A Major Flaw of Wheaton College

A Major Flaw of Wheaton CollegeA friend of mine asked me to reflect on my time at Wheaton and expressed a little about what I have learned from my time there. Rather then bring up a number of unrelated things in one post I thought I would just post as the reasons and situations come to mind.
I had the great opportunity to met with the Chaplain at Wheaton for an exit interview in the spring of my senior year. At gave me a chance to reflect on the good and bad of my time and I came up with a handful of things that I thought where the most wide spread, not necessarily just specific to my personal experience. The one I had the hardest time explaining is the one I’ll start with: The lifestyle of Wheaton College instills underlying assumptions that keep us from following Christ fully.

When I first got to Wheaton I thoroughly enjoyed the nice big dorm rooms, the fancy Lego-like furniture; I loved the food at the cafeteria and the fact that people cleaned up after me everywhere I went. I enjoyed seeing the flowers planted around campus and the nice architecture. The Student Rec Center was state-of-the-art and the classrooms had all the technology needs you could imagine. I enjoyed all of these things, and I justified in my mind that during my time of diligent studies it was nice to be in a comfortable environment with everything taken care of. Sophomore year, a campaign to build a $20 million student center began, and I suddenly realized the great tragedy of having all we had at Wheaton.

You see, when you sit in a “Christian” Institution, listening to a “Christian” teacher, amongst “Christian” peers, you have an immediate assumption that the Lifestyle, the buildings, the spending being done in your community is therefore “Christian.” But that is not necessarily true.

When you sit in the coffee shop of an extravagant student center and read Jesus words about caring for the poor, it is hard to acknowledge that your fancy community might be in conflict with really carrying that out.

I fear too many students have left Wheaton with this assumption: I can buy a big house, an expensive car, fancy clothes and furniture, take exotic vacations, live the high society life, AND still follow Christ call to take up their cross and follow him.

29 thoughts on “A Major Flaw of Wheaton College”

  1. Right on… I feel the same way about my time at TU. I loved the community, but I felt like it was anti-Christian college. It instilled a value of seperating ourselves from those who dont know God. They talked about it as thought it was a value from time to time, but the whole set up of the school betrayed their values–our comfort.

  2. I feel like words like “big” “fancy” and “expensive” are value judgments. Don’t get me wrong, I hold my own thoughts on the “neccessity” of luxuries, but then what is a luxury and what is not? What is considered “family bonding time” and what is considered “exotic vacation?” What if we buy a big house and open it up for the use of fellowship and community, as some I know have done. Is that “justifiable?” Granted, many people do not examine their motives in what they purchase or their lifestyle (which is what you might be arguing), but what if, after examining those motives, one finds that it’s ok to buy a new car instead of a used one as a better steward of money, or to even have a car at all for that matter? Perhaps all I am saying is that we must first not rush too quickly to say that poverty is righteousness, and that God cannot and does not use certain things we might consider “unneccessary.” After all, what is neccessary and what is not? (I hope I don’t sound too relativistic on you.. but then again, in the end, what we would consider neccessary would probably be very different coming from a different socio-economic group or country.) I feel that this issue is not as black as white as Christians would like it to be.

    Chuck Liu, Wheaton ’08

  3. Chuck,
    I’d agree “fancy” might be a value judgement, but “big” and “expensive” are not. My two bedroom apartment is “big” compared to the majority of living situations in the world, that’s a fact. You be the judge of what qualifies as “expensive” in actuality and I think you know what I’m talking about. “Fancy” yes, you might be right, that’s probably my value judgement, and more so my jealousy and never being able to figure out how to dress well.
    I would agree God can use “unnecessary” things, I know someone who was saved while reading Playboy, but that does not many I would EVER condone someone purchasing or reading it.
    Here’s where I run into difficulty:
    “poverty is righteousness”
    I looked all through my post and previous post, and I don’t believe I have ever, even once said that, nor do I think I hinted at it. I do see me saying that Jesus calls us to “care for the poor,” to “take up our cross,” to give to those in need, hold loosely to our money, to not spend on worldly treasures, but I do not say “take a vow of poverty.” You try hanging out with poor folks and tell them you want to take a vow of poverty and they’ll look at you like your ridiculous.

    If, in my giving and caring for those around me, etc. I wind up looking “poor” so be it. But don’t get what I’m saying confused, I’m rich beyond belief.

  4. I suppose that I said “poverty is righteousness” because in my personal experience, somehow those who have made the decision to live more humbly than others have sometimes been susceptible to a mindset of thinking that it is automatically more righteous, without taking into consideration that money and worldly wealth, as dangerous as they are, can (and sometimes are) used for the Kingdom. I’m not saying this is your attitude. In fact, I’m saying that at one point that was *my* attitude. But it seems to be a real danger, as much as wealth and affluency is a real danger.

    In regards to the Wheaton community, I may not fully agree with the statement that something like a shiney new student center neccessarily conflicts with Jesus’ teaching about the poor. At least, not on the surface. I don’t know what was going on in the minds of those who decided that we needed a new student center. The motives have much to do with it.

    My main point, perhaps, is that what is perceived to be rich and affluent at first glance may not *neccessarily* be in conflict with our obedience to Christ’s commands. Given our fallen nature, there is indeed a very real *possibility* and even likelihood that such things may be the result of a wrong understanding of money/stewardship/etc. However, this is not a binding cause effect relationship that occurs 100% of the time. I’m merely saying that there is certainly the possibility for exceptions, especially if we are to seriously consider the multitude of factors that can affect a decision for something like a student center (or a new car, or vacation, etc.)

  5. I have appreciated reading the back and forth between Ariah and Chuck. This is an issue with which I have wrestled for many years now. In parts of the Bible, riches are portrayed as a blessing bestowed by God. One need only recall the lives of Abraham and Job as examples. In other places, they are depicted as a hindrance to following Christ, as was the case with the rich young ruler. Clearly, it is not a sin to be wealthy. How tightly one clings to that wealth seems to be the main issue. As the apostle Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil. 4:12)
    Of course, the other key issue (and the one that I find most perplexing) is, ‘How freely may one use his wealth for his own comfort and still honor Christ in so doing?’ We know that we are to care for the poor and the needy. Is it right to spend $3,000 on a vacation to the Bahamas (or, for that matter, $75 on a camping trip to the State Park) when there are those who are much more in need of that money than you? Should you endeavor to save up money for yourself and your own family so that you do not run the risk of becoming a burden to society? Or, should you live hand to mouth, giving away whatever you do not need at the moment, simply trusting that God will supply you with everything you need? How nice does your car need to be? Should you own a Geo, a Toyota, or a BMW? How fast does your computer need to be? Do you need one at all? What might seem a necessity to many in this country would be considered an incredible luxury in other parts of the world. Should your own cultural and social context be determinative in what you consider luxurious, or should you maintain a ‘whole world’ perspective? I have not found these easy questions to answer, and many would think it crazy to even be asking them. After all, It is easy to see how bogged down one could become in overanalyzing each and every decision to be made (i.e. “Do I really need that $3.00 cup of coffee at Starbucks?) .
    Have either of you read “Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches” by Craig Blomberg (NT Prof. at Denver Theol. Seminary)? I haven’t , but it might provide some interesting food for thought.

  6. Although I can appreciate the contributions of both Chuck & Grant, I would ask you to continue to push your train of thought of further. There is a difference between spending $3000 & $75 on a vacation b/c you can use the difference to give generously. If you can’t afford a $75 along with giving generously you shouldn’t take it. If we are asking if it is right and if we all agree on the fitness of the question then it necessarily follows there is something in it that does not sit well with us.

    Are motives the issue? No. Intentions? Yes. Your motives may be pure in purchasing a $50,000 BMW but what the heck do you need that kind of car for other than personal pleasure? Your motives can be good in purchasing a $500,000 home that a community of families will live in (that’s your intention & that matters!)

    Money, Cars, Houses, etc. are not bad in themselves, but I would push all to consider what their intentions are with a purchase as well as their motives. Our hearts deceive us. Our culture deceives us by glamourizing million-dollar lifestyle. What do you need [fill in the blank] for? For yourself? Your family? Others in greater need? Surely a $500 vacation to the local spot can be just as relaxing & foster family time as much as a $3K.

    Let’s push ourselves to think further even if it means we come to a conclusion that is not comfortable or is different than we are raised.

    Also, re: the OT comment of God’s blessings on Abraham & Job…. We now live in the NT era, in a time when the Holy Spirit in every believer is God’s demonstration of His power & love to the world, replacing or performing the function that displays of wealth in the OT used to take.

  7. yeesh. have you ever seen my alma mater, Calvin College?

    Not only do we have big cushy buildings, but we insist on pasting the names of the people whose money paid for those buildings all over.

    maybe it’s sour grapes (me being a lower-middle-class, student-loan-debt-saddled person), but I wonder about Jesus’ instruction about not doing our good deeds in front of men, to be praised by them . . .

  8. This is a very difficult balance. You were blessed by having gone to Wheaton and you benefited from the generosity of others. You can question motives all day but there are many whose lives are changed and good that has been done that way. Is it the best way? Probably not. Are there better ways? Probably. We get blessed in so many ways and then turn around and slap those who blessed us in the face. You have to have certain buildings, facilities, etc to be accredited. To dump all that makes your degree worthless. Have you benefited financially from the degree since you graduated? Has it opened up any doors for you? Did you make relationships there you wouldn’t trade for anything? I just think we need to be careful when making statements like these and realize that many good men and women have struggled with these issues and come away with different answers than our own.

    I appreciate the fact that you do question things and want to see people be more like disciples and less commercial. I think that is highly worthwhile and we do need to be more sacrificial. I just wanted to toss a few points out there and bounce them around. Take care,


  9. Matt,

    I appreciate and really respect your comments. I think you are completely valid and right in asking them and encouraging some sensitivity and thought when considering these things.

    At the same time, I think Jesus’ example might help us in considering this as well. Jesus grew and benefited from the religious establishment, learning in the temple, obviously following and benefiting from the role of ‘rabbi’ and as a Jew. However, he still felt it appropriate to rebuke and correct the Pharisees, even harshly, for the way they were leading people astray.

    What do you think?

  10. I certainly can’t argue with your response. I was just making the point that we may have a lot to appreciate even about those we disagree with. It is tempting to readily accept the blessings of the system with the right hand and slap them with the left.

    I would hope that Wheaton would readily accept constructive criticism.

  11. Ariah… Wow, I was WONDERING where I learned that!

    Matt… And yes, it’s sad that accreditation trumps training.

    All… If para-church ministries arise out of a passionate sense for something that’s missing & badly-needed, what might be suggested by the apparent lack of para-church ministries rising to build bigger/better buildings?

  12. Ariah

    A friend passed on your blog and I could not help noticing the Wheaton link. I’m a Wheaton grad (MA) and my wife is a grad (BA), too. And while I resonate with many of your thoughts about what often feels like opulence on the Wheaton campus, I wonder if your dichotomy is to harsh?

    Wheaton experienced a revival during my wife’s undergrad years (I was at Moody at the time). The revival meetings mostly took place at College Church, perhaps the one building in town that rivals the extravagance of the new student center. But I wonder, were the confessions, Scripture readings, worship, and actions of that multi-day revival some how diminished by the location in which it took place? Maybe. But can you or I answer “yes” or “no”?

    Just recently I browsed WETN and found Mark Noll’s recent Commencement Address to the classes of 2007. It might be worth listening. Noll reminds us Christians that vocation is much more about our response to God’s call to do well what He would have us do than it is about where we do it. Obviously a scientist researching, say, cancer would best serve God in the fanciest lab that money can buy. Likewise, a doctor can equally respond to her vocation by serving in the grimiest slums of the developing world. Calling one better than the other, well that seems like a judgment that is out of our hands.

    Like you I am in proactive response against affluence. I don’t like it much. I like Wendell Berry’s idea of success. And I like Juliet Schor’s call for Americans to simplify. A more moderate tone, though seems good at times. Dave

  13. @Dave:
    Thanks for chiming in. I appreciate your thoughts on the topic as well.
    I don’t think I am attempting to make a dichotomy. I am a graduate of the school, as well as many of my friends, and we’ve all endeavored to follow Jesus fully. It was also within the context of the school that we came to challenge the school’s decisions as it regards finances. So, I agree, revivals and other good could definitely come from a place like Wheaton, but I do still think it creates a difficult underlying assumption that keeps students from fully recognizing the words of Christ.

    I’ll have to read some more Wendell Berry and Juliet Schor sometime.

  14. Good writing

    I got to say I love watching Wheaton College television online!

    I got to see Rob Bell speak and talk about the time he was in Wheaton and how he did nothing the entire time he was there except ride his skate board threw their long halls.

    Bring back memories; Rob Bell is so great!

  15. Hi,

    I couldn’t help but to comment. I was doing some research on Wheaton college & since some of you are alumni I had some questions to ask. First, is this the Wheaton college in IL? If so, would you recommend it??


    God bless!!!

    1. Rosy,
      Yes this is the Wheaton College in Illinois. Asking simply if we’d recommend it is a rather tough question. I think I’d need to know more about what your looking for in a college. Ask me some specifics about the college and I’ll give you my answers (though I graduated in 2005, so it’ll be a little outdated).

  16. Hi,

    The first question would be what’s your secret to getting admitted?
    I applied last year but I kind of slacked off my junior year of high school & didn’t have a high gpa. So, I’m planning on reapplying. I really want to get into wheaton, from the very first time I visited the school. I am currently a freshmen at trinity Christian college & I was so disappointed with the school that I’m thinking about transferring this semester to cod. My parents just tell me to remain at trinity for the remainder of the year. Enough about me. One of my questions was are the people there truly Christians? The reason I ask is that I encounter so many people that call themselves Christians but there actions show the complete opossite. I want to go to a school where I can be equipped with what I need to perform gods calling for my life. Also, do people listen to secular music?

    1. @Rosy: Tough questions! I think I got in on a fluke. Didn’t have a great gpa or anything. But you know, to keep a close boy/girl ratio they lower the bar a bit for the boys; so basically I got in because of Affirmative Action.

      My wife went to COD before transfering to Wheaton. That’s a really really good idea. It’s a million times cheaper and a great school. I’ve never actually been to Trinity, but my guess isn’t it’s pretty similar to Wheaton as far as the students go. In other words, if you don’t like the Trinity student body, I don’t see Wheaton’s being much different.

      And yes, lot’s of students listen to ‘secular’ music. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  17. hi again,

    wow! That’s what I thought about the student body but I wanted to be wrong, LOL

    I personally don’t listen to secular music.

    I guess all christian schools have their good and bad like every school.

    Thanks for your help.

  18. @Rosy: Out of curiousity, what would should a ‘Christian’ student body look like?
    Also, how do you define “Christian” music? Just curious. I’d like to know where you are coming from on this.

  19. This is just me imagining it. So, I’m walking back to my dorm and I see a group of students gather in a circle, hand to hand, and praying.(I witness that at trinity)I think that a christian student body should be united. I’m not saying that we must all be the same because that’s not the way God created us to be. He created us all at his image. We are all unique.

    Christian music to me is music that glorifies God.

    Does that give you a better insight?

  20. @Rosy: It’s a start, but I’d love more detail. The only practical example you seem to give about the student body is people praying together. Any other ideas of what they should be doing?

    and “music that glorifies God” seem rather vague. Are we talking just praise songs or are you talking about popular Christian artist like Third Day and Newboys as well?

  21. Basically, if someone wants to attend a christian college they should truly be committed 100% to God. That narrows it down.

    When I talk about christian music I mean both. Praise songs and artists like Newsboys and Third Day.

    What do you think?

  22. @Rosy: Thanks for humoring me Rosy. I really appreciate you being willing to dialog. Yet, I still find your answer a bit vague. “committed 100% to God” is a strong statement, but what does it look like in day to day life? If it is simply people clasping hands in prayer, I’m extremely skeptical. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. ” James 2:18
    I hope you browse around my site and read some of my posts. I think you’ll find that, though I consider myself 100% committed, I talk very little about prayer and a lot about action. I hope you wouldn’t write me off as uncommitted simply because you won’t find me standing around in a group holding hands in prayer.

    As to the Christian music question, would you consider artist like Derek Webb, U2, or Kanye West as Christian music as well?

  23. hi again,

    I’m glad I humor you?
    Yes, I think you are committed to Christ.
    No I do not believe that being christian is simply praying there is more to it.
    100% committed to God is indeed a strong statement but I think we should try to live day to day like Jesus did. We should do what the bible says. The Bible should be our manual on how we live each day.

    I’ve never heard of Derek Webb so I wouldn’t be able to answer that question. I wouldn’t consider U2 or Kayne West as being christian music.

  24. @Rosy,
    Thanks for the dialog. I agree “we should do what the Bible says”, but I’ve been very shocked and disappointed by how many people seem to think that looks like in daily life. I guess I’m curious what you mean by it. If the Bible is our manual, what does your daily life look like? How does it apply?

    Regarding the music, you said ‘Christian’ Music is music that glorifies God. Regarding the artist I mentioned, would you consider Kanye’s song Jesus Walks a Christian song?

    And U2 has tons of clearly lyrically faith related songs, here’s one:

    So, what do you think? Are those Christian?

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