What’s the Problem?
In Colossians 2:8, Paul states that a Christian should . . .
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Paul’s words have particular application for the Christian student who is about to engage in the intellectual and social combat that can be found on many of our college campuses. Our higher educational institutions are often incubators for non-Christian thought and life. Christian students must be advised to be prepared. Too many of them are “taken captive.” Consider these few examples:
• A sociology professor asked her students, “How many of you believe abortion is wrong? Stand up.” Five students stood. She told them to continue standing. She then asked, “Of you five, how many believe it is wrong to distribute condoms in middle schools?” One was left standing. The professor left this godly young lady standing in silence for a long time and then told her she wanted to talk with her after class. During that meeting the student was told if she persisted in such beliefs she would have a great deal of difficulty receiving her certification as a social worker.
• During the first meeting of an architecture class at a large state university the students were told to lie on the floor. The professor then turned off the lights and taught them to meditate. (Be assured they were not meditating on Scripture.)
• At a church-related university a professor stated, “Communism is definitely superior to any other political-economic system.”
• In an open declaration on the campus at Harvard, the university chaplain announced he is homosexual.
• When asked how he responds to students who confess strong Christian convictions, a professor stated, “If they don’t know what and why they believe, I will change them.”
• In a university dormitory crowded with over 100 students I declared that Jesus is the only way to God. Many of the students expressed their strong disagreement and anger. One student was indignant because he realized my statement concerning Christ logically meant that his belief in a Native American deity was wrong. Even some Christian students were uncomfortable. They had uneasiness about it because it seemed too intolerant.
These are but a few of many illustrations and statistics that could be cited as indication of contemporary college life. The ideas that are espoused on many of our campuses can understandably bewilder the Christian student. What can be done to help them in their preparation? In this article I will offer some suggestions that can serve to give them guidance.
Develop a Christian Worldview
A critical component in the arsenal of any Christian heading off to college is to develop a Christian worldview. Everyone has a world view whether they have thought about it or not. To understand how important a worldview is consider a jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces. In order to put the puzzle together you need to see the picture on the box top. You need to know what the puzzle will look like when you finish it. If you only had the pieces and no box top, you would probably experience a great deal of frustration. You may not even want to begin the task, much less finish it. The box top gives you a guide and helps you put together the “pieces” of life.
The box top in a Christian worldview is provided by the revealed truth of the Bible. The Bible contains the correct picture to help us assemble the individual pieces we encounter in life. Other world views will always get some portion of the picture right, but a few important pieces will always seem out of place. It’s important for a young Christian college student to have some idea of which pieces are out of place in other worldviews as well as a foundational understanding of a Christian worldview.
Essentially a worldview is a set of assumptions or presuppositions we hold about the basic make-up of our universe that influences everything we do and say. For instance, within a Christian world view we wake up in the morning assuming that God exists and that He cares about what happens to you.
There are four essential truths that help us evaluate different worldviews.
The first truth is that something exists. This may seem obvious, but many people aren’t sure. Many forms of pantheism argue that the material world is just an illusion. The only reality is spiritual. If this were actually the case, then physical consequences wouldn’t matter. However, I have yet to find a pantheist who is willing to perform their meditation on a railroad track without knowing the train schedule.
The second truth is that all people have absolutes. There are always some things that people recognize as true, all the time. For Christians, God is the ultimate reference point to determine truth. Even the statement, “There are no absolutes!” is to declare absolutely that there are no absolutes.
Third, truth is something that can’t be both true and false at the same time. This is critical in our current time. A contemporary idea is that all religions are the same. This sounds gracious, but it’s nonsense. While various religions can often have some elements in common, if they differ in the crucial areas of creation, sin, salvation, heaven, and hell, then the similarities are what is trivial, not the differences.
Last, we need to realize that all people exercise faith. What matters is the object of our faith. We all use faith to operate through the day. We exercise faith every time we take medication. We assume it will help us and not harm us. Carl Sagan’s famous statement that “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be” is a statement of naturalistic faith not scientific truth.
Take Ownership of Beliefs
Parents need to help their student headed off to college to take ownership of their faith. Too often Christian young people spend their pre-college years repeating phrases and doctrines without intellectual conviction. They need to go beyond clichés. A few of us at Probe have questioned Christian high school students about their faith by posing as an atheistic college professor. When pressed to explain why they believe as they do, the responses get rather embarrassing. They’ll say, “That’s what my parents taught me,” or “That’s what I’ve always heard,” or “I was raised that way,” or “That’s what my pastor said.”
If this is the best a student can do, they are simply grist for the mill. They are easily ground down to dust. Paul wrote to young Timothy saying, “Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Tim. 3:14). Timothy was taught by his mother, grandmother, and Paul. He not only learned about his faith from them, but he became convinced that it was true.
This means you are to know not just what you believe but also why. Ask yourself or your student why he or she is a Christian? If this question stumps you, you’ve got some thinking and exploring to do. The apostle Peter said to always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks for an account of the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
Peter wrote that we are always to be ready, and we are to respond to everyone who asks. These are all-encompassing words that indicate the importance of the task of apologetics. If the student is going to live and think as a Christian on campus he will be asked to defend his faith. Such an occasion will not be nearly as threatening if he or she has been allowed to ask their own questions and have received answers from their home or church.
For instance, how would you answer these questions if someone who really wants to know asked them of you? “Is there really a God?” “Why believe in miracles?” “How accurate is the Bible?” “Is Christ the only way to God?” “Is there any truth in other religions?”
Such questions are legitimate and skeptics deserve honest answers to their tough questions. How they receive the answer is between God and them. Our responsibility is to provide the answers as best as we can in a loving manner. To say, “I don’t know, I just believe,” will leave the impression that Christianity is just a crutch and therefore only for the weak and feeble-minded.
The Mind Is Important
A student needs to understand that the mind is important in a Christian’s life. In fact, a Christian is required to use his mind if he desires to know more of God and His works among us. The acts of reading and studying Scripture certainly require mental exercise. Even if a person can’t read, he still has to use his mind to respond to what is taught from Scripture. For example, Jesus responded to a scribe by stating the most important commandment:
Hear O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30)
The use of our mind refers not only to Scripture. We need to abolish the sacred/secular barrier many of us have erected. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to Him through God the Father.” Paul pretty much covers it. It’s hard to come up with anything additional after using the words “whatever” and “all.” This includes our academic studies.
The first chapter of Daniel offers amazing insights into this issue. Daniel and his friends were taught everything that the “University of Babylon” could offer them; they graduated with highest honors and with their faith strengthened. God honored them in the task and even gave them the knowledge they needed to grapple with Babylonian ideas. (Daniel 1:17, 20)
If Daniel’s situation is applied to a contemporary Christian student’s life, there is an important lesson to be learned. That is, the young Jewish boys learned and understood what they were taught, but that does not mean they believed it. Many students have asked how to respond on papers and exams that include ideas they don’t believe. As with Daniel and his peers, they should demonstrate their understanding to the best of their ability, but they cannot be forced to believe it. Understanding and believing are not necessarily the same thing. But a certain level of understanding is crucial in knowing where these ideas fail to meet reality.
If Christian students have also been allowed to ask questions at home and at church, then they can apply the lessons learned by asking questions of those of differing faiths. This will allow them to expose the inconsistencies of these competing worldviews in a respectful manner.
Many Christian students enter an ungodly educational arena every year. They should be encouraged with the understanding that God’s truth will prevail, as it did for Daniel and his friends. For all truth is God’s truth.
How Do We Teach these Things?
Coming to the end of our discussion on preparing students to defend their faith in college, you may be asking, “How can I apply some of these suggestions in my life with students?” The following ideas are offered with the belief that you can use your imagination and arrive at even better ones.
First do role-plays with your students occasionally. This can be done either with an individual or a group.
For example, as alluded to previously, find someone from outside your church or school that the students don’t know. This person should have a working knowledge of the ways non-Christians think. Introduce him to the group as a college professor researching the religious beliefs of high school students.
The “professor” should begin to ask them a series of blunt questions regarding their beliefs. The idea is to challenge every cliché the students may use in their responses. Nothing is to be accepted without definition or elaboration. After ten minutes or so, reveal who the professor really is and assure them he is a Christian. Then go over some of the answers and begin to reveal what they could have said.
This would also be good time to implement a second suggestion, and that is to teach a special course on apologetics for upper high school students. You’ve definitely got their attention now and they will be much more attentive.
Another idea is if you live near a college or university, ask to be put on their mailing list for upcoming lectures from visiting scholars. After attending one of these lectures, discuss it with your student. See if they can identify the speaker’s worldview and where what they said conflicts with a Christian worldview. This would also be a good place to model asking good questions if a question and answer period is allowed.
When considering a college or university, the student should not only visit the campus to investigate campus life but also the intellectual atmosphere. Visit with representatives of a local college ministry or a Christian faculty member and inquire of their opinion of the likely intellectual challenges they can expect to find. This would also be a good opportunity to ask about resources available for Christian students who face challenges in the classroom.
Finally, consider sending your student to a Probe Mind Games Conference. A schedule of all our upcoming conferences is available on our website at www.probe.org. Just click on the Mind Games button on the home page to open a menu of information on our conferences. Or better yet, organize one of these conferences in your own community. Probe travels around the country in order to help youth, college students, their parents, and the church at large prepare for contemporary life.
©2001 Probe Ministries.