Archives For Debt

The American Church is becoming increasingly suspicious of the American Dream. It has always been an ill defined concept, but generally speaking, the American Dream is the promise of a good job, a nice home, a good looking family, etc.

In American History, were taught about the concept of “Manifest Destiny.” The early Americans (non-natives, of course) firmly believed that it was their destiny to spread West, to claim the land that separated them from the Pacific Ocean. Somehow this real estate was theirs by right.

This sense of entitlement dies hard in the American mind. Somehow we have a right to a high paying job, a nice car, a privileged education, etc. And so we do everything we can to climb the ladder. To be sure, we work hard. But hard work alone cannot guarantee material prosperity.

These days, it is increasingly difficult to achieve the American Dream without borrowing in advance. We can’t wait until we’ve made our money to own a nice house and fill it with solid furniture, so we borrow to ensure that we won’t have to wait for it.

More and more people are beginning to see that the pursuit of the American Dream is unsustainable. Our definition of happiness is purely material, and we keep borrowing money to gain that material happiness. And once we have the material goods that we thought would make us happy, we find out that we wanted the wrong things. They’re too small, too outdated, too common. So we borrow again to get the things that we really need. And the process continues.

Where has our pursuit of the American Dream taken us? Well, we have accumulated a ton of debt, but very little happiness. Individuals are in debt. Companies are in debt. Our government is in debt. It turns out the American Dream is bankrupt—both literally and metaphorically.

Christians know that happiness can’t be borrowed. We know that material goods will not satisfy us in the long term. But we still find the American Dream tempting. Too tempting. Too many Christians have wasted too many years and too many dollars in pursuit of a bankrupt dream.

We know better. The Christian community should be a beacon of hope in the midst of a burdened society. We should demonstrate that hope is not the same as wealth. We should personify joy rather than entitlement. We can’t avoid the material, nor should we attempt to do so. But at a time when the world around us is beginning to see the cracks in their lifelong idolatry, we have an incredible opportunity to show people that human beings were never meant to be enslaved to something as elusive and unsustainable as the American Dream. We know what humanity was designed to look like and how we were designed to function. If the church begins to live in light of this reality, then we can be a source of hope and renewal to our neighbors who are enslaved to that which deceptively promised them happiness.


Throughout the series of posts on The Student Debt Crisis we collected answers to five questions from thirty three people. You can click on each image to see larger versions of them.

Any thoughts?

While the previous posts have been discussing higher education in general and considering possible Christian responses, this post will focus on Christian Colleges and Universities. First, I want to acknowledge that these institutions are endeavoring to do a great thing in providing a solid, biblically based education. But that does not mean that they are doing it well, or even properly. The question needs to be asked: Are Christian higher education institutions remaining faithful to Jesus?

A few months ago, Christianity Today devoted an entire issue to the topic of Christian Higher Education, titling it How to Save the Christian College. It contained many helpful articles for anyone interested or involved in the development and maintenance of higher education institutions. It was also informative and thought provoking for anyone who’s been considering whether they should even go to college, and especially a Christian College.

The cover story, written by Perry L. Glanzer and titled The Missing Factor in Higher Education, claims that the missing factor is character development. The historic universities gave up their quest for truth and the moral/ethical/spiritual formation of students in favor of creating information specialists. Students no longer go to college to get a well-rounded education to benefit them in all aspects of their life. They go to learn the necessary information to succeed in a particular career. But he believes there is still hope for Christian Higher Education as it looks to its roots and renews interest and focus on cultivating wisdom and character in students.

As great as many Christian colleges are at providing good character forming education, we must also examine the structures and methods by which that education is being delivered. Is it God honoring to create an institution that is built on the backs of people going into tens of thousands of dollars in debt? Is this something that is carefully considered and concluded that it is God pleasing? Or, is such a model simply acquiescing to the world’s approach to what education is? What do you think? Does the end justify the means?

In light of our recent posts on college debt, two things are very clear:

    1. We need to learn how to shepherd/lead each other on how to get out of debt.
    2. We need to learn how to shepherd/lead each other on how to avoid debt in the first place.

As believers, we have a responsibility to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), but how far does this truly go? Should we actually carry one another’s financial burden? Should we actually consider helping members of the body of Christ in order to alleviate their debt load? Or is the debt load they carry just their own responsibility and a consequence of their decision-making?

The Church today needs to desperately consider how to shepherd people out of student debt. But, just as important, if not more so, is the responsibility the Church has today to shepherd people through the process of going into student debt. Too many young people in the churches throughout America are being left to navigate the waters of financing higher education on their own. The same students who only qualify for a $500-$1,000 credit card limit are able to qualify for tens of thousands in student loans. And they are doing so without much instruction.

Unfortunately, there is a less than cautious approach to considering a college/university. All too often an attitude of entitlement is exposed through the process of choosing a school. Rather than carefully weighing the cost, students make decisions based upon desire and hope instead of wisdom. Sometimes students and parents need to be told that certain schools are simply not a good fit financially.

Student debt is also having a tremendous impact upon God’s church. A friend of mine recently took a survey of roughly 25 people from his home church. Of the 25 there were 10 or 11 couples and a few single people with an average age in the early 30s. This group combined had over $470, 000 in student loan debt. It is daunting to consider how much student debt has been accumulated in churches throughout the country and then reflect on how all of those resources could be used.

In addition to debt affecting local churches, student debt is also having a global impact. The primary reason mission agencies are now turning away applicants is because of student debt. One such missions agency just rescinded their Bible requirement. When asked why they did this, the agency simply stated that they got tired of requiring a certain number of units in Bible knowing that those units were often contributing to the debt load of the applicants. It just seemed to be a more viable option to drop a Bible requirement and try to provide training for missionaries while on the field, through the mission.

Should the church continue to turn a blind eye to this issue? Or even worse, should the church continue to unwittingly encourage this? Or should the church actively engage the issue and actually shepherd people through all aspects of student debt?

Whatever happened to the purpose of a college or university being to educate students with truth that will shape their hearts and minds? Or was that ever the intention? It seems that the shift in education to an experience is connected with another type of problem; the idea that making money and having a good reputation is more important than what kinds of graduates are actually being produced.

Inputs vs. Outputs
It is common in many areas of life to assume that our success is based on or directly proportionate to our amount of activity. A man goes to the gym and thinks he is successful because he did a lot of repetitions with a large amount of weight, but his form was bad. A woman thinks she did a good thing because she gave ten dollars to a man at the gas station who said he was in need, but she didn’t ask him his name or find out how he got there. Educational institutions pump large amounts of money into all kinds of things, including instruction, but often stop short of asking what the activities and instruction produce.

What does it mean to educate someone? If a school has a large library, does it mean people are educated? If a school has 20 nationally recognized professors who have each written two books, does it mean students are being educated? If a major university builds a seven million dollar basketball arena, does it mean students are learning?

The real question should be, “Can a student demonstrate competency with the knowledge that was gained?”

Institutions don’t like the implications of a move towards purely outcome-based assessment because it doesn’t guarantee a revenue stream. Someone could learn elsewhere and come in with competency. The institutions will begin to lose their illusion of power over knowledge and will be forced to more effectively evaluate both students as well as their own institutions.

The hesitation towards measuring competency is also because many colleges and universities are more like businesses. They care about money. So they end up dragging their feet when it comes to assessing themselves, unless they think assessment will somehow bring in more money. When you have an agenda that is anything other than making an honest evaluation of yourself, you are sure to make yourself look better than you actually are. That is exactly what happens, and it’s why colleges market themselves as a place to get a great experience instead of a great education.

Why should we not go even further, and push educational institutions to demonstrate not only what kind of things students can do with what they learn, but also demonstrate what kinds of people they are becoming? Aristotle said, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Paul the Apostle said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a clear conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). If you give a corrupt, arrogant, entitled, greedy, self-indulgent young person the ability to navigate the business world or to build jet engines, what do you think he will produce? If you intend to shape the heart and the mind with knowledge of the truth in humility, you will get an entirely different result.

What do you think? Do you, or most people you know measure the effectiveness of a college primarily by its activities and its longstanding tradition, or by the types of graduates it produces and how they are able to live?