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Thinking Biblically About Choosing a College

Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast I’m delighted that we have Todd Sorrell with us. He is a licensed lawyer in the state of California and has been doing that for over 25 years. He works and deals with cases at the state level, the federal level, and also handles some international arbitrations as well. He received his Jurisdictional Doctorate from UCLA and he also received a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s University. 

Today, I’m a little bit more interested in a different part of his life. We’ve talked to Todd in the past on issues related to legal issues because of his job and his work, but he’s also been married for 27 years, and he has three kids in college. Todd, today that’s the thing I want to talk to you about—your three kids in college. Welcome to the podcast, we’re grateful that you’re here. 

Todd Sorrell: Thanks, Dale. I’m excited to be here.

Dale Johnson: Now, what I understand is that you’ve written a book called The College Choice: A Biblical Guide for Students and Parents. I’m really interested in this—in part because I know where I am in life. I have six kiddos. I have one who’s a sixteen-year-old. My wife and I have been recently discussing this very issue. How in the world are we going to think about letting this kid go off to college at some point?

If we do come to terms with that on a personal level as parents, knowing that it’s the best thing that he get grown and gone out of the house at some point, how do we come to the conclusion? Or how do we help him think through biblically which directions to go to make good decisions and wise decisions where he’ll be encouraged, edified, and built up for whatever the Lord has for him? You’re in that very situation, with three kids now who are in college. Tell me a little bit about this book and how this book came about as you guys were thinking through sending your kids off to college.

Todd Sorrell: Dale, a few years ago, I was in the same situation that you are now. Actually the difference is at that time I was actually studying at The Master’s University in the Master’s Degree for Biblical Counseling. One of the things that was so refreshing about that program was the fact that I could actually sit and learn in a degree program without having to worry about getting a job afterwards. I was there to learn and so I applied everything that I was learning there to my own personal life. For example, when they asked me to write a paper about the sufficiency of Scripture, I would write about the sufficiency of Scripture for teenagers because I had teenagers. A number of issues like that came up. At one point as I was considering our chapter in life, we had kids who were coming up on the college ages, and so I thought, “I’m being taught in biblical counseling that the Bible is practical—that it is useful for all things. Does it have anything at all to say about how to choose a college?”

And as I looked through the Bible, I realized two things. First, there is not a chapter or verse or passage in the Bible that you can turn to that says, “This is where you should send your kid to school.” But second, it has a ton to say about the subject. It has a lot to say about education. It has a lot to say about influence. It has a lot to say about stewardship. And it has a lot to say about where someone should attend college if their decision is to attend a four-year residential program. I have very strong feelings now that I’ve gone through the Bible about that, and I rely upon 1 Corinthians 10:31 throughout it, “Do all things to the glory of God,” that includes making a decision about where to go to school or where to send your child to school to the glory of God. 

Dale Johnson: That’s so important. Even the subtitle of this podcast is “biblical solutions for the problems that people face.” Dare I say if you’re at my stage of life, where we’re having kids go off to school, or if you’re at my kid’s stage of life for many of you who are teenagers and you’re thinking about where to go, this is a problem that you face in your life that can cause all sorts of stress or at least influence all sorts of stressful responses with all the choices and the decisions that need to be made. This is a helpful way for us to think biblically about these very issues.

Now, as we nail down into a little bit about the book, what are some of the key things that you talk about that people should consider when they’re moving out to decide on which school to go to?

Todd Sorrell: First, a lot of people seem to think that choosing a college is an area that God does not need to be involved in. They won’t say that out loud, that might not even be conscious, but what they’re doing is the way they’re making the decision eliminates God from the process. Keep in mind that four years of college is not a four-year void where you get a free pass on everything. The idea is to grow spiritually—grow closer and closer to conform to the image of Christ throughout your Christian life. Those four years at college for a Christian student are very important. In fact, I would argue that they are one of the most important times in life. 

It’s usually the first time that a child is out from under the roof of their parents. It’s also the first time in their life that they’re being exposed to teaching by third parties that their parents really aren’t involved with. This four-year period that’s so important is a time where you should consider carefully where God wants you to spend. College is a time where the whole point is to be influenced. You’re going to be influenced by professors, by friends, by athletic teams, by social events. Who does God want you to be influenced by?

Now, perhaps we’ll get to this but I don’t think there’s necessarily a one-size-fits-all, but I think that the consideration has to be given: How do I involve God in the process of making that decision? I think once we go down that road, once we decide that “I’m not going to conform to the world standard on this,” it makes the decision a lot easier. 

Whenever I talk to students or parents, especially in the church, I’ll ask, “Hey, where’s your child going to go to to college?” Or, “Hey, where have you decided to go to college?” They add, “Well, I’m not really sure. These are the schools I’m considering.” I typically then say, “How are you making that choice?” And the the list is very similar to the studies that have been shown as to how the secular world makes its choice. They involve things like geography, certain majors that are offered, finances, social events. Is it a big-name school? Usually, it’s what they call “the best school I can get into” on the list of top schools according to a secular magazine.

I look at that and say, isn’t that odd that as Christians we seem to be comfortable conforming to the world’s standard on this important topic, when instead we should be looking to the Bible for guidance and then realizing that if the Bible is saying something different from what the world’s saying, we need to follow the Bible because God is our audience? If you look at studies, Dale, and I’ve put some of these in the book, it shows the considerations that people give for going to college. I think religious affiliation, for example, is way down on the list, if at all. About less than 10 percent of people even consider it. It’s something for us at least evaluate before we make the decision. 

Dale Johnson: Well, that’s absolutely crucial. What I want to do now is let everybody listen in on a personal counseling session that you can give to me. As I think about this issue and kids coming up—my first one, as I mentioned, is getting ready to make some of these decisions—and as a parent there are several things that I want and desire for him, but I also know he’s at a stage where he’s going to have to start making some decisions on his own. I sort of wrestle back and forth, Todd, honestly. You’ve done some work in this, you could give me some personal counsel as you counsel everyone else to think through this. At what level do we think about parental involvement? I mean, we want to help the child make wise decisions as best as possible, but we also want to give them freedom in how they think about college. We’re involved by nature often because we’re financially tied to this decision. I mean, there are a myriad of things that we’re wrestling through here. Help us to understand how parents should be involved in this process. 

Todd Sorrell: God gave parents to children to guide them. Children are to honor and obey their parents. It could not be any clearer. Now, I understand that we are supposed to allow our kids to become more and more independent, in the sense that they will at some point—most of them, at least—leave and cleave to another. But in this process, let’s keep in mind what we’re talking about. We are talking about 16, 17, 18 year olds who are considering college. They are not known for making the wisest decisions. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some wise kids out there, and that doesn’t mean there aren’t some foolish parents out there. But in terms of a parent being involved, I think there’s no question that a parent has to be involved in this choice. The reason why is because it goes to stewardship. 

The issue of stewardship is of utmost importance and it relates to a number of things. First, like I told my kids, I said, “You can go to any school you get into, but I’m not paying for all of them. There are some that I would never pay for.” You have finances—God gave you a limited amount of resources. You’re the postman, God said, “Here’s some money. And I want you to give it or put it where I want you to put it.” Now some of that’s going to be used for yourself. Some of them will be used to give to church. Some of it will be used for your kids’ college. Does God wants you to pay a school that is adverse to the faith, that is contrary or hostile to the faith? Are you going to pay a school to undermine the faith that you’ve worked so diligently to instill for the last 18 years? Or do you want to put that money in a place that actually is seeking to glorify God? Now again, there’s no one-size-fits-all, but that’s at least a consideration to think about.

In addition, we’re supposed to be stewards of our children. Do we want to take our children and unwisely put them at the feet of people who hate God? Do we want to put them in a situation where they’re going to be tempted by all kinds of social activities that might not be glorifying to God? Again, you have to evaluate your own student because there might be some who are stronger than others. There might be some who are called to go to a secular university to evangelize. That’s where they should be. But I think for the vast majority of students, if they’re like my kids who are great kids, but the vast majority of students still need training and discipleship. This is not a four-year void where everything that happens gets washed away at the end of four years. Things that happen at college will be carried with people for the rest of their lives. 

Dale Johnson: It is such a stewardship and I think that’s so important. A stewardship of the child’s mind, their time, where they’re putting their efforts, how they’re learning, and who they’re learning from. Scripture teaches very clearly that a student will not rise above his master. It’s talking about education and learning—discipleship. We need to take these things into consideration, certainly.

Now, boil all this down. You don’t give a specific recommendation for a school in the book, but many people might have heard some of the things that we’ve talked about and sort of push you into a direction that you did not clearly state. I want to give you an opportunity to make sure that you make that clear. Does everyone need to go to a Christian college?

Todd Sorrell: No, but… Let me just put that in italics: No, everybody does not need to go to a Christian college, in the sense that it’s not necessarily sin to go to a non-Christian college. That being said, I think that most students are still in a position in their life, at that age, at 18-years-old, if they are leaving the house, that they could do well to sit under the teaching of professors and faculty who bend subjects to Scripture. You can teach math and science and English through a scriptural lens. I think as John MacArthur put it, if you don’t get educated through the lens of Scripture, is that really even education at all? I think there’s some truth to that. 

I would say, be very careful with thinking that your child falls into the exception, rather than the rule. There might be that kid who needs to go to a secular school for a variety of reasons. He’s mature in the faith. He wants to evangelize. Maybe even his area of study is not offered at the school, or maybe finances require it. I understand all of that. But if there is a choice, do you want your child to grow spiritually or not?

And if you do end up sending the child to a non-Christian school, I would say there are some safeguards to put in place, that you would also put in place at a Christian school. For example, you want them involved in Christian organizations, involved in a local church. There’s a number of things that can be done. But I feel very strongly after myself having gone through two very secular schools—I went to state schools growing up. I went to University of California Santa Barbara for my undergraduate, and then I went to UCLA where I got my law degree. Those are very secular schools. Only as an adult, when I went back to get my biblical counseling degree from The Master’s University, did I realize that Christian schools like that even exist, where they bend subjects to God’s Word. These are professional, outstanding faculty and they influenced my life—and I’m an older guy! So how much more will my kids be influenced for good now that they’re in college? 

Dale Johnson: Well, Todd, I know I can speak for myself, but then also so many parents who are listening out there—and maybe even some young people who are looking right now to go to different schools—and sometimes you’re right, we don’t have this on our radar to think biblically about choosing a college. Brother, thank you for your time and effort. I’m glad that the Lord allowed you to go through this experience so you could seek biblical wisdom on this. Thank you for sharing some of that with us today.

Todd Sorrell: Thanks, Dale.

Recommended Resource

The College Choice: A Biblical Guide for Students and Parents [1] by Todd Sorrell