Growing in Wisdom: Called to the Adventure of College

Dale Goldsmith
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014


Dale Goldsmith claims that college can be a wonderful place for intellectual, social, and spiritual growth for a student of faith, but that the college experience poses numerous challenges to that faith. He makes the case for a holistic view of faith throughout the college experience.



The book’s thesis is developed in three sections. Part I’s 6 chapters are:

1 – Faith as Gift

2 – Faith . . . With Works

3 – College 101—Introduction

4 – Getting Settled—But Not Too Settled

5 – Jesus, Your Best Teacher

6 – Scripture, Your Best Text


This section surveys the prerequisites that constitute the college experience. Chapters 1 & 2 describe the Christian faith from numerous angles, relating various roles it plays in the college experience. Chapters 3 & 4 introduce college with a brief history (its religious roots) and purpose (vocational preparation) and clarify that the American college is secular—a place the student of faith is in (with its secular “values”) but not of (and the contrasting Christian commitments).  Finally, chapter 5 introduces Jesus as an active player in the college scene; and chapter 6 introduces Scripturewhat it is and how it might best be employed.

Part ll’s 5 chapters (with Christological focus) are:

7 – Basic Skills: Readin’, Writin’ & ‘Rithmetic (Jesus as the Word)

8 – Everything, but Connected? General Education  (Jesus, who, for, in whom was

creation; head of the body)

9 – Thinking About a Major? Humanities (Jesus the Artist, teller of parables)

10 – Thinking About a Major? Science (Jesus, Author of Life)

11 – Thinking About a Major? Business (Jesus, Master; Jesus, Servant)


Each of these chapters on academics offers a description of what colleges offer and expect and what challenges/dangers arise for faith. The response of faith is found in Jesus Christ, portrayed as a player who prescribes a path that the Christian can benefit from throughout the college experience. For example, in the chapter on basic skills, the reader is reminded that Jesus is the Word, leading to an awareness of the importance of language and communication. At the same time, Goldsmith points out the presence and power of the hidden (or implicit) curriculum and how students are constantly being “taught” through the culture, history, values, athletics, social life, student body, etc. of the college. The emphasis on curriculum is intentional as college is primarily about vocational preparation.

Part III’s chapters (with Christological focus):

12 – Sports: It’s Not Called the “Big Game” for Nothing (Jesus, breaker of walls)

13 – It’s Party Time! The Social Side of College (Jesus, the Lord of the Dance)

14 – Time Out! For the Rest of College (Jesus, the Good Shepherd)

Part III addresses the co-curricular or “social” and personal maintenance aspects of college life. Structured as the chapters in Part II are—the what and why of colleges’ offerings, specific challenges to faith and how Jesus Christ is the prism for finding appropriate responses. These chapters address what Goldsmith calls “the world’s largest classroom”—college athletics and its hidden curriculum “teaching” the (not Christian) values of competition, hierarchy, and being #1. Chapter 13 addresses the social and personal maintenance aspects of college—friends, food, money, time, and dating/sex. The final chapter reminds the readers of the many other resources available as part of the “full armor of God” for addressing life’s challenges.



The author has an undergraduate degree in religion (Princeton) and a MA/PhD in Bible (U. of Chicago); has taught and administered (VP for academics) in both church-related and secular institutions for 4 decades; and is active in the PCUSA as an ordained minister.

Goldsmith’s critique of college survival manuals has been sharp—pointing out that they tend to see the problems in a limited way (alcohol, sex, certain philosophical, sociological, and biological theories) and fail to see the power and potential of a full-out use of Scripture to assess and respond to the challenges.

As dean of a church-related college, he encouraged his colleagues to embody the faith traditions of their founding tradition and to improve communications between the church and the academy. Concluding that these goals were difficult to achieve, he has come to believe that the best strategy for the church is to equip individual students with the knowledge and “full armor of God” as they engage the secular reality of American higher education.



Applying Walter Wink’s work on principalities and powers, Goldsmith sees education as a gift of God, compromised by sinful humans, but capable of redemption. This premise frames all that he does. Central to Goldsmith’s understanding is the idea that students can reach out to Scripture, and particularly to the Christ who—in his multiple Christological personae—is capable of illuminating these realities and providing wisdom in the situations that arise. The notion of Christian vocation is also a grounding theological norm for Goldsmith. For him, faith is a matter of activity and relationships, the actions of God in Christ, and human responses rather than nice sounding but secular values with little compelling power. 



The author wants to show that the college experience can be a great one for Christians, but that for it to be so, students need the analysis, support, and companionship of Jesus Christ, Lord and Teacher. Thus the goal is for the readers to accept Jesus as Lord of the whole of the college experience, illuminating, slicing and dicing the various features offered, so that the students will distinguish the wheat from the chaff and have a wonderful learning and growing collegiate “moment.”



Overall, this is a helpful book. The breadth of coverage—from athletics to academics, from Christology to sociology and sex, makes this a handy resource for the busy collegiate minister to consider a variety of issues that need attention. There are a number of unique features: detailed discussion of faith in college-specific situations; clear description of the value-loaded purpose of higher education; explanation of the “hidden curriculum”; portrayal of Jesus Christ as a real player and not a pious on-looker in need of protection from an evil environment.