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Learning for the Love of God

A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness

by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby

June is a month that has a lot going for it: warm weather, flowers in bloom, long periods of daylight, and high school graduations. I love high school graduations. They are genuinely happy occasions for everyone involved. Graduations are about public acknowledgement for students, parents, and educators who have persevered through thick and thin to reach this meaningful goal. Graduations honor students’ past and present academic, athletic, and community achievements, and they turn our attention to the hopeful future these young people have ahead of them as they further their educations and embark on their vocations. Graduations are times of celebrating the past, present, and future, both as families and communities. Definitely a time to party!

Our family has a couple of graduations to acknowledge this June. To honor the graduates, we will give them a card and a check, as well as a book to mark the day. The book that will be given to high school graduates this year is Learning for the Love of God – A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby. I was introduced to this book, first published in 2007 under the title The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness, by Byron Borger who wrote about it on his blog at the Hearts and Minds Books website. (If you haven’t stopped by Hearts and Minds Books website yet, definitely give it a look. It’s worth your time.)

Learning for the Love of God was written for young Christians who are college bound. It was designed to invite youth think to about how their identity as a Christian will intersect with their life as a student. Opitz and Melleby have spent many years teaching and advising college kids, and have a particular interest in helping students explore the challenges and joys of being a Christian student. Opitz, until recently a professor of sociology and higher education at Geneva College, PA, and Melleby, a director of the College Transition Initiative, and an associate staff member for the Coalition of Christian Outreach, describe academic faithfulness of a Christian college student as an “outrageous adventure” — one that is worth pursuing.

“The outrageous idea of this book is that God cares about our academic work. God loves learning. In Colossians 2:3, we read that in Christ are ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ Christ is the very source of learning, and his disciples are the intended recipients of that wisdom and knowledge. As we learn in faith, not only will our own capacity for wonder and insight and love increase, but others will benefit as well. Keeping these two things — faith and learning — connected is the key.”

Learning for the Love of God sets out some excellent ideas for keeping faith and learning connected, whether the student is in a secular or Christian college. That is one reason for choosing this book as the high school graduation gift of 2015. Here are a few more reasons:

  1. It is short –only 102 pages without the appendices. This means it has a better chance of being read by the graduate.
  2. The writing style used in the book is truly enjoyable. It is not too young, academic, nerdy, or hip.
  3. There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter, so the book would be ideal for small groups as well as individual use.
  4. It is evangelistic. The authors clearly share the Good News.
  5. The book includes comments from college students who have chosen to take up the “outrageous adventure” of academic faithfulness.
  6. It is authentic. Opitz and Melleby write about the great benefits of developing a uniquely Christian approach to college life, particularly as it leads to maturity in Christ. They also emphasize the value of deep relationships that can be established with other committed Christian students, but…
  7. They are truthful about the time and energy that the “outrageous adventure” will require. They state clearly that choosing academic faithfulness means the student will be more involved in his or her studies than the average student.

In the chapter called “Embodying the Outrageous Idea,” Opitz and Melleby counsel students to be balanced in their connections. They advise them that they should 1) connect up and 2) connect out. Connecting up refers to developing a deep and lively relationship with Christ through joining a local church for regular worship; committing to daily prayer; and reading Christian authors (a reading list is included in Appendix 1). Connecting out means finding fellowship with other Christian students on the campus. “[Christian] students need faithful friends to encourage, stretch, refine, and strengthen them. In order for these friendships to go deep, friends need to spend time together talking about significant things.”

What Opitz and Melleby don’t want is for youth to confine their friendships to likeminded students only:

“Connecting with other Christians is critical, but it isn’t the endgame. Christian students should also be connecting in dozens of other ways with all kinds of people. We encourage you to team up with those who are thinking deeply in your discipline and those who are acting courageously in society.”

It is evident that students are taking big steps toward maturity when they can read and agree with this thought from Learning for the Love of God found in the Conclusion by Donald Opitz:

“[College] is a colossal opportunity. I encountered life-shaping people and engaged in life-shaping activities there, and I developed views and abilities and relationships for which I am profoundly thankful. God guided me to a good church and provided me with an engaging group of Christian friends, a mentor, and several excellent faculty members. The same thing can happen for you. It will not happen because of some ingenious educational reform. Your college or university will not provide what you need most. Good experiences and deep learning depend on decisions that you will make and the investment that you make in your own learning.” (Italics mine)

I plan to enjoy the glorious days of June, with all their charm and grace. I also look forward to the happy graduation celebrations that the month holds, and am glad to be able to present Learning for the Love of God as a gift to the graduates. It is my hope that this book will be a helpful tool for these students, and any high school graduate who is planning to go to college.

May your June be filled with beauty, truth, and goodness, too.

***

Here are some discussion questions from the book Learning for the Love of God:

  1. “What are/were your expectations for college? Where did your expectations come from?”
  2. “What does it look like to integrate faith and learning?”
  3. “Do you suppose that God is interested in our play and recreation as much as in our work and study?”

thyrkas