Interview with Douglas Wilson on New Saint Andrews College
After around 20 years of being integrally involved at NSA (helping it launch, serving on the board, instructing, etc.), what are the most important lessons you have learned?
The central thing I have learned is something I (somehow) knew instinctively at the beginning of the process, but I have seen it reinforced over and over again. It is the truth that everything hangs together in Christ. Christ is the integration point of all knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, not the end of it. Everything is connected. Everything relates to everything else, but this is only possible because Jesus rose from the dead. Owen Barfield once said of C.S. Lewis that what he thought about everything was contained in what he said about anything. This is what it means to have a fully integrated worldview, and for a Christian college it is absolutely essential to be engaged in the process of instilling this kind of worldview in the students.
From your perspective as a pastor, could you explain why you place such an emphasis on robust education, and how it is a function of the call to disciple the nations?
The Great Commission is all about birth and growth—baptism followed by the teaching of obedience. So when we disciple the nations (the central command), we are to do it by baptizing them first, and then teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. This is a pretty sweeping commandment, and it should be no surprise to us that it cannot be fulfilled without controversy. When Jesus says to teach the nations to obey His commandments, we have to remember that He is presupposing the background of the Old Testament. And when education is discussed in Deuteronomy, it is addressed in the same context as the greatest commandment in all of Scripture—the call to love God with all our hearts, souls, and strength (Deut. 6:4-9). When Jesus quotes it, He adds the requirement of loving God with all our minds—with all our brains. This also relates to education. Education is therefore all about the love of God. How are we to love Him in all that we do? This is the question that genuine Christian education seeks to answer.
Wear a prophetic hat for a second, and how do you foresee technology shaping education in the future for good or ill?
I believe that one of the principal benefits that the new technologies will bring to education should be filed under the heading of “creative destruction.” The educational system, the old bricks and mortar system, is moribund. All the alternatives that are now swirling around are options that will, I think, result in the end of “business-as-usual” education. This does not make these new and exciting ideas good ones—a number of them are, I think, idiotic. But I think that taken together they have the capacity to break down the old monopolies. The older hidebound approach has simply been a form of pedagogical slavery. So when the monopolies are broken, then that will create space for a resurgent traditional approach—a traditional approach that is ancient enough to be avant garde. The reigning establishment in education—several centuries old—choked out a living tradition, and the new technologies are functioning as revolutionaries that will take down that establishment. Then some of the older approaches might be able to come out of hiding.
What concerns you most about the millennial generation and their successors (whatever they will be labeled)? What do you see as their greatest promise?
What concerns me the most is the tendency to rely on feelings and sentiment. Our actual task ought to be to find out how God actually made the world, and then to conform ourselves to that. We should learn this by a diligent study of Scripture and the creation. I believe that too many millennials are attracted simply by what seems attractive, or hip, or cool, or something. This simply makes them susceptible to cult leaders—whether in politics, or literature, or film. That is the scandal of this generation, its vulnerability to relativism in its various forms.
The thing that is heartening—referring back to what I just said about what technology has done for us—is that many of them have found their way past the “gatekeepers” of the previous generations, and have discovered a world of knowledge awaiting rediscovery. This is the first generation to walk around with the libraries of the whole world in their pocket.
What advice would you give to a student and his parents as they sort through choosing a college to attend?
I am kind of a hard-liner about this. When choosing a college, there should be a plan in place, and it should not in the first instance be a plan about making a living. The first order of business in receiving an education is to learn what life is for. In too many circles, academia is just a self-perpetuating racket—as the joke goes, PhD stands for “piled higher and deeper.” While there is nothing wrong with vocational training, and in its proper place, a great deal is right with it, a college education ought to be the kind of thing that enables the graduate to understand what vocations are for. What are people for?
As it stands, our educational sins and superstitions are nothing less than the organized molestation of the mind. Too many teachers are serial pedagogues. Unlike Mark Twain, we have allowed schooling to interfere with our education. This begins when the student is a child, and unfortunately continues through graduate school. Real educational reform has to start there.
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