To All My Students, Past & Present

The pre-semester faculty meetings have begun and I now enter into my 29th year of teaching American history in a Christian college. When you believe you have a specific calling from God to do something, you can do it regardless of the trials and obstacles that sometimes make you question the calling.

There was a time in the previous 28 years when I seriously considered going in a different direction, wondering if the calling had been withdrawn and God was pointing to a new path. That didn’t materialize, and here I am, still doing what I have always felt I should do to fulfill God’s purposes in my life and in the lives of those I teach.

I look back on the 28 years I’ve completed and am thankful for what has transpired. The trials fade, the obstacles have all been overcome, and what really matters is being obedient to the Lord, thereby, hopefully, helping students develop a greater understanding of history through Biblical eyes.

Nostalgia? Well, to some extent, yes. But it’s more than that. I maintain contact with hundreds of former and current students I’ve taught. Is it over the top to thank God for Facebook? I know the drawbacks of social media, but as with all technology, it depends on how one uses it. I would have lost touch with so many I’ve had the privilege to know.

I spent five years at Indiana Wesleyan University. That’s where my fulltime teaching began. It was a stretch to develop so many new courses all at once. American economic history? Me? I did it, though, and I think it went well. Political and cultural geography? How was that a history course? I made it into one, and learned a lot doing so.

To those IWU students with whom I still have ties, thank you for your eagerness to learn and the encouragement you offered when I needed it most. The Dead Historians Society will always be a fond memory, and I’ll never forget that little plaque with the quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “An ounce of truth outweighs the world.”

Periodically, I would invite students to our home for a time of fellowship and teaching, and they actually came, sometimes thirty at a time. What a blessing that was.

Then I spent seven years at Regent University, teaching at the masters’ level in the School of Government, offering the historical perspective on that subject. Again, I had to develop a lot of new courses, but it was a joy to do so. And teaching masters’ classes added depth to what I was able to offer.

My Regent students were of a different stripe, many leaving jobs to go back to school, seeking to engage the political field with their Christian faith, hoping to inject Biblical principles into an arena that often casts them aside.

My office was large enough to accommodate my advisees for weekly prayer meetings. The bond that was created with students over those seven years has never gone away, at least not in my heart. Cookouts and other gatherings at our house only helped cement that bond.

Taking students to nearby Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg was an annual treat. Those of you who accompanied me to Israel and Britain that one summer will never forget that trip (for reasons both wonderful and bizarre). Twice I took students to the Northeast, taking in as many key historic sites as time allowed.

Leaving Regent after those seven years wasn’t easy. I will never forget the good times there. For all of you who have stayed in touch, thank you.

Five years at Patrick Henry College followed. The majority of PHC students had been homeschooled and were more than ready for higher education. Seeing that kind of eagerness for learning at the undergraduate level is uncommon. I never had to wonder how to get the students’ attention in class; they were keen to point out when I might have messed up a date on my PowerPoint slides.

My Calvin and Hobbes comics were so appreciated that one year the students purchased the entire collection and presented it to me in chapel. There was the ongoing joke about men needing women to have families. If that doesn’t seem like a joke to you, just ask a PHC student for the inside story and how aliens fit into it.

I wish I could have stayed longer at PHC; my Facebook friends list is replete with PHC alumni. God bless you all.

Now I’m at Southeastern University and have been for eleven years. I’ve set a record for longevity here. Who would have guessed I could survive that long anywhere? This opportunity opened up quite surprisingly at just the right time. God always provides.

SEU students, I’m gratified to be able to teach you. Over these eleven years, I’ve again developed a number of new courses, and I’ve been given a free hand by the administration to do so. I was promoted to full professor and later awarded a sabbatical that led to the publication of my book on C. S. Lewis. I have been blessed.

My pledge to my current students is that I will continue to give you my all. I see each course I teach as part of that calling from God, and I will never give you second best. When I’m in the classroom, my passion for what I teach will be undiminished.

To all my students, past and present, I give you this pledge: I will remain faithful to the calling, to the principles found in God’s Word, and to integrity in all I do and say.

It’s not simply a quaint cliché when I say, “To God be the glory.” And may He truly be glorified through me as this new semester begins.

My Teaching Ministry–Part VI

Like the prophet Daniel, I could see the handwriting on the wall with respect to my future at Regent, so I began to seek another position.I wanted to teach in a place where I could unite wholeheartedly with the overall mission. Patrick Henry College (PHC) had begun in 2000, the same year as the Regent upheavals. The founding father of the college, Michael Farris, was a lawyer who had also founded the Home School Legal Defense Association. I knew the college had a deep commitment to teaching both history and government, so it seemed to be a perfect fit, considering I am also a strong believer in homeschooling. Although nothing seemed to be available, the Lord opened a door that had appeared to be closed.

I jumped into the activities even before the fall semester began. During the preceding summer, I took on the responsibility of directing an extensive camp program for highschoolers, most of whom were being homeschooled. I also taught history camps for the first two years of my time there.

Throughout my five years at PHC, I had some of the most prepared college students a professor could want at the undergraduate level. So, in that respect, even though I changed course from graduate-level teaching to undergraduate, the difference was slight. Many were eager learners, and I connected with them immediately.

It was also at this time, in 2001, that my book on the Clinton impeachment became a main selection in the Conservative Book Club. While at Regent, I had interviewed all thirteen of the congressmen who argued in the Senate for Clinton’s removal from office. Although all the work on the book was carried out at Regent, it was published as I started at PHC. C-SPAN came to PHC to record me talking about the book; it appeared on C-SPAN’s Book TV program a number of times. One organization had me autograph a few hundred copies to send its donors.

I also revised my doctoral dissertation on Noah Webster that had been published in hardback when I first started at Indiana Wesleyan. It came out in a paperback version in 2003 and also was offered in the same book club. Both books led to a number of radio interviews, including the Janet Parshall program. Things were looking up academically.

I enjoyed teaching these students, and I had other opportunities as well. I led donors to the college on a teaching tour of part of the Boston Freedom Trail. Our proximity to DC allowed me to teach some sessions in the Capitol to a group of Christians working either for congressmen or in other government offices. I did that for about a month for each of three years. It was kind of nice to be able to pull up at the Capitol and park my car right outside, then go in to the Speaker’s dining room for those sessions. It felt productive.

I recall other highlights: taking a group of students, nearly impromptu, down to Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg, which was a four-hour drive each way (I almost lost one of those students in Williamsburg); having my office door blocked entirely by tissue boxes, a gift from a student who says she always cried when she came to my office (although I don’t remember her crying as much as she says she did); the student who showed up in my office one day with a tea set to offer me afternoon tea.

Another treasure was the many times I was asked to speak in chapel. The Lord always seemed to give me something special to say on those days. One day, as chapel was ending (I was not the speaker that day), I walked out before it was completely over, only to have a student come running after me, telling me I had to return. When I went back in, they called me up front to give me the entire Calvin and Hobbes two-volume comics collection. I used those comics so often in my presentations, they students decided I needed to have them all at my disposal. I was nearly speechless; it was a special gift.

For reasons I won’t go into here, I left PHC after my fifth year. Shortly before my departure, a student came to my office and told me I was needed in the lunchroom. When I arrived, they had a few going-away presents for me–videos produced and directed by one talented film enthusiast and a plastic, blowup space alien. There’s a background story for that one, but it would lose too much in the telling to make sense to those who hadn’t been there. Suffice to say, it was appropriate, related to an ongoing joke that stemmed from one of my comments in class. The students had written messages all over that alien. I still have it today.

Although I am no longer at PHC, I still pray for its effectiveness as the faculty there prepare students to make a difference in literature, history, journalism, and government. I respect what they do; they do it well.

My journey through the many winding paths of my teaching ministry is almost at its end. Tomorrow I’ll talk about where God has led me now.

Constitution Day 2011

We held our Constitution Day commemoration yesterday at Southeastern. Each year I’m responsible for bringing in a special speaker to draw the students’ attention not only to the historic event itself, but to the principles underlying the U.S. Constitution and how they should be carried out in our nation.

We were privileged to have with us this year Dr. Michael Farris, who is, in my view, one of the best, if not the best, constitutional lawyers and scholars to be found anywhere. As founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, he has been in the forefront of alternative education for over thirty years. Through his efforts, parents who desire to homeschool their children can now do so without penalty in all fifty states. Students at Patrick Henry College, where I used to teach, have shown themselves to be of the highest quality anywhere in the country. Mike has developed an exceptionally strong moot court program; students enter those competitions and win the highest awards. I recall when I was at PHC that a moot court team there went to Oxford and beat the Oxford team.

His chapel message was “The Battle for the Bible and the Bill of Rights,” showing how the development of the English Bible led to our concepts of self-government and liberty of conscience, the latter enshrined in the First Amendment. Then he held court, so to speak, in a Q&A session for over an hour, offering Southeastern students and other visitors from the community his analysis of various constitutional controversies raging today and revealing how if we would only retain the original meaning of the words in the Constitution, most of our most harrowing problems would be solved.

I was particularly pleased that the local homeschooling community was well represented at these sessions. In fact, approximately half the audience for the Q&A was comprised of homeschooling parents and their children. I want them to know that Southeastern is a place where they are appreciated and welcomed. I’m hoping that some of those sharp homeschoolers will one day decide to be in the ranks of our history and government majors.

Reflections on This Life & the Next

The last paper is graded; the semester is over. That’s a good feeling. Breaks are always welcome, but I truly do live for the teaching ministry God has given me. I love the beginning of a school year, and there’s always something special about commencements.

This is Southeastern’s commencement this year; it occurred last Friday. For the first time we had to rent a larger facility to hold everyone. I’m on the stage in the distance, but don’t bother trying to find me. I’m a speck. Kind of provides some perspective. None of us are really that big and important, yet to God we were important enough for Him to come to earth in human form and die—that we might be united with Him. Astounding, really.

Teaching the students God gives me is normally not a chore, but a blessing, an opportunity. On days like today, when I can put another semester behind me, I sometimes reflect on the past twenty-two years as a professor. There have been some very bad times along the way, but not usually with the students. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve rejoiced that I have been entrusted with some part of their education.

Fulltime teaching started in 1989 at Indiana Wesleyan University. I had just earned my doctorate and was excited to be a new Ph.D. in my first faculty assignment. It also brought me back home to the Indiana where I had spent the first twenty-two years of my life. One year I was honored by the students voting me Professor of the Year, but what meant even more to me were the evenings when 20-30 of those students would come over to the house for the Snyder Institute for Advanced Conservative and Theological Studies. Yes, it sounds a little corny, but it was great.

Five years after my initiation as a professor, I moved to Virginia to take on a new responsibility, one that was even more enticing to me since it meant teaching at the graduate level. Regent University, in Virginia Beach, was my home for the next seven years. I have to admit that showing up for work each day at the building you see in this picture was, as students are inclined to say today, “totally awesome.”

Yet it wasn’t just the physical surroundings that made this time special. Again, it was the students. They came eager to be trained to go out into the government or into the private sector to influence government policy. The fond memories of those years will never recede.

Beginning in 2001, in the same month that my book on the Clinton impeachment was published, I took on a new task, teaching American history at Patrick Henry College. Once again, solid relationships were established with students, most of whom had been homeschooled for a significant portion of their lives. They were focused; they felt called by God. I’ll always remember being called to the front after chapel one day and being presented with the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, paid for by a collection taken up by the students. I wonder why they thought I would like that? Am I really someone who likes cartoons?

I’m sixty now. I’m taking the summer off from the classroom to spend more time with my wife who is undergoing chemotherapy to attack a very threatening cancer. At sixty, that’s what I want to do. I’m reminded of just how temporary this timeline is.

But the timeline that really matters is eternal. One of the nicest things about that eternal timeline is that we will spend it in His presence, and we’ll be sharing it with others who have chosen to be in His presence also. Many of those will be my former students. What began in this life continues in the next.

As the apostle John in the book of Revelation disclosed:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. … And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All that I’ve experienced in this life, even the teaching ministry God has given me, has been a preparation for what is to come. He is the One who infuses what I do with meaning. Without Him, nothing I do has any value. I thank God for allowing me to carry out a part of His valuable work in this world.

A 9/11 Remembrance and Reflection

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was on my way to Patrick Henry College where I was a professor of history. Before arriving at the college, I stopped at a gas station. One of the other customers came up to me and informed me in a rather vague way that a plane had hit a building in New York City. I have to admit that didn’t sound all that bad to me—I assumed it was a small plane, I had no idea it was the World Trade Center, and I had no reason to believe it affected me in any direct way.

Yet his manner indicated there might be something more to it, so I turned on the car radio to find out if this was anything significant. Reports were sketchy, but I gradually realized it was bigger than I thought. When I got to the college, a prayer meeting already had begun over the incident, but we were largely in the dark about details. One of the problems was that there was no television in any of the rooms where we could watch the drama unfold. Trying to get news on the Internet also was difficult—it seemed to have slowed to a crawl.

My wife was on her way to a store close to Dulles Airport, but she soon grasped the enormity of the situation when all the stores began to close for the day. Of course, the plane that smashed into the Pentagon took off from Dulles that morning. That made it even more real; we used Dulles for our flights all the time. It made our next trip to Dulles for a flight a little more sobering.

I didn’t see any video of the actual events until sometime in the afternoon. Then I was glued to the television for hours. Living just outside the DC area made us feel more vulnerable than if we had been in our home state of Indiana, for instance.

For me, what took place that day was literally an act of war. I recall saying that to my American history class. This really was the modern Pearl Harbor, only worse. Few Americans in 1941 were aware of what Pearl Harbor was and Hawaii was not yet a state. In 2001, everyone knew New York, and the image of the Twin Towers was quite familiar.

Now they were no more—destroyed by an enemy that wanted to take down the one nation that stood in its way as it sought to impose its religious ideology on everyone.

The unity at the time seemed real. Flags appeared everywhere. Congressmen and senators stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” Yet I never was convinced the unity was genuine, and with each passing day that put 9/11 further from our minds, my analysis proved correct.

Rather than viewing this as an act of war, the political Left shifted ground and thought of it as merely a crime to be handled through the judicial system. Today, there is little understanding on the Left of the true nature of the evil that exists in radical Islam. They are more concerned with being sensitive to the extremists and not making them angry.

Here is what the Left needs to understand: they are inherently angry, and nothing we do will satisfy that anger. They will stop at nothing to try to destroy those they hate. And they hate us.

The false ideology that dominates the political Left blinds them to the false ideology that seeks to devour them. I’m reminded of a poignant quote from Whittaker Chambers in his classic book Witness as he tried to warn the society of his day about the evil of communism:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

Are we at that same place today?

At Southeastern University, where I currently teach, a group of students from the College Republicans planted 2977 American flags in the ground to commemorate those who died on 9/11. It was a moving sight.

Not many people showed up for the remembrance, but those who came felt it deeply. The sad thing is that the new crop of college freshmen has no real significant memories of that day. They were too young to be impacted in the way I was. What does this portend for the future? I will do my part to remind them that an enemy does still exist and that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I only hope they are open to that message.