Denise Cunningham Ed. D. | February 5, 2021
As I reflect back on my over 40 years of life on this earth, there have been so many people and experiences that have made me who I am today. At the top of the list are my parents and brothers (of course), my husband, my church family and youth pastor, soccer coaches, books that I’ve read, and numerous teachers who instilled in me a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge. However, the most important and impactful decision I’ve ever made was deciding to attend a Christian college or university for my undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. The professors I encountered, the opportunities to wrestle with life’s mysteries and uncertainties, the care for my spiritual growth, as well as my intellectual development – all these contributed to who I am today. Which isn’t to say I’ve arrived or am perfect – but I view the world through a Christian lens that allows me to see hope in the midst of confusion, to search for truth amid voices of liars, to trust a Creator God who knows me better than I know myself, who will provide me with what I need, and who will be with me through this wild and unpredictable life.
Why do I love Christian higher education so much? It is because Christian higher education speaks to the human emotions of longing and hope, providing as Plantinga (2002) stated, a cure for “what we think will fulfill us, secure us, save us—and not just us, but also the whole world” (p. 15). In a world where institutions of higher education seek to separate the mind from the spirit, Christian colleges and universities offer a holistic education where the integration of faith and learning is routine. All truth is God’s truth, and Gaede (1999) called the Christian higher education community to “explore—and eagerly explore—the variety and diversity of God’s creation, with the aim not of undermining the truth, but of broadening it—of understanding our Creator, his world, and ourselves more fully” (p. 87). The pursuit of truth is a worthwhile endeavor, and there is no better place to dive into research and scholarly thought than with professors and other students who desire a holistic education.
Whether studying online or in-person, my professors challenged me to think Christianly as I grappled with difficult topics pertaining to my major of higher education administration. What is a leader? How should one lead? How do you manage a budget? Supervise and develop a team? I learned ethics, compassion, scholarly research skills, practical application, and so much more during my time at my Christian colleges and universities. Holmes (1987) described discovering God’s truth as a “liberating experience that enlarges horizons, deepens insight, sharpens the mind, exposes new areas of inquiry, and sensitizes our ability to appreciate the good and the beautiful as well as the true” (p. 19). This picture of Christian higher education resonates with my heart for graduate students today, as they seek to discover their identity and reason for life.
The mission of Christian colleges and universities makes them unique among the over 4000 institutions of higher education in the United States. Holmes (1987) noted Christian institutions of higher education have an educational and religious mission to educate students to understand that “the Christian’s vocation is larger by far than any specific ministry or vocation one may enter: it reaches into everything a person is and can be or do” (p. 9). The Christian college or university integrates faith into every major and discipline, refusing to compartmentalize religion into one academic department. This is, as Plantinga (2002) described, “a more excellent way,” where curricula are designed that refuse “to separate the sacred from the secular, believing that the Christian faith must be woven through the life of learning so that there, as everywhere else, Jesus Christ is Lord” (p.123). The pulse of the mission of Christian higher education, to educate future generations on how to think and act Christianly in a fallen world, beats strong within the hearts of Christian colleges and universities. My hope is that you will consider a faith-based institution to continue your studies, and that God will use this academic journey to transform you – mind, body, and soul.
Gaede, S. D. (1999). The postmodern challenge: The Christian mind and heart in a postmodern age. In D. Dockery & D. Gushee (Eds.), The future of Christian higher education (pp. 86-91). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Holmes, A. F. (1987). The idea of a Christian college: Revised edition. William B. Eerdmans.
Plantinga, C. (2002). Engaging God’s world: A Christian vision of faith, learning, and living. William B. Eerdmans.
Dr. Denise Cunningham is the Coordinator for Graduate & Adult Admissions Services for NACCAP, where she enjoys supporting members with new initiatives, professional development and networking opportunities. In addition, she is an adjunct professor for a Christian university in their School of Education and loves challenging and encouraging students to view their studies through a Christian lens. Her over 20-years in Christian higher education include roles in undergraduate admissions, residence life, and as college counselor at a faith-based high school.