The Voice: Winter 2001

The Voice

From the president: Cultural fatigue

by Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

A reporter for a national education publication recently asked me, “Do people come to your college to escape the world?” It seemed that this writer had already determined that religious colleges are basically escape hatches designed to provide a refuge for religious zealots and their children. And apparently she was pretty eager to get a colorful quote from a Christian college president that could confirm her already sketched-out story line.Maybe I got a little stubborn, but I didn't want to give this reporter the satisfaction she wanted, so I replied simply. “No, I don't think students come to our college to escape the world.” But as soon as I said that, this young writer's face fell, and she disappointedly started to fold up her note pad. Realizing that my chance to at least get Dordt College mentioned in her weekly newspaper was fading rapidly, I quickly offered what I considered to be an equally pithy response. “It's cultural fatigue,” I offered. “No, I don't think they come to our college to escape the modern world. However, I do think they maybe come because they're weary from suffering chronic cultural fatigue.”

What I meant was this. Christians are becoming more and more aware that we are a minority subculture in our society. Main-stream media and entertainment outlets pretty much make fun of people who take the Bible seriously_that is, if they even mention them at all. The educational establishment of our land has stripped Christian symbols and references from the educational experience of students in the government schools, even when that side-stepping of the significant religious aspect of our culture means distorting the real picture of our society and its history.

And so, tired of battling the culture that tries to squeeze Christians to the sidelines at best and out of the picture entirely at worst, it's no wonder that people who take their faith seriously are downright tired of it all. They want for themselves or their children an educational community that will reinforce and encourage their most deeply held beliefs, not belittle them. I thought the term “cultural fatigue” was a pretty good description for the reason many people come to Dordt College.

But apparently the writer wasn't as impressed with my quote as I was. I even handed her my business card so that she would be sure to spell the college's name right. But when the article came out the next week, my quote was missing entirely, and the article never even mentioned Dordt.

However, I still think my observation was basically on track. Any Christian college has to recognize honestly the increasing hostility toward a biblical point of view in much of contemporary culture. However, that

doesn't need to lead to the escapism that my reporter friend seemed to think motivated Christian college students.

All of this underscores the fact that a Christian college is the place where we learn to see the world from a different perspective altogether. In our recent advertising, Dordt College has tried to illustrate that concept with the image of a fish swimming upstream against a school of fish heading in the opposite direction. That's certainly not escapism. In fact, our advertising fish is a bright gold that stands out against the bland grey fish heading the other way. But a lifetime of “going against the flow” really can lead to cultural fatigue. We long to find others who will swim with us against the tide.

So I don't think Dordt College needs to be embarrassed about being exactly that sort of place. Our mission_and that of other colleges like us_is to provide a learning community where we can move together in a biblically-guided direction_even when that means going against a cultural tide that, in many cases, is flowing the other way.

I suppose it will always be hard for reporters such as the one I met a few months ago to understand just how tired people can become when their lives are geared toward living biblically, especially when that means going against the momentum of mainstream culture. Perhaps what we need are more ways to get out the word that, no matter how tired we get, we don't come to Christian colleges to escape. Rather we come to Christ-centered educational institutions so that we can be renewed in strength and service to the Lord, who rules over every nation and culture alike.

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