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in the previous 28 years when I seriously considered going in a different direction, wondering if the calling had been withdrawn and God was pointing to a new path.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.

Economic Freedom & the Culture of Work

Those of us at Southeastern University had a wonderful opportunity yesterday to hear from Mr. David Azerrad, Associate Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, a research arm of Washington, D.C.’s Heritage Foundation, one of the key public policy think tanks in the nation. Mr. Azerrad spoke on the topic “Defending the Dream: Why Income Inequality Doesn’t Threaten Opportunity.”

It was an excellent presentation of the contrasting concepts of the American Dream as seen from both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum. Azerrad spoke eloquently on economic freedom and the culture of work that is a necessary complement to that freedom. He showed how the liberal worldview stresses statism and egalitarianism over liberty. He did so in a scholarly, civil manner that pointed out some of the foibles of the conservatives as well as the liberals. He particularly noted that conservatives sometimes promote business rather than economic freedom—the two are not necessarily identical. Capitalism, he said, is a word so loaded with misconceptions now that it is better to avoid the term and emphasize instead free enterprise. The reason capitalism has gotten a bad reputation is because big business has too often joined hands with statism to protect itself and stifle free enterprise. This is known as crony capitalism.

Azerrad is optimistic about America’s future because he still senses we have more of a culture of work than many other countries. We are not Greece or France. Individuals in America do not get nine weeks’ vacation in their entry-level jobs. So he sees hope. I “hope” he’s correct, but I admit to being more skeptical about it; the entitlement mentality, coupled with the destruction of the family, offers a bleaker picture to me. But I welcome his analysis. It was also good to spend more time talking with him at lunch and afterwards as we walked on campus.

I was especially pleased with the turnout for this event. The room was packed, and we had to find extra chairs to accommodate the overflow. Further, the audience was attentive and and seemed to appreciate his message and the manner in which he delivered it—just right for the type of audience he was addressing, relaxed and informal, yet direct and substantive.

We need more such days at SEU, where sharp public policy dialogue can be offered to the students.

My Teaching Ministry–Part VII

While at Patrick Henry, I had searched for a new position for a couple of years, with nothing solid in sight. Then through a third party, I learned Southeastern University (SEU) in Lakeland, Florida, had an open history position as it sought to grow the degree program. I had never heard of SEU. One Google search later, I sent my CV via e-mail. A few hours later, I got a phone call. The next week I had an on-site interview, and the week after that, I was hired. What a contrast with the earnest searching I had done for many months. Sometimes when the Lord leads, things happen quickly.

I do admit that the prospect of living in Florida was appealing. It had an exotic feel. But I could never make a move based on that alone. I had to sense it was God’s timing, and I had that sense. Coming to SEU was a return to an open-admissions university, and after teaching graduate students and high-performance undergrads for the previous twelve years, it took some adjusting. Yet the Lord kept me focused on the goal He had for me—to bring His principles into the classroom no matter where He sent me. This was a ministry, and I had to embrace it. He’s helped me make that transition. And along the way, He has sent some very fine students; the history majors, for the most part, are eager to learn.

SEU has afforded the opportunity to develop whatever courses I desired. How many universities have a course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism? SEU now does. You’ll have to search extensively to find any higher educational institution that has a full semester on the writings and legacy of Whittaker Chambers. SEU has that as well. At PHC I had been relegated to American history survey courses only. Now I had the full range of history to offer in the upper-level classes for history majors: American Colonial, American Revolution, American Republic, and Civil War are part of my repertoire since coming here. In addition, I teach the essential historiography course for all history majors. This is more freedom than I’ve ever had.

One disappointment: I helped begin a public policy degree program, but financial constraints led to its demise after only three years. That hurt, but there’s always hope in the Lord; He is the God of resurrections.

I also have a completed book manuscript on Reagan and Chambers that has seen its ups and downs trying to find the right publisher. It’s currently in the hands of an agent. God has His times and places. I am learning to rest in that truth.

I’m in my seventh year at SEU, which ties my longevity record at Regent. At this point, it appears I will surpass it. Does this mean I’ve found my place for the rest of my life? Well, I’ve had that thought at every stop along the way. I’m content to leave that in the Lord’s hands as well. I will do what He has called me to do and see how He leads.

He is Lord and I am not. Why does it take us so long to learn such a simple lesson?

Some concluding thoughts for this series tomorrow.

Let Us Not Lose Hope

We can be too cynical at times when we see politics at work and how politicians carry out that work. It’s easy to spot the ego-driven characters who are all too often attracted to the limelight and who are only in the political world for their own advancement. This cynicism expresses itself in frustration, particularly directed at Congress. How often have you heard someone say, “Let’s just throw all the bums out and start over”? That’s stereotyping. It doesn’t take into account the many public servants who are doing their jobs for the right reason. I’m happy to say that I have a congressman who fits the description of what a congressman is supposed to be. Dennis Ross, a first-term representative from the Lakeland, Florida, area, was swept into office in the election of 2010 as part of the repudiation of the emerging Obama agenda. It was an honor to have him come speak to the faculty, staff, and students of Southeastern University this past Tuesday.

Ross, whose Christian faith is foundational to his desire to be involved in politics and government, shared his personal story with those who came to interact with him. He spoke of the failures he experienced in his younger years and how those failures were absolutely essential for learning the lessons he needed to learn about life. Failures, he told them, are what lead to future successes. If government attempts to shield people from all failure, we never understand the real meaning of success.

I served as the moderator for the event. After he gave his background, I asked him a series of questions on what might be considered hot-button issues for Christians. How should a Christian view national security issues? Is pacifism the Biblical requirement or can we defend ourselves? Is there such a thing as a just war? What about poverty? How should it be handled—via government or primarily through the church and other voluntary organizations? How can a Christian legislator combine compassion with the necessity for upholding the rule of law when it comes to illegal immigration? Is it moral to have as much debt as we currently do in our nation? How can that debt be reduced? Ross provided solid answers for each of these inquiries.

Then I turned it over to the audience to let them ask whatever questions they might have for the congressman. I have to admit I wondered if there would be enough questions to fill the remainder of the time. I was already formulating some additional questions of my own, just in case. I needn’t have worried. There was an active interest in hearing more from Rep. Ross on a number of issues. The questions just kept coming. When I called a halt to the proceedings, there were still students lined up with more questions. Dennis graciously stayed after the meeting to address those questioners personally.

All in all, this encounter between a congressman and his constituents was a positive experience for everyone, and it showed how politics is supposed to work. I hope those who attended left with a little less cynicism in their hearts and lot more appreciation for the difficult task that awaits anyone who enters the political fray. My heartfelt thanks to Dennis Ross for being what we need to see more of—a role model.

The nice thing for those of us who count Rep. Ross as their congressman is that he is running unopposed for reelection. He will continue to represent the Lakeland area. His devotion to constitutionalism and his Christian faith will be in the Congress for at least another two years; my hope is that he will be there for many more after that.

As we anticipate the election in less than two weeks, we need to pray for principled leaders such as Dennis Ross to come to the forefront. We need to vote for such men and women and not despair. A passage of Scripture comes to mind that applies quite well; it contains a warning but also offers us a promise:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

Head to the polls this year with confidence that no matter what happens, God has some of His people in positions where they can do much good. Even when we don’t see it, God is working in and through those who are committed to Him. Despair needs to be banished from our hearts and replaced with hope.

Reflections on a New Academic Year

Today, the faculty of Southeastern University begins its traditional two-day meeting at the beginning of a new academic year. I feel reflective today as I prepare for my twenty-fourth year of teaching at the university level. It may be a bit easier for me; I’m no longer serving as chair of my department. That diminishes my responsibilities significantly, and at a time when my wife, Jan, is still recovering from surgery, a reprieve from some responsibility is welcome.

Most of those twenty-four years, I’ve been excited to begin anew. The summer break allows for the kind of change of pace that makes one eager to return to the teaching ministry God has given. This will be my seventh year at SEU, equaling my longest tenure anywhere; I also had seven years at Regent University. I recall those Regent years with special fondness. I was teaching at the master’s level, and the students, who were earning degrees in public policy [with some double-majoring in law], felt a special call of God on their lives to go out in the realm of policy and bring His truth into that sphere of influence. Many of my former students are now doing just that. It gives a sense of satisfaction. Doing God’s will always brings satisfaction.

Many of the students I now teach show up at the university not really knowing God’s direction, so that makes this student body quite different from Regent’s. That doesn’t mean it’s a lesser ministry—it’s just different. My goal now is to awaken in them the desire to see His principles as they are either followed or disobeyed throughout history. Some will become history majors, but God hasn’t called everyone to that. Those who are not going to be history majors, though, can still take what they learn in my courses, and I hope that knowledge will enrich whatever field the Lord leads them into.

Which new students will catch that vision? Which of the history majors will grow and excel in their studies? In the midst of sameness—teaching the same courses—God always provides newness. Even when I teach the same things, responses will be varied; no two courses will ever be exactly the same.

So I anticipate another year of doing God’s will. As long as I am faithful to His charge, He will bring results. Let the new year begin.

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.

Education & the Soul

This past week a new academic year began. I always enjoy the beginning of a new year. It can be that way when you believe you have a calling from God to do what you’re doing. I’ve used this blog on a number of occasions to express my gratitude for the opportunity I have to teach at Southeastern University, where I can provide a Biblical basis for every course and analyze American history through that Biblical lens. For me, there is no other way to teach. As Proverbs declares, reverence for the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One brings understanding. That’s what I desire for my students.

What Southeastern and I seek to do in higher education is not the norm. Spiritual goals are not at the heart of most students’ education. What is?

That’s funny and sad at the same time, but it pretty accurately depicts the cycle that traps most who enter the realm of higher education. For many, there’s no greater goal than to get a job and make money [a large portion of which goes to loan payback]. Is that what life is all about? I prefer to follow the words of Jesus instead:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Education should focus on the soul. This world is temporary; the soul lasts forever.