Better lovers: the shape of love in higher education — Dr. Claudia Beversluis

Updated: Sep 23

Dr. Claudia BEVERSLUIS (BEVERSLUIS) is a professor of psychology at Calvin College since 1990, where she was the provost from 2006–2014. She is honored as “mother” of Lumina College for her great contribution in its initial stage of establishment and development. She served as a consultant of Lumina College in 2014 and 2015 and helped to conduct seminars in Hong Kong on Christian higher education.

BEVERSLUIS firmly believed that the importance of developing a Christian Mind in this emerging world is: To Live a Lover’s Life. She proposed that love is “our purpose, our method, and our primary outcome for Christian Higher Education”. The central purpose in teaching, scholarship, and administration in Christian higher education is love for God and love for the world which God has given. For BEVERSLUIS, love is not merely an emotion, subjective feeling, but also an orientation (of life) and a way of being in the world. She quoted from Cornelius Plantinga, saying: “the primary goal of Christians engaged in intellectual life is intellectual love, learning to become better lovers, and to love God with all our mind… (as) we are also intellectual beings, Jesus Christ calls us to mindful love; he calls us to intellectual love” (Plantinga, “Intellectual Love”, Pro Rege, 44(3), p.11). And she added: “Intellectual love must lead us out into the lives and habits of other human beings in order to do them some good”. In other words, love does not end in intellectual thinking only, it also demands actions, doing people some good. Love is also passion and commitment, which changes our whole life. BEVERSLUIS reiterated that “Live a Lover’s Life. Be defined by loving. Build your identity around loving and be known for it”. This is precisely what the Christian mind in this emerging world should be recognized and developed.

BEVERSLUIS reviewed her work through the practices of higher education in Calvin College in the past 27 years. She shared her experience of teaching a course on “Developing a Christian Mind” (DCM) with prisoners in jail, which is a practice of Intellectual Love, and would have implications for the global practice of Christian higher education too. Her course for prisoners is studying memory through the theological lens of Creation, Fall, Redemption and their Vocation, and look at how the power of memory shape the culture and communities. The prisoner students are taking intellectual love seriously and are in love with study. They are delighted in having a student number that is not their prison number. Their love of the world through this biblical course learning in a setting segregated by barbed wire from the world is palpable. Scholars and students are awakened to the love of God and love for the world that God made.

Regarding the integration of love in Christian higher education, BEVERSLUIS proposed that there are three ways to love the world in higher education: (1) through the scholarship it generates; (2) through the students it graduates; and (3) through the community it embodies. Two examples were cited for Christian scholarship, and the emphasis was that scholarship is born from the love of God, of God’s world, and for the people God loves. Christian scholarship is developed from the conviction that all people have human dignity and have the longing to flourish. Love is the motive and the method, and is also a vital metric. Regarding the students it generates, BEVERSLUIS reported: “…the field of Christian higher education has (already) moved from a focus on proposition, that is, how can we get our students to think the right thoughts, to a focus in practice, that is, how can we engage in daily small practices that slowly, over time, shape the imaginations and loves, and actions of our students.” From the DCM course she conducted in the prison classroom, she concluded: “Holistic theology makes a difference. Christ’s passion – Christ’s love for us – makes the kind of difference that is concrete in our policies and our pedagogy. We see our students as whole, broken, forgiven, and redeemed (by God’s redemptive love). Regarding the way Christian higher education can serve the community, BEVERSLUIS suggested that driven by the love for God and God’s world, Christians are committed to live a life of love which would become the source of non-anxious presence in an anxious world. “Love provides courage. Perfect love casts out fear.” Again, she quotes from Plantinga who says: “Intellectual love of God is… the antidote to proud scholarship and to envious scholarship and to angry scholarship – and to all the other deadly sins of scholarship. Intellectual love sets us free from anxious striving and opens the way for intellectual joy, the kind of joy that you can see in a fresh-faced nine-year-old.” (Plantinga, op.cit., p.12).

Lastly, BEVERSLUIS recalled the work of Calvin College Professor James K.A. Smith who recently published a trilogy of books which posit love as central to the Christian life. Smith says: “The driving center of human action and behavior is a nexus of loves, longings, and habits… These loves, longings, and habits orient and propel our being-in-the-world… what is at stake here is not just how we think about the world but how we inhabit the world – how we act. We are what we love precisely because we do what we love.” (Smith, J.K.A., Imagining the Kingdom”, pp. 12-13)

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