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Better lovers: the shape of love in higher education

Dr. Claudia Beversluis has served as professor of psychology at Calvin University since 1990, where she was also 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 for Lumina College in 2014 and 2015 and helped to conduct seminars in Hong Kong on Christian higher education.

Calvin University has partnered with Lumina College to offer a Master of Education (concentration in educational leadership) program in Hong Kong.

The importance of developing a Christian mind in this emerging world, according to Dr. Beversluis, is to “live a lover’s life.” Love, she proposed, is “our purpose, our method, and our primary outcome for Christian higher education.” So 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. Love, then, is not merely an emotion or subjective feeling, but also a life orientation, a way of being in the world.

“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,” she quoted from Cornelius Plantinga’s “Intellectual Love” (Pro Rege, 44(3), p.11).

Beversluis 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 with intellectual thinking — it also demands action, doing people some good. Love is also life-changing passion and commitment.

“Live a lover’s life. Be defined by loving. Build your identity around loving and be known for it,” said Beversluis. This is precisely how the Christian mind should be recognized and developed.

Beversluis reviewed her work in higher education, serving at Calvin College (now Calvin University) in the past 27 years. One course she taught was to prisoners on “Developing a Christian Mind” (DCM), which she viewed as a practice of intellectual love with implications for the global practice of Christian higher education. In this course, students were studying memory through the theological lens of “Creation, Fall, Redemption” and their vocation, and seeing how the power of memory shapes culture and communities. The prisoner students took it seriously and loved their studies, delighting in having a student number that was not their prison number. Their love of the world through this course, even while segregated from the outside world, was palpable, awakening them to a love of God and for the world God made.

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. For Christian scholarship in particular, the scholarship is born from a love of God, God’s world, and the people God loves. It is also 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 nurtures, Beversluis reported that “…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).”

As for how Christian higher education can serve the community, Beversluis suggested that, driven by their love for God and God’s world, Christians are committed to live a life of love — a source of non-anxious presence in an anxious world. “Love provides courage. Perfect love casts out fear.”

She quoted Plantinga again: “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 a quote from Calvin professor James K.A. Smith: “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,” p. 12-13)


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