I just finished my first semester at a large state university. The experience was difficult, rewarding, and not at all what I expected. By now you are probably aware of the high number of Christian students leaving their faith in college. Christians are gradually becoming aware and stepping up to better equip students to face the battle waiting for them in college. But what I learned this last semester is that we may be preparing them for the wrong fight. The challenges I have faced are not quite what I expected going in. The more I reflect, the more I think we may need to widen our approach to ensure we are not preparing kids for the wrong fight.
I’ve been studying apologetics for ten years now, often with the goal of preparing for college. I’d heard the stories over and over again. Aggressive atheist professors trying to rid the world of all religion, needing to hide your devout faith lest you be treated like a 2nd class citizen, constant attacks on the authority of scripture, theistic creationism, and objective moral values, etc. I knew I’d need to be ready with the right knowledge and tactics to endure with my faith intact.
Is It Just Me?
Let me put a bit of a disclaimer on this. It is entirely possible that my experiences will not reflect everyone else’s. These experiences may be more common at my specific university. On top of that, my major is Communication Studies, and not something you would generally expect more pushback in, like Biology, Anthropology, Philosophy, etc. That said, I was not exactly subtle about my faith throughout the semester and got into public conversations with many people that opened plenty of opportunities for pushback. So while you may want to take my advice with a grain of salt, I think it may better reflect the current state of the overall college scene than the narrative often being presented.
Where Are All the Atheists?
Of the many people I met and had conversations with, I have met exactly one outspoken, semi aggressive, agnostic/atheist. Ironically, we’ve become quite good friends after spending hours sitting down and talking about almost every issue there is. Even with him, I chose to have those lengthy and challenging conversations. If I had not been prepared to answer his challenges, I could have easily left and moved on with my life without any pressure. None of my professors ever brough up religion other than maybe brief comments about their family. Nearly every other person I spoke with about religion was a serious Christian, nominally religious, or just apathetic to religion entirely. If we are preparing students simply to defend their faith from atheism, we may be preparing kids for the wrong fight. The greatest danger in college is not aggressive atheism.
Apathy: The Faith Killer
You may encounter atheists in college, and it is good to prepared for them. But the greatest danger in college is apathy. The majority of those students leaving their faith in college are not jumping into the church of atheism or attending reason rallies. Most of them are simply stepping away from religion as something not worth caring about. The “Nones” as they have come to be known, may have a few beefs, like Christian hypocrisy or aspects of the church culture, but in general I encountered very little conflict.
When other difficulties or desires crop up, especially without parental supervision, students are faced with a choice. Will they choose the worldview and moral framework they were raised with? Or, as many do, will they realize the conflict and begin to question how serious their religion actually is to them? “Does the Bible really say that I shouldn’t do that? More importantly, do I care if it does?” What does this issue mean for our approach to preparing young people for college?
1. Apologetics and Worldview Training
While I did say that aggressive atheism is not the problem, it is still important to instill a good understanding of the Christian worldview and how to defend it. College hasn’t been what I expected, but I don’t regret the years I spent preparing. There are two big benefits to the training, even if you never have an argument. First, it keeps Christians grounded in reality, understanding that what they were taught is true and not just some fairy tale their parents told them. Second, if they understand it, they can confidently explain what they believe to other people. While I have not met many hardcore atheists, I have had dozens of deep conversations about big spiritual, ethical, and philosophical topics that gave opportunities to present my worldview. Knowing your own views inside and out means you will be able to make the most of those opportunities.
2. Feed Their Passion
We need students to be passionate about Christianity. This may be obvious, and is going to be easier said than done. The greatest danger facing students is apathy, and simply ignoring their faith. Sometimes even having all the knowledge in the world will not change their behavior. I have met people who have a very solid foundation of knowledge, and yet still act as if it does not matter. If they are not passionate about the truth and significance of the gospel, their faith is always going to be the one set aside for more exciting activities.
How do we instill that passion? That’s the million-dollar question that unfortunately there is not one answer to. What makes one person excited will not necessarily reach another. For me, it was the apologetics and worldview that sparked the enthusiasm. In general though, they need to be engaged. Don’t be passive in your children’s faith. Be intentional and show enough enthusiasm that it will spread to them. It may not be enough for every student, but it’s one of the most powerful things any parent or mentor can do to combat apathy.
Are we preparing kids for the wrong fight? Knowing how to handle difficult conversations from hostile people is valuable. But we may need to widen our approach to not just understanding your own faith and how to defend it. If they do not have the passion, it is far more likely that they will be swept away by the glamour and excitement that awaits them in this world.
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