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Along the Journey  |  

The Transformative Power of Higher Education

The writer Tara Westover wrote a riveting memoir a few years ago titled Educated.

It’s a story of how a bright and determined young girl escaped a suffocating childhood of fear and paranoia in a survivalist family in rural Idaho.

The book tells the story of Tara’s extraordinary transformation through education, particularly higher education.

It was in college that she first attended a lecture, studied a textbook, and wrote an essay.

From Brigham Young University, she went on to earn a master’s degree from Trinity College in Cambridge and then a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Tara’s story is one particularly dramatic example of the transformative power of higher education.


For Tara, higher education was an opportunity to escape a life of isolation and ignorance.

Although her story is unique, the underlying theme of opportunity and growth is familiar.

Higher education does indeed provide a pathway for expanded horizons, new opportunities, and increased self-understanding.


Theological education does far more than that, however.

Certainly, theological education, as a form of higher education, aims for growth and self-understanding.

But it seeks something with even deeper roots and higher branches.

It seeks wisdom.

One dictionary definition of that word, wisdom, is the “quality of having knowledge and good judgment.”

There is nothing to argue about this definition, but it is bland and generic.


A much more vivid and embodied portrayal of wisdom comes to us from Proverbs 8.

Here, and in other places in the wisdom literature of the Bible, wisdom is the figure of a woman.

She both embodies wisdom and calls others to pursue wisdom.

She demonstrates that wisdom creates a sort of “interior landscape” in people who seek it.

Wise people desire things like hatred of evil, avoidance of pride, love of righteousness, and longing for justice.

In addition, wisdom creates a sort of “wide horizon” of right actions.

Wise people advocate for equitable and fair laws, watch intently for crooked cultural patterns and then work to correct them, and call out when injustice tries to hide.

The influence of the woman of wisdom in Proverbs 8, in this way, has both internal and external effects.


It is precisely these two impacts of wisdom that theological education seeks.

Columbia Theological Seminary is committed to forming in students an interior landscape of wise attitudes and desires as well as a wide horizon of actions and goals.

Both of these capacities are desperately needed in our world that is at one and the same time both increasingly divided and inextricably interconnected.

This paradox of division and interconnection is dramatically illustrated in the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the globe and magnifying the multiple contradictions of globalization.

In this context, our world urgently needs wise leaders.

On National Higher Education Day (June 6th), Columbia Seminary reaffirms our core mission to shape and form wise leaders for the sake of the church and the world.

Leanne Van Dyk is the President and Professor of Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. She has served in this position since 2015. Formerly, she was the Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Reformed theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan and, before that, she was a theology professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Calvin College, Western Michigan University, Calvin Theological Seminary, and Princeton Theological Seminary. The author of several books and numerous articles, Dr. Van Dyk is particularly interested in the potential of theological education to serve the church and the world. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and can be reached at vandykl@ctsnet.edu.

Along the Journey