A few months ago I got a call that, quite unexpectedly, changed everything for me. It was from John Mark Reynolds, a name familiar to most of you here, founder of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, new Provost of Houston Baptist University, and my friend and former professor. He called to offer me a job (Intriguing!). We were going to change the face of modern education (Why not!). In Texas (No.). I respectfully declined.
A few days later he was back with another offer that stopped my heart and lowered my resistance. Would I come if he could give me the opportunity to start a school. Well, sort of start a school. Houston Baptist wanted to start reaching out to smart, Christian high schoolers and homeschoolers, providing them with the opportunity to get a deeply Christian, thoroughly classical education before they’d even graduated high school. And just like that, I’m moving to Texas, y’all.
Because, you see, fourteen years ago, I was that smart, Christian homeschooler starting my first year of high school. I was bored with church, obsessed with horses, and plowing along with my school work because I had to. The Summer before my freshman year my mom informed me that I would be joining Escondido Tutorial Service and starting a class entitled Great Books Tutorial I. I was told to start reading the Iliad and Odyssey and that my first paper would be due in three weeks. I was terrified.
Fritz Hinrichs was (and still is) the founder and only teacher at Escondido Tutorial Service. He was strict and clever, good and kind, and held his students to a higher standard than most of us felt capable of rising. Though I think I spent the first couple weeks of GBT I in a blind panic (I have a distinct memory of lying on my parent’s home office floor near midnight of the day the first paper was due, sobbing over my own stupidity as my dad tried to coax me into finishing my paper’s conclusion), I soon found that I was pretty good at this thinking/reading/writing/talking thing that was the new core of my high school education, and, even more surprising, I loved it. Studying Great Books opened up a new place in my soul and mind. It introduced me to a new world, a bigger conversation, and, I think, a new me. It soon became clear to me that this course of study was the most important thing I’d yet done in my young life, and I kept with it for four more years, graduating from Great Books V (having taken two years at once to get caught up) my senior year of high school with a new outlook on my future and an invitation to join the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola.
Torrey picked up where ETS had left off. I was stretched and grown still further and my love for classical education only increased. Since graduating six years ago I’ve been studying spiritual formation under the leaders in the field at Talbot School of Theology, and working with some of the greatest Christian philosophers and apologists in the world as a happy part of Biola University’s Christian Apologetics department, but a part of my heart remained fixated on that moment at 14 when I realized that God and his world were much bigger and more grand than I’d ever imagined.
A few weeks ago I was at my parents’ church and the pastor was preaching about making a dent in the world around us. He told his congregation that we have the greatest impact when a soft spot in our hearts is matched to a great need in the world. Educating high schoolers is my soft spot, and the need is great. Fritz Hinrichs, John Mark, and the rest of the Torrey faculty were there for me when I needed them, and now I get the very great privilege of doing the same for the next generation. Starting this August, Houston Baptist University, John Mark, and I are setting out to change the hearts and minds of kids a mere 14 years behind me in the search for purpose, truth, and God. I could not be more honored to take the torch and carry on and expand the work that others have started. Here we go.