge their fundamentals. These enclaves exist in conservative safe harbors just as they do in liberal ivory towers as cozy havens for those convinced of their own beliefs to the point of berating the beliefs of others.

And yet, if there is any setting where new ideas should be tried on for size and otherness should be encountered, it is the college setting. The college years should be full of learning everything possible, figuring out how to save the world, working hard and playing harder.

Enter the important role and responsibility of college ministry. In the midst of an academic community, university ministers are ideally positioned to prod others to deeper engagement of issues that matter; they can, and should, encourage, even challenge, others to ask more honestly how we should respond to the world in which we live. Rather than tell students, faculty and staff what to think, university ministers can challenge others to consider how (that is, by what standards and methods) they make sense of the relationship of self, world and faith.

When that happens, college ministry will fill this important gap of which Quindlen wrote because university ministry will be a place where we have the courage and freedom to ask the biggest questions and imagine the existence of those beyond our own tribe. This courage, freedom and imagination might just give rise to compassion, which might, in turn, help us complement cogito ergo sum with amo ergo sum, challenging us to love as well as think.

At its best, college ministry is about helping students form their beliefs while learning from the truths in other beliefs. At its best, college ministry is open-minded and opening minds.

The Reverend Nathan D. Wilson is a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. He can be emailed at

3 thoughts on “College by Nathan D Wilson

  1. This blog on what college should be reminds me of a comment by a professor I had in college who chose to leave a respectable position in a very prestigious Eastern University for as he explained it, “They teach the art of persuasion, rather than the truth.” I believe that my professor hit the heart of the college experience and what it may or may not be. Unless the college experience, and those guiding the student, are seeking the truth then college just becomes another way to live in a world that seems to have the task of “persuasion” as its agenda. Whether it be politics that attempts to force ideologies, religion that attempts to force a system of beliefs, economics that attempts to create wealth rather than meet the needs of people, or relationships that attempt to create self satisfaction rather than that all be satisfied, the world as we know it. in its indulged truth of persuasion, will continue. This world will continue to persuade you that what we are now and do-is the right thing to do. It is a political persuasion that seeks to destroy different thoughts on how the world needs to be governed rather than on how the best of a variety of ideas can lead to the best governance. It is a religious persuasion that sees only, for example, the tradition of Isaac and not Ishmael or any other of the world religions that reveal the Creator. It is an economic persuasion that teaches that only the one with the most no matter how the outcome for others is success. It is a persuading that the most important being in a relationship is self, not the other. You do not have to go far to find hundreds of examples of this “art of persuasion”. Colleges need to lead many to say as we find suggested in the blog, “I may be wrong and I need to think again about this world. As well, my parents may have been wrong, my friends may have been wrong, my minister may have been wrong, my country may have been wrong, my life style may have been wrong, I need to think again about this world and what they taught me.” Step out of the tribe and make a new world. bY Thomas A. Richart


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