By Noah Brink, Assistant Head of School-Academics
In the late 90s, I sat in my dorm room while reading Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind for class and was struck by his opening statement that there was, in fact, “no evangelical mind.” Thinking that I had sufficiently pushed myself intellectually, I took offense but was soon convicted that I had not met the task required of me. Like the rest of the evangelical Church, I had failed to hold the discipline of the mind highly enough.Read More
Twenty years later, I rejoice to be at a school that has been shaped by the call of men like Noll who remind us that the historical Church always held the mind highly and did so because Scripture does so. Therefore, when Westminster’s mission promotes an excellent education that is rooted in biblical truth, we honor Jesus Christ by loving God with our minds, because that is what He calls us to do.
Loving God with our minds is no easy task. It takes work, but it is life-giving work, as it brings about renewal and conformity unto the image of Jesus. That’s the task of Christian education, because true education begins to “repair the ruins” of the Fall, as John Milton says.
Viewed this way, a Westminster education is far more than a secular structure and curriculum with “Jesus dust” sprinkled on it. Nor is it a moralistic code. What makes our program “Christian” is the recognition of our need. We need God, and we must understand ourselves in light of that need. Toward this end, we hold to two scriptural themes to govern our academic pursuits:
We have a high view of God and see education’s ultimate purpose as knowing Him more fully. As a result, our curriculum enables students to rightly order their affection to God. We want students to explore and wonder, because God is wonderful. Our courses promote rigor and nurture excellence because God is the standard for goodness, and we are excited that nearly two thirds of the student body is enrolled in one of our 16 AP courses, 14 honors courses, or three dual enrollment courses. This should be the culture of a school that seeks to honor God as we ought.
We also have a high view of students because they are created in the image of the infinite, personal God. They are more than mere complex organisms who parrot back information; they are relational, creative, spiritual, and profoundly rational because God is. For this reason, we can’t not stretch them – double negative intended. Our curricular program challenges students to make connections, enhances their ability to understand and know deeply, and enlivens their creativity and imagination. Similarly, our high view of the teacher as an image bearer means that we never undervalue the necessity of a rich relationship between teacher and student.
As a result, we define success in these areas differently: we want our students to fulfill their God-given potential and calling as His image bearers. And, when we hold this long-term, whole-person view, we should not be surprised or apologetic to see students achieve high recognition in their academic pursuits. We see high achievement in our top quartile’s amazingly high ACT average (32.4), in two students with perfect scores on the test and this year’s eight National Merit Semifinalists, and in the wonderful college acceptances and scholarships that our students earn every year. Of course, these kinds of facts grab our attention, and they should, because these students have done great things, by God’s grace.
We have many reasons to celebrate student achievement extending far beyond test scores. Yet we want our students to be armed for the world in which they are exiles, and the intellectual arena is not off limits for the Christian. If we are going to prepare our students to engage the world and change it for Jesus Christ, then some of our students need to be venturing to the highest academic venues. Ivy League universities need to be engaged and changed for Christ just as much as our future cities and neighborhoods do.
We prepare them for this when we hold God highly and when we hold the students highly by challenging and pushing them as though we really believe it. Using the image that the psalmist paints in Psalm 127, God has given us these arrows not so that we only protect and restrain them, but that we sharpen them and make them ready for the day that they are sent out. May we trust Him toward that end!