I have been reading for some time about how this generation of youth coming out of “the Church” are not as biblically literate as past generations. I do not know, myself, whether that is true or not, but I do know that many people of faith struggle in college.
Outside of Christian colleges, the academic world is, generally, is not very friendly toward faith. Those academics who are not actually hostile to the kind of faith that the Bible teaches simply put up with it as if it were some sort of oddity that people with lesser intelligence and more naivete get caught up in, but which has little relevance to anything intellectual.
That is far from the truth, of course. The intellectual underpinnings of faith are deep and wide. For the Bible believer, however, faith leads and the intellect follows. That is not the case for most of academia. Even for those who give some intellectual assent to faith in the academic world, intellect is the leader, and faith (if we can call it that) is the follower. That is not the faith of Abraham that God counted as righteousness. Our Christian colleges and universities include many of these people in their ranks.
In secular colleges and universities, even the people of intellectual faith are few. Bible believing faith is irrelevant, at best, in most of the secular college world, and some people are openly hostile to it.
I was in college when I became a believer. I swam upstream against the academic current and found that it made me stronger, but I saw students who grew up in the church get carried away with the negative current they did not expect and were not prepared for, and they suffered as a result.
The temptations to conform and do what other students are doing is one thing. It looks fun and exciting. There are no parents or church leaders around to notice or say anything if we begin to slip into the lifestyle that everything one else is living. We think we are missing out on something and want to be a part of it. We do that to the peril of spiritual health of course.
But more insidious, and perhaps, more unsettling and dangerous, is the assault on faith that is sure to be felt from the intellectual side. Even in Christian colleges, cold intellect, without the life of the Spirit, can quash faith. Professors are people, and that means they may have their own struggles with faith and doubt and sin; and those personal struggles will impact what they teach. Most professors in secular colleges have rejected faith and are vocal about it.
Before they Israelites entered the Promised Land, they scouted it out first. Most of them were too afraid of the giants to go in, but Joshua and Caleb were not afraid. You should not be afraid either, but you should be prepared. Whether going to a Christian college or a secular university, being prepared for what to expect is wise. Here are 6 helps for the Christian preparing for college.
- Set Your Expectations. Kids who grow up in the church often do not have much contact with people who do not believe the Bible is the word of God. We naturally tend to think that, if something is true, most people will believe and affirm it. If something is affirmed by most people, that something must be true; and if most people reject something, it must be false. In fact, that is the experience of many who grow up in the church, but the affirmations are from believers. In the academic world, most people (at least most professors) are not believers. That does not mean they are more intelligent than others. They may know more about the subject they teach, and most other things, than you, but that does not make them more right about God or faith. Faith has nothing to do with the intellect, but has everything to do with the heart and the will. The natural man does not receive the things of the spirit. Jesus encountered the same thing in His day when He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. Most people will not accept the truth of Christianity, even some people who call themselves Christian. Do not be disheartened by that. Narrow is the gate that leads to life.
The Professors are Not Neutral. Scholars have all kinds of biases. They have their own worldviews, and those worldviews are not likely to be Christian. Their worldviews color what they teach. A worldview is the filter through which a person sifts information and makes sense out of it. Most professors will have worldviews that are well constructed, but not based on faith. Understanding this will help you put things in perspective. I had an economics professor in college who was a Marxist. He was not shy about it either. I actually liked him and appreciated him telling us early on. It did not unsettle me or throw me off. I did learn from him and even got an A in his class because I was able to put it in perspective. I also had a religion professor who felt “all roads lead to heaven”. I had a harder time putting that worldview in perspective, and was tempted to buy into it, but I saw that it differed from the Bible and the grace that I had received in Christ. 1 John 4:1 instructs us to test every spirit to see of it is from God. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (vv. 2-3)
There Are Answers. Many of us believe what we believe without seriously considering other points of view. When challenged with another point of view, we retreat to dogma or become cast about on the rocky shore of doubt. (Both are problematic!) When we are confronted with questions for which we do not have ready answers, it can be unsettling, but do not be shaken. Dig for the answers. There is no problem that you will encounter that has not already been considered and addressed going back to the beginning of the Church. There is nothing new under the sun. The wealth of biblical scholarship is vast. Remember the second point, however; most scholars are not neutral. If you want to know the defense of a position, go to someone who can present that defense, not someone who is trying to attack it. Opposing worldview will test your faith and force you to search for the answers. This is a good thing!
Do Not View Opposition as a Curse. Challenges to our faith make us stronger. Look at them as opportunities and blessings. We can not go as deep or far in our faith without opposition. Challenges make us grow and get stronger. Athletes face competition to get better. Athletes work out to get stronger, and working out our faith makes us stronger. Look at the New Testament Church. They had opposition from the start, and God used that opposition to spread the Gospel and make the early Church stronger.
Do Not Go it Alone. Difficulties and doubts will come, and they are especially hard to overcome when we allow ourselves to become isolated. Get involved in a good church and a good Christian fellowship. Campus Crusade, Inter Varsity, Fellowship of Christian Athletes are just a few of the organizations that serve college students. If there is not one where you go to school, start one. They all have national organizations with all kinds of support people and materials.We are called to be part of the body of Christ. We need the fellowship, support and encouragement of fellow believers. We are designed to live in the faith community. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they need us. The family of believers is especially important for young men and women who leave their own families and home church and go away to college.
The first five helps were covered in the video below from the Gospel Coalition. I added my twists to them s I encourage you to watch the video to give you a slightly different perspective of these five points, but I will add another one, and I think this last one may be the most important of all.
Follow Jesus. Faith is personal. The most important thing is your relationship with God. If you are not spending time every day in the Word and in prayer, you will struggle, wherever you are. You may struggle even if you maintain daily contact, but the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us will come alongside and help you through those struggles, strengthen you and cause you to grow as you continually turn to Him for guidance, support and present your prayers, thanksgiving and praise to God on a daily basis. As important as the fellowship of believers is, nothing can substitute for your own walk and relationship with God. For me, when I am spending time in the Word and in prayer and pressing in to God every day, I look forward to the time of fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I am slacking, I find myself drifting away both from other believers and from God. For me, the two go hand in hand, and the most important one is making God a priority in my personal time.
As I said, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was in college. It actually happened over the summer between freshman and sophomore years. I struggled the first year of my Christian walk because I was not prepared. I let myself become isolated. I did not understand the importance of spending time with fellow believers and spending personal time in reading the Bible and in prayer. When I did those things, my faith blossomed.
College, for me, was a time of great spiritual growth. Even in that secular academic environment, I thrived both in faith and in academics. You can too. You can grow in your walk with Christ – not in spite of the challenges of an unbelieving, or even hostile, secular environment, but because of it! Throughout Church history, and in personal experience, God is often most present and the power of the Holy Spirit most evident in the midst of opposition.