We have sent this year’s graduating seniors off to college hoping that we as parents and teachers have prepared them for the challenges of college life. We gave them the best education we could, prodded them when they wanted to goof off instead of study, made college visits, wrote recommendations, and helped them write admissions essays. But have we prepared them for the most serious confrontations to their faith that they will face on the university campus?
College can be a dangerous place for the spiritual life of Christian students. What if your child is assigned a Hindu roommate who sets up a shrine to his or her god in the dorm room? Or, what about the increasingly common situation in which your student ends up rooming with someone who self-identifies as homosexual? Showing Christ’s love to persons with whom we disagree is not the only issue. The question is whether your student is prepared to navigate the intimacy of a dorm room setting with a roommate of the same sex who affirms same sex attraction.
Peers aren’t the only source of pressure. Many college professors believe that Christian students are naïve and misguided, and see it as their job to disabuse them of their backward, bigoted Christian notions. How will your student respond when an English professor insists that a sentence has no inherent meaning but rather the reader endows the text with meaning? Will your student be swayed by the philosophy professor who insists truth and morality are relative to culture, or by the New Testament professor who argues that the gospels are full of errors and their accounts about the life and words of Christ cannot be trusted?
Just so you don’t think I am exaggerating about the frontal attack Christian students face a mere twelve weeks after high school graduation, let me share what a former student told me happened the first week she entered college orientation.
I just wanted to let you know how much you were right! (Not that there was ever a question:)) I went to college orientation last week and they taught us about tolerance and not pushing your beliefs on others. ‘Your beliefs are your beliefs and let’s keep them that way’ was a major thing. We had to play a ‘get to know you’ game and we were asked about religion. I freely told people I was a Christian and afterward definitely got the cold shoulder. This was at the end of the day so I had already made some friends, but after I told them that it was almost as if the [person] that they had met earlier had ceased to exist. When our group leader talked to us about accepting everyone as they are and not trying to change them it was almost like he was talking directly to me. A couple of the students made it their personal mission to either offend me or change my beliefs; I’m not sure which they had in mind. One made a comment and started out with, ‘Let’s say God ACTUALLY exists. . . .’ I was most upset by the fact that they were allowed to attack me like this. Not that I would have, but had I made a mean comment about their atheism or unitarianism I feel certain I would have gotten in trouble. I’m already sickened by the double standards and school hasn’t even started yet!!
Fortunately, this student was not swayed by the hostile attitudes of teachers and students. In high school apologetics class, we had talked many times about this inevitable reality of college life. Not only was she not swayed, but she was also ready to exercise her apologetics muscles in conversations. She shared one example in which she talked with someone who raised difficult spiritual questions.
I immediately thought back to apologetics and I was ready to discuss! He asked really good questions and at first I was nervous about answering them. I took a deep breath and remembered my training! I began to ask him questions about what he specifically believed. I used the ‘what do you mean by…?’ question multiple times. I was so excited that I could keep up and even ask questions that took [him] a minute to answer! I just wanted to thank you for everything. You have not only shown me the information but how to use it most effectively. I honestly think your class was the most important one I will ever take. It answered some of my questions and also gave me more. I now have the ability to think for myself and the confidence that I actually know what I’m talking about!!
Now, to be honest, if you asked most of my students what they thought of the apologetics course, they would describe it in far less glowing terms. Studying the evidences for Christianity is hard work, sometimes tedious, and even doubt provoking, as students grapple with questions they have never before asked. Nevertheless, my prayer is that while students may not recall all that we have studied, they will remember that we talked about the questions with which they are later faced, and know where to go for answers.
I applaud this young woman for her perceptive recognition of the disparity between espoused tolerance and the way that students are perceived and treated once they self-identify as Christians. She also was willing to practice what she had learned in class, which requires a willingness to take risks. She even employed effective communication skills in dialogue.
Her story affirms my own conviction that before leaving high school Christian students need to learn and practice sharing the rational evidences from science, history, philosophy, and logic, for the truth claims of Christianity. Apologetics is not a luxury but a necessity. In fact, a Christian student’s education is incomplete if it has not included focused study of the rationale for Christianity’s claims that:
- the existence of objective truth and morality is undeniable.
- the evidence for the God Who created the universe in its entirety and created humans as new and distinctly unique beings in His own image is morally, scientifically, and philosophically overwhelming.
- Jesus Christ’s deity, miracles, atoning death, and physical resurrection were forecasted in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament.
How do we accomplish this overwhelming task? Parents can proactively teach how to analyze and evaluate truth assertions made by diverse worldviews and share evidences for the truth of Christianity. Church student leaders can incorporate apologetics courses in discipleship plans. Teachers in Christian schools can integrate not only the biblical worldview but also the rationale for that view vertically from pre-K through 12th grade and horizontally across disciplines. We’ll talk more about how to integrate apologetics at home, church, and school in upcoming posts. For now, a good place to start is by equipping yourself as a parent or teacher of elementary, middle school or high school students. Get a good apologetics primer such as I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and dig in, so that you can start the dialogue.
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