The barista that inspired my academic thought

May 1, 2014 | 4 p.m.

Students should strive for academic excellence,deepening community and faith

Opinion | Rachel Wilson

Syrian poet, ascetic and rationalist Abul-Ala-al-Ma’arri once said, “The world holds two classes of men: intelligent men without religion and religious men without intelligence.”  Unfortunately, throughout much of the world today, these words guide the thought processes of countless nonreligious people.

The other day I was at a coffee shop when the barista asked where I went to school.  When I answered Bethel, she joked about our “community” and Bible classes.  She attended Macalester, a prestigious private college located just down Snelling Avenue in the heart of St. Paul.  

At first, her sarcasm stung.  I felt ashamed for attending Bethel.  After being accepted to various other presumably more academic nonreligious schools, I began to wonder why I chose Bethel.  To be sure, numerous other students have wondered the same thing.  After a few minutes, my shame wore off, and I began to contemplate what constitutes opinions like that of the barista— pride, bitterness and ignorance, maybe.

I knew why I chose Bethel—small class sizes, outstanding professors who invest time and energy into their students and the safety of a Christian environment in which to ask questions.

However, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, the barista had a point.  Bethel is known for its community, student life and relatively conservative core.   I would assert that for many Christian educational institutions, including Bethel, the student body seems to put more emphasis on community and student life than on academic excellence.

Part of the liberal arts education that Bethel is dedicated to is the liberation of the entire person—body, mind, spirit and soul. 

Nonetheless, at times, Christians get so caught up in God’s love and community that they forget to do God’s work, which may look like attending late-night prayer sessions and counseling a friend, but may also look like a textbook, time management and several hours in the library.  

Luke 12:48b states, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  As Christians, we are called to a higher standard in all areas of our life; too often, education seems to be the exception.

“God loves you regardless,” many flippantly say.  Yes, indeed, the creator of the universe loves you regardless of your latest test score or GPA, but if you can do better, why not?  If you can achieve academically, giving all glory and honor to God, why wouldn’t you?
To be a Christ-follower committed to academic excellence is indeed a worthy cause.  I truly believe that God delights himself in the liberation of our minds—the changing, fumbling, expanding and growing of our thought processes, ideas and perceptions.  To wrestle with such things is not a challenge to God in the slightest.
I’m not saying that education should be valued more than one’s relationship with Christ or that community is a waste of time.  Indeed, there is nothing more important than one’s relationship with Christ, and Christ most certainly designed believers to live in community.
As believers, Bethel students are called to be Christ-like and committed to excellence in all areas.  It’s time we take a stand for academic excellence and liberation of the mind.



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