How You Can Help Me Start a New Book on Christian Higher Ed

Six months from now, my religious biography of Charles Lindbergh will officially come out. So while there’s still much to be done between now and then, it feels like a good moment to start turning serious attention to my next book project.

While I’d love to return to the genre of biography before too long, the two book ideas that keep coming to mind are related less to my specific work as a historian, and more to the larger realm of higher education. First, I’d like to think that I’ve reached a point in my career when I can write meaningfully about teaching. But I’m thinking of saving that for my next sabbatical. In the meantime, I’ve got something else in the works:

A short book to help high school students (and their parents) who are applying to Christian colleges and universities.

Cover of The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher EducationWhile I’ve written many blog posts about Christian higher ed over the last ten years, I’ve never actually written a book on that topic. I did edit The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education for InterVarsity Press in 2015, writing its introduction and conclusion, but that collection of essays was focused on one particular religious tradition and aimed at faculty, administrators, and staff of Christian colleges and universities. What I have in mind now is both about academics and much less academic in tone: a series of short letters answering questions that I often hear (or wish I’d hear) from prospective students and their parents.

It’s come to mind partly because this is the time of year when faculty at our university participate most actively in the admissions process. Last week I interviewed some applicants for a major scholarship in arts and humanities; today we hosted admitted students who are looking more closely at particular academic programs. Even last fall, in the middle of the pandemic, I met with students and parents from around the country who are considering Bethel. (I’ve heard that we’re one of the few private colleges in Minnesota to allow in-person campus visits this year.) And while our kids are still several years away from applying to colleges, that day is approaching fast enough that I’m finding it easier to understand where parents are coming from when they meet with me.

So having written a couple of open letters about higher ed in 2020 — one for parents, one for students — I’d like to repeat that model over the course of a short book that would help people navigate a process that’s at once exciting and terrifying, enlightening and mystifying, and to help them make one of the most important decisions they’ll face.

If that sounds interesting to you, scroll down past the wintry photo of our campus to see how you can help me get started…

Lundquist Community Life Center and Benson Great Hall, Bethel University
Who wouldn’t want to spend winters in the Twin Cities?

If you’ve been a student, parent of a student, and/or an employee at a Christian college or university, please consider taking a few minutes to complete this survey. I can’t offer a lot more than my thanks, but I will hold a random drawing of respondents and give each winner a copy of my Lindbergh book (when it comes out) or (if you can’t wait till August) our Faith and History devotional.

You’ll find in the survey that I’ve already started to think in terms of three categories of questions, shaped in part by some early crowdsourcing I did last month on social media:

• Big questions that students and parents should be asking during the admissions process — but often don’t

• Figuring out the vocabulary of (Christian) higher ed — what words or phrases are particularly confusing, especially if you’re new to higher ed in general or Christian colleges in particular?

• And perhaps also some questions that Christian college students should be asking once they start their studies — questions of meaning, purpose, identity, belief, doubt, calling, etc.

Knowing that these buckets won’t catch all the questions students and parents might ask, you’ll also find an open-ended concluding item where you can share other kinds of suggestions and feedback. And while I don’t want anonymous responses, I will ask how — if at all — you want to be named should the project eventually be published.

Thanks for your help!

Here’s the survey link again if you missed it above